Afe Babalola: An uncommon man, doing uncommon things with uncommon results

Ogunsakin Mustapha
12 Min Read
Aare Afe Babalola SAN, Founder, ABUAD

By Tunde Olofintila

Since the beginning of the week, the media has been awash with the almost incredible news of the superlative performance of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, in the 2024 rankings of universities world-wide by the highly respected Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, THEIRS, where the 15-year-old university was ranked in the following ways to the admiration of its peers, including those that are several decades older than it:

  • No. 1 in the World for SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy) 
  • No. 1 in the World as Top Universities engaging in Outreach Programmes with a Stewardship score of 98.0 out of 100.
  • ABUAD, Nigeria ranks No. 1 in the World in Stewardship with a stewardship score of 98.2 out of 100.
  • No. 1 among all the 264 Federal, State, and Private universities in Nigeria for the third time in succession: 2022, 2023 and 2024.
  • No. 142 amongst all the 2,152 ranked World Universities in 2024. 
  • No. 4 amongst all the African universities and No. 142 in the World in 2024, and
  • The clear leader globally for both OUTREACH and STEWARDSHIP. 

With this development, there is hardly anything to be said about ABUAD’s commendable performance in the 2024 THEIRS rankings that has not been said or to be written that has not been written. However, despite the flurry of words and the copious media space that have deservedly been committed to this worthy course, a lot more can still be said. After all, that which is good is good, while that which is bad is equally bad. 

That brings me to how Prof. Israel Olatunji Orubuloye, OON, a robust Academic of note, former Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University and ABUAD’s immediate past Director of Quality Assurance, once described the Founder & Chancellor of the wave-making ABUAD, Aare Emmanuel Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, LL. D (London): “An uncommon man, doing uncommon things and achieving uncommon results”.

With the advantage of hindsight, Orubuloye, a mobile encyclopedia of university administration, is pinpoint accurate and right that Babalola is an uncommon man, doing uncommon things and achieving uncommon results, perhaps in uncommon terrains. For it is indeed an uncommon man that will literally abandon his lucrative Law Practice to dabble into the foggy waters of establishing a private university, an expensive and non-rewarding enterprise, just to realize his dream of institutionalizing quality and functional education, teach Nigerians how a university properly-so-called, should be run, and  raising a new generation of future leaders that will change the society for the better. It is also an uncommon man (like Babalola) that will twice decline invitation to be Federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. This was the same way he declined an Oil Block as confirmed on Friday, June 22, 2013, by former Minister of State for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia, SAN.

Good enough, through a deft combination of determination, commitment, industry, personal supervision and injection of billions of Naira, the increasingly famous university has, on account of its monumental achievements in its short history of existence, been acknowledged by the NUC “as a model, benchmark, reference point as well as the pride of University system in Nigeria” and endorsed by the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigeria Universities “as the most successful private university in Nigeria”. On its part, UNESCO also acknowledged it “as a world class institution of higher education”.

The icing on the cake of acknowledgments for the university came with the aforementioned 2024 global rankings by Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.  

Presenting the 2024 THEIRS rankings to the public, the elder Statesman and legal juggernaut reiterated that only quality and meaningful education can save Nigeria from the cornucopia of problems such as economic doldrum, poverty, banditry, extremism, underfunded institutions and religious bigotry, among others currently confronting the country.

A man whose love and passion for quality and functional education are not in doubt, Babalola said Nigeria would be great again, like it was during the golden era of the First Republic, if its citizens could emulate the three-layered principles of hard work, honesty and faith which ABUAD had continually exhibited, adding that he has always believed that “hardship breeds determination, determination character, character breeds faith and faith never fails”.

According to the former Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos, UNILAG, the triple principles of hard work, honesty and faith had made ABUAD to excel tremendously in all its endeavours, which enabled it to emerge the best Nigerian University for the third consecutive time, 4th in Africa and 142nd in the world as recently published in the 2024 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.

It remains a notorious fact that Times Higher Education Impact Ranking for 2024, had also ranked ABUAD Number One globally, for SDG 7 on Affordable and Clean Energy, Number One in Outreach Programmes, with 98% and Number One in Stewardship Programmes, with 98.2%.

Babalola, attributed the meteoric rise in the ranking of ABUAD to its quality curriculum and stable and predictable academic calendar in a conducive learning environment devoid of strike actions as is the practice in public universities where one strike action takes off as soon as the one before it is called off.

His words “We are here today to share some good news for the third consecutive year. Part of it is that our 15-year-old university has again been ranked as No. 1 University in Nigeria, and Number 142 in education generally, the world over”.

He added: “The above notwithstanding, our ranking position has changed significantly. The reason is because this year, our ranking has gone beyond the shores of Nigeria and, now gone global.

“This result constitutes a challenge to all Nigerians, particularly our universities. We are all aware of the economic doldrum that the country is battling with. I must stress that education is the panacea to all the ignorance, extremism, poverty, religious bigotry and tribalism among other problems, confronting the country.

“It is my conviction that if people can emulate the type of complete and innovative education system, hard work, honesty and faith being exhibited in ABUAD, Nigeria would have been better for it”.

Babalola thanked members of the university community, parents as well as the various Regulatory Bodies such as the Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Health, NUC, MDCN, Council for Legal Education, ICAN, CIBN and NSE as well as COREN among others for their relentless efforts in making sure that the University was reckoned with in the educational sector and urged them not to rest on their oars.

Corroborating the time-tested aphorism that “the prize for hard work is more work”, Babalola encouraged the staff of the university to see its current ranking as a call to duty, so that apart from maintaining its position as Number One in Nigeria next year, the university will be number one in other areas, and Number One globally.

In her own remarks, an obviously elated ABUAD Vice Chancellor, Prof. Elisabeta Smaranda Olarinde, commended Babalola for deploying his hard-earned resources, goodwill and network in championing the needed revolution in the education sector, with the establishment of the university.

Olarinde, who had just clocked second year in office as VC, after acting for three years, said the institution’s management and staff would continue to justify Babalola’s huge investment in the University, the 400-bed ABUAD Multi-System Hospital which has been acknowledged as “the most well-equipped Hospital in Sub-Saharan Africa, the ABUAD Industrial and Research Park as well as ABUAD Integrated Farms by working harder towards making the institution one of the best 100 in the world in the nearest future.

In a veiled reference to the quality of graduates the university has been producing since its first Convocation on Sunday, October 21, 2013, Olarinde said: “In ABUAD, our role in the educational sector in the country and in Africa is to transform the entire educational system.  It is the believe of our Founder & Chancellor that you cannot transform something by doing everything the usual way. You can only transform something by doing things the excellent and the uncommon way.

“We in ABUAD have achieved this enviable level of national and global excellence because of the quality of graduates we turn out, through impactful education and training, not only for degrees, but also for leadership, character and entrepreneurial impact.  

“We commenced academic operations at ABUAD approximately 15 years ago. In those short 15 years, we rose from nothing to being continually ranked high by the Global Body, the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking, and even Agencies of Government in Nigeria”.

Continuing, Olarinde posited: “Out of thousands of qualified universities globally, ABUAD has always effectively come ahead of the several other universities in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, and in the United States. We are just starting.

“In a few years, and by the grace of God, we shall be talking of ABUAD being among the top 100 universities globally. We will not rest until we have achieved this goal.”

Olofintila, ABUAD’s Director of Corporate Affairs, writes from Ado-Ekiti


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