Afe Babalola shines at Oxford University
Anyone itching for a small lecture on the hierarchy of traditional titles in Yorubaland should make the mistake of addressing Afe Babalola (SAN) as “Chief.” He would want to know if that person has conspired with others to demote him! The title he cherishes most is that of “Aare,” a title conferred on him by the one he refers to as “the Emperor of Yorubaland.” His title of Aare, in his own reckoning, makes him second in ranking to that Emperor.
A man apparently gifted with a very good sense of humour – one trait I have come to associate with many from his native city of Ado-Ekiti – Aare Afe Babalola is a story in human determination and valour. He was hardly the most privileged child of his generation, raised as he was on the farms by very poor parents. The only claim he ever had to studying under the classroom was at primary school. Not least because his parents were not able to afford him secondary school education, the determined Afe Babalola embarked on private studies, which saw him earn his O-level and A-level certificates as well as a law degree from the renowned University of London. If a clairvoyant had predicted that Afe Babalola would be what he is today, a legal practitioner of no mean standing as well as being owner of a university of great promise – the Afe Babalola University at Ado-Ekiti, there was a time in his life when the sanity of such a clairvoyant would have been seriously questioned.
As fate would have it, Aare Afe Babalola is today a household name, not only in Nigeria but also in the world of academia worldwide. His numerous honorary degrees from acclaimed universities attest to this. It is in acknowledgement of the great name and reputation he has earned himself that the Aare was invited to the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, under the directorship of Wale Adebanwi, Rhodes Professor of race relations, to give a talk on the important subject of “The Search for Sustainable Education in Post-colonial African States.” It was, as expected, a well-attended lecture.
Aare Afe Babalola, to the joy of his Nigerian compatriots, did not in any way disappoint. He surprised everyone, at his age of 89, refusing to be treated as an old man who would be asked to sit down while delivering a lecture which lasted well over one hour. The Founder and Chancellor of Afe Babalola University talked extensively on how the partitioning of Africa had impacted negatively on the ongoing developments in the continent, the fact that groups who had nothing in common were arbitrarily lumped together by the imperialists. In his own nation of Nigeria, Aare Afe Babalola graciously acknowledged the role of missionaries in the development of education, especially in the southern region, as well as the achievements of the early political leaders, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe, in particular. He talked on how military involvement in politics killed initiatives, as well as devalued the significance of education as evidenced by its under-funding. He seized upon the occasion to showcase what he has been able to do in his own university in order to elevate it to world-class status noting, rightly, that a world-class university should be able to attract staff and students from all over the world as well as expand the scope of subjects taught therein. A world-class university, he emphasised, should be able to impact on the development of society through its research activities.
The lecture at Oxford also provided an opportunity for Aare Afe Babalola to update his audience with political developments in Nigeria, from his own perspective. Just as many are, he seems unhappy that what was intended to be a true federal nation has degenerated into something else. He is of the school of thought that Nigeria made more progress when divided into regions than it is today with state structures bequeathed by successive military governments. He sides with those agitating for the restructuring of the country, saying those opposed to restructuring should not expect to be voted in in 2019. However, owing to time factor, one could not get the Aare to explain further the entails of the much-talked about restructuring agenda.
May 1, 2018 was a day to remember, not least because of the charisma of Aare Afe Babalola. He was down to earth, keeping those he chatted with laughing aloud. Not once did he compare the meal he was served to the more palatable one at home, jokingly reminding those of us residing in Oxford what we missed by staying away from Nigeria. He joked that the Ogoga had eaten that raw meat, prompting someone on the dinner table to ask if the Oba of Ikere-Ekiti was with us. I had to tell that person that the Aare was referring to me, being a native of Ikere town.
Great occasion, Aare Afe Babalola was accompanied to Oxford by family members and staff of his university and law firm.