Afe Babalola: A man full of surprise – Obasanjo

Ogunsakin Mustapha
6 Min Read
Aare Afe Babalola SAN

By Tunde Olofintila

In appreciation of his immeasurable contributions and multi-billion Naira investments in Education, Agriculture, Law and Legal Education, Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo has described his age-long friend and Founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, Aare Afe Babalola SAN, as a man full of surprises.

Obasanjo, who breezed into the 15-year-old university in the heartland of Ado-Ekiti over the weekend, was ushered into the Postgraduate College where the new and fifth Provost of the College, Prof. Abiodun Ojo, a first rate Academic and a seasoned Administrator, was being presented both as the Provost and the Chairman of the Committee of Provosts, Deans and Directors, CPDD.

In deference to his exalted personality as someone who enjoys the rare opportunity of ruling the country twice, first as a Military Head of State between February 13, 1976, and October 1, 1979, and later as a democratically elected President between May 29, 1999, and May 29, 2007, Obasanjo was offered a seat on the top table, which he repeatedly declined.

But when Babalola insisted that the meeting would not continue unless Obasanjo occupies his rightful position on the top table, Obasanjo then accepted a seat on the top table, sandwiched between Babalola and his wife, Yeye Aare Modupe Babalola.

When he was asked to speak, the former President reclined into his rich repertoire of jokes and said: “My being asked to speak here today reminds me of the case of one Baba Ijo (the President of the Men’s Fellowship) who got to a church, and without notice, he was asked to pray”. 

He added: “Of course, this took him by surprise, but he summoned the courage to say: “In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. O kan mi ku” (this is a surprise or an ambush). And he sat down.

“But in my own case today, I say in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I am surprised, but I won’t sit down. If I knew I would be taken by surprise to speak here today, I would have waited for Aare in his office because I came to inform him of my forthcoming birthday (March 5) and to ask for his prayers as someone who is older than I am”. 

“But then, Aare Afe Babalola is full of surprises. He is a man who had lived by surprises. His university, Afe Babalola University is a surprise. Since I have known him, he has lived from one surprise to another. He has continued to give me one surprise or another. Since our paths crossed each other, Aare has been one of the few great encounters in my life”

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian President

Alluding to Babalola’s seven-year stint as the Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of UNILAG after he (Babalola) had declined to be the country’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Obasanjo called: “I will not forget what he did to Education during my tenure as President by accepting to be the Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos. He made the university to become a model among federal universities in this country. His impact on UNILAG remains until today”.

It is a notorious fact that during his tenure at the helms of affairs as Pro Chancellor & Chairman of Council of UNILAG between 2000 and 2007, Babalola, together with colleagues in the Governing Council and the University Management was able to turn the university around within seven years by ensuring accountability, using his own resources, goodwill and connections to develop the University, ensuring stable Academic calendar in an environment devoid of strike actions as a result of which UNILAG was voted Number 1 University in Nigeria while its Vice Chancellor then, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, was voted the Best Vice Chancellor.

In appreciation of his stellar contributions to the University, he was twice voted the Best Pro Chancellor of Nigerian Universities and later voted the Chairman of all Pro Chancellor of Nigerian Universities

Obasanjo therefore implored Nigerian universities to learn a lesson from the Afe Babalola School of how a university, properly so-called, should be run. In addition, he implored willing Nigerians to also learn from Babalola “how he has kept himself active from head to toe even at his age”.

Coming back to himself, Obasanjo said: “I am much younger than Aare.  Yet, when I was coming to this hall, I was panting even though I play Squash. We all have a lesson to learn from him about how he is living long and young.

He commended ABUAD staff for keying into Babalola’s vision of establishing a university that will teach others how a university should be run, institutionalizing quality and functional education and raising a new generation of leaders.

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