Wale Babalakin: The Ajebota Philanthropist
He was born, Bolanle Olawale Babalakin. He is a Nigerian businessman, lawyer and philanthropist. He is Chairman of Bi-Courtney Group of companies. He is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a recipient of the Nigerian national honour of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2007
Early Life and Education
He is Dr. Wale Babalakin, born on July 1, 1960 in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital in Western Nigeria. His father, Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, and his mother, Mrs. Ramotu Ibironke Babalakin, was a pioneer female hospital proprietress in Ibadan. He attended Sacred Heart Private School, then proceeded to Government College, Ibadan for his secondary school education.
For his ‘A’ Levels, Babalakin attended The Polytechnic, Ibadan and subsequently gained admission into the University of Lagos in 1978, where he graduated from the Faculty of Law in 1981. He proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1982. That same year (1982), Wale Babalakin was one of only three Africans admitted into Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University for the pioneer Master of Laws Degree. Although his academic programme was sponsored by his father, he applied for the Commonwealth Scholarship. Wale Babalakin was awarded the LLM degree in 1983,and immediately moved for his doctoral programme. He received his PhD in 1986 on the eve of his 26th birthday.
Akintunde Olumideko, one of his friends said that “for those of us who knew Wale Babalakin in school – Government College Ibadan (GCI)- the positive outcome his life is playing out is not unexpected”. This is because everything had been ordained before the foundation of the world! My association with Wale predated our meeting at the GCI where we were both Griersons i.e. members of Grier House. Unknown to both of us, we were also pupils of the Sacred Heart Private School, Ring Road Ibadan, then one of the major ‘ajebota’ primary schools in Ibadan! My classmates at the Sacred Heart included Tola Ajala, Segun Koya and Biyi Oloko among others. Wale was our senior at ‘Sacred Heart’ but we did not meet again until I gained admission to Government College Ibadan in 1973.
Wale gained admission to the GCI in 1971 and with other boys commenced a five-year sojourn within the confines of that great institution of learning. The GCI was a model secondary school for boys in the then Western Region/State and the school was known for excellent academic and moral standards. It also had a solid reputation. Indeed, in our days, most boys who graduated from primary schools desired to attend the GCI. Nevertheless, the school would qualify as an ‘equaliser’ for the school does not discriminate against one’s background in instilling discipline into its students. Even if you were the son of the president or governor, you would serve the prescribed punishment for any act of misdemeanour.
Wale was among the youngest in Grier House for the 1971 intake. The others, if my memory serves me right included Wole Adebayo, an economist and businessman as well as Femi Olutoye, a retired air commodore and medical doctor. However, he (Wale) shocked everyone by coming first at the house test organised for his set and by so doing claimed the Banjo Prize for 1971!
It is apposite to say something about the house test in order to put his feat in proper perspective. Every ‘common entrance’ intake into class one in the GCI was assigned a house and in my time, there were five houses to wit: Carr, Field, Grier, Powell and Swanston. Once you were assigned to a house, the next important assignment of your school life was to be given a school teacher – teur – whose responsibility it was to properly integrate you into your school family, coach you with respect to the GCI customs, mores and traditions as well as prepare you for the house test. Wale’s teur was Taiwo Ogunbunmi, now late, and he coached him so well that he ‘dusted’ all comers at the house test!
He sat for the West African School Certificate Examination in 1975. Though the GCI result was generally good that year, he performed below average. Seems that was the ‘shock treatment’ he needed to turn a new leaf. He came to ‘his own’ and from then on became ‘unconquerable’. He left GCI for the Ibadan Polytechnic from where he gained admission to the University of Lagos to study Law and was subsequently called into the Nigerian Bar in 1981. Subsequently, he earned his Master’s and Doctorate degrees at the Cambridge University. He could jolly well have remained abroad, after all, unknown to many, Wale is also a British citizen having been born in the United Kingdom! No wonder, his other name is ‘Olatokunbo’!
After his education in Cambridge, he chose to return to his fatherland and served his National Youth Service Corps programme. After a year’s tutelage at Chief Rotimi Williams’s Chambers, he took the bold step to establish his law firm – Babalakin & Co in the ‘heart’ of Lagos. Wale became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2002 thus becoming the second GCI Old Boy to attain the rank. Additionally, Wale has made giant strides in the area of business culminating in the private public partnership arrangement he put together for the rehabilitation of the burnt Ikeja Airport now known as Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA-2). This feat has yet to be replicated by anybody.
Returning to Nigeria in 1986, Babalakin joined the firm of his mentor, Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams, where he worked for one year. He established his own firm, Babalakin and Co,Apart from being a practitioner, he is also in the sphere of publishing of Law Reports. In 2009, the owners of Nigeria’s first privately published Law Report, Optimum Law Publishers, which commenced in 1964, assigned their rights and interest in the Law Report to Babalakin and Co
Dr. Wale Babalakin through his company, Bi-Courtney Limited, applied for the concessioning of the Lagos Domestic Airport, the Murtala Mohammed Airport 2, after the old airport structure was razed by fire and was completed in three years. Dr. Babalakin is also the Chairman of Stabilini Visinoni Limited, a construction firm located in Nigeria.His hospitality and leisure company, Resort International Limited, was in 2006 granted a Development Lease Agreement to convert the former Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, Lagos, into luxury blocks of 480 flats – that was until work was stopped by Lagos State Government a year later, in 2007, and also the development of a 300-bed hotel at MMA2.
In 2005, Dr. Wale Babalakin was appointed by the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as a member of the National Political Reforms Conference where he served on the Legal Reforms Committee. He also served as the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Sub Committeewhich was ultimately responsible for the drafting of the constitution. He was the Vice-Chairman of the Committee for the review of the Evidence Act.He also had the unique opportunity of serving as the Chairman of two committees of the Nigerian Bar Association, namely the Real Estate and Construction Law Committee of the Section on Business Law and the Government Practice Committee of the Section on Legal Practice. He was appointed alongside Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman as Honorary Advisers to the government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
He has served as: Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman of Council of the University of Maiduguri between 2009 and 2013, Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Federal Universities in Nigeria, Chairman of the Implementation Monitoring Committee of the Agreements entered into between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the various unions of the Nigerian Universities namely the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria (ASUU), SSANU, NAAT and NASU, Chairman of the Federal Government Committee to Re-negotiate the 2009 Agreement between Federal Government and the University Unions, and former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos
It is in the area of philanthropy that Wale has made the greatest impact, yet he is quite conservative about discussing it. In spite of his personal avowal not to join any social club, he chose to become a member of Sigma Club because of its philanthropic ideals. Sigma Club is a social and philanthropic organisation founded in 1950 by undergraduates of the University of Ibadan. Unknown to him (Wale), the first Sigma Chief i.e. old Chief Nelson Olojede and the second Sigma chief i.e old Chief (Professor) Eugene Olufemi Odunjo were GCI Old Boys. Besides, one of the founding fathers of Sigma Club i.e. the late Ambassador Leslie Harriman and the oldest living old Sigmite i.e. Kabiyesi, Alayeluwa (Oba), Major – General Olufemi Olutoye, the Alani of Ido-Ani Kingdom are also GCI Old Boys. Nevertheless, since Wale joined Sigma Club in 2006, he and his friend, a co – Sigmite – Professor Gbolahan Elias, SAN qualify as the greatest benefactors of the Club and its sister organisation, the Sigma Educational Foundation.
These are some of his philanthropic achievements: Donated an 80-bed hostel to the University of Ilorin in the name of his father, the Hon. Mr. Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin, donated an 80-bed hostel in Ibogun, Ogun State in memory of his mother, Mr. Ramotu Ibironke Babalakin, donated a 500-seater auditorium to the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic in memory of his late mother, treated 1000 patients with various eye diseases in Aye daade Local Government, treated 4000 patients with various eye diseases in Owo Local Government under the foundation set up in memory of his late mother, and has an elaborate scholarship scheme in and out of Nigeria with over 200 students in Nigeria and over 40 students abroad.
For his old schoolmate, the GCI is blessed to have Wale as an old boy. Two years ago, he was elected National President of the GCI Old Boys Association and since then, he has been deploying his financial wherewithal towards ensuring that the GCI is restored to the glorious days. Twenty-five years ago, in commemoration of his thirty-fifth birthday, a lecture was organised in his honour. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration this year is likely to be subdued. Nevertheless, once the pandemic is over, I expect the drums to start rolling at least for the next one year! The birthdays of some individuals cannot be celebrated in one day! It only remains for me to wish him a happy birthday and many more years of distinguished service to humanity.
Babalakin was, in 2002, made a SAN.In 2007, he was conferred with the national honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, OFR. On 21 December 2013, during the 90th anniversary of the the Ansar Ud Deen Society of Nigeria, Along with other dignitaries including the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), the incumbent Works and Housing Minister, Dr. Wale Babalakin, was awarded the Merit Award for his contribution to the society and humanity in general.
Controversies and legal disputes
As a very successful businessman, Babalakin is no stranger to controversies and long running legal battles. From unfounded tabloid reports about business deals gone sour, such as the revocation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway contract, to alleged financial impropriety and his properties being seized, he has always maintained his integrity and stood firm in the face of tough challenges. His involvement in influencing the travails of the former Nigerian Minister of Aviation due to his connection to the domestic airport in Lagos has been found to be baseless, among other allegations, which prompted US based Attorney and The Guardian columnist Abiodun Osofisan to write the article, In Defense of Truth And Justice, which was also recently published in many Nigerian newspapers.
Babalakin is married to Olugbolahan Babalakin, the daughter of the Honourable Mr. Justice and Mrs. Y.A.O. Jinadu, who is also a Lawyer by profession. They have children