As part of our celebration during Black History Month, we will feature a number of inspirational profiles of people who have made a real difference to the world. Our first feature is of a prominent legal figure who has also moved into the field of education by setting up a University in Nigeria for the next generation.
With more than 50 years’ experience as a legal practitioner, Aare Afe Babalola has achieved unrivalled success. This includes training more than 1,000 lawyers, producing 15 Senior Advocates for Nigeria, the largest number from any Chamber in the country, in addition to producing several Judges and Attorney Generals.
A distinguished member of the Nigerian Bar, Aare Afe Babalola is also founder of Afe Babalola & Co, more commonly known as the Emmanuel Chambers. His Chambers started life in 1965 as a one-man operation and is now reputed to be one of the largest in Nigeria.
Today, more than 30 lawyers including two of Nigeria’s most senior advocates (S.A.N and equivalent to Queen’s Counsel in the UK) operate from this Chamber, based in Ibadan with offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt as well as a further two in Ado-Ekiti and London.
In 1963, Aare Afe Babalola was called to the Bar in England after being awarded the University of London’s LLB through distance and flexible learning, which was previously known as the External System. Through the same route, but prior to the LLB, he was awarded the University of London BSc in Economics. Having successfully completed two degrees, Aare Afe Babalola went on to become a registered member of Lincoln’s Inn, London as well as the Bar of England and Wales.
In 1987, Aare Afe Babalola was admitted to the Nigerian Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (S.A.N). For 40 years now, he has been an active member of both the Nigerian Bar Association and the International Bar Association. He is also a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Nigeria), a fellow of the Leadership Institute of Nigeria and a member of the Body of Benchers, which ranks as the highest legal body for Nigeria.
A champion of legal education
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 and notable personalities and corporate bodies that make up his clientele. This includes the World Bank, several conglomerates and the Nigerian President, who found himself faced with numerous petitions filed against him after being elected to office in 1999 – all Presidential representations were won by Aare Afe Babalola.
A great advocate and promoter of legal education in Nigeria, Aare Afe Babalola has made a major contribution to academia in his role as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (2001-2007). He also continues to lecture at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and is a visiting lecturer at the Postgraduate Schools of both the University of Lagos and the University of Ibadan, as well as the Centre of African Law and Development Studies.
Uninterrupted legal practice
In 2009 he set up the Afe Babalola University, in the hope that other Nigerian universities would use it as a model to transform the quality of higher education in Nigeria. It therefore comes as no surprise that Aare Afe Babalola is the author of several books including Injunctions and Enforcement of Orders, Law and Practice of Evidence in Nigeria, Enforcement of Judgment and Election Law and Practice. He has also written more than 200 legal and non-legal articles, featured in law books and journals, many of which have been delivered as lectures.
With more than 50 years of uninterrupted legal practice and as patron of several law student societies, legal institutions and corporate bodies, it is not surprising that he has made a phenomenal contribution in training legal practitioners for the Nigerian legal system, as well as promoting the advancement of law and the legal profession in Nigeria itself.
A traditional Chief from Nigeria, Aare Afe Babalola also holds the prestigious award of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Order of Niger (CON). He is an active player in both domestic and international arbitration.
None of you can fully understand the extent to which this university has affected the lives of many, including my humble self
In March 2015, Aare Afe Babalola was awarded an honorary degree, LLD (honoris Causa), by the University of London. He described the occasion as a “memorable achievement in what has become an eventful life and journey bearing in mind my humble beginnings”.
He said: “None of you can fully understand the extent to which this university has affected the lives of many, including my humble self, who but for the foresight of the university and its programme for external degrees for countries in the Commonwealth would have been condemned to a life of ignorance and poverty spent entirely on a rural farm dedicated to subsistence farming”.
He added: “I grew up in a very modest subsistence farming family and community where the height of ambition was to inherit and work on my parents’ farm. In those days, our fathers believed that it was more beneficial to train their children on the farms rather than send them to school. However, my parents decided to break with tradition and send me to school to the derision of many. That decision had turned out to be one of many ‘unlikely’ events that had significantly changed the course of my life in a positive way. When I assembled some of these unlikely events and documented my journey from these modest beginnings to where I am today in my autobiography, Impossibility Made Possible.
Aare Afe Babalola explained how, as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria with double degrees from the University of London, his clients included the Federal Government of Nigeria to blue chip international firms such as Mobil, Shell, Pfizer, Pan Ocean and Julius Berger.
He said: “In five decades of active practice, over 1,000 lawyers have passed through my Chambers, four of whom became Attorneys General and Ministers of Justice while many became Judges and Chief Judge. As Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Nigeria, I successfully transformed the university and was granted the Nigerian University Commission’s award as ‘the best Pro-Chancellor in Nigeria’ twice in succession.
“I have also taught in many Faculties of Law and Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies and I still teach in my university. I have invested in community projects and established agricultural programmes aimed at promoting entrepreneurship. All these have been made possible by the University of London through the opportunity offered by the then External Degree Programme.”
I know better than most that education is the most effective weapon against ignorance, disease and poverty.
He reinforced his belief in the power of education: “I know better than most that education is the most effective weapon against ignorance, disease and poverty. Hence I founded Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, a non-profit university designed purposely to provide quality education in Africa for those who cannot afford the high cost of university education overseas.”
Describing the University of London as the most progressive university in the world, Aare Afe Babalola said: “The University of London is not just a university. It is the mother of the first university in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, which was a college of the University of London in 1948. Thereafter, all the other universities (about 150) in my country have been patterned after University of Ibadan. In other words, the University of London which is the mother of University of Ibadan is in fact the grandmother of the remaining 149 universities in Nigeria.”
Indeed the University of London’s distance and flexible learning programmes, historically known as the External System offering ‘external degrees’, dates back to the 1858 Royal Charter. This Charter broke the link between place and study in a way which was startlingly new and laid the ground for developments in university extension, correspondence and distance education. In recent years this has seen the growth of open, flexible and distance online learning.