Babalakin: 64 garlands to a quintessential humanist, businessman

TRIBUTE TO DR. BOLANLE OLAWALE BABALAKIN (SAN)@64

By Wole Shadare

A star was born into the illustrious Babalakin clan in Gbongan town in present-day Ayedaade Local Government Area of Osun State precisely on July 1, 1960, in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State.

The newborn was christened by his father, an eminent jurist and former Supreme Court justice, Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin and Madam Ramotu Ibironke Babalakin as Bolanle Olawale Babalakin.

His parents were oblivious that the precious gift would turn out to impact positively on humanity and make his mark in the murky business terrain of business where he has emerged as one of the nation’s foremost and most successful personalities in the corporate world.

Being educated, his father ensured that the young boy became well exposed to the benefits of securing Western education and he did that by enrolling him at Sacred Heart Private School for his elementary education.

Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN)

Upon completion of his primary education, he (Wale Babalakin) secured admission into the prestigious Government College, also in Ibadan from where he proceeded to The Polytechnic, Ibadan and later the University of Lagos from where he bagged his law degree.

He capped his academic journey at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, Nigeria where he enrolled as a solicitor at the Supreme Court and a legal practitioner in the country. Not content with these academic accomplishments, he proceeded to Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University where he secured post-graduate degrees.

All these prepared him adequately for the positive roles that he would eventually play in the life of his motherland. Since completing his studies, Babalakin worked stridently to make a valuable impact in the legal profession like his much-beloved father but fate and destiny as well as his focus had some other plans for him.

He took the risk and ventured into business when he incorporated his company, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), the platform upon which he built the domestic terminal of the Lagos airport which he christened Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2).

For those in the know, the site was initially a ramshackle domestic terminal of the airport which was gutted by fire that razed the entire domestic structure in 2000 and over three years, the Federal Government was at a loss as to what it wanted to do with the re-construction of the facility.

The responsible agency, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), was not ready to commit funds to rebuild the burnt terminal prompting the government to come up with experimenting with the public-private partnership (PPP) option and BASL took the risk to be used as the Guinea Pig for what later became very popular in the aviation industry.

The task of building a world-class airport terminal fell on the reserve bidder, BASL, which, in 2003, was awarded the concession by the Federal Government, to develop, finance, manage and operate the terminal and ancillary assets under a Design-Build-Operate-Transfer (DBOT) arrangement.

The project description included the airport terminal building, a multi-story car park, an apron, a four-star hotel and a conference centre.

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What appeared to be a big risk then because of the fragile nature of doing business in Nigeria, particularly when it involves the deployment of public funds, has become an option for the government, as it relieved her of the burden of injecting scarce public funds into public infrastructure.

The MMA2 was commissioned in 2007 and has since become the reference point in Nigeria’s aviation industry as it meets all the requirements for airport terminal development and has continued to win laurels as Nigeria’s finest domestic and regional airport terminal.

The terminal can facilitate four million passengers per annum with its modern technological innovations, which include the Common Users Passenger Processing System (CUPPS), self-service check-in kiosks, Automated Access Gates and the Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS). MMA2 is the first and only terminal to deploy such in Nigeria, West and Central Africa.

But for the doggedness of the leadership of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), there would be no MMA2 again today owing to inconsistent government policies, regulatory authorities’ lapses and many other challenges that have reared their heads in the past years, threatening the project.

The major problem has been the interpretation of the concession agreement. BASL, supported by various court judgments, continues to insist that, going by the concession agreement, all domestic flights ought to emanate from its terminal and that the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) is supposed to be managed by it.

But successive governments have not honoured this written agreement. Even the approval for regional flights from the terminal remains frustrated and is yet to see the light of day.

MMA2 is home to multinational retail outlets, shops, restaurants and some of the world’s most prestigious fashion labels and beauty products, offering a wide variety of exclusive items.

The success of BASL and MMA2 is even more significant given the multifaceted government opposition that trailed the project. This has led to multiple lawsuits between the government and BASL, all of which BASL won with the courts awarding significant financial penalties to the government running into over N200 billion.

Despite all the challenges faced in the past years, the Chairman of BASL, Dr Wale Babalakin, has remained focused, noting that he was driven by a passion for the country and not necessarily based on profit. He insists passion made him venture into the N34 billion edifices.

MMA2 has evolved over the years with customer-centric innovations and services combined with a systemic maintenance culture to keep the various facilities at the terminal in top shape, which has brought succour and satisfaction to the flying public.

Significantly, even aviation structures, built years after 2017, look worn out, compared to the well-maintained facilities at the MMA2.

Moreover, BASL has continued to fulfill its obligations to its partners and stakeholders, despite the environmental challenges.

Hope is that, as MMA2 continues to celebrate its successes, BASL will continue to provide world-class services at the terminal to retain its reputation as one of the best-run terminals in Nigeria

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Dr. Wale Babalakin started as a young man with great intellect and potential. He often recounts how he would have missed it in life with bad company and youthful exuberance, but for his jurist father who instilled discipline in him early in life.

In a bid to teach him unforgettable lessons and bring out the best in him, his father used to give one of their house attendants better privileges over him on account of the attendant’s exceptional brilliance. Wale eventually turned out an excellent young man.

He attended Sacred Heart Private School and thereafter proceeded to the prestigious Government College (GCI), Ibadan, Oyo State, 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, graduating 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 was one of three Africans admitted into Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University for his Master of Laws (LLM) 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 he proceeded immediately with his doctoral programme. He received his PhD in 1986 on the eve of his 26th birthday.

Returning to Nigeria in 1986, Babalakin joined the firm of his mentor, Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams, where he worked for one year, before establishing his firm, Babalakin and Co.

Apart from being a practitioner, he is also in the sphere of publishing 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.

In 2005, Babalakin was appointed by former Nigerian President, 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 Committee, which was responsible for the drafting of the Constitution.

He was the vice-chairman of the committee for the review of the Evidence Act. He also served as the chairman of two committees of the Nigerian Bar Association, the Real Estate and Construction Law Committee of the Section on Business Law and Government Practice Committee of the Section on Legal Practice.

He was appointed alongside Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman, as Honorary Adviser to the government of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

He has also served as:

·Pro-Chancellor and the Chairman of the 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 Nigerian universities, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) NAAT and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU);

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·Chairman of the Federal Government Committee to Re-negotiate the 2009 Agreement between the Federal Government and the university unions;

·Former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos.

Babalakin’s philanthropy is matched only by a few people. To underscore his philanthropy, Babalakin donated an 80-bed hostel to the University of Ilorin in the name of his father, Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin, and another in Ibogun, Ogun State, in memory of his mother, Ramotu Ibironke Babalakin.

He also donated a 500-seat auditorium to the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic in memory of his mother. He treated 1,000 patients with various eye diseases in Aye Daade Local Government Area of Osun State, and a further 4,000 in Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State under the foundation set up in memory of his late mother.

He runs an elaborate scholarship scheme in and out of Nigeria with over 200 students in Nigeria and over 40 students abroad.

Dr. Babalakin was, in 2002, made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In 2007, he was conferred with the national honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).

On December 21, 2013, during the 90th anniversary of the Ansar Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Babalakin, along with other dignitaries, including the then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, (SAN), was awarded the Merit Award for his contribution to the society and humanity in general.

Babalakin is also the Chairman of Stabilini Visinoni Limited, a Nigerian construction firm.

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, until work was stopped by the Lagos State government a year later, in 2007. He also received the nod to develop a 300-bed hotel at MMA2.

His foray into aviation by building the first private airport terminal in Nigeria under the Private Public Partnership (PPP), earned him an Icon, coupled with sundry controversies that had nothing to do with him, but a misrepresentation of what he represents.

It has not been a bed of roses for BOB, as he is fondly called. He had his fair share of the vicissitude of life. He had been thoroughly beaten, hated and vilified, most of the time unjustifiably. He is the proverbial cat with nine lives. He had, several times, been taken through the fiery furnace, but like gold, came out brighter.

MMA2 airport terminal, Lagos

Babalakin has, on several occasions, expressed his frustration at the unjustifiable breaches of contracts that he has witnessed from unconscionable counterparts and heartbreaking betrayals by some of his close friends. He has always employed the instrumentality of the law to fight his battles.

Happy birthday to you BOB!

Wole Shadare

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