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|Robbing Chief Afe Babalola Blind by biodunid: 10:54am On Apr 01, 2013|
Robbing Chief Afe Babalola Blind
I was at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD) on Easter Friday and slept in its guest house that night. I went with my family solely to see the good work I had heard so much about. Not the mere fact of setting up a private university, of which there are almost 100 at present with some ecclesiastical individuals owning two and planning to establish even more, but setting up a university with a very significant emphasis on providing quality education and subsidizing the acquisition of same by those too poor to pay for it. This last part is a quality that has been sorely lacking even in the quasi ecclesiastic institutions set up by our popular ‘men of God’ even when most of the funding for such establishments came from the poor.
Chief Afe Babalola is a person I would instinctively rather reprobate than approbate especially since he thrust himself rather violently into my consciousness with the Galaxy Backbone deal where he was accused of collecting about $3m merely to register yet another government interventionist twinkle in Obasanjo’s eye. The enterprise was conceived as a provider of bulk network services for government agencies nationwide. Somehow the Nigerian Federal Executive Council had convinced itself that, despite the experience of NITEL and similar parastatals, government provided internet services was the most efficient way to leapfrog provision of government services into the 21st century. Considering Obasanjo, the president at that time and Chief Babalola’s very good friend, had confessed on being released from prison that he had no idea what the internet was, one could understand how a cabinet of similarly benighted fellows could dig yet another drain pipe for our resources. This essay is however not about the ways we are misgoverned but about the good and great thing Chief Babalola is trying to do in Ado Ekiti and how well the project is going.
I am familiar with the naija conception that looters of the national patrimony, actually anyone who seems to have any amount of spare cash to invest in social or economic infrastructure, should be separated from their loot in discharge of one’s patriotic duty. One gets this impression when we find sometimes quite noble socio economic projects overwhelmed by a comprehensive looting frenzy with 99% of the project managers and employees seeming to be of the same rapacious mindset without caring a hoot about the sustainability of the project or the damage done to the psyche of the fellow who chose to reinvest hard won or cleverly stolen funds in the community. The abubutan mentality comes to the fore as the enterprise is treated as a beached whale from which each can carve enough to satiate his hunger without killing it or exhausting the Godsend. Of course, with hundreds of emergency butchers hard at work, we are soon left with whale skeleton, innards and a thoroughly messed up beach.
The butchers have been hard at work at ABUAD and the mess they have created almost brings tears to the eyes. Once you get beyond the gates the waste and theft of Chief Babalola’s billions becomes obvious. Yes, the roads are tarred but the adjective ‘well’ is inapplicable. You find tar on maybe 80% of the width of the road with sidewalks missing (on a college campus!) and drains a much delayed afterthought several years after the school commenced. And the buildings. I spent four years at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University and like to think Chief Babalola must have been partly inspired by Ife’s ambitious architecture. The structures are massive alright but are a nasty shock to the eyes. For a citizen looking for something to celebrate they were massively deflationary. Not one straight wall, not one level surface. Not one structure finished to levels you and I or, for that matter, the functionaries and project managers of ABUAD would consider acceptable for our homes yet that was what was delivered for Chief Babalola’s billions. That was what his dream had been translated into.
We took two rooms in the guest house and were horrified at the finishing of the rooms, the bathrooms and the fittings themselves. Knowing our ways well we knew the structures which were never properly built or fitted and which were already falling apart would have been procured for top dollar. My wife and I were reduced to acknowledging that Chief Babalola is quite old but we didn’t recall anything about his being childless. Surely his kids couldn’t have stood by while their patrimony was thrown away on what is shaping up as a quixotic venture for, if things are this bad this early in the game and with the visionary still alive and funding, then one can only expect near immediate collapse the minute death snatches him away.
What lessons to learn? It is great to be blessed with billions never mind through what means. It is even greater to do a Bill Gates and choose to return most of that fortune to the community. In investing for the common good it is best to learn from Warren Buffett and hands things to competent hands. Buffett acknowledged that his competence is in making billions but not in giving them away. He realized that his friend Gates had over the years acquired the competence to do the latter and happily entrusted the bulk of his billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for ‘onward transmission’ to the needy. That is a man who knows his limitations.
Chief Babalola must acknowledge his age and professional background and rescue his dream by calling in professionals who can yet save the day. I would suggest he outsources the ongoing construction of structures and administration of the college to an international university consultancy that can deliver on his dream of a 21st century university. He will save himself a lot of heartache and a load of money by doing this. First though he should bring in forensic investigators and determine who has stolen what from him. People should be behind bars for what they have turned this particular vision into even if they claim he came about the bulk of his fortune by less than holy means. He might also consider bringing in structural engineers to test the structural integrity of every building on the campus. It would a sad testament to his philanthropy if a hostel were to collapse and take along with it hundreds of young people he was trying to give a better shot at life. When I see multi storey institutional structures with nary a straight line I can’t help having a queasy feeling in my stomach. This is Nigeria and nothing is sacred anymore.
Since I posted the piece above I have had several phone conversations with two representatives of ABUAD who took exception to the conclusions in my last paragraph. They stated that ABUAD authorities had themselves noticed the shabby finishing of the structures which they traced to a subset of workmen. They stated too that the underlying structures themselves are solid and sound being the products of qualified structural etc engineers. I was told that steps have been put in place to ensure the finishing of the buildings in future reflect the underlying excellence of the structures.
As a mortal I lack x-ray vision and cannot see beyond the veneer I was appalled by. I however would find it illogical that Chief Afe would sabotage his own greatest legacy. I am thus persuaded by the assurances I have received from ABUAD’s representatives that their structures are sound and will stand the test of time. More importantly I am persuaded that with their continuing effort and the constructive engagement of the rest of us Chief Afe will ultimately gift us a ‘21st Century’ university that will serve as a model to other ‘money bags’ in Africa with some being challenged enough to go for a ‘purer’ educational intervention that would harness the millions of potential Einsteins that Africa loses to illiteracy and malnutrition annually. Since my high school days in the 70s, Thomas Gray’s Elegy In A Country Churchyard has haunted me. With today’s much diminished educational sector I am virtually living through a waking nightmare as I daily witness talent and ability wasted by man’s inhumanity to man.
One form of intervention that I think is sorely needed is high schools and universities which will be set up as 100% charities that will corral the very best of our indigent youth into intellectual incubators which will produce in the not too distant future Africa’s science and technology Nobels and entrepreneurs. If we say that is not sustainable then I say we can have incubator schools 50% of whose students would be gifted but indigent and the rest fee payers whose sponsors appreciate the value of being in the same intellectual hothouses as Africa’s best. I personally would do almost anything to get my kids into such schools where iron will sharpen iron 24/7.
The point I am making above is that educating Africa’s ‘great unwashed’ is my passion and in pursuing that passion I shall ignore those who adhere to Prof Bolaji Akinyemi’s recently publicized thesis that there are no licit billionaires in Nigeria. I shall focus on and, where possible, celebrate the good that is being done and that is being attempted in this sector that is generally bereft of the tender mercies of Nigerian billionaires.
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