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.
After several decades of promoting education through scholarships, endowments and mentorships, Babalola decided to dedicate the rest of his life to promote peace by setting up a benchmark higher education citadel. He was convinced that there can never be true peace in Africa if the majority of Africa’s young population did not have access to education, and especially higher education. He believed that educational inclusion raises opportunity costs for participating in armed conflicts. He believed that education promotes social justice, and equality and leads to peace and peace building.
In 2009, Afe Babalola went into the interior rural community of Nigeria in Ekiti land and established the Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti, believing firmly that educational inclusion can redress grievances that motivate individuals to take up arms. The Afe Babalola University whose motto is Labour, Service and Integrity is today acclaimed as the fastest growing new University in Africa, with its commitment to standard ethical behavior, fostering a culture of peace on the campus with high quality academics, modern laboratory and teaching equipment and skills development. UNESCO has described it as a “model of excellence and a world class University”, while the National Universities Commission has commended the University as “a model” a “benchmark and reference point”.
Afe Babalola University is Babalola’s star contribution to global peace. It is the laboratory for production of the next generation of leaders and peace ambassadors. He respects the poor with no hesitation, and is always willing to appreciate people of different social groups from the ordinary poor to the rich and well-placed traditional rulers, political leaders and the educated elite. Babalola has exemplified the significance of the human mind as defiant of limitations. It is his belief that there is no impossibility in life that cannot be turned into a possibility through the instrumentality of education. Educate and change the violent mind to dialogue, reason and peace, is Afe Babalola’s urgent message to humanity.
While Nigeria is embroiled in a war on terror (Boko Haram) and the whole world is still looking for peace initiatives, Afe Babalola has gone on to the winning of peace by rehabilitating hundreds of ex-militants in his University as students. They are now peace ambassadors.
Aare Afe Babalola demonstrates by personal example how best to respond to conflict, violence and abuse as he took the painful decision to allow examinations to continue, refusing to send students home even when it was apparent that the protest of some of the students had led to wanton destruction of property built up for the students with the sweat of the Founder of the University. That very act has sent a firm statement and message to all that non-violence, dialogue, negotiation and peaceful resolution of disputes lay at the very heart of the man of peace. He has preached it, lived it and now practices it.”
Are Afe Babalola has revolutionized the face of education in Nigeria in terms of access and quality from crèche, play group, primary school, secondary, continuing education to tertiary. He is committed to ensuring that there is a significant reduction in the total number of students who are left out of university placement.
With his ubiquitous presence on the university campus, Afe Babalola is changing minds and destinies through his hands on approach as farmer, builder and teacher. He sets lofty standards and then provides incentives for both students and faculty alike to raise the bar of achievements. He has launched an education revolution where the mission is to liberate rather than domesticate thinking into the old pathways of corruption, intolerance, low productivity, poverty and violence.
The University is meant to create innovative thinkers as peace warriors. This is why he liaises with UNESCO, in the mandate to create peace in the minds of the people. In its 1945 preamble UNESCO stated that “education is not the learning of facts… rather the training of mind to think”. The mission statement of Afe Babalola University is “to be a results-oriented institution for producing highly skilled and socially relevant graduates capable of applying scientific knowledge for the resolution of social problems.” The world’s biggest social problem today is how to create a more peaceful society on earth.
Afe Babalola looks out for talents among his staff and students and changes them to stars in their fields. The students of ABUAD continue to excel at home and abroad, garnering prizes in Engineering, Law, Business, Medicine, Health, Sports and Sciences. In Babalola’s words, “If I find out that you are brilliant and committed, you will have a problem with me because I will make you work more than you are prepared to work. But at the end of the day, that person will be better for it.”
Afe Babalola does not build just for the present but works towards creating lasting values, shaping lives, passing to younger ones the core values of hard work, industry, honesty, passion for healthy competition, and peaceful coexistence. He confronts by his life style, influence and dedicated commitment, different youths, who come to his University from the world of corruption, perversion, drug abuse, cultism, bribery and violence. He makes them champions of integrity, probity and peace.
Afe Babalola’s work in education for peace has been lauded throughout the world. Encomia include: The Socrates Award of European Business Assembly in Oxford, Queen Victoria’s Commemorative Award, Member of the Rectors of Europe 2010, Honorary Professor of International University 2011, Africa Man of the Year in Education 2012 and African Man of the Year award for Food Security 2014. Induction into the African Leadership Hall of Fame 2015, and Special Congressional Commendation from the US Legislative Black Caucus 2015, for pioneering excellence and innovation in tertiary education in Africa.
He is an exemplar to all disadvantaged people of the world to appreciate the value of hard work and faith in commitment to the building of sustainable peace. There were therefore great expectations as many people throughout the world looked with hope and prayer that the Nobel Peace Committee would reward Afe Babalola with this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace because globally no single individual has done so much for so long for progress and peace of Nigeria with particular reference to education.
On Friday, 6 October, 2017, the Nobel Peace Committee announced its decision that the Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) comprising 468 organizations in 101 countries “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. An observer commented that the decision may have been influenced by the recent threat of nuclear war with its disastrous consequences for humanity, as President Donald Trump of the United States and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong UN threatened to deploy nuclear weapons.
A Nigerian top academic, statesman, politician, former Federal Minister, Senator and Nigeria’s High Commissioner responding to this development stated: “ We give gratitude to God that we serve, who graciously has preserved the life of the Founder to give humanity visions in motion”. Afe Babalola himself has not commented on the outcome of his nomination but remains only focused on his plan to open to the world, this weekend, on October 20, 2017, Africa’s “gemstone in health” the impressive ABUAD Teaching Hospital. He is not going back on actualizing his vision to promote peace for the people of the world through education, agriculture, health and industry.
It must have been great disappointment that Afe Babalola did not win the award. But this is by no means an exceptional case. There have been many cases of deserving candidates for the award that have not made it. One of such cases is that of Irene Sendler, a nurse who lived in Poland when the Nazis invaded the country. Irene Sendler was only 29 but she had enormous strength of character, courage and determination to contribute to the promotion of world peace through the promotion of social justice. She smuggled out of the country more than 2,500 Jewish children whom she hid in ambulances, coffins and crates. She was arrested in 1943 and brutally tortured and sentenced to be hanged. She was however later freed miraculously. She was nominated in 2007 for the Nobel Peace Prize because of her tremendous bravery and courage and kindness. She did not win the Prize but that did not matter to her at all and she continued to live her full life until she died aged 98. Her life, like that of Afe Babalola, has taught lessons about what constitutes real heroes whose labours should not be in vain as people are encouraged to live a life of complete commitment to help and serve others, leaving a legacy of dignity, and selflessness.