Forty-onE days after he received The Sun Education Entrepreneur Award for 2018, for his “uncommon contributions to the development of the education sector,” the world congregated last Wednesday, March 6, 2019, united in joy and élan to celebrate the distinguished legal icon, frontline educationist, unsparing philanthropist, a valiant entrepreneur and the kindly founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), as he was formally celebrated and decorated with the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo Prize in Leadership for 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre.
One after another, the nattily dressed crème de la crème of society, ranging from members of the Bar and the Bench, legal academics, royalty, the clergy, governors and former governors and business moguls to members of the diplomatic community, started streaking into the well appointed Harbour Point on Victoria Island, Lagos, to celebrate Babalola who has been chosen for the award, having been “unanimously adjudged to possess the attributes for the award of the highest degree in the areas of educational transformation, people-centred advocacy and support for the underprivileged. You are, therefore, the recipient of the 2018 Obafemi Awolowo Prize in Leadership.”
This makes Babalola the third African to win the award since its inception, as two notable Africans, former South African President, Mr. Thambo Mbeki, and Africa’s first Nobel laureate in literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka, have won the award in the past, just as he is the third African to be honoured with an honorary doctorate degree in the 179-year history of the University of London after former South African President, Dr. Nelson Mandela, who received a honorary doctorate degree in Economics of the university in 1996, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was conferred with a honorary degree in Divinity in 2008.
But Babalola remains the first African to have been honoured with an LL.D of the University of London, thus making him a triple alumnus of the university, having obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the frontline university in 1959 and an LL.B in 1963.
Even though the cheering and elevating news was broken during the 70th anniversary of the rebranded Nigerian Tribune, one of the leading Nigerian tabloids, in Lagos on January 29, 2019, by the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who is also the chairman of the selection committee of the Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Award, a February 1, 2019, letter signed by the executive director of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, Ambassador Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, formally conveyed the nomination to Babalola.
Babalola was unanimously elected for the award on account of his inherent qualities of political strategy, education, integrity, caring for the welfare of the masses, consistency in policies and courage, among several others, which constitute a veritable nexus between him and the first Premier of the Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (SAN).
It was the combination of the above stated attributes and his impacting humanity through his immeasurable and indescribable humanitarian and philanthropic programmes that have won him the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for 2018.
This award is coming five years after Babalola won the equally high-status Zik Prize in Leadership for 2013 for his “genuine commitment to promoting the cause of humanity, which has marked you out as a philanthropist whose social consciousness is a source of inspiration to millions of Nigerians.”
The Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize has unarguably become an added and well-deserved feather to the already crowded cap of a man who has adorned the country’s legal, philanthropic, agricultural and educational landscape with unparalleled industry, unalloyed service and uncommon compassion.
Towards the tail end of the celebration, which took place in Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, Anyaoku once again mounted the podium with many thinking that he wanted to round off proceedings for the day. But, rather, he said, inter alia, that Babalola had been adjudged the winner of the highly treasured Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize for 2018 for “distinguishing himself in the provision of quality education, just like the sage (Chief Obafemi Awolowo), advocacy for the masses through legal intervention and other means.”
Anyaoku said the prize had not been awarded since Mbeki took it home in 2014 because “there was no individual in Africa among nominees worthy to be honoured with the award in the last four years because none met the criteria spelt out to justify their candidacy for the honour.”
According to him, the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership was for individuals who have demonstrated the attributes of political strategy, education, integrity, caring for the welfare of the masses, consistency in policies and courage, among several others, for which the late Premier was well-known, stressing that it was only Babalola who was found worthy as an individual among the nominees who vied for the award.
His words: “Afe Babalola has distinguished himself in the provision of quality education just like the sage, advocacy for the masses through legal intervention and other means to deserve the award.”
After his thought-provoking and well-received lecture, titled, “Awoism and the Unending Search for Transformational Leadership in Nigeria: Political, Economic, Educational and Social Challenges,” where he dissected the various ills afflicting the Nigerian project and went ahead to proffer solutions to them, an obviously elated Babalola called on Nigerians to team up with great vigour, intellect and selflessness like Awolowo did during his time, to tackle the wicked and complex challenges facing Nigeria today.
As someone who is passionate that the Nigerian projects works, he offered to work with them to make this happen sooner than later.
The well-attended award ceremony was rounded off with a reception organised by Babalola’s children at the Terra Kulture Arena, owned by the dynamic and highly gifted Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, a lawyer and connoisseur of arts.
Source: Tunde Olofintila, Sun News.