The Iconic Leila Apinke Fowler: Inspiration Personified Glows @ 90


The Nigerian society is replete with many iconic female personalities. Respected as matriarchs of the society, these women have not only distinguished themselves in various professions and propagation of worthy social causes, they have consistently defined the trend and pace of events in the country for many decades. Understandably, their lofty accomplishments have inspired thousands of younger female personalities, who regard them as role models.

Sparkling among this collection of gems is one woman who is reputed to have inspired many of the matriarchs other women see as role models. She is Chief (Mrs.) Leila Euphemia Apinke Fowler, MFR. 

Encomiums and tributes poured in when this accomplished nurse, lawyer, leader, an educationist per excellence and a nation builder who stands tall as a glistering example of womanhood, joined the nonagenarian club on March 23, 2023. 

Mama Fowler is widely regarded as the Grand Dame of the Nigerian social establishment. She loves people and has touched many lives in different ways. In turn, people shower her with love her for her wisdom, caring nature, beauty, grace, elegance and industry. It is not unusual to hear most women regale one with stories of how they learnt the art of dressing well, tying headgears and wearing high heels with élan and elegance from Mama Fowler. But more importantly, many of them attribute their quest for success to Mama Fowler’s lofty accomplishments. 

A descendant of the Lagos Coker family, Mama Fowler is the wife of the late Professor Wensley Vidal Mobolaji Fowler, an erudite scholar, surgeon and a grand master of the Nigerian social establishment, who died in October 2015, at the ripe age of 92. She is the mother of Tunde Fowler, the former chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and the former Chief Executive of the most vibrant and richest tax body in Nigeria, the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, which generates internally generated revenue (IGR) almost ten states in Nigeria combined.

Born into the family of Mr. And Mrs. Henry Moore in 1933, Mama Fowler had her primary school education in Lagos at the CMS Girls’ School, and later attended the Queen of Rosary College, Onitsha, where she got her Senior Cambridge Certificate in 1951. She began her work life as a stand-in teacher, and this was due to her very good performance in secondary school. At that time, teaching and nursing professions were considered the most appropriate professions for girls, so she took up a teaching appointment with St. Theresa’s College.

In 1953, Mama Fowler got married to Vidal Fowler, who was then a medical consultant at the General Hospital, Lagos. The couple left for England, where Mama Fowler then enrolled to study law at the Middle Temple. She graduated in 1961 and was called to the English Bar in 1962. She also obtained a diploma in international affairs from the University of London and returned to Nigeria in 1963 to enrol at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

She worked as a solicitor in the chambers of Messrs J.O.B. Omotosho and Co., the popular socialist lawyer. She also worked briefly in the chambers of John Bentley & Co in Lagos before she decided to establish her own chamber at 150, Broad Street, Central Lagos, where she engaged in general practice, particularly in insurance claims. She became an executive consultant to the Lion of Africa Insurance.

In the course of her career as a lawyer, Mama Fowler also served as a solicitor to the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation. Between 1978 and 1980, she was a councillor in the Lagos City Council, where she served alongside such notable personalities like Alhaji Hassan Adisa Babatunde Fasinro, a versatile Islamic Scholar, an encyclopedia of Lagos history and one of the founding fathers of modern Lagos, and Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji, a prominent businesswoman and the Iyaloja of Lagos. 

Mama Fowler is no doubt an accomplished woman whose vision and determination have made her an institution in the education sector. Prior to establishing Vivian Fowler Memorial School, she was invited to serve in the Corona Schools Trust Council, where she put in 25 years. She spent eight as the chairman of the education board and seven years as the chairman of the council. While there, she raised the school’s educational standard and ensured that examination standards in all Corona Schools were uniform. Her fertile experience, garnered while serving at Corona Schools, reinforced her interest and passion for qualitative education. 

Invariably, in 1991, she established Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls with the vision to foster a high standard of education and promote the advancement of women through quality and functional education. She named the school after her daughter, Vivian, whom she lost while in the prime of her life. Thirty-one years after, the college has now become a reference point in female education in Nigeria and beyond. 

The dream to establish a first-class college, stemming from love for the girl-child, was realised on January 8, 1991. And like a mustard seed, the dream has blossomed and brought her honour. The school was initially situated in Surulere but later moved to the Oregun-Alausa neighbourhood of Ikeja near the State Government Secretariat. Her astute management of the school has seen it rising exponentially to high acclaim as the foremost academy for girls in Lagos.

In October 1994, Mama Fowler also established Topgrade Secondary School. Her vision for the college is the interaction and integration of the male and female child in a disciplined environment, to promote healthy competition and academic excellence, as well as provide leadership opportunities.

Mama Fowler, who was conferred with the revered traditional title of Yeye Mofin of Lagos by the late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan lI, the Oba of Lagos, seizes and creates opportunities for learning and teaching. She is so knowledgeable, practical, strong, and yet so gentle in her love for everyone. Nigerians have watched with admi- ration as she has fulfilled her dreams and also made a point of helping others achieve their dreams as well.

From the tragedy and sorrow of losing a child, she immortalised her memory by touching so many young girls’ lives through her impactful educational pursuits. She is so full of life and is positively ageless. Her dedication to her family is evident in everything she does. She is a veritable definition of grace, strength and endurance combined. And her sense of values runs deep.

At 90, Mama Fowler is still contributing to society by helping to build a sound educational system. At an age when many would have long retired, she is building a science and technology institution, through which she plans to create more Nigerian scientists.

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