Ask for Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) from anybody in the street in Ekiti, Ibadan, Enugu, Kano, Abuja or Port Harcourt, the ready answer will come in torrents: Afe Babalola is a distinguished legal luminary, Afe Babalola is an Ekiti man. Afe Babalola is a self-made man. Afe Babalola is the Aare Bamofin of Yoruba land. Afe Babalola is a philanthropist. Afe Babalola is Obasanjo’s legal adviser. Afe Babalola is one of the prominent founders of Ekiti state. Yes, these are factual descriptions of who Afe Babalola is. But those descriptions are not and cannot be the actual definition of who Afe Babalola is.
We all tend to reduce the humanity that resides in all of us to mere labels. We reduce ourselves to simply the names given to us by our parents; to the schools we attend; the social groups we belong to; to our towns and villages; and to other tags arising from our achievements and accomplishments.
Afe Babalola is bigger and greater than just being an Ekiti born czar. Afe Babalola is bigger and greater than just being a SAN. Afe Babalola is bigger and greater than just being the founder of one of the fastest growing Universities in the world. Afe Babalola is bigger and greater than just being the biggest individual tax payer in Ekiti State. Afe Babalola is bigger and greater than just being labelled the father of virtually all the successive governors in Ekiti state since the creation of that Fountain of Knowledge.
We remember Kiniwun Onibudo, the Olumoko, The Right Honourable Chief Obafemi Awolowo today, tomorrow and forever. But ask anybody about Awolowo ‘agbolaya bi aara’ Baba Segun, the simplest and commonest answer is; Awo was Premier of Western Region. Whereas before being Premier there was Obafemi Awolowo. Before being a public letter writer, produce merchant, labour unionist, journalist, lawyer and finally a politician, there was Obafemi Awolowo. Even before being christened Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi ibn Awolowo, there was a creature, a specimen of humanity in whom resided soul, spirit and body; a being with destiny and spirit-head.
The public figure and achiever per excellence we all came to know as Aare Afe Babalola was, in the beginning, a ‘nobody’ like most of us mortals. And yet he was a ‘somebody’! A being with strong will and self-determination embedded in his tiny skull. A being already designed and defined by his Creator. A being upon release to the planet earth would live out his destiny. That persona, that being, that creature beyond all appellations and tags is the man that we are celebrating. A man who has grown beyond the name given to him at birth such that we cannot reduce his stature to just the name. Looked at this way, there are over half a billion Mohammeds, or variations and varieties or derivatives of the name Mohammed: Momodu, Moh, Mamudu, Momoh, Muhammadu, Modu, and many more. In fact Mohammed is the name borne by the largest number of human beings on earth. But Mohammed [PBOH] the Prophet stands out.
Aare Afe Babalola was not privileged to see the inside of any Secondary school after graduating from Primary School. He read only Standard Six of those days. Armed with that lowly Certificate, and without ever stepping a foot in any University, Babalola’s Spirit-Head propelled him beyond Secondary school certificate, catapulted him beyond a first university degree, beyond second and third degrees and armed him with laurels in Law Studies and Practice and landed him at the very peak of the respected profession. Babalola’s chambers has produced well over a hundred SANs!
The very moment Babalola started earning a living from his law practice and was able to make some savings, he turned his attention to philanthropy. He did not wait to become a millionaire or a billionaire before he decided he should help the needy and the poor and to ensure that other talented but deprived children of the poor didn’t have to go through his own harrowing path. He started awarding grants and scholarships to indigent students and went an extra mile by helping proprietors of private schools with financial assistance. All without noise and fanfare!
Afe Babalola turned to agriculture, probably in remembrance and commemoration of his roots and made a success of it as a big time farmer primarily as a contributor to the country’s food security.
Education however remains Afe Babalola’s major focus and he has spent more than 90% of all his investments on provision of education and knowledge. Even as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the prestigious University of Lagos he served meritoriously without a Kobo for all his selfless services to the university. He even donated a massive building to the University.
More than anybody else, Afe Babalola can beat his chest and lay claim to being the chief protagonist in the creation of Ekiti state. He and a few others clamoured for the creation of the state and engaged all his faculties to ensure victory.
It was Afe Babalola’s passion for education and his well-known perfectionist tendencies that informed his decision to establish a model University sited in his state. His vision was not just to assemble buildings, students and teachers. His mission and vision were larger and bigger. He envisioned a Comprehensive and all-encompassing University that would meet the needs and standard of not just 21st century but 22nd! Information Technology, Medical Health Sciences, Agriculture and Food Security, Culture and Tradition and Character Building, Leadership and Human Capital Development are all brought under one huge umbrella in the University. It is little wonder that within its young existence it has caught the attention of UNESCO and all major international assessors as one of the most vibrant universities not only in Africa but in the world.
Aare Babalola has continued to nurture the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, and it can said without any fear of contradiction that the University has become like ‘a last child’. He gives the University the love and attention a parent gives to their last child.
Aare Afe Babalola, or the Inner Being that goes by that appellation will be remembered long after entering a second stage in existence in the Continuum as a person who identified with the youth more than any other characteristic of his. Afe Babalola is not only an inspirer but a great inspiration to all young people that ever have the opportunity to come into his circuit. He loves and encourages the younger people. Whenever a younger person is in his company he makes them feel that they are with their friend or age mate while of course he still plays the father figure.
Aare Afe Babalola shuns partisan politics and has refused to be dragged into the murky waters of African politics, the reason why he has rejected every political offer like Vice President, Minister, Governor, and Senator thrown at his feet.
What we are celebrating therefore is not Afe Babalola, many people will go by that name/title/description/appellation now or in the future, but the distinct and distinguished spiritual ENTITY, the Soul Fire, the Driving Force that existed before the name was given to it as a label, and will continue to exist in perpetuity.
Ori eni l’awure; Ayanmo l’eda; Ori la baabo, k’a f’Orisa si’le; Oogun kan l’ojo iponju, Ori l’ojo gbogbo! [Whoever is interested in the meaning should please proceed to learn the rich Yoruba language]. The Spirit-Head is the King. It is the All-in-All.
Whatever Afe Babalola lacks in physical stature, [which in any case is mere garment to the Spirit-Body] he, like Churchill, Napoleon, Hale Selassie and all other giants in history, has in bounteous abundance in intellect, strong will, industry, perseverance, persistence, consistence, integrity and CHARACTER.
We salute the ageless Inner Being which propels the outer body named Afe Babalola and wish that unique Being the immortality guaranteed by its Creator.