– My Encounter with the Man who Etched his Name on the Heart of History
By Dele Ajaja
I DON’T revere people for owning mansions and exotic cars, because those ostentatious chattels could be acquired with bribes and misappropriated funds. Fame DOESN’T thrill me, either, because some folks are famous for partaking in disreputable endeavors. However, I venerate those who impact their societies positively, when they have the prospects and capacities to do so – instead of acquiring manors and outlandish vehicles. Aare Afe Babalola, an illustrious son of Ekiti, my home-state, the man with sundry honors and roles, is one of the Africans that I revere copiously. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN; Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR; and Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON; among others, has etched his name on the Walls of Altruism in Nigeria, Africa, and the world.
I heard a lot about Aare Babalola, a celebrated lawyer and proprietor of the Afe Babalola University, ABUAD, Ado-Ekiti, before I left Nigeria in the mid-90s. However, I sat and chatted with the learned man for the first time sometime in December 2022. My friend, Air Vice Marshall Niyi Ojuawo (rtd,) current Representative of Ekiti South Federal Constituency – 1, picked me and my spouse from my house, for a trip to Ikere-Ekiti, where a club was about to honor him for his contributions to the development of Ekiti State. Before heading to Ikere-Ekiti, Niyi needed to conclude a discussion with Chief Babalola at ABUAD, in connection with the advancement of Ekiti State. We arrived at the university proprietor’s office shortly, and were amiably received by the attentive, hospitable, and quick-witted Aare Babalola.
There were about seven of us in the man’s office, including Professor Smaranda Olarinde, the institution’s Vice Chancellor, and a couple of the university’s officials. Speaking about the past and present developments in Nigeria, Aare Babalola demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of how our country got mired in the sludge we were and how to get out of it. The nonagenarian virtuoso had a lot to say about our state (Ekiti,) country, continent, and the world at large. Above all, one could sense the flame of patriotism in the man, as he analyzed how our country could retain the designation of “The Giant of Africa.” Aare Babalola had another stellar quality that was rare among his equals. He was a great listener. Now and then, he listened to our views twice as much as he spoke.
Noticing that our stopover was my first visit to ABUAD, Aare Babalola delegated one of his assistants to take us round the university. “See the campus and let me know what you think, Dele,” he said. (Niyi had been to the university severally and knew the place, but went with us anyway.) From that statement, I sensed that the man didn’t mind hearing other people’s opinions about his tasks. In all sincerity, I was very impressed and proud of what I saw. Having been to some American campuses, I could say that ABUAD mirrored some of the American universities architecturally. The structures on that campus demonstrated that we had a place the world could see and take Africa, the cradle of mankind, seriously.
Captivatingly, the university’s medical center showcased some of the most advanced equipment I had seen in our part of the world. The head of that sanatorium took us round the facility, and I truly marveled at the lifesaving apparatuses that I saw. Reflecting on my personal belief that a healthy people was a wealthy people, I couldn’t stop admiring the vision of the man who dreamed up the university. I was equally mesmerized by ABUAD’s Planetarium, the edifice for educating students and visitors about astronomy and the stars in the cosmos. The administrative areas, faculty buildings, student and staff residences, and other structures on the campus were capable of speaking for themselves anywhere in the world.
“I admire your vision and mission, sir,” I abridged what I saw to Aare Babalola on returning to his penthouse office. The man suggested that our generation should sustain the vision and make our state and country relevant in the world. Irrefutably, I treasured every moment we spent with the trailblazing lawyer, philanthropist, educationist, agriculturalist, and statesman. Aare Babalola continues to garner stacks of honors in Ekiti, Nigeria, Africa, and the world. Forward-looking countries have “Think Tanks,” for garnering what their thinkers have to offer, for keeping their societies aloft. Shouldn’t our society learn from pathfinders like Aare Babalola, in order to get out of the jungle of hopelessness?
IMAGE: Aare Afe Babalola.
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