By Tunde Olofintila
Social psychologists would always tell us that no two people – not even a set of identical twins from the same homozygote egg – would behave alike. We are equally made to understand that history sometimes repeats itself while some persona in one person in one clime at one point in time may repeat themselves in yet another person in another setting at a different time.
And that brings us to the inherent qualities of political strategy, education, integrity, caring for the welfare of the masses, consistency policies and courage among several others which constitute an indestructible cord that binds the first Premier of Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nigeria’s frontline legal icon, educationist and valiant entrepreneur as well as unsparing philanthropist, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) together.
It was the combination of the above stated attributes and his impacting humanity through his immeasurable and indescribable humanitarian and philanthropic programmes, that have won the frontline legal colossus and Founder of the increasingly famous Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for 2018.
This Award is coming five years after Babalola won the equally prestigious Zik Prize in Leadership for 2013 for his “genuine commitment to promoting the cause of humanity which has marked you out as a Philanthropist whose social consciousness is a source of inspiration to millions of Nigerians”.
The cheering and elevating news was broken during the week at the 70th Anniversary of the rebranded Nigerian Tribune, one of the leading Nigerian tabloids, in Lagos over the weekend by the iconic Diplomat and former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who is also the Chairman of the Selection Committee of the Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Award.
The Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize has unarguably become an added and well-deserved feather to the already crowded cap of a man who has adorned the country’s legal, philanthropic, agricultural and educational landscape with unparalleled industry, unalloyed service and uncommon compassion.
Towards the tail end of the celebration, which took place in the hallowed bowels of Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, which was witnessed by the crème-de-la-crème of the society made up of members of the Bar and Bench, Royalty, Clergy, top journalists and captains of industry as well as top politicians, Anyaoku once again mounted the podium with many thinking that he wanted to round off proceedings for the day.
A man reputed for pleasant surprises, the suave and urbane diplomat dropped a pleasant ‘bombshell’ that literally swept many off their feet, to wit: that Aare Afe Babalola had been adjudged the winner of the highly treasured Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for 2018 for “distinguishing himself in the provision of quality education just like the sage (Chief Obafemi Awolowo), advocacy for the masses through legal intervention and other means”.
Just like Babalola is the third African to be honoured with an Honorary Doctorate Degree of the University of London, where he is a triple alumnus (having obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics in 1959 and his LL. B for the university in 1963), he has also become the third African to win the distinguished Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize after former South African President, Thambo Mbeki and Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, both eminent citizens of the world of African descent won the Prize in 2014 and 2012 respectively.
Anyaoku said the Prize had not been awarded since Mbeki carted it home in 2014 because “there was no individual in Africa among nominees worthy to be honoured with the award in the last for years because none met the criteria spelt out to justify their candidacy for the honour.”
According to him, the Obafemi Awolowo for Leadership Award is for individuals who have demonstrated the attributes of political strategy, education, integrity, caring for the welfare of the masses, consistency policies and courage among several others for which the late Premier of Western Region was well-known, stressing that it was only Babalola who was found worthy as an individual among the current nominees to receive the Award.
His words: “Afe Babalola has distinguished himself in the provision of quality education just like the sage, advocacy for the masses through legal intervention and other means to deserve the Award.”
No wonder Prof. Raimi A. Olaoye once described Babalola as the second and modern day Obafemi Awolowo on account of his (Babalola’s) exploits in the realm of education through, which he is putting the smiles on the faces of many and receiving accolades nationally and internationally.
Speaking at a lecture titled “Connecting the past with the present for a rewarding future of Nigeria education system,, organised by the University of Ilorin chapter of the Nigerian University Education Students Association (NUESA) in May 2016, Olaoye, a Professor of History and International Relations at the University of Ilorin, described the duo of Awolowo and Babalola as “fathers, role models, foremost educationists, courageous nationalists and great Nigerians.”
It is a notorious fact that Awolowo has played his part and has gone to join the saints triumphant, but his re-incarnate, Babalola, has stepped into his shoes by virtue of the gigantic strides he took by establishing ABUAD, which commenced academic works on January 4, 2010 to change the face of education in Nigeria and bring back its lost glory in education and for which he had been commended nationally and internationally by education stakeholders, including, but not limited to the NUC, which acknowledged his nine-year-old university as “the pride of university system in Nigeria,” the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), which dubbed it as “the most successful private university in Nigeria” and UNESCO which endorsed it as “a world class institution of Higher Education.”
Based on Awolowo and Babalola’s vision for education and general development of Nigeria, they, in concert with a few others like them, have always been seen in the mould of nationalists and pan-Africanists such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Cedar Senghor, Houphouet Boign, Dauda Jawara, Nassingbe Eyadema, Marcus Garvey, E.W. Blyden and W.B. Dubois.
“In point of truth, Aare Afe Babalola, just like the late sage, is strongly passionate about how to reform our education system in Nigeria. His popular column on Thursdays in the Nigerian Tribune and lately his well-received column in The Vanguard on Wednesdays have always addressed variety of issues on education such as the need for quality education, good remuneration for teachers, review of School Curriculum and Education, which is responsive to the needs of the country. His strong passion for the future of education in Nigeria is not misguided, knowing him as foremost educationist, erudite lawyer (SAN) and someone who hails from home of Professors, Ekiti-Kete.”
Reacting to the development, Babalola thanked Anyaoku-led Award Selection Committee for taking note of his modest contributions through his various humanitarian programmes and for nominating him for the famous Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for Year 2018.
He said his modest contributions to the educational landscape of the country was a dream come true and expressed happiness that this is happening in his lifetime, pointing out that his decision to set up a university was informed by his experience during his seven-year stint as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council at the University of Lagos during which time he was able to see, first hand and bare-facedly, the decay and rot in our educational system.
Together with his colleagues in UNILAG, he recalled that they were able to do the little they could do then as a result of which the university was not only voted the best in the country then, Babalola was twice voted the Best Pro-Chancellor. A great admirer of the late sage, Babalola said the only legacy he could bequeath to this generation of Nigerians and those coming behind lies in quality, functional and reformatory education that will produce all-round graduates that will be job creators and not job seekers.
Emphasising that the Award is not only an honour, but a catalyst that will ginger and propel him to do more in his service to humanity, Babalola called on well-meaning Nigerians to join him in the crusade of institutionalising quality and functional education in Nigeria, stressing that “like I keep saying, I want Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of giving. ABUAD is all about giving back to the society to make it better than I had met it”.
• Olofintila wrote from Ado-Ekiti.