Founder of the fast growing Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Chief Afe Babalola needs no introduction. Having practiced law for over 50 years, very few can match his record in the country. Although, Chief Babalola had always wanted to do something in the education sector, he couldn’t put his finger on it until he was appointed Pro Chancellor of the University of Lagos, where he saw and experienced, first hand, the challenges facing Nigeria’s University system.
After that experience, he decided to establish a University, which has now become a reference point across the country. He shared some aspects of his vision with ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI. Excerpts:
How far has the Afe Babalola University gone with its medical programme?
Our university has been accredited for Medicine and we are just four and a half years old. It has never happened in this country. It happened because we invested so much in it. Even some of the people who came to accredit us were amazed.
The College of Medicine is on the main campus, but a section of it is in Ido. We have put up a facility worth N2 billion there. We have our own hostel for males and females; classrooms and four laboratories.
The NUC (National Universities Commission) and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) had no problem accrediting us. While we want to remain there for the next two years, we are doing what other universities had done before. The University of Ibadan was using Adeoyo Hospital before they put up their own teaching hospital (University College Hospital). The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was also using a hospital in Ilesha before they put up their own. We have gone far. Our hospital is going to be one of the best. We believe that students can only give their best if they have qualified teachers and also equipment, which are not available in almost all our hospitals
We have contacted John Hopkins hospital and Howard University (both in the United States). Our plan is also to purchase modern equipment to treat difficult cases. They will also help us to run the university. Teachers are coming from overseas.
What stage are your medical students now?
Our medical students have gone for clinicals. They are in their third year.
There was a UNESCO retreat in ABUAD sometime ago. What was it all about?
As a matter of fact, during the third anniversary of my university, in January/February 2013, Webometrics rated ABUAD as the second best private university in Nigeria. That made people curious to know how a young university could attain number two within a short time. And I believe that was how UNESCO, like others, came to know about the university
When we turned out our first set of graduates, when their colleagues were still in their second and third years in other universities due to strikes, we invited the Deputy Director (of UNESCO) to come and see what type of university we are. UNESCO invited us to collaborate with them to stop the challenges facing education, either in the area of relevance, quality or equity. We are now collaborating with UNESCO in many areas and we have two UNESCO chairs, which are being considered for ABUAD. One is in the area of Agriculture; the other is in the Peace and Conflicts.
These were the things that paved the way for UNESCO to choose ABUAD as the first university for their first retreat in this part of the world.
What are the expected benefits?
UNESCO is not a funding organization. What they do is similar to validation and accreditation of universities. And their view is that, a world-class university should bring about innovation in the area of quality, and more importantly, functional education. They observed that our programmes are not only for qualification. We are also training people to use their knowledge. In other words, when students come out of our university, they will not be job seekers but employers of labour. They saw this coming up in our university and they are very much interested in the changes we are bringing about in education.
While the retreat was going on in the university, Julius Berger, the foremost construction firm in Nigeria, one of the best in the world based in Germany, came and addressed the audience. The Director of IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) in Ibadan also came to address the participants. Julius Berger was impressed and now promised to institute a professorial chair in engineering in ABUAD.
Not only that. Students from ABUAD will also be able to do their internships in German universities and industries. That will elevate the status of the programme to international standard. So, from next (this) year, our students will go to Germany, through UNESCO and Julius Berger. The IITA has now designated ABUAD as a research centre in Agriculture in Africa, in partnership with UNESCO.
Which course attracts the highest number of applications at ABUAD?
The answer is simple. Most parents know that I have been a lawyer for over 50 years. They know what I have achieved in it. Students also know. There was a student from Ilorin, when some Nigerian students came to my university and he said to me, ‘the reason why I am studying law is you.’
So, Law is the course most students want to study at ABUAD. Fortunately, because of the quality of the equipment, teachers, books, e-library and so on, the Council on Legal Education has increased the number of students (we can admit) to 180.
We are being acknowledged as a university that has set a high standard in Law. As a matter of fact, other universities are referred to us to see what we have on ground, not only in Law, but also in Engineering and so on.
Students also apply for Medicine and Engineering in large numbers. We are also doing a lot to improve our Engineering programme. The NUC has given us the benchmark, but we have also improved on their benchmark and we are the only university in West Africa teaching Mechatronics Engineering.
In view of the scarcity of PhD holders in the country, how has it been for ABUAD, getting qualified and competent lecturers?
We don’t have problems with getting good academics. Because of the university’s position now, we have applications coming from even outside the country – some for full time, some for sabbatical, some as adjunct. So, we have enough for all the departments. We also have students from outside the country.
Does the university provide accommodation for all its students?
We will not have day students in our university; otherwise, we will not be able to build the character of the students. Education without character is not education at all, and the character of our students in this country today is nothing to write home about.
We screen our students, both new and old, when they are coming inside. If we find that you are into drugs, cannabis or alcohol, then you cannot be admitted at ABUAD. And if for any reason, you managed to pass through and we later find you out, you are expelled immediately.
If we allow day students to come in from outside, it will be easy for them to import these drugs inside and we will not be able to monitor what they do after lectures. Both the students and teachers live on campus. We do not intend to have more than 10, 000 students here at full maturity. The total number of students in Harvard is only 10, 000 and it’s the best university in the world. We are not going beyond that.
Our students are fully engaged. They do their assignments and attend lectures, which go on till 10.30pm. So, you (student) have enough time for assignment, tutorials and of course, extra curricula activities. Every student must learn one foreign language and every student must have a certificate in one vocational activity or the other. We have about 28 of them.
Any plans for postgraduate programmes?
We are starting in the areas where we have graduated students – Social Sciences and so on. In any case, you cannot compete with world-class universities if you don’t engage in research. We have enough teachers and equipment. We have many professors. Once we start our postgraduate programmes, research will commence
What feedback do you get about ABUAD’s products?
Ooh, I have a wonderful university. We have an alumni association. Secondly, sometime ago, one of our graduates came and addressed the students, he told them not to mind the discipline they are being subjected to because, wherever they go, people will recognise them, including when they go for the National Youth Service Corps scheme.
The one who works in World Bank said that as soon as he lined up with others, they asked him to come forward and that from that day onward, he became a different person. He gets to his place of work before any other person, because while he was here, they were made to go classes by 8am. Nobody must remain in the hostel. Whether you have classes or not, go and study.
So, that punctuality helped him. You must come to class 100 per cent. The university has employed all the 13 students who had First Class at the last graduation.
Comments about ABUAD
In May 2009, the NUC said what they saw was a miracle, magical and everybody has been saying the same thing. People now call ABUAD a model university. At the twilight of my life, I am very happy that this is happening.
Education is the best legacy. It is the only weapon that can fight ignorance and poverty. If we have the right type of education, there will be no Boko Haram. There will be religious tolerance. One parent told me that one of the reasons she sent her child to ABUAD was because of the religious tolerance here.
Finally sir, how do you manage to attend to all your daily commitments at your age?
My parents told me, and I believe it, that ise ki pa ni (work doesn’t kill). It is lack of work that actually kills. I work hard. I am very, very industrious and determined. I work for an average of 15 hours a day, and when I have exhausted myself, I don’t need any drug to sleep.
And each time I wake up, I discover that the same time I woke up yesterday is the same time I woke up this morning. I don’t even need a bell to wake me up.