By Henry Olamiju
Yesterday, the twenty-nineth day of May, 2012 marked our thirteenth consecutive anniversary of the fourth republic in Nigeria. To some, it was just another public holiday, to some others it was the day they realised the import of that common question: What’s in a name?
Few Nigerians (many wouldn’t be bothered) woke up to listen to the Democracy Day speech by the President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. It was the first anniversary of his administration as the elected (many will object to the use of the word ‘elected’) president. It will be his second speech in the current year, the first being the New Year’s Day speech. This speech lasted for fifty-four minutes. It was laced with a fleeting trip down memory lane and many proposed intentions of the Federal Government but not one concrete achievement in ANY sphere of life critical to economic or social development. The highlights (as presented here, transcripts of the whole speech can be gotten from news media houses) of the speech happen to have just gotten sparing mentions in the whole fifty-four minutes through which the speech lasted for.
The highlights include issues on cassava bread, cassava flour, cassava industry; sending our first class graduates to universities ABROAD for training in space technology (Oh yes, that’s what we need now); a presidential museum etc. The major highlight of the speech however, came within the last fifty-four seconds. University Of Lagos, a front-line academic institution, a model citadel of learning and arguably the nation’s finest government-owned University established as an Act of Parliament in 1962 was unilaterally re-named Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAUL). This singular pronouncement has sent several reverberations up and down the architecture of the Nigerian society, both at home and in diaspora.
Backing up a little down memory lane, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (popularly known as MKO Abiola) was winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election adjudged to have been the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history. The election was annulled by the military junta of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The Minna-born general was himself forced out of office by growing tensions within and pressures from international governments. When MKO’s mandate seemed to be slipping permanently out of his grip, he and many of his supporters held a rally and pronounced him president. He was arrested by Gen. Sani Abacha and remanded in custody till his death. A death which occurred during negotiations on the way forward after Gen Sani Abacha’s sudden death in office. Before he became a politician, MKO Abiola was a philanthropist and probably the most solid supporter of African sports till date. He was a wealthy man who made his money during the military eras in Nigeria. He was also a very wise man.
The question on most people’s lips, however, is the rationale behind renaming an institution of long-standing reputation and distinctive brand name after a political figure like MKO Abiola. It is sad that the achievements of MKO Abiola would be put under the microscope and torn apart by reason of the questionability of how deserving he is of such an honour. MKO Abiola no doubt should and would be forever remembered as a martyr in our struggle for the return to civilian rule. He was loved in life, cherished in death.
The concept is terrible on many levels. First and foremost, the University, with the given name: University of Lagos, was established as an act of parliament. If there is going to be any change at all to the status of the institution, it can only be as another act of parliament. The era of military decrees and unjust and unwarranted promulgation of orders have thus ceased. This is a civilian administration.
Secondly, the name ‘University of Lagos’ has grown over and above what can be easily dispensed with. That name has become a brand. A brand recognised on the continent of Africa as well as internationally. Many alumni of the institution hold enormous responsibilities in several institutions worldwide, they have come to be respected as a class of distinguished personalities. Internationally, brand names are important. Harvard is a brand name, so is Oxford, Yale, John Hopkins etc. You don’t see anyone who takes history and tradition seriously even allowing a fleeting thought of name-change come to their minds.
Did someone just mention that Harvard University was also renamed? That it was initially called New College? Okay, please take note that the renaming of New College to Harvard University occurred just six years after its establishment. John Harvard was a bigger brand name than New College at that time: before Harvard became what it is known for now.
Thirdly, if it is true that MKO Abiola is deserving of being celebrated as a national hero, why then name him after an institution located in the region he hailed from? Especially since there’s an institution that already bears his name there: Moshood Abiola Polytechnic? Is it that there are no edifices in other parts of the country especially in Abuja that can gladly accommodate MKO’s name? The National Stadium in Abuja or Lagos, National Hospital, Abuja, a federal airport somewhere? Or since the president is planning to build new universities, can’t he wait to name one after MKO Abiola? Outside of the South-West region in Nigeria, there’s no highway, estate, building, institution that bears MKO Abiola’s name. Why not find something outside the region?
Fourthly, the going down memory lane again, it is on record (don’t our leaders follow history?) that a similar attempt had been made by a previous administration to rename University of Nigeria, Nsukka after the Owelle of Onitsha, the first president of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe. The distinguished and wise Azikwe, who was alive then, refused it saying that the institution had a history of it is own already. To put it in proper perspective, renaming UNN after Azikwe is just as appropriate as renaming University of Ife after Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Both schools were established in the same year, as regional universities. However, the University of Ife was very much under twenty years when it was renamed, not very much history or tradition. To do the same to UNN much later would not have been proper to the history of UNN. Dr Azikwe, being the wise man he was, refused the offer. So how would any right thinking set of people now decide to try the same on University of Lagos at this point in time? A university in its fiftieth year? The institution is still mourning the death of its Vice Chancellor and the next thing is to rename the school?
Remember that last year, there were rumours that this current administration planned to name the same University of Nigeria after the Biafran warlord, Emeka Ojukwu. The University Alumni Association publicly cried against the idea. The University of Jos Alumni Association also sent letters to the presidency not to rename their alma mater after Gen. Yakubu Gowon. The rationale behind going ahead to rename University of Lagos remains a mystery many cannot wrap their heads around.
Lastly, the pronouncement is seen in some quarters as a way of appeasing the Yoruba people who dwell in the South-Western parts of Nigeria so as to be able to score cheap political points and grant his party, the People’s Democratic Party an in-road into the region. If this assumption is true, then that calculation missed the bull’s eye by a mile. Rather than endear the people of the region to him, it has further alienated him from them. The PDP could be clutching at straws in order to wrestle the government offices of Lagos State from the hands of the opposition party. This effort is not subtle enough to distract Lagosians from recognising it as what it is – a Greek gift.
This action of the president underscores the fact that he is very much detached from the realities of the Nigerian existence. Not only that, it also tells us the calibre of people he surrounds himself with: dim-witted, parochial and self-serving troglodytes who peddle nothing but space-occupying, feather-weighted nihilistic ideas
A more sinister possibility is that there are intelligent minds working in tandem with many of President Jonathan’s aides who are bent on discrediting the president by giving him Machiavellian plots packaged as bright ideas. Dr Goodluck Jonathan should realise that even ‘the devil can be disguised as an angel of light’.
Students of the ‘newly-renamed’ University took to the streets in protest of the name change and there’s an online petition that popped up mid-day yesterday and by this morning has garnered more than 3,800 signatures in just 18 hours. The petition is available at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/referendum-against-unilag-change.html
Nigerians are tired of this kind of lack-lustre leadership and repeated presidential misfirings. The self-dubbed giant of Africa must awaken from its slumber and shake itself from its dust. Nigeria cannot be run like a laboratory experiment, neither can its people continue to be taken for granted anymore.
This is just the first year in office, there are three more New Year Day speeches, two more Democracy Day speeches and three more Independence Day speeches till May 29, 2015. Brace up Nigerians, it doesn’t look good. His first speech to the country this year brought about fuel subsidy removal and hammered Nigerians into newer, deeper levels of untold hardship. This speech has ‘MAULed’ all students of the prestigious University of Lagos. Who knows what the next speech on Independence Day October 1st, 2012 will bring?