Aare Afe Babalola is a man that is not given to frivolity but he paid glowing tribute to the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo for his invaluable contributions to the uplift and development in the old Wester Region.
The occasion was the 2017 Distinguished Annual lecture series of the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife on June 15, this year and the legal luminary and the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, reputed to be the fastest growing university in Africa, spoke on “The difficult march toward educational security in Nigeria: Law, policy and governance imperatives”.
Afe Babalola described the OAU as a prestigious university by any standard, well respected globally for maintaining a consistently high standard of comprehensive learning and human development since its establishment in 1962 and also well known for its expansive and impeccable infrastructure and cutting edge human and physical resources.
“And most importantly, here is a university that is named after one of Africa’s visionary and most respectable leaders, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, the first Premier of Western Region, the progenitor and brain behind the establishment of this university for whom I have tremendous regard for his sterling and selfless contributions to
education”, he said.
According to him, Chief Awolowo’s contributions to education were legendary and of particular importance was his introduction of Free Primary Education in Western Region in 1955 and the deployment of as much as 52% of the region’s resources on education to make total men and women out of the indigenes of the region then. He said this paid off with the monumental development of the region ahead of others, even till today.
“His vision in spearheading the establishment of this university was to promote quality university education, character development and Spartan self-discipline. This could be gleaned from one of his famous quotes, to wit: Any system of education, which does not help a man to have a healthy and sound body, alert brain and balanced and
disciplined instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous”
“The sage also once remarked that; ‘Any people that is starved with books, especially the right type of books, will suffer intellectual malnutrition, stagnation and atrophy’. Between OAU and Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti: These lofty ideals and visions of the founding father of OAU, which is to reform and promote qualitative education in Nigeria, are strikingly the same visions and ideals that I have passionately championed and dedicated the latter part of my life to.
“Like Chief Awolowo, I work tirelessly to be and hope to be remembered as the father of university reform in Nigeria and an ardent defender of the rights of the Nigerian people to qualitative, affordable and accessible as well as functional education”’ he said.
On the dwindling quality of education, Afe Babalola noted that for many years, Nigerian Universities have at a geometric rate waned in quality, substance and prestige, adding that a combination of infrastructural decay, inadequate funding, dearth of qualitative practical training curriculum and inability to attract the best teaching minds have all combined to stagnate our universities to the current appalling state.
Said he: “It was the commitment to play a role in reforming Nigerian educational system that spurred to initiate diverse reforms during my tenure as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Lagos. Many of the achievements we recorded during that period have been lauded globally and remain a reference point till today as a result of which the NUC voted me the Best Pro-Chancellor in Nigeria twice in succession”.
Afe Babalola described education as the birth right of human being and that it goes beyond schooling, transcends classroom teaching and certification but that it is the process of inviting truth and acquiring all-round knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and character needed to become a better citizen.
He said education also has a role to play in eradicating diseases and premature deaths, pointing out that this is the reason that life expectancy rates in highly literate countries is often high as much as 88 years.
He shared his life history and declared: “Education is undoubtedly the passport to the future with each page filled with limitless opportunities. With all modesty, my life is an example per excellence of the transformative power of education. From modest and humble beginning in Ado Ekiti, my Standard Six certificate from Emmanuel Primary School, Ado Ekiti, I was able to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from London University in 1959 and an LL.B in 1963 from the same University of London both by Private study.
“All of these have afforded me the opportunity of serving as Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of UNILAG, the Chairman of the Committee of Pro Chancellors of all Nigerian Universities and now the Founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD).
The legal luminary recalled the Chinese adage which states; ‘If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people’, and pointed out that investment in education is the only sure way to the liberation of human minds.
He noted that in the light of the gaps in Nigerian laws and the perennial failure of the political class to properly finance and equip our institutions of learning, a complex paradox and dialectic faced university reformers like him is the challenge of how to achieve educational security of accessibility, affordability and availability
of quality educational systems in Nigeria.
He pointed out that lack of understanding has resulted in a situation whereby governments see no reason why private universities should be supported or funded by federal agencies like Tertiary Education Trust (TETFUND) in Nigeria as being done in Canada, UK,USA and Japan among others.
On the impression that Nigeria has too many universities, he said UK with 64 million people has 108 universities, Nigeria with 180 million people has a total of 153 made up of 40 federal, 44 state and 69 private while Japan with 127 million people has a total of 779 universities.
“We must ensure that all approved universities deliver qualitative education. It is of no value to have several universities issuing only certificates. Our universities must be places of learning, mental development for solutions to present and future problems. They must be places of character development where students can access and acquire the required skills for self-actualization and nation building.
“Universities must provide the right conditions, resources, infrastructure, adequate buildings, sanitation facilities, safe drinking water, trained teachers and modern teaching materials. This is the key to quality education”, he said.
Afe Babalola however cautioned: “Advanced countries have quickly realized the government alone, with all its responsibility for infrastructure development in other sectors, cannot construct and build the required quality universities that will accommodate the citizenry. That is why in addition to providing robust financial support for public universities, government bridges the gap of insufficient space for interested and qualified university candidates by encouraging well-meaning Nigerians to establish private universities
“The private universities which have accredited programme should be entitled to government support in research and further infrastructure.
Some of the greatest and most dynamic universities in the world like Harvard, Yale and Stanford are private universities. They all enjoy financial support from government”.
On comparative school fees, he described what is being paid in Nigeria as ridiculous with tuition fee for Engineering in University of Ibadan as N37,950; OAU N54,700; and UNN N63,950 while that of Cambridge translates to N9.97million; Standard and Harvard N14.9 million and N21,07 million respectively with Witwatersrand South Africa is N1.4 million and University of Cape Town, South Africa N2.05 million.
He said quality education cannot be cheap and that the only cheap commodity is ignorance which is also free but at a great cost to those who elect to be ignorant.