BY EMMANUEL EDUKUGHO
AARE Afe Babalola is an enigma. For several decades, he bestrode the legal profession like a colossus, becoming not only a role model to generations of lawyers, even those yet unborn, but also mentoring several others. Beyond the law practice in which he endeared himself to many people through his erudition, thoroughness, uprightness, and trust, this legal luminary has found fullest expression in championing the cause of
quality education delivery to the Nigerian people.
Born of Ekiti ancestry, he rose from grass to grace by sheer dint of hardwork, courage, determination, self-discipline and absolute faith in God to become one of the wealthiest Nigerians living today. A philanthropist of repute who believed money should not be kept in bank for the sake of banking, but meant to be used in making people happy.
Afe Babalola knew poverty in early life; hewing wood, drawing water, doing farm work, trekking long distance to attend primary school.
He toiled to acquire education, studying at home to pass GCE Ordinary Level, Advance Level, Bsc and LL.B. Today he has built one of the most beautiful universities in our country. What an irony of fate! For a person whose parents can not afford for him formal education, yet going all the way to build an exquisite academic edifice worth billions of naira without borrowing a kobo.
The Founder/President Emeritus of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, (ABUAD) spoke with Vanguard Education Editor, Emmanuel Edukugho and some other journalists after the Second Year Founder’s Day celebration of ABUAD and the exciting lecture delivered by Gen. (Dr) Yakubu Gowon in the main campus recently.
Congratulation Sir for this great day of the successful second matriculation ceremony and founder’s day celebration. How do you see emergence of private universities in Nigeria and whether they may soon wither away?
Let me tell you straightaway First, there is no government that can alone fund education successfully. Education is only part of the social services government owes society. Second the history of education shows that tertiary education generally was done by students themselves.. and the earliest universities were established by private groups, not by government. And the best universities in the world today are private universities, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, Virginia, in fact the whole of Ivy League, are all private universities.
They were established by people who believe in humanity and developing others, and they know the best way to develop others is through education alone. I do not know why anybody could think that in Nigeria it is going to be different from others; that private universities should not exist, that federal and state universities will remain. And in the contrary, state universities are the poorest in this country today, the federal universities, I will still say, is on the average, the best universities are private universities and mine is going to be one of them. The future of education in this country lies squarely and only in the private universities.
You said in your speech that ABUAD is the only non-profit university in Nigeria. But what about the fees students pay?
What are we charging? Do you know what they charge in private secondary schools? Some (private schools) pay over N1 million. But this is a university, which ought to charge more but we are charging less than one quarter of what is charged in secondary schools. Don’t you see that we are already a charitable institution? Let me tell you, to train any student in private institution in this country today, in a good university even by federal government, you will need no less than N4.5 million per child. As a pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos , we did the research and we discovered that what we needed to train every child is far away from what the government gave to us. That is what is responsible for the decadence in education, poor infrastructure, laboratories, libraries old and building rotting away and all that. Unless we appreciate that education is a serious business and we need money for it, we will never get quality education.
So even at N500,000, we are still subsidising the cost of running of this university, creation of the property here, equipment, salaries and for maintenance. So, we need much more than that. Here for instance, we have constant electricity supply, here we have seven generators each of 500KV to provide 24 hour constant power supply for a whole term. If people now say N500,000 is too much, go to Ghana where tuition fees is about N6 million there or England where they pay about N17 million.
What challenges are you facing in ABUAD?
They are many. We need constant electricity which government does not provide therefore we have to buy generators which in turn increases the cost of maintaining the university, whereas if there is electricity we only pay normal bills. There is no water and so we have to provide that too. For instance the university provided double industrial borehole at the rate of 90 million per one. But if government provides water, we will pay less. Also the roads are bad, we are even asking for air port and if government does not cooperate we will have to go on our own. The roads are dilapidated. The other challenges have to do with parents and students. These students live among students in other universities and have in the course influenced each other either for good or bad. So making them to change from other groups to what we want them to do here is a difficult thing.
Do you agree that government should give financial assistance to private universities in the country?
I don’t. . If private universities are profit-making universities, then why should government support them? So, if government gives money to universities that are sharing profit, it means government is giving money meant for public education to profit making private universities. If it is a university like my own (ABUAD) which was registered as a not-for-profit making university, yes, government should support it because there is no profit sharing. Every kobo realised from the university goes back into the university. However, whether private or public, government should give money for researchers because everybody benefits from research. So if a university is embarking on research that the society will benefit from, then why will government not fund such research? In ABUAD, we are currently doing research on the use of certain materials as fertilizers, research into chemicals to kill some germs, government should support it because when the result turns out positively, everybody benefits.
Some people have said products of private universities are less intelligent than their counterparts in public universities. Can that be correct judging from your experience?
I don’t know who would have said that, but to the best of my knowledge would you say students of let say Covenant University in Ogun State are not good? We (ABUAD) have just spent one year here and the Institute of Bankers came here, looked into our curriculum, found it good and also recommended that our students should embark on certain subjects to qualify them automatically for diploma in banking in this place. The trend these days is to make graduates marketable for employment even before they graduated. And here, it is compulsory that you learn another language in addition to English so that when you leave you become marketable. Spoken English of graduates nowadays have deteriorated badly. Here, we teach our students English language throughout their course to enhance their proficiency in the language. All we need is just more time and I can assure you the products here will be globally marketable upon graduation.
What informed the founding of ABUAD?
I have always believed that we need good education. I never wanted to go to school. I was forced to go to school, and because I had quality education, I was able to sit at home and pass school certificate, GCE Advanced level, BS.C, and LL.B so having benefited from it, I now know the advantage of education, and without education nobody would have known me today. So I want to give back to the society by imparting the right quality education into people. That was how ABUAD started. When I became the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos and I won the best Pro-Chancellor twice, I then believe in my heart that education is the best legacy one can leave behind to generations yet unborn.