In this interview, Aare Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, speaks on the Nigerian Constitution, his advocacy for Interim National Government and how he overcame excruciating poverty in his native Ado Ekiti to become an Ibadan based legal luminary.
Last year, you suggested that we adopt a kind of Interim Government for six months to implement the changes, constitutional and otherwise, that Nigeria requires to be able to make true progress. Could you expatiate on this? What was the reason for your line of thought?
Thank you for this question. Your question already contains my answers, because you also appreciate the fact that “Nigeria needs an Interim Government to implement the changes, constitutional and otherwise, which Nigeria requires to be able to make true progress. I am as concerned as you are, and indeed, most Nigerians are also concerned about the state of the country today.
The root cause of all these problems confronting Nigeria today including insecurity, unemployment, banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen attacks and so on, can be traced to the Constitution handed over by the Military in 1999. Therefore, many lovers and believers of a prosperous Nigeria, have been pleading with the National Assembly, Buhari’s Government and the National Assembly to enact a new Constitution which will dissuade Nigerians from believing that the only lucrative business in this country is Politics.
In spite of the plea for a new Constitution, the Government insists on a new election in February 2023. I believe like most, that any new election under the 1999 Constitution would no doubt lead to a recycling of those who are benefiting from the damage caused by 1999 Constitution.
That was why I suggested that at the expiration of the present term, the Government should put in place an Interim Government for six months to enact a new Constitution. The members shall be publicly acknowledged patriotic and selfless leaders. Many countries that were besieged with similar problems had set up Interim Governments to enable new Constitutions. They include: Spain: 1775 to 1776, Fiji, 1987, Romania: 1989 to 1990, Lebanon: 1989 to 1992, Bangladesh: 1997 to 1999, Albania, 1991, Cambodia: 1991 to 1993, El-Salvador: 1921 to 1924, Burundi: 1992 to 1993, South Africa: 1993 to 1994, Indonesia: 2005 to 2006, and recently, Kenya.
I seize this opportunity to thank many Nigerians, who have supported my suggestions. Time, the healer of all diseases, will prove me right.
Let me briefly refer to Section 9(1) of the 1999 Constitution which states as follow:
9(1). The National Assembly may, subject to the provisions of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution
(2). An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which Section 8 of this Constitution, applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of the word “alter”, to include change or “substitution”. The National Assembly has the Power to alter, that is, substitute any of the provisions of the Constitution whenever it deems necessary. For example, it can change or substitute the 1960 or 1963 Constitutions for the 1999 Constitution, once there is compliance with the mandatory provisions of Section 9(2) of the 1999 Constitution.
Finally, I reiterate my position that if the election goes ahead under the new Constitution, we are going to have a recycling of the beneficiaries of the decay caused by the 1999 Constitution. Nigerians therefore, must belt up for further backward development in the economy, including more debt and further decline in the value of the Naira.
The Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD) has one of the best Law Faculties in Nigeria, and this is not surprising. It also boasts of one of the best Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria. What made you decide to establish the University at a somewhat advanced age, when you could have easily retired, having reached the peak of your legal career to become one of the foremost Nigerian Lawyers? Running such a huge institution comes with its peculiar challenges. What are those challenges, and how have you been able to surmount them?
You stated that ABUAD has one of the best Law Faculties in Nigeria, and that it boasts of one of the best Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria.
I think you are economical in your words, in describing ABUAD. In fact, the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking 2022 recently ranked ABUAD as “Number 1 best University out of over 220 Universities in Nigeria, and Number 321 in the world”. The hospital has also been ranked as the “most well-equipped hospital in the Sub-Saharan Africa”.
It is true that I decided to establish a University some 14 years ago, when I was over 80 years old. Please, recollect that Moses, the liberator of Israel, was called by God at the age of 80 to embark on that mission. In any case, the decision to establish ABUAD at that age was founded on faith. Faith never fails.
It was my experience at the University of Lagos, which prompted me to establish my University. The objective was to reform education in Nigeria. ABUAD is an agent of reformation. It was not enough to reform University of Lagos, as I did. After all, it is a public University, and there was no guarantee that the reformation that I carried out in the University of Lagos would be continued after my exit. That was why I decided to establish a non-profit private University, which would be a pace setter.
I agree with you that, running such a huge institution comes with its peculiar challenges. The challenges facing education in Nigeria are multifarious. They include, but not limited to:
The number 1 challenge is funding. When I wanted to start my University, I set up a Committee of seasoned Professors and tested University Administrators, to advise me on how to go about the project. Surprisingly, the first thing they said was that, running a university was (and still is) an expensive venture. They urged me not to venture into it. But, I told them that I set up the Committee to advise me on what it will take to establish a university, and not on whether it is an expensive venture or not.
After all, I had made up my mind to plough all I had made in my Legal Practice into the University. I had also made up my mind to sell my properties in England, Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt, empty my Bank Accounts and sell my shares in choice companies to actualise the university project.
Nigeria should comply with UNESCO’s advice, that every nation should devote at least 26% of its annual budget to education. You know as much as I do, that the Nigerian Government allocates a paltry 6% of its annual budget to education. This cannot take the country anywhere. Today, public universities in Nigeria are poorly funded, to the extent that the Annual Budget of Stanford University in the United States of America is far in excess of the pitiable and unpalatable N392,263,784,684 which Nigeria budgeted for 220 Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education within the same time frame. That was why, ASUU could afford to be on strike for eight months last year.
2) Work Ethics
There is this Civil Service way of doing things, among our workers. There is this practice of everybody being up-and-doing, when you are around. But, as soon as you turn your back, they are off. There is a lot of eye service. People find it difficult, to key into my way of doing things. Our staff and students are encouraged to buy into my philosophy of: “He prays most, who works hardest”. They should also buy into my philosophy of hard work, punctuality and integrity.
3) Spurious Claims by Owners of land Acquired by the University
At the commencement of the university, the State Government gave us only 100 hectares of land, which was grossly inadequate for what we had in mind. We therefore, had to buy land from nearby farmers after paying for their crops. The most surprising part of all this, is that there were many cases of people coming back to be paid again, after they had earlier been paid.
4) Outdated Curriculum
The world is dynamic, and moving fast. When I started the University, my mission was to reform education, by developing new curriculum which will pave way for qualitative and functional education. It remains incontrovertible that since NUC came into being in 1962, subject to correction, I don’t know any university that has added to the curriculum, except ABUAD which has added five new Programmes, that is, Mechatronics, Social Justice, Intelligence & Security Studies, Human Biology, Nutrition & Dietetics.
In addition to the above, it is on record that our University was the first to introduce Mathematics as a compulsory subject for those who want to study Law. When we started, NUC, the Regulatory Authority for University Education in Nigeria, frowned at it. But, when we impressed it on the Commission that a Lawyer must have an analytical mind and be well versed in Logic, it was convinced and it embraced it. Today, the NUC has now made Mathematics a compulsory subject for any candidate who wants to study Law.
5) Poor Transportation System
Ekiti State is land-locked, motorway-locked, airport-locked, railway locked, industry-locked and power-locked, a development which adversely affects economic development in the State. All the roads leading to Ekiti have not only become impassable, they are veritable death traps. I sympathise with my students and their parents from all the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT, for having to go through all these troubles. When former President Goodluck Jonathan approved an Airport for Ekiti State, we thought we would soon be out the woods – transportation-wise. However, the Airport was politically strangulated, because the then government of the day declared publicly that an Airport was not its priority.
The condition of the roads in Ekiti was bad, to the extent that the then Acting Corps Marshall of the Federal Roads Safety Corps, Dauda Ali Biu, in October last year ordered the motoring public to avoid going to Ekiti State. In a write-up titled “Avoid Ekiti Route when travelling from Abuja to Lagos, FRSC Advises Motorists” published in “The Whistler Newspaper”, Biu painted a rather pathetic and gruesome nature of both intra-State and inter-State roads in Ekiti State, and decreed that motoring public should avoid going to Ekiti State.
6) Imposition of Custom Duties on Equipment Donated to the University
As part of its support for our 400-bed ABUAD MultiSystem Hospital, the renowned philanthropist, Project C.U.R.E of Colorado, USA, donated some equipment to the Hospital. Most surprisingly, when the equipment arrived Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs made us to pay several millions of Naira as custom duties on medical equipment that were freely donated to the University.
We wrote several letters to the Government for a refund, bearing in mind that under First Schedule, Part 1, Item 1 of the Value Added Tax Act No. 12 2007, Medical and Pharmaceutical products are exempted from payment of tax. As I speak with you, we have not received any response in this regard.
7) Depreciation of the Naira
The Nigerian Naira has been badly battered, in the international arena. It has depreciated badly too. There was a time the Naira was as strong as the Dollar. One Pound Sterling, was equivalent to N1. It is now about N750 to a Dollar and N1,000 to a Pound Sterling, and the end is not in sight! I wonder what would have happened, if I did not build this University and the Hospital when I did. The current shape and value of the Naira, would simply have made it impossible today.
8) Environmental Problems
On October 7, 2019, there was a heavy rain in Ado-Ekiti. The accompanying heavy flood ravaged ABUAD Nursery for food and cash crops, Green Houses for tomatoes, pepper and vegetables, Fish Ponds, the privately-constructed Bridge leading to ABUAD Enterprise Farms and a perimeter fence all valued at N50,800,600. The matter was reported to the Police, after which we wrote to the State Government and the Federal Government for compensation. It will surprise you that nobody listened to us, and nobody came to our aid.
9) Attitude of Nigerians to Giving
Over the ages, educational institutions, libraries and healthcare facilities have been funded through gifts from kind-hearted people. It is a historical fact that universities did not start off with the government of yesteryears. In fact, universities were started by people who wanted to learn, as a result of which they pooled themselves together. Right from the outset, students paid their teachers what was then referred to as “collectio” meaning “a gift”, rather than salary. Later, such collectio that is, gift, transformed into salary.
Historically, universities including the University at Constantinople which was founded in 2BC were all cooperation of students, and were founded by philanthropists and kind-hearted people. This ancient practice was followed by universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and indeed, the Ivy League Universities, which were founded by kind-hearted individuals like Stanford and Harvard.
Coming back home, we owe the earliest Secondary Schools to the Missionaries; the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian, Sudan Interior Mission. Many Nigerians are beneficiaries of the philanthropy of these missionaries. One would have expected that the younger generations would learn from the acts of these philanthropists, and demonstrate the benefits of philanthropy by giving handsomely to universities. Regrettably, the average Nigerian does not believe in giving.
I am therefore, using this medium to appeal to Nigerians to change their attitude about giving, and do what other countries are doing. They must learn to endow Universities with Professorial Chairs, Scholarships and Buildings among others.
How affordable is ABUAD for Nigerians? Is there any provision for indigent students? What can be done to make tertiary education affordable for the masses?
I think I have answered the first part of the question. I repeat again that the fees in our University are much lower than the fees charged by good Secondary Schools in Lagos, Abuja and other places. You are at liberty to goggle the fees charged by these Secondary Schools.
Now, to the second leg of your question: there is provision for indigent students. And, that is why we have put in place a structure whereby any student who has a CGPA of 5.0 goes home with N500,000 every year, N250,000 for a CGPA of 4.5 and N150,000 for a CGPA of 4.5. I would like to say here that, there have been some students who won the cash Awards throughout their sojourn in the University.
In addition to various scholarship schemes instituted by public-spirited individuals and institutions, there is free tuition for Nigerian candidates with Distinction (A1) in all Ordinary Level subjects for one Academic session, and scholarship for “international candidates” with outstanding result in Ordinary Level equivalent subjects for one Academic session to the tune of $5,000.
As to what can be done to make tertiary education affordable for the masses, my answer is that the Nigerian Government should follow UNESCO’s advice. UNESCO has prescribed for all governments, that each government should allocate 26% of its budget for education.
Unfortunately, however, despite perennial rhetorics by successive Nigerian governments on their plans to build world-class universities in Nigeria, they have consistently failed to meet the UNESCO funding benchmark. For example, in the 2017 budget, N448.01 billion was allocated to education, representing only about 6% of the N7.30 trillion budget. The percentage of budgetary allocation to education was further reduced in the 2021 budget. In the 2021 budget, only 5.6% of the N13.08 trillion budget was allocated for education, which represents the lowest percentage allocation since 2011. The perennial failure to prioritise and devote significant resources to education, has resulted in the underfunding of higher education institutions in Nigeria. Our universities simply do not have the financial wherewithal, to compete with other universities around the world. With many of our universities struggling to meet their overhead costs, let alone having a significant net annual income, is so far away.
Further, I urge Nigerians that, no matter their income, to imbibe the spirit of giving. The great universities in America such Stanford, Yale, Harvard rely heavily on donation, gifts, endowments and grants by philanthropists, and also the Alumni of each institution. Regrettably, this is not so in this country.
It is on record that you have trained over 100 Lawyers, out of which 23 have become Senior Advocates of Nigeria. This is quite phenomenal. How did you achieve this feat, especially in our clime where Lawyers often do not stay for long periods of time in law firms?
My success in training so many Lawyers, including large number of Senior Advocates, is in large measure due to my belief that when a man breaks even, he should always help others to develop. I knew what poverty was. I grew up in it. I overcame poverty. I had no funds to go to any Secondary School or University. When I was able to break even, I looked back to the problems of yesteryears. The only way to appreciate the merciful God, was to help others to overcome poverty. I encourage all those who work with me, to believe that they too can make it. I assured all the Lawyers who come to work in my office, that with a better background, they can make it better than I have done. We work as a team. We believe in hard work. We work for 364 days out of 365 days in the year. Every Friday, we hold meetings, review the cases of the past week, and work on the cases for the coming week. We give Lawyers different topics in law to study, and write papers on them which are reviewed on Fridays. All monies coming to the Chambers, go to the Central Account. Lawyers are remunerated, in accordance to their inputs. Special allowances are given to Lawyers, according to individual inputs. Opportunities are also given to the junior Lawyers, to follow the senior Lawyers to court.
When the Senior Lawyers become Senior Advocates, the Junior Lawyers also move up. I cannot remember any Lawyer, who left the office in frustration. Rather, we see the Chambers as one belonging to every member of the Firm.
A while ago, you advocated for the upward review of the retirement age of Supreme Court Justices, from 70 to 80. What informed your position?
*Continue reading from the source: Thisday