By TUNDE AKANDE
Afe Babalola, easily the oldest lawyer in the nation and the most experienced is a delight to meet. I met him in his sprawling and ever-busy chamber in Ibadan thirteen years ago through a visit arranged by my friend, Dare Babarinsa, a veteran journalist and classmate who is his friend. Dare Babarinsa has a knack for making friends and he has them from the very young to the very old despite that he is still growing. “I don’t joke with my aged friends,” Dare had told me when I got to his Lagos office for an arranged journey. “Baba Afe Babalola has just sent for me and I must honour that invitation.” Chief Afe Babalola is a man I had wished to meet because of accounts of him I had read concerning his deeds as the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, my Alma mater that had impressed and encouraged me that there are still many good and conscientious Nigerians. “I’m very interested to meet Baba Afe Babalola, we can as well postpone our planned journey and see the grand old man of law in Ibadan,” I told Dare. In less than two hours, we were faced with this wonderful and disciplined man and philanthropist who at 80 began to conceive a university and built one. “This man must be very strange,” I mused, “not thinking of death.” Then he and I had a brief engagement when he asked whether I read English. I don’t know why he did, but I remember telling him that Dare and I were classmates and graduates of the Department of Mass Communication and that Dare, in my estimation was the star writer in our class. The old man requested I visit his university at Ado Ekiti, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti. I will do that someday. But my good impression of him became more heightened that day. How could a man that old be working at such frenetic speed and with great accomplishments?
This story is not about Afe Babalola but about his latest statement which he presented to journalists in Ado Ekiti recently. It was his response to the latest letter of his friend, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo and Afe Babalola shared many things in common. Both, despite their advanced ages are very deeply concerned about the health of Nigeria. Afe Babalola has a very organized life just like Obasanjo. Both of them are in multiple marriages. Both of them have demonstrated that they are statesmen. When they speak, the nation listens. Obasanjo thinks his friend, Afe Babalola is not a frivolous person. But while Obasanjo endorsed Peter Obi in his letter that is rattling the nation, Afe Babalola did not think Obi can win the 2023 elections as the president of Nigeria. This is not for lack of sterling qualities but because of the present structure of Nigeria and because of the present constitution which he says must be jettisoned and written for any successful and meaningful elections that will change Nigeria to take place. Afe Babalola was so convinced that though he is the biggest taxpayer in his Ekiti State and though he has contributed and still contributing to humanity in Nigeria if he were to contest the election in Ekiti now, he would not win. He would not win because of how the nation is structured and because of its current constitution which many think is forged. The political, structural, and religious arrangements of the nation must be reworked.
Afe Babalola is so convinced that the February elections cannot produce men and women of character and integrity but will be hijacked by rich individuals with deep pockets, not persons with the required capacity to add value to the nation in all spheres. “The election might not produce the expected leader with character, age, strong health, and strong patriotism. The 1999 constitution has made it possible for some individuals to be rich and to compromise the system making it difficult for men of ideas and plans to change things for better to be in a position of authority.” He has no kind words to describe those who he thinks are recycled from the stock of leaders who had led the nation to ruin. He says emphatically that the endorsement of Peter Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party with his huge popularity on social media will not translate to victory for him because of the nature of the nation’s democracy which makes it impossible for elections to be won by people of capacity and integrity. How can a nation neck-deep in foreign debt go into an election? Apart from a constitutional reengineering of the nation, Afe Babalola thinks the repayment of the nation’s huge foreign debt is a priority. He recommended to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari who brought the nation to debt the style of Olusegun Obasanjo who in his presidency approached the creditors to either forgive or reduce the debt. Unfortunately, it is the same Obasanjo that the president and his media aides have regarded as worthless and jealous of their unimpressive performance that Afe Babalola recommended to the government. As a second way of paying off the debt, Afe Babalola recommended that all billionaires and trillionaires in the nation should be encouraged to donate to the government so that this can be achieved. The great lawyer promised that he will be ready to be part of that donation.
But if Afe Babalola can vouch for the cleanliness of his own wealth, not many people think he can make the same claim for very many other billionaires and trillionaires he is beckoning to whose wealth is either stolen from the same government or through it or made through drug dealing or internet fraud. Who will take charge of these donations in a nation where the nation’s banker, CBN is being accused of stashing away 79 trillion naira enough to pay back the debt in different private accounts over which the president has done nothing so far? The same CBN which has injected 27 trillion naira in printed currency into the economy has engendered runaway inflation, about 21.47 percent as of October 2022. But Afe Babalola will not relent on his recommendation, he asked for a special committee to be set up to include Bishop Matthew Kukah, the fiery preacher and social critic from the Catholic Church, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye and Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church. Though the revered lawyer did not include any Muslim cleric in his list, it does not mean the list is closed but not a few will think that Afe Babalola must be one of the few remaining Nigerians who still have some faith in the Church leaders in Nigeria. There are many who think the leaders in the Church are not better than, even if not worse than the leaders in the natural realm of the nation.
Where then lie the hope of Nigeria if Peter Obi, the rave of the moment who is a frontrunner, and leading in at least two polls whose methodology is doubted is being told a bitter truth by this great legal mind and very experienced watcher of politics of Nigeria that all his great endorsements may not translate into victory. Afe Babalola didn’t say it directly, but it is very apparent that the two septuagenarians Olusegun Obasanjo asked to go and take their rest, deserved or not are the ones that Afe Babalola says may be swindled into office by the current a flawed constitution and Nigeria’s system of greed and corruption that has put so much money in the hands of these septuagenarians, enough to buy the vote of every Nigerian. Despite the desecration of religion in the nation by religious leaders, many Nigerians are still thinking God will make a difference and deliver the nation from the hands of those who have misled them. Whether that God will take his eyes off the irresponsible lifestyle of the average Nigerian is left to be seen.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and a pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of LagosB