If news, as described is an account of an event that has obtruded itself is still in reckoning, and still remains its veritable meaning in media practice, then the account rendered here must not just pass without a generous mention. – The story must be told because one of the key personalities involved must be lauded on account of his unending resolve to impact this generation and also leave behind on the sands of time, a name etched on the positive pages of history. Aside from the foregoing, Aare Afe Babalola, the great Nigerian involved is a role model that must be celebrated for his very uncommon high sense of patriotism that generations coming behind must emulate for the common good.
Not many people could do what Aare Babalola has done at this critical period in history. Nigeria was taken to court by a foreign company claiming compensation for among other reliefs, compensation totaling $1.5 billion and an order restoring them as the owners of Pan Ocean. Two days ago, an Arbitration Tribunal sitting is the United States dismissed the $1.5 billion suit instituted against Nigeria by two foreign oil firms – Interocean Oil Development Company (IODC) and Interocean Oil Exploration Company (IOEC). The firms claimed to be owners of Pan Ocean Oil Company (Pan Ocean or POOC). In its ruling, the ICSID three-man tribunal held in the case marked: ARB/13/20 that, “as against the claims by IODC and IOEC, Nigeria is absolved of any liabilities and proceeded to award $660,129.87 in cost, against the claimants, in favour of Nigeria, listed as the sole respondent.” The story is one of those occurrences. But there is an unusual deed buried inside the account that must be exhumed for the sake of posterity.
THE PATRIOTIC DEED: HOW AARE AFE BABALOLA PROVIDED HIS PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FREE FOR NIGERIA & WON THE SUIT THAT COULD HAVE MADE NIGERIA PART WITH US$ 2.2 Billion
In exhuming this rare act of sympathy for Nigeria and identification with one’s own country, it is necessary to determine the factors that promote selflessness and patriotism; but push selfishness to the background. Patriotism is described as: ‘’Special affection for one’s own country, sense of personal identification with the country, special concern for the well-being of the country, and willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good’’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) The type of patriotism displayed in this story is very rare, and, therefore, deserves adequate mention in the media for others to emulate. Aare Afe Babalola led a legal team to from his law firm (Emmanuel Chambers) to prosecute the case pro bono (free of charge) for Nigeria. I must sincerely confess that I was bewildered when I read the story of this huge benevolence of Babalola, founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.
PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICE FOR NIGERIA: Aare Afe Babalola handled a litigation that would have cost Nigeria about $2.2 billion United States Dollars if not diligently prosecuted. That amount quoted in dollars is equivalent to N780,000,000,000. 00 (Seven Hundred and Eighty Billion Naira) If Baba Afe Babalola were to ask for professional legal fees that could be negotiated, at 20 percent of proceeds, the amount that would accrue to the legal luminary for winning a suit for Nigeria is One Hundred and sixty Billion Naira. (N160 Billion) But this genius offered his legal services FREE for NIGERIA as a NIGERIAN, as a great humanist and sympathizer of humanity. Helping others to rise has its rewards. The story of the life of Aare Afe Babalola, CON, OFR, SAN – who is today one of the most successful professionals of global reckoning on the legal turf is that of triumph over vicissitudes of life.
EMULATING AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, B.Sc. (Econs), LL.B (Hons), B.L.. OFR, CON, FNIALS, FCIArb., LL.D. & Founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti & Founder, Afe Babalola & Co (Emmanuel Chambers) Ibadan chose to help his nation. It is known that philanthropy is a veritable part of Aare Babalola, who clocks 91 years old on October 30, 2020. What is intriguing is that I have never heard of a Nigerian who is not an official of government who decided to put up a legal defence for this great country PRO-BONO. Perhaps my search is not exhaustive, but the fact remains that Afe Babalola has definitely sowed seeds that his children, children’s children, and indeed, his lineage will live to harvest for several decades, the way Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller who gave generously to causes, especially progressive education and reform are still remembered today. This is the type of Nigerians our young ones should emulate.
COMMENDATION FOR LEGAL TEAM: The Judge commended the quality of defence put up by the team which defended the interests of Nigeria. They Plaintiffs claimed that Nigeria failed, under a supposed subsisting contract agreement, to perform its obligations, including protecting their interests. In its judgment, the tribunal, comprising of Prof. William W. Park (as President), Prof. Julian D.M. Lew and Hon. Justice Edward Torgbor, upheld the counter arguments put up by Nigeria’s legal team, led by Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), with Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) and others, to the effect that Nigeria is without any blame in the alleged takeover of Pan Ocean. The Tribunal finds that Respondent (Nigeria) has not breached its obligations toward Claimants under Nigerian law or under international law.“The tribunal hereby dismisses Claimants’ claims for damages and for restitution. The tribunal hereby dismisses claimants’ claim to be reinstated as the beneficial owner of the 40% participating interest in OML 98’’.
.PHILANTHROPY AS PART OF AARE AFE BABALOLA – ACCORDING TO TOLA ADENIYI: Prominent veteran media practitioner, Chief Tola Adeniyi wrote a tribute on one of the birthday anniversaries of Baba Afe. He asserted that: ‘’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 indigent 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! Aare Afe Babalola attended Emmanuel Primary School, Ado-Ekiti, where he obtained his standard six certificate. That was the end of his formal education. All the educational qualifications listed against his name above were obtained through private study. Aare Afe Babalola was at various times a pupil-teacher, a secondary school teacher, secondary school vice principal, university lecturer, economist, auditor, administrator, farmer, and educationist.
Today, he is a foremost legal icon of his generation not only on the African continent but in the world. The self-made man is proud of the qualitative primary education he had. It was the high quality of instruction received by him at the Primary School level, he says, proudly, that served as the foundation for his subsequent educational achievements.’’ So young Nigerians, why was it possible for Baba Afe Babalola to develop himself all by himself in those difficult periods, and you, at this computer and jet age are unable to copy his attitudes and pursue your ambition resolutely? Youths must realize that it is only you, who could disturb yourself from succeeding if you derail through acts of commission and omission. You must read about the efforts put into living by great Nigerians by reading their biographies and autobiographies.
PASSION FOR PHILANTHROPY Aare Afe Babalola revealed in a publication the reasons why he imbibed the spirit of philanthropy. According to him: ‘’Nigeria is at the moment faced with several problems ranging from dilapidating infrastructure in every facet of public life, poor or inadequate medical facilities, ill-equipped educational institutions etc. No single government can be expected to provide a solution to these problems and more. ‘’Regrettably, most of the problems of the country have been blamed on its leadership, and perhaps this is understandably so given its huge human and natural resources. ‘’However, I am of the view that when the story of the current challenges of Nigeria come to be told decades down the road, both the government and governed will take the blame in not too dissimilar measures. ‘’For one, certain qualities and concepts such as service and philanthropy, the hallmarks of many great countries are terms with which many Nigerians are not familiar. Majority of Nigerians do not believe in rendering any form of service without taking something in return”. For many, the idea of selfless service is anathema’’.
Developing Character, Leadership and Human Capital Development: Aare Babalola is a genius. Geniuses are not created by God in sufficient quantities. A few years ago, I bantered with an elderly personality that remarkable development would have taken place had we conscientiously chosen people who would represent us in every sphere of activity dispassionately employing merit and inherent capabilities; not the feverish urge to govern alone. I asked hypothetically: How would Ado-Ekiti local government look like today had Baba Afe Babalola been begged 20 years ago to be the chairman of the local council on Part-Time basis? Easily,the type of miracles happening in ABUAD would have been replicated because the urge, ability and contacts are there. How would Baba Akin Mabogunje’s local government look like had he also been begged to be chairman when he was very agile? And how would the Senate of the Federal Republic have fared had we begged 20 of the likes of Prof. Akin Oyebode to be in the Senate?
People who reacted negatively felt strongly and stated that ”politics is not like that. ”Oyebode failed as a Vice-Chancellor” one contributor reasoned. We felt they had the right to free speech and to hold opinions without inhibitions within the ambits of the law. We, therefore, refused to defend ourselves because we believe in advancing superior arguments backed with facts of history that are irrefutable. We also have the right to reason anyhow provided they do not offend the laws of the land. We would never join issues with intent to abuse or disparage others. We have always avoided and discouraged such controversies that are unhealthy for development. You will never come across publications abusing people on TERRIFIC HEADLINES. We resent it and discourage the practice, especially in our society where people are quick to label you ”an enemy” or an agent of another person as if you have no modicum of intelligence to be independent-minded. Part of the social responsibility of the press as gatekepers in the information disemmination industry is to ensure that things go on well by inviting attention. We are morally and professionally bound to promote civility, peace, and peaceful coexistence. Disagreements and violence on account of simple issues that could be resolved by dialogue would take us nowhere.
EXAMPLES: HOW NOTABLE NIGERIA SERVED THEIR COMMUNITIES AFTER VACATING EXALTED POSITIONS
In 1973, late Rev’d Canon Josiah Akinyemi (Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi’s father) was the Commissioner for Local Government in the defunct Western State. He assembled the names of prominent indigenes of local government areas and got an approval from Gen. Oluwole Rotimi – then military governor for these eminent Nigerians to serve on Caretaker Committees of their local governments. They served part-time, and were not remunerated. They only attended meetings whenever convened quarterly. They served their localities patriotically. I at least know of Ijesha North local government comprising today’s Oriade, Obokun and parts of Atakunmosa local governments.
SERVICE TO HUMANITY IS NOT BY PROMOTION Chief J.O. Lawanson, a prominent Awolowo follower from Ere-Ijesha and top official of the Action Group who was tried for treasonable felony alongside Chief Obafemi Awolowo was chairman of the local government aforesaid. Chief S.T. Adelegan, Deputy-Speaker Western Region from Ipetu-Ijesha was appointed Vice-Chairman by Baba Akinyemi who was one of his mentors. Other people of means who were chosen to serve as Members of the Caretaker Committee without remuneration were as follows: Sir Dele Ige, Chief Gabriel Onibonoje, Baba Olamijulo, Chief Famakinwa (Bursar, University of Ibadan) Chief Tofowomo and others. They never said the positions accepted as sacrifice were inferior to their accomplishments. All of them served their communities without any remuneration. Today, it is unlikely that people of means would go that low to serve their communities at the local government level. These Nigerians had second addresses as in businesses and vocations that sustained them.
IT IS STILL POSSIBLE: But I know a few people who could have accepted that type of service in the public interest. Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN is one of them. I feel he would have agreed to be Chairman of Ikere Ekiti local government caretaker committee, in the hypothetical arrangement pleaded here, and would have engaged in healthy competition with other notable chairmen of divisional councils imagined in this report. You cannot tamper with the allocation coming from the federation accounts to councils headed by such people without dire consequences because they would never share people’s money with you. And nobody goes to such people to campaign for absurdities because their names are at stake. No official of government dare ”put things in their pockets” to silence them forever. And they would not come in as vultures at the local level looking for substances to consume but to improve the living conditions of their people.
A person who has served as local government chairman wants to be governor. A Speaker will most probably want to be president of the Federal Republic. There is no reason why a politician who really wants to serve his/her community should regard service as at a lower level as a demotion if the idea is truly to serve. Chief Obafemi Awolowo agreed to be Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council under Gen. Yakubu Gowon. He was old enough to be Gen. Gowon’s father; yet deferred to him. People expect to be promoted from local government to state level and then Federal level and then vie to become the President. Awolowo rode in his private vehicles and lived in his private residence, a style copied by Chief Lateef Kayode Jakande who was named the ”Action Governor” of Lagos State. I doubt if Awolowo and is peers who survived the January 1966 coup ever collected pension for their meritorious services to this nation.
AS A ROLE MODEL As a legal practitioner of note, Afe Babalola has trained more than 2, 500 lawyers, including 15 Senior Advocates, some of who later became Judges and Attorneys-General of the Federation An advocate par excellence, Aare Afe Babalola has made outstanding contributions to the development of Nigerian Law and Jurisprudence through advocacy in Court. This is evident from the celebrated cases which he has handled and the notable personalities and corporate bodies who constitute his clientele. He has to his credit several legal books, namely, Injunctions and Enforcement of Orders; Law and Practice of Evidence in Nigeria; (Ed.); Enforcement of Judgments; and Election Law and Practice, etc. All of which have contributed immensely to the promotion of legal education and practice in Nigeria.
TACKLING POVERTY: In one of his publications, Aare Afe Babalola said: ‘’Government,’ must also continue to pay attention to the urgent need to tackle poverty. As disclosed above, the environment in which children grow up or in which their schools are located plays some part in their moral development and whatever disciplinary issues they may pose later in life. ‘’Tackling poverty will also ensure that more children are not forced to grow up before their time. ‘’Their parents will also not be forced by economic stress to relegate to the background, issues pertaining to the upbringing of their children. ‘’Parents on their part must bring about a change in their attitude to the moral training of their children. The home must be made conducive for such training. ‘’A child who is raised in dysfunctional home can hardly be expected to receive the best of moral training. Nothing will be achieved where emphasis is placed on academic training alone without commensurate attention to moral upbringing.’’ Afe Babalola addresses the question: Who Can Be A Philanthropist? ‘’Let me say straightaway that philanthropy is not restricted to a particular set of people nor a particular clime. ‘’Everyone who has something worthy of sharing is a potential philanthropist. What this simply translates into is that one does not need to be a millionaire or billionaire before becoming a philanthropist. ‘’The most important requirement or element is the possession of spirit of giving – willingness and readiness to help others in need, especially the poor and the less privileged.’’
ON POLITICS & NIGERIAN POLITICIANS: Aare Afe Babalola recently granted the Sun Newspaper an interview in which he expressed his opinions. Babalola stated in part: ‘’We are the only country where politicians earn billions’ — Afe Babalola advocates new people’s constitution. Afe Babalola, founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, says politicians are benefiting from the “flaws” in the 1999 constitution. In a recent interview published in the Sun Newspaper, Babalola said because they are beneficiaries of the constitution, they would not be able to make proper amendments where necessary. The 1999 constitution was drawn under the supervision of the military, and some of its contents were part of the draft constitution prepared under Sani Abacha, the late head of state.
ON CONSTITUTION REVIEW The senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) explained that the calls for the amendment of the constitution were not necessary; adding that what was needed was a sovereign national conference to produce a new constitution that would benefit the ordinary people. “The only way out is not an amendment to the flawed constitution but a new people’s constitution through a sovereign national conference,” he said. “The politicians who are in government, in the national assembly, and who are benefiting from the flawed constitution can never make any good and proper constitution for this country and no amendment can ever do so. “In 1965, we had a house of assembly and the senate. Nobody earned salaries then; what they earned was sitting allowance. “Look at the house of assembly, senate. Now, hardly will you find 50 people there in a day and they earn salaries. They even talked about pension. So, there is no way you can amend the constitution. They will make sure that they remain earning these billions of naira. We are the only country where people earn billions.” According to him, the 1999 constitution was drafted to allow the “military to perpetuate themselves in power”.
LEARNING FROM THE PAST: Aare Babalola continued: “For example, Awolowo paid 55 percent of the revenue on education, knowing the importance of education. People saw themselves as Nigerians then. Unfortunately, the military came in 1966, jettisoned the constitution and ruled by decrees. When they were going away in 1999, they did not return us to the constitution which they suspended and then they brought their own constitution and presented it as constitution made by Nigerians. That was a lie; even right from the face of it, it was a lie,” Babalola said. “Actually, the constitution they made was done in such a way that it will allow the military to perpetuate themselves in power, and that is why you find, all the time, those who are in the military were coming back in one form or the other. We have never had good government ever since.” He said the only way Nigeria could get it right with its constitution is by calling for a “sovereign national conference”. “The meaning of that is that whatever they decide will not be subject to amendments by these people,” he said. “I have participated in many conferences and at the end of the day what comes out of it? They want to spend another N2 billion for amendment; what are you amending?” – Aare Afe Babalola
ROLE MODELLING: For young people looking for patriots as role models, Aare Afe Babalola is one. Are you planning to lead Nigeria or any part of Nigeria, struggling to be educated, or you wish fervently to become a legal practitioner, humanist or philanthropist, you could research the story of his life so far. You would certainly be greatly inspired. Google the website of Afe Babalola University and see the wonders that patriotism has birthed through a single sympathizer of humanity.‘’ It was that great Nigerian nationalist, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who pointed out that: ’’There is plenty of room at the top. ‘’But because very few people care to travel beyond the average route, most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF PEACE & UNITY Let me now close with an excerpt from the Inaugural Speech of United States President JF Kennedy: ‘’So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Nigeria will be great by the grace of God. We have all the potentials for greatness.
May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria!