By Michael Omolewa:
In March 2017, the Norwegian Nobel Committee accepted the nomination of Aare Emmanuel Afe Babalola for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017, and declared that 318 candidates had been registered for consideration for the Prize. Aare Afe Babalola had been nominated by a broad spectrum of Professors of History from different parts of the world, and supported by politicians, including Senators and parliamentarians and civil society organizations.
The nomination described Afe Babalola as a Nigerian citizen who has dedicated his life to work for peace and peaceful co-existence through the instrument of an innovative education, philanthropy, provision of food security and law practice. Aare Afe Babalola, is a foremost educationist in Africa, Founder of Afe Babalola University in Nigeria, described by UNESCO as one of the fastest growing private universities in Africa, a man with contacts throughout the world, one who has dedicated his life and resources to pursuing peace, and the culture of peace by providing quality education, offering access to education to the class of people who would have ordinarily remained denied for a variety of reasons including poverty and geographical distance.
Afe Babalola has an unusual story of being denied access at a young age to secondary education, settling for the position of pupil teacher with his elementary education, but using self-directed education through correspondence courses and entirely through self-study to pass the Ordinary and Advanced Levels examinations of the University of London, then the B.Sc. (Econ) and LL.B. – all through the external system of the University of London.
Afe Babalola is the founder and senior partner of what is one of Nigeria’s largest and most important law firms and that he had many times served as counsel for the Nigerian government, particularly that of President Obasanjo (1999-2007) and in cases of the highest political importance, such as representing M.K.O. Abiola, when his election as civilian President in 1993 was illegitimately annulled by a military takeover. Afe Babalola has acted across a wide spectrum of cases in civil society, from those dealing with communal issues (such as chieftaincy and boundary claims) to those involving Nigerian and multinational companies, not least in the banking and oil sectors and that within the Nigerian legal profession, Babalola had played a major role for decades: with over 1000 lawyers having passed as juniors through his chambers, including 14 SANs (the Nigerian equivalent of QCs), the publication of several key legal texts etc.
The outstanding success of Babalola’s legal practice made him a wealthy man, becoming the largest taxpayer in his own Ekiti State, and spending the wealth on an amazingly liberal way on projects to benefit his fellow citizens and to foster Nigerian development. His philanthropy has ranged over many fields, but is conspicuously evident in the area of higher education in which he has supported projects at Nigeria’s First Generation universities of Ibadan and Lagos, the Federal Polytechnic at Ado-Ekiti (his home town).
In March 2015, the University of London conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of Law thus becoming the third African, after Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, to be conferred with the Honorary Doctorate degree of the University of London since its inception. It is to be noted that both Mandela and Tutu became Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Babalola has also received several high ranking traditional titles including the award of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by the Government of Nigeria. He has also been the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Lagos, University of Jos, University of Ado Ekiti and Kogi State University.
Afe Babalola has demonstrated a rare combination of will, talent and innovation how education is the answer to Martin Luther King Jr’s challenge that “Sooner or later all people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace”. For more than three decades, Afe Babalola has provided through education, opportunities for the poor and vulnerable groups, a voice, intellectual capacity and prestige to defend and pursue, peace, justice, freedom and equality.
He has awarded numerous scholarships to deserving students all over the world and constructed several institutions to promote learning. He has brought great innovation to tertiary education in Nigeria and enhanced excellence in quality of programs. He has been a benefactor to several youth who otherwise would have been consumed by communal violence and ethnic and religious wars that continue to sporadically break out in Nigeria to date! Through his prolific and copious writings, mentorships, investment of his time, treasures and talents, Afe Babalola has been a river of peace, coursing through the arid soil of violence, bigotry, religious extremism, poverty, corruption and greed.
The whole thinking and practice of Afe Babalola, his whole life’s work, affirms the core idea of the Nobel Peace Prize, to promote peace, disarmament and the brotherhood of man. Babalola rose through Private study to become a brand name in the Law profession in Nigeria and an internationally respected legal luminary and jurist. Through the instrument of law the judicial process and education Babalola has stood outside state, party and corporate interests, to construct an alternate pathway to peace and justice.
Throughout his tortious road to the pinnacle of professional and financial success, Babalola refused to be bitter and vengeful against the society and circumstances that denied him scholarships and formal education. Instead of hitting back through exclusion and alienation, he embraced his society with an unusual spirit of forgiveness, by awarding thousands of scholarships to deserving youth. This forgiving spirit has become a major part of his crisis management strategy and peace building in his community and several higher education institutions where he played critical leadership roles.
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