By Adesina Wahab
FROM a humble background in the rustic town of Ado-Ekiti, the capital of Ekiti State, Nigeria, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, has grown not only to be a colossus in the legal profession and in arbitration, but also a household name in the education sector. This does not diminish the fact that he is also a big-time farmer.
Born on October 30, 1929, he attended Emmanuel Primary School, Ado-Ekiti and by private study enrolled for Senior Cambridge School Certificate and obtained A-Level certificate of London University before going to the London School of Economics where he got a bachelor’s degree in Economics.
After working briefly at the Central Bank of Nigeria, he went back to the University of London for his degree in Law, and in 1963 was called to the Bar and became a member of Lincoln’s Inn, London. He started out in 1963 in Ibadan as a lawyer in the chambers of Olu Ayoola and Co.
Two years later, he started his own chambers, Emmanuel Chambers, also in Ibadan and has been soaring high. In 1987, he got to the peak of his profession as a lawyer when he was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, while his chambers have produced the highest number of SANs in the country so far.
His big stature in the legal profession made the nation’s leaders at various times consider making him the nation’s number one law officer, that is the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, but not once or twice, he turned down such offers.
As one born into a family of farmers, up until now, his love for farming is very high. He owns big farms in many towns where he planted teak trees, various food and cash crops and he is one of the biggest fish farmers in Ekiti State.
He has not only instituted an annual award for farmers in Ekiti but recently complemented his love for agriculture by setting up an Industrial Park in Ado-Ekiti where various crops like cassava, tomatoes, yam among others would be processed into finished products, thereby helping to reduce the huge waste always encountered while storing such items.
In Ekiti, he is regarded as a father of the state due to his immense contributions during the struggle for the creation of the state in 1996. He has not relented, as his contributions to the socio-economic development of the state is unrivalled. The current governor of the state, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said recently that after the state government, Aare Babalola is the second biggest employer of labour and his businesses pay the highest taxes to the coffers of the state government. It is obvious that from how he started in life and how he achieved some exploits academically, Babalola is a lover of education. This, he had the opportunity to showcase at the national level when he was appointed the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001. He won the best Pro-Chancellor Award for two consecutive years in 2005 and 2006.
During his stint at UNILAG, he drew many projects to the university from various corporate bodies such as Julius Berger, Shell, Wema Bank, among others. Not only were those organisations able to execute projects on campus, the relationship between the Governing Council, the school management and the students was not only cordial but also tremendous progress was made. It was from that experience that he got the motivation to start his university, the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, in 2009. With determination and faith, he started university over the age of 80.
In a recent interview, he said he set up ABUAD to teach people how to run a university. Having spent most of his working/adult life in Ibadan, the temptation to start school in the city was high, but the Ado-Ekiti born lawyer opted for his hometown to host the world-class university. The university is situated along the Ado-Ijan Road and the physical development dwarfs that of many federal and state universities, while the equipment and facilities available trump one’s imagination.
The teaching hospital has state-of-the-art facilities that most public teaching hospitals in the country don’t have. It has eight modular theatres, CT-Scan and MRI scan machines, 16 kidney dialysis machines and an ICU ward. The hospital has carried out kidney transplant, several brain surgeries, heart surgeries and so on and so forth. The Law department is reputed to be the best in West Africa, and the College of Engineering was described by the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, as the best-equipped engineering college in the country.
Despite being a private university, ABUAD awards scholarships to deserving students and gives rebates on some courses like Agriculture to encourage students to go into those areas. While many public universities are groaning under heavy monthly electricity bills, ABUAD has its own independent power project that serves the school, its industrial park and others.
During the inauguration of the IPP, Governor Fayemi, while commending Babalola, said what the whole state has been finding it hard to achieve regarding a better source of power supply, Babalola was able to do within a short time.
Why will more garlands not be put on his neck? Why will Aare Baamofin of Yorubaland not be further recognised? His life has been that of achieving in the face of odds.