Wale Babalakin At 55: From Vilification To Vindication

…By Umar Alli
imageAs he turns 55 today, he must have a special reason to be grateful to his Maker, the Almighty Allah. After almost two years of intense vilification in the hands of people of power, Dr. Bolanle Olawale Babalakin, SAN must be looking forward to heave a sigh of relief this year, hopefully, from the mountainous hurdles deliberately hurled in his way.
His story looks like the typical case of how Nigeria does not often like to appreciate exceptional breeds that are succeeding in their chosen fields. But for Babalakin, who cut his legal teeth under the great ‘Timi the Law’ (late Chief Rotimi Williams) this may be about to change as fresh facts emerge and the truth is being established in the matter in which he is being tried in court.
Not a few people know that Babalakin’s name is associated with the legal profession and ingenious business enterprise. As a lawyer with a very high intellectual acumen, he is one name that young lawyers flock to in cutting their teeth in the profession. I am aware that his firm, Babalakin & Co has more than 60 lawyers who are among the best paid in the profession and some of whom have risen to the highest echelon of legal practice through Babalakin’s active support. For several years, his chamber has published an annual Law Report. For this Cambridge-trained legal colossus, there must always be a trace of scholarship and intellect in whatever he touches.
The second terminal of the Muritala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), built and operated by Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Ltd, is not just an example of how private initiatives can rescue government from difficult and capital-intensive projects but is also a unique example of how to run a business with respect for best global practices. In its eight year, MMA2 remains the only private airport terminal in the whole of Africa; is described as the cleanest public space in the whole of Lagos and more importantly is adjudged as the only airport in Nigeria that has met global standard.
In recent years, if he was not attending to legal services or nurturing enduring business projects, Babalakin would be found attending to the needy, be they individuals or even government. To many stakeholders in the ivory tower, he was the Pillar of Education in Nigeria, on account of his undisguised passion and commitment to excellence in that crucial sector. As the Chairman of Committee of Pro-Chancellors between 2009 and 2013, during which period he was also the pro-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri as well as the Chairman of the Implementation Monitoring Committee of the 2009 Agreements between the Federal Government and university-based unions, Nigeria did not witness any industrial action.
So impressed with his achievements and record of selfless service as the pro-Chancellor of UNIMAID that the authorities of the institution once said that Dr. Babalakin “built more structures in the university during his four-year tenure than was achieved since the establishment of the university 38 years ago.” He was saluted for leading from the front by denying himself all the allowances due to him. He did not collect a kobo from the university as he repeatedly said that Nigerians needed to sacrifice in order to reposition the education sector.
You would not need to be so close to him to appreciate how Law, business and humanitarian services pre-occupied this proud alumnus of Government College, Ibadan until his vilification became a sinister project for a few greedy and desperate lots who apparently used authority, and perhaps state resources, to arm-twist genuine businessmen and investors. Babalakin’s vilification of course is largely over issues surrounding MMA2, the purported revocation of the concession agreement that Bi-Courtney Ltd had on Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the alleged charges of money laundering against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
All the three issues appear related if one chooses to interrogate them closely. A clear case of witch-hunt and abuse of power will almost certainly be detected. One would see an ingenious businessman being vilified just for succeeding in ventures that mere opportunists won’t dare to discover or explore. But in each case, the Law, Babalakin’s dependable recourse, has always proven worthy as the last hope of the ordinary man. It did in September last year when the Court saved MMA2 from the pangs of Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) which wanted to appoint a Receiver/Manager on the airport terminal on account of contentious debts. It was as logical as it was commonsensical that a government agent cannot be alleging a N50bn debt let alone take over the facilities of an investor that is being owed a sum of N132bn by the same government that caused the private investor to lose huge revenue resulting in ability to fulfill its loan obligations.
The court came to the rescue because an individual had the courage to confront a bully.
Yet, a more glaring vindication came his way in February this year when a Lagos High Court discharged the case by EFCC against Babalakin for lack of merit. One would think that the adversaries would relent. Nay! They chose not to appeal the judgment instead and curiously too, re-filed the same case before another judge, pushing desperately to try Babalakin all over again… over allegations of assisting former Delta State governor James Ibori to launder money; the same case that a court of competent jurisdiction had found no merit in.
Why are they seeking to destroy Babalakin? Why are they desperate to destroy a man of intellect, vision and courage whose contribution to national development is felt daily by millions of people?
However, the truth has a way of imposing itself. Could it, therefore, be the way of truth and vindication that made the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to receive a wise counsel from within its own fold, cautioning that instituting a fresh trial of Dr. Babalakin on the same money laundering allegation would amount to an abuse of court process and that the case, if it had been filed at all, ought to be withdrawn without delay?
As if to finally vindicate this great man of industry with a large heart, it was reported that the London Metropolitan Police, which was erroneously thought to be looking for him in London, has indeed sent the report of its investigation on the Ibori saga to the Minister of Justice and nowhere in the report did either Babalakin’s name or any of his companies appear among those suspected to be involved in the alleged money laundering.
How else can a man be so blessed and vindicated? What else do they want from this man? But the traducers think they can continue with the impunity of old at a time when the country now breathes fresh air, with the hope that the perfidious past will soon be history? A close interrogation of Babalakin’s travails will reveal a link between the untidy manner in which Bi-Courtney was robbed of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway concession and the trumped-up charges of money laundering by EFCC. It may well turn out that those behind these travails overrated their ability to cheat, manipulate the system and perpetrate their relevance.
Day of reckoning for the wicked might just be near. And this is why it has become imperative to urge Babalakin not to be deterred and broken. He is a shining example of how an investor can make a great impact in the life of a nation. He deserves encouragement.
He has never stopped being a cheerful giver, anyway. In March, more than 10,000 people benefitted from his free eye check-up and treatment in Zaria. That was reminiscent of a similar philanthropic gesture he did in Osun and Ondo States a few years ago. Many more are silent beneficiary of his humanitarian causes, particularly in matters of education and health. Such great men of honour should not be allowed to fall victim of a few despicable men foisting impunity on the system.
Dr. Babalakin is lucky to often have his birthday celebrated during the holy month of Ramadan. The hand of the Almighty is unmistakable in his matter. He should persevere and stay on the path of honour. Days of perfidy might just be over, almost.

Dr. Alli, a Public Affairs analyst, lives in Abuja

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