Afe Babalola University, Unique Model Moves Beyond Self-sufficiency, by Professor MK Othman

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Ideally, university is a serene environment designed to nurture intellectualism and academic freedom. It serves as an engine room for addressing multifaceted challenges of the society. Nation turns to universities for problem solving, confronting of developmental constraints and advance national course. To make university perform this role, the environment must be conducive for crossbreeding of ideas, exploration of hidden resources and transformation of potential to reality.

University is a natural home of genius, great thinkers, innovators and inventors. Progressive leaders of developed and even developing nations are in constant consultations with Ivory Towers for research and direction at critical moments. To meet the societal expectations, university’s academic programs are designed to conform and meet international standard. Thus, students pursuing the university programs are subjected to internal and external examinations and periodic curriculum review and accreditation. Within this context, how are Nigerian universities faring?

Industrial disharmony, poor funding, lack of support from private sectors and sometimes nepotism make public universities perform below expectation. This concern galvanized the emergence of the private universities, which have existed in the last one-decade. As an ASUU activist, I was always opposed to the emergence of private universities and consider such venture as a systematic denial of university education to the children of less privileged in the society. Exorbitant tuition fee far beyond the affordability of ordinary people, exploitation and perhaps low educational standard were my thoughts of the private university. My thoughts began to change after visiting few private universities in the last five years.

Although, I have been an advocate of free education at all levels but the reality shows that quality education, knowledge acquisition and capacity development has direct and associate costs. Someone has to bear such costs for people to be educated and become useful to the society. Government has fundamental obligations to educate the citizenry for rapid and sustainable development of the nation. Can government bear the cost of education alone? Should the private sector intervene? What level of intervention? How do we get unique model that can bring public and private interventions in a university education for excellent result? It is within this context that Afe Babalola University’s model needs a thorough examination.

Recently, Prof James Adeosun, the NAERLS South West Zonal Officer, and I were special guests to the Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti (ABUAE) on the invitation of the Founder, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN. The University is located at Ado-Ekiti, the capital of Ekiti state; it is a Federal Government-licensed and Non-Profit but private University.

Non-Profit but fully private is a conundrum, how can a private university in today’s Nigeria be a non-profit venture? An ordinary Nigerian like me thinks that all private universities are lucrative business enterprises for the owners making them smile to the banks on regular basis. Well, ABUAE is entirely a different kettle of tea. It is a unique model that combines business acumen of the private sector, philanthropic gesture of highly spirited, kind-hearted individual (the founder), zeal to excel in academic endeavors and community service.

The university’s vision is “to lead education reform in Nigeria by providing a world-class educational center of excellence in academics, character, sports and vocational development”. The university aims at producing “highly skilled and socially relevant graduates capable of applying scientific knowledge for the resolution of social and technological problems”. The University’s mandate is to pioneer total excellence along the parameters of teaching, research, performance, sports, community impact and scholarship”. What is making this university different from the rest?

ABUAE operates collegial system with six colleges, several academic departments and programs. Interestingly, the university has forty-seven programs fully accredited by NUC and other relevant Professional Bodies. The programs are in Engineering, Law, Medicine and Health Sciences, Accounting, Computer Science, Media & Communication and International Relations.

The university started with admission of 242 students in 2009 and expanded with current student population of 8,107 students. It has staff strength of approximately 2,000. This relatively large population is fully accommodated within the campus. No student resides outside the campus and the generality of the employees are fully accommodated in the staff quarters. Through its agricultural program, the university produces food items, beyond the nutritional requirements of all the staff and students.

Thus, 100s of millions of Naira worth of food items are sold to the outside world. In fact, the university is meeting the daily needs of both staff and students in foods, education, sport, health, religion, social and recreation. Additionally, the university produces large quantity of timber for the furniture and building requirements of the university. How was the university able to achieve self-sufficiency in food production?

ABUAE is the first University to acquire and use a large commercial farm consisting over 1,000 hectare of Land containing 110,000 Mango Trees, 500,000 Teak Trees, 500,000 Melina Trees and 600,000 Moringa Trees with Moringa Factory producing different byproducts. In fact, the university is producing Moringa Oil, Tea, Seed, Soap, Cream, Leaf, Capsule and Leaf Powder. On livestock and aquaculture, the farm has 600 Fish Ponds with three Huge Hatchery Buildings consisting of 30 Hatchery each for producing of fingerlings.

Similarly, the farm produces Mango Chips, Plantain Chips, Snailry, Piggery, Mushroom, Quail, Guinea Fowl and Turkey. The size and diversity of the farm made the Minister of Agriculture to describe it as “the best he has ever seen in Nigeria or elsewhere”. The farm supplies large quantity of food items to major markets in the southwest. The most interesting aspect of the farm is a total engagement of students and unemployed youths in the operation and maintenance of the various farm enterprises.

This serves as practical to the students and skill acquisition to the unemployed youths. Another interesting aspect was the award of N250,000 grant to each of the first and second sets of agricultural graduates of the university as starter-pack to begin agricultural business. 

Another special area of ABUAE impact on the society is the “character molding” of the students. The students’ behavior and character are molded to be productive, innovative and useful to themselves and the society.

University education is designed to enrich students with “character and learning”. However, the aspect of character is mostly ignored, due to the subjective nature of character evaluation while learning is easily evaluated through regular examinations and course assessments. In ABUAE, character is considered as important as learning. “As a visitor or worker in the university, when you pass by group of students, you will certainly receive a warm greeting”, a top management staff of the university’s student affairs division told me.

This was attested during my 4 km jogging within the campus the following morning; greetings were coming from the students as I passed. How does the university achieve this feat of character molding? The university offers a compulsory course on “local language and culture” to all students from 100 to 300 level. Three major languages are used for the course: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Each student must pass it at credit level before graduating.

ABUAE inculcates discipline as part of the learning process. Students must respect each other as well as staff and visitors. Students are not allowed to move out of the campus without permission or written request from their parents. Fighting and quarreling among the students are absolutely prohibited; in fact, there are series of rules and regulations governing the conduct of the students. Failure to adhere to such rules and regulations attract sanction from fine, community service, placement on isolation for a period from 12 to 72 hours, suspension and outright expulsion. Afe Babalola University is an ordered and semi-regimented society with peace and amicability.  

Right from inception, the university exhibited sound character and leadership. At the age of two, in 2011, National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) awarded the university with a meritorious award as “The most progressive, dynamic and fastest growing academic institution in Nigeria”

High-ranking personalities in Nigeria gave excellent scorecard; Three Former Nigerian Head of State and Presidents commended the university at different times.

General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) said “The setting is superlative and impressive with nothing of its kind that I have seen so far in this country or anywhere” Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, described it “A model to emulate” while Dr. Goodluck Jonathan said “Notably one of the most outstanding individual contributions towards government educational project”. NUC described the university as “A reference point, model and benchmark for private universities, one of the best in West Africa”.

The man behind this university is Aare Afe Babalola, who is the founder is generally acknowledged to always stand for excellence. Nigeria and indeed Africa needs the replica of ABUAE in all corners of the continent to exponentially increase the human capital for survival and then technological advancement.

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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