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Afe Babalola, the ‘Peace Time Hero’

IT was joyful celebration, deep-rooted camaraderie and appreciative payback time for the frontline educationist and legal colossus, Aare Afe Babalola, CON, SAN when the Afe Babalola Beneficiaries Worldwide (ABBW) unveiled a bust in his honour in the sleepy but heroic town of Okemesi-Ekiti and later decorated him as a “Peace Time Hero” in his homestead, Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, last weekend.

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ABBW, which has been celebrating Babalola every December 12 (which people wrongfully call his birthday), is the umbrella body for those who have benefitted from his (Babalola’s) philanthropic gestures over the years.

The celebration train took off from the palace of the Owa Ooye of Okemesi-Ekiti, Oba Michael Gbadebo Adedeji, where Babalola, his wife, Yeye Aare Modupe Babalola, and the leadership of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) were received by Oba Adedeji, the Owa Oye-in-Council and the crème-de-la-crème of Okemesi sons and daughters.

Oba Adedeji was full of effusive praise and lavish prayers for Babalola for his monumental contributions to Ekiti State in general and Okemesi-Ekiti as a result of which a street was named after him in Okemesi-Ekiti (Afe Babalola Way) when he was given the chieftaincy title of Jagunmolu Atunluse of Okemesi-Ekiti 10 years ago.

The train thereafter left for the historic Ekiti Parapo War Museum in memory of Legendary Fabunmi Isola Adesoye, the Generalissimo of the Ekiti Parapo War of Liberation and the other fallen Yoruba War Time Heroes during the Kiriji War of 1877 – 1886, where Babalola laid a wreath in honour of the fallen heroes.

Chief Afe Babalola and his wife, Modupe, receiving the Peace Time Hero award from the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi.

ABBW, the brainchild of Chief Solomon Morakinyo Ogunniyi, came into being after Ogunniyi visited Babalola in Ibadan on December 12, 1999. After listening to him, the altruistic philanthropist gave him (Ogunniyi) some seed money to start his Publishing Business which has been thriving ever since.

An uncommon and appreciative man, unlike most who have benefitted from Babalola, Ogunniyi has, since 2013, set aside December 12 of every year to celebrate Babalola, the celebrated philanthropist.

Today, the phenomenon called Afe Babalola has trained over 1,000 lawyers, including 19 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), High Court Judges and Justices of the Appellate Courts as well as Federal and State Attorneys-General. He has also awarded several scholarships and empowered market women, widows, farmers, churches, tertiary institutions, hospitals, the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, among several others.

Certainly, if all of those who have benefitted from his large-heartedness have demonstrated the same greatness in gratitude like Ogunniyi, Afe Babalola Gardens where Babalola’s burst was unveiled on December 11, 2018, would have been jam-packed with a warren of people in attendance.

Notwithstanding, Ogunniyi, a man in the mould of Henry Ford of this world, has lit a lamp that will be very difficult for anyone to extinguish. He has started a revolution that no power can stop but which others should emulate.

Babalola, who paid glowing tribute to the Peace Time leaders like Professor Sam Aluko, Lawyer Akinyede, Dr Olokesusi, Ojo Ugbole, Chief E. A. Babalola and the Osuntokun Brothers who made Ekiti the shining example of what a state should be, the “Land Of Honour” and the “Fountain of Knowledge,” however took a swipe at how Ekiti State, to which he has contributed so much, has suddenly become what he described as “the notorious World’s Poverty Headquarters.”

His words: “Regretfully, that was not the dream of the founding fathers of Ekiti State. As a matter of fact, that was not what I grew up to know. Between 1959 and 1967 when I was a young man, the Ekitis were a contended, industrious and God-fearing people. Crimes were few and far between. There were no super rich people, but nobody was begging for food or money. There was no unemployment. Nobody was sleeping on the streets. There was respect for elders/seniors.”

He added: “Those who sent their children/wards to school were proud to feed them and paid their school fees. It was not the responsibility of governments to feed those children in those days because parents of those days did not just give birth to children and donated them to government to feed for them. But today, it would appear all those have gone with the winds.”

Babalola believes that the present caustic narrative of the orgy of violence, spiral unemployment and grinding poverty as well as wanton criminality ravaging the society will be redressed if the warped Nigerian constitution with its attendant over-concentration of power at the centre, which renders the states and the local governments totally impotent, unlike what obtained under the Parliamentary Constitutions of 1960 and 1963, is frontally addressed and forthwith too.

Babalola lamented with a twinge that: “I say with emphasis that the only change that can change the country for the better and pave way for the enhancement of one Nigeria is the change that changes the structure of Nigeria. It is that change that will make politics less attractive, make each state to develop at its own pace and do away with all shades and shapes of criminality.”

He added: “It is restructuring that would enable the component parts of the country to develop their resources, provide employment, eradicate poverty and make individuals to become true Nigerians. It is restructuring that would enable each state to control its population, set internationally acceptable standard for admission to tertiary institutions and bring back the glory of quality education from our universities.

“Above all, it is restructuring that would curb overconcentration of power in the centre and reduce corruption, promote harmony and unity and make the country metamorphose into a nation.”

At the grand finale in Afe Babalola University on December 12, 2018, where Babalola was decorated as a “Peace Time Hero,” chairman on the occasion and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, equally eulogised Babalola for his significant and continued contributions to the development of the country.

Starting from Law, Babalola’s primary constituency, to Education where his nine-year old university which has been acknowledged by the NUC as “the pride of university system in Nigeria” dubbed by the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) as “the most successful private university in Nigeria” and endorsed by UNESCO as “a world class institution of Higher Education” and philanthropy where Babalola has given to many worthy courses, Ooni said Babalola is nothing but a global citizen that deserves to be celebrated globally.

On account of this, the frontline royal father volunteered to be the arrowhead of next year’s Afe Babalola Day. This is particularly heart-warming in a clime where heroes are hardly ever celebrated when they are still alive and kicking on planet earth, forgetting that when heroes are not celebrated, new ones may not come into being.

Olofintila writes from Ado-Ekiti

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