An account of a guided tour of Africa’s fastest growing, not-for-profit, private university with the state-of-the-art facilities on offer
By Yinka Oludayisi Fabowale
Dateline: Saturday, May 12, 2018. The elements were kind this morning. As the French would say:” Il fait beau aujourdhui” (that is, the weather is beautiful today). The clock was racing to 10:30 am, yet the sun seemed not in a hurry to kiss off the lingering moist of the dawn, when we, about 20 of us, were shepherded into the dome-shaped building.
The Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti‘s (ABUAD)18m fix dome planetarium, said to be the only one in Africa with astronomical observatory, sits a few metres away from the Talent Discovery Centre (TDC), we had earlier visited.
‘We‘ referred to a group of journalists on excursion to ABUAD. Our mission was to see four new projects being added to the stock of state-of-the art facilities on the university campus. The projects include the planetarium sophisticated telemedicine equipment, an ultramodern post graduate building and hall of residence built at the cost of N2billion and the social and management science building constructed at the cost of N1.5billion, all set to be commissioned on Tuesday, May 21.
Obviously none of us reckoned that the visit to the private university would also take us on a shuttle into space during this terrestrial exploration. But so it did!
Once inside the planetarium, one of our tour guides, Yinka Ajiboye, a lecturer at the university‘s Department of Physics and Electronics, ordered that the entrance be shut. We did not know what to expect as we were ushered into a hierarchy of rows of seats (such as in the cinemas) in the dim-lit chamber.
Before us and providing the only source of illumination was a laser projector, with focus trained on the ball-like ceiling.
Ajiboye soon took position beside it to welcome us into the facility. He then gave a brief explanation on what the planetarium is- a centre to view the planetary system. This particular planetarium, he further disclosed, has a complementary telescope with which the celestial bodies could be viewed. However, he regretted that we would not be able to see much during the day due to the brightness and activity of the sun. The celestial bodies are best captured at night.
Denied this chance, our guide offered to play a 20-minute documentary entitled Back to the Moon for God, for our education and entertainment in compensation. Suddenly video images of astronomic wonders and advance through generations popped up on the dome ceiling, as the booming baritone voice of the narrator, Tim Allen, took us on a voyage into space, with exploits of daring space scientists, beginning with explorations of the moon by Americans. For the next 20 minutes we watched video images of Apollo; Ranger 9 (1965); Surveyor 6, (1967); Lunltokho 1; Apollo9 (1969) Apollo 14 (1974) etc. Ajiboye said acoustics in the chamber was being fixed to remove the echo of electronic sound that tended to affect audibility of parts of the narration.
At the end of the entrancing clip, Ajiboye told our team that the planetarium was instituted by ABUADs founder and President, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), to sensitize people to the advantages of resources available in space. According to him, the telescope takes images from space, which are then analysed for use on earth. For example, he said ionosphere, a layer of the earth was currently being explored for modern telephone technology.
The university don described the ABUAD planetarium as one of the largest in the world with its own observatory affixed. Although he acknowledged that the Federal Government procured one, sited in Abuja, it was not customized as this and was yet to be put to use. He added that apart from offering the public opportunity for space tourism, the facility was provided to kick-start space education in the university soonest.
The planetarium and graduates of the institution in space studies are expected to complement and help the nation’s efforts at harnessing the knowledge to meeting security and agricultural needs, among others.
As we shuffled out at the end of the session, I felt like not leaving the air- conditioned chamber.
Our next port of call was the College of Law, where the provost, Prof. Smaranda Olamide, who doubles as ABUAD’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, proudly took us through the series of success factors that made the college produce bright graduates, some of who went on to clinch first class and second class upper divisions at the Nigeria Law school, within the short span of the university‘s existence. These, she listed to include a vibrant and diversified curriculum, ultra-modern infrastructure including up-to-date e-library and moot court, legal clinic; knowledgeable and committed faculty members and discipline of the students.
In addition to their LLB, ABUADs law graduates also bag the membership of the Nigerian Chartered Institute of Administration, on graduation, the DVC said.
Behind the law college stood the imposing College of Engineering, said to house lecture rooms, offices, 39 laboratories and a magnificent workshop. The princes of disciplines in this college are Mechatronics, Aeronautics and Bio-medical engineering.
The college is staffed with some of the nation’s best scholars with training from UK, USA, Turkey among others. The engineering complex which was commissioned by former President Goodluck Jonathan has been adjudged the best equipped and a model in West Africa, by a former Nigeria society of Engineer (NSE) President.
The tour also took us to the newly built Postgraduate College, College of Social Sciences and Management complex, the cafeteria and the sports complex.
Due to pressure on our time, we could not visit other arms of ABUAD Ventures, a conglomerate that generates internal income to support and sustain the not-for-profit university. The business compromises a bakery, printing press, water bottling company and the famous ABUAD Farms.
The farm is an integrated value-chain agricultural enterprise consisting of maize, mango, cassava, moringa, Gmelaina, and teak plantains that feed a thriving agro-allied industry, producing finished products from the farm harvests.
In addition to these are mushrooms factory, a wood processing factory, apiary, piggery, hatcheries and big fish farm involving 50 lakes and 57 ponds, the harvest of which are either sold fresh or preserved.
However, the greatest amazement awaited us at the university’s Multisystem Hospital complex established to train medical and paramedical students.
This is a huge investment in ultramodern diagnostic, preventive and curative medical resources cutting across virtually all branches of medicine. Dr. Olukayode Akinlade, a Consultant, called it a quaternary hospital because, according to him, the quantum and quality of facilities in place are far more than one can routinely find in other tertiary hospitals.
Being run in partnership with the reputed Aster group of hospitals, Dubai, the health facility, according to the Health Minister Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, who commissioned it last October, is well equipped enough for all types of specialist healthcare services to check Nigerians’ penchant for medical tourism abroad.
Dr. Akinkade reinforced this assertion and even added: “It will turn brain drain into brain gain, because it would attract Nigerian doctors and medical experts who left the country as a result of poor remuneration, poor facilities to work with, back to Nigeria, as the conditions of service here in ABUAD are comparable to the best in the world.”
When fully operational, the hospital is expected to handle cases of kidney transplant and heart surgeries among other serious health conditions for which Nigerians seek succour overseas.
Among the latest stock of equipment are the telemedicine machines whereby experienced counterparts of the doctors in foreign countries such as Dubai and United States can participate in knowledge sharing and treatment of patients, particularly delicate surgical procedures, as these can be transmitted live to them.
The hospital is programmed for precision and effectiveness as it is virtually digitalised and operates a pneumatic tube system for transporting medical consumables to wards, theatres and other points of need, such that even chances of contamination via physical handling are eliminated.
So overwhelmed by the hugeness of the investment and the largeness of the heart of just a single man who put all these in place were the journalists that some wondered aloud why our governments could not provide anything near what obtains in ABUAD, despite the enormous resources at their disposal.
We rounded off the tour with a press conference addressed by the man behind this marvellous success story, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN). Flanked by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ajisafe, his deputies, registrar, Mrs. Christie Oluborode and other university officials, Babalola, said ABUAD has put a lie to the assertion that Nigerian graduates were worthless and unemployable. According to him, while this could be said of products of other institutions, particularly public universities, due among other things to outdated curricula and insufficient tuition due to incessant staff strikes, ABUAD operates a dynamic, trendy and cutting edge syllabi, with the best hands and intellectuals hired for optimum result. His words: “The problem with Nigerian universities is that they still operate old curricula drafted 60 years ago, they are not moving with the trend. The difference between us is that here, we keep innovating. For instance, within the short period of our existence we have introduced three new programmes including Mechatronics… Now, we are planning to add space education.”
He described the university as a model, echoing the objective submissions of professional and regulatory bodies including the National Universities Commission (NUC) COREN and Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE).
Of the new postgraduate complex billed for commissioning on May21, the eminent lawyer observed that most universities in the country including University of Lagos, where he served meritoriously as Pro Chancellor and Chairman of the governing council, do not have such separate and distinct structure, but still make use of existing buildings for both their undergraduates and postgraduate students.
Due to poor enrolment in agricultural studies, Babalola, who is also a renowned big time farmer said, the university slashed tuition for agricultural programmes by 50 per cent as an incentive.
Although barely eight years old, the young, but fast growing university, said Babalola, has become a beacon to older universities, some of which had been coming to learn the secret of its success. He remarked that public universities failed simply because they are seen as “nobody‘s business,“ whereas owners of private institutions always strive to fulfil their vision and as such drive and monitor the progress of their charges.
On fears of affordability of its services, Aare Babalola assured that both the rich and the poor will enjoy equal access to the health care at the Multisystem hospital. He stressed that no one would be turned back on account of being poor.
The provost, College of Medicine, Prof. Olurotimi Sanya and Dr. Akinlade buttressed this promise. Besides noting that the ABUAD founder is poised to support the treatment of indigent patients through his philanthropic organisation, the Afe Babalola Foundation, as he has similarly been doing with yearly awards of scholarships running into millions of naira to bright and poor students, they disclosed that a community health insurance has been put in place to help poor rural folk.
Apart from this, they said, the hospital embarks regular medical outreaches, whereby indigenes and residents of the host community enjoy free consultation, diagnoses and treatment of diverse ailments.
The briefing over, we all dispersed the enchanting scenic campus, where modernity is locked in romance with beautiful nature; in full agreement that this indeed is magic and miracle wrought by the vision and determination of a resolute mind. Nigeria can yet turn Paradise, if only it is blessed with just one clone of Aare Babalola in each of the 36 states of the federation.