M. Opeyemi Bamidele
An age-long adage acknowledges the fact that some men are born great, many achieved greatness while some had greatness thrust on them. Interestingly, any keen reader of his enviable story in the last five decades or more, would of course readily admit that Chief Afe Babalola is a unique profile in dramatic trajectory from grass to grace. In other words, ‘Aare’ is an ebullient and iconic personality who did not have the childhood luxury of being born with a silver spoon. He does not even fall in the category of those young men who had fortune smiling on them on a platter of gold. But, today, he is a highly respected professional giant, an award-winning technocrat, a renowned legal luminary, a successful business mogul, a superb elder statesman, a revered community leader, compassionate and unrelenting philanthropist and, above all, a life coach and mentor to many accomplished gentlemen and ladies of repute.
Born 90 years ago to a humble agrarian family in the ancient city of Ado-Ekiti in Ekiti State of Nigeria, Aare Emmanuel Afe Babalola has carved a niche for himself in the lexicon of success and social transformation, even though he did not pass through a formal secondary school education. For a man who only managed to acquire a basic formal education to have risen to the prestigious status of an excellent university administrator and a highly celebrated entrepreneur in the nation’s education sector, it is instructive that the compelling lessons and principles of his greatness should not only be celebrated but must also be emulated, especially by all well-meaning youngsters of this generation.
Afe Babalola had a unique life experience at his tender age, which must have shaped his life commitment to industry and generosity. He lost his two parents when he was extremely young. Due to the economic hardship he had to contend with, he braced up for life conquest rather than accepting the tragic twist of fate. The young Afe Babalola made up his mind early enough to face the realities of life with a view to ruling his world as a consummate warrior. His determination to conquer his environment and earn himself an enviable placement among his peers prompted him to pursue his academic studies most diligently and relentlessly to enable him build an excellent, cutting-edge professional career in life, to create wealth in a legitimate manner, to help the needy and to contribute meaningfully to the upliftment of Nigeria and the world at large, such that his name and his lofty legacies might be written in gold in the sands of time.
Aare Afe Babalola attended Emmanuel Primary School, Ado-Ekiti, where he obtained his Standard Six certificate. He is always proud to say that the very qualitative primary education he had was what served as a strong springboard for his subsequent educational attainments. After working for years as a pupil teacher, Chief Babalola enrolled for the Senior Cambridge School Certificate examination by private study from Wolsey Hall, Oxford. He later obtained the A’ level certificate of London University before he proceeded to London School of Economics and then the University of London, where he obtained a second bachelor’s degree in Law. Chief Afe Babalola was called to the England Bar in 1963. Same year, he became a member of the Lincoln’s Inn, London.
Armed with the requisite certification to pursue a sprawling and volatile legal career with an informed bias in Constitutional Advocacy and Criminal Justice, Baba Afe started off as a litigation officer in the law firm of Olu Ayoola and Co., situated in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, Western Nigeria. However, given his penchant for freedom and the passion to conquer and dominate his professional world without let or hindrance, he established his own legal firm, Afe Babalola and Co. (Emmanuel Chambers) in 1965, while he was barely two years at the Bar. Over the years, by dint of hard work, professional focus and consistency as well as a very unique style of service delivery, Chief Babalola rose to national prominence and became a household phenomenon in the nation’s justice sector, having, at various times, served as an indefatigable and most brilliant legal consultant to the federal and state governments, political juggernauts, corporate bodies and several royal families across the nation for the settlement of sundry legal and constitutional disputes of national and international pedigree. To this extent, in 1987, the Legal Privileges and Awards Committee of the Inner Bar deemed it fit to elevate him to the highest rank in the legal profession in Nigeria, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The most intriguing character of Babalola’s personality is that, in spite of his career accomplishments as a prominent legal practitioner, he felt that what could make him a fulfilled man was to have ample opportunity to contribute morally, financially and educationally to humanity, both through his private philanthropic initiatives and also through government institutions. This was the insatiable passion that former President Olusegun Obasanjo saw in him when he appointed him in 2001 as the Pro-Chancellor and chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Lagos.
Today, by the special grace of God, Chief Afe Babalola, the Aare Bamofin of Yorubaland, holds degrees from several universities, including Ekiti State University for the award of Doctor of Letters (LL.D) in 2002; LL.D of the University of London; LL.D of the University of Lagos; LL.D of the University of Jos; LL.D of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA); LL.D of the Kogi State University. In fact, he was the first African to be conferred with Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) of the University of London in 2015. Given his monumental philanthropic gestures and remarkable contributions to nation-building in Nigeria, he was conferred with the prestigious national award Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and, subsequently, as Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Over the years, having been a consistent benefactor to the nation’s education sector, making contributions to the standardisation of quality and the provision of enduring, world-class infrastructural facilities such as lecture theaters, auditoriums, faculty buildings, libraries and laboratories; and having garnered extensive skills and copious experience in university administration, Chief Afe Babalola envisioned the need to establish a first class and up-to-date university to serve as a benchmark in academic standards and facilities for other universities in Nigeria. For this reason, an expansive world-class private institution, the Afe Babalola University, was established in 2009 and is domiciled on a very large expanse of land, precisely 130 hectares, in Chief Afe’s hometown, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. The university offers academic programmes in six colleges of Natural Sciences, Law, Engineering, Social and Management Sciences, Medicine and Health Sciences as well as postgraduate studies. The institution’s College of Engineering is built on about three and half acres of land and is well equipped with sophisticated, state-of-the-art facilities from Europe and the Americas and is reputed to be one of the largest in Africa. In the same vein, ABUAD’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences and its Multisystem Teaching Hospital is second to none in Nigeria, given the various medical facilities and the professional expertise with which patients are handled with utmost care.
Shortly after my senatorial primaries late last year, I visited Chief Afe Babalola in his office within the university premises in company with my wife and some of my political associates to say a big THANK YOU to him for his invaluable fatherly support and for keeping faith with us always and in all ways. After the usual pleasantries, Chief Afe instructed one of his senior staff to take us for an inspection round the Multisystem Hospital and, believe you me, we saw a masterpiece of architecture design, an avalanche of medical infrastructure, some of which can only be found in first class hospitals abroad. A tour of the facilities around the university deeply revealed the in-depth passion, insight and vision of a foremost educationist, a well-experienced university administrator and a dynamic and foresighted entrepreneur. To this extent, I wholeheartedly recommend ABUAD Teaching Hospital to the Federal and State governments, families and individuals in Nigeria. Rather than travelling abroad on medical tourism and encouraging needless capital flight to other climes, let us be proud to patronise our own public and private institutions.
At the prime age of 90, Aare Afe Babalola remains a great pride and an illustrious ambassador of the people of Ekiti State, the Yoruba people of the South-West and Nigeria as whole.
•Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.