The controversy over GEJ’s decision to rename UNLAG after MKO Abiola will continue to rage on years after the deed was done.
I am not a fan of President Jonathan. I campaigned against him and did not vote for him. I make no apologies for this because I am convinced he does not have the capacity to put Nigeria in the right course. However, let us try to objectively analyse the issue at hand.
Now there is nothing wrong in renaming an institution to immortalise MKO Abiola. On the contrary, it is a worthy act.
Abiola deserves to be honoured by the Federal Government and much more. It is even long overdue for Abiola till date remains a colossus. He was the most successful businessman of his time and the biggest philanthropist ever to come out of Africa. He donated freely to universities and built hostels, libraries and schools in different parts of the nation. He was indeed a good example of a detribalised Nigerian. In what remains our freest and fairest election till date, he won a landslide victory cutting across various ethnicities even though he contested on a muslim/muslim ticket. He was courageous enough to defend his mandate even against the intimidating enemies of democracy and for this reason, he paid the ultimate price and so also did his wife. What more can one ask of a hero?
Let us recall that many Nigerians especially those from the southwest have been calling for Abiola to be immortalised. Indeed the ACN controlled states actually celebrate June 12th rather than May 29th as democracy day. So I am utterly confounded by the weight of negative reactions around the laudable act of President Jonatha. Why is this particular gesture receiving more knocks than kudos? And particularly from Abiola’s region?
Many have questioned the propriety of using an institution of UNILAG’s stature, while others suggest the name change should have been done with the consent of the University community. Not a few have also argued that a monument in the federal capital would have been more appropriate as Abiola is regarded by many as the symbol of our democratic struggle, yet others have condemned it as a political move calculated to cajole the south-west and so the argument goes on and on…
Firstly, if the majority of us agree that Abiola is our beacon of democracy then I think it will be right to say that no institution, governmental or educational is too big to be named after him. Frankly, one would think that UNILAG should consider itself lucky to bear the name of our national hero of democracy as institutions of equal stature such as ABU formerly University of Northern Nigeria and OAU formerly the University of Ife were both renamed after those we can rightly describe as regional heroes. Those who argue that it is unimaginable for America to rename institutions like Havard etc to me are completely ignorant as the school initially called new college was renamed after John Havard who donated his library to the school. John Havard himself wasn’t even an American. He was an English man!
There is no doubt that the decision to change the name of the University of Lagos was not decided by President Jonathan alone. It would have been taken after deliberations by the Federal Executive Council. It is equally indisputable that the federal govt which wholly owns and funds the institution can decide to change the name as it pleases. Yet again there is no proof that govt did not consult the authorities of UNILAG before taking its decision as there is no statement emanating from the school authorities stating so, rather what we hear is that students are protesting. Granted that as stakeholders it is their basic right to protest if not for anything but to let govt think thoroughly before making such decisions in future, but definitely not to consult them before taking executive decisions such as this. Pray, how does a name change affect the standard of education in the school? Someone should tell these students to go and read the constitution.
Those who posit that naming a national monument in Abuja would have been better or making June 12th our democracy day appear to be more reasonable. However, considering that former President Obasanjo bearing, a south westerner and Abiola’s kinsman blatantly refused to name as little as an alley after his brother, it becomes more commendable that GEJ was courageous enough to do this. So to this school of thought, I will say “half bread is better than none” because we have come to expect none from this administration. We can only hope that Jonathan will have greater courage to name something in Abuja after MKO and then go on to make June 12th our democracy day before we finally send him back to Otuoke in 2015.
And to those who condemn this move as a cheap political gambit to woo the south-west, I say do not worry yourselves. If the President’s handlers believe that the region will be bought by this gesture then they’ve got another think coming. The Yorubas remain the most politically sophisticated region in the country, and cajoling them will obviously require more than this. Perhaps they should consider advising Aunty Peshe to move with Keke Napep on her next visit to Lagos so as to save Lagosians the trauma of the unnecessary gridlock suffered on her last visit.
In any case, the unfair condemnation over the President’s goodwill gesture has revealed the declining popularity of a rookie whose tenure is dishing soot to Nigerians in place of the promised fresh breath. Hopefully, smart advisers will prevail on the administration to abort its planned hike in electricity tariff tomorrow. Why would an administration which has concluded plans to privatise PHCN want to raise tariffs? It is not too late to ditch that ill-advised decision. Two massive protests against govt policies within 5 months is not a good sign.
But on the renaming of UNILAG after MKO Abiola, the President deserves our applause.