Leadership (Abuja)

30 May 2012

Nigeria: Why I Renamed UNILAG Moshood Abiola Varsity - Jonathan

Photo: Aliyu Adekunle
Second day of protest by students.

President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday explained that his government renamed the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Moshood Abiola University in commemoration of Democracy Day and in honour of the late Chief Moshood Olawale Kashimawo (MKO) Abiola who paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of justice and peace.

In a broadcast to the nation, the president said: "Destiny and circumstances conspired to place upon his shoulder a historic burden and he rose to the occasion in character and courage.

"He deserved recognition for his martyrdom and public-spiritedness and for being the man of history that he was. We need in our land more men and women who will stand up to defend their belief and whose example will further enrich our democracy.

"After very careful consideration and in honour of Chief M.K.O. Abiola's accomplishment and heroism, on this Democracy Day, the University of Lagos is renamed by the Federal Government of Nigeria Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.

"The federal government will establish an Institution of Democratic Studies in governance in the university."

But no sooner had the government made the announcement than students of the institution in their thousands trooped out to protest against the renaming of their school, insisting that the institution must maintain its old name.

The students, who came out enmasse from their various hostels, blocked the entrance of the campus and stopped all commercial vehicles and motorcycles that attempted to pick up passengers from the campus.

Students of postgraduate studies were not left out of the protest, as they sang and chanted solidarity songs.

One of the students who led the protest said, "President Jonathan did not know what to do again after the removal of subsidy in January and therefore thought the next thing to do was to disturb our peaceful academic environment by changing the name of the institution."

Abiola family, Aregbesola, Col Dangiwa Umar, Sagay hail decision

However, the family of the late Chief MKO Abiola said they were ecstatic over the renaming of the University of Lagos after the late politician.

In a telephone chat with the News Agency of Nigeria, Mr. Abdul Abiola, son of the late politician, said there was nothing wrong with the naming of the university after his father.

"We are shocked by the reactions trailing this development. My late father believed so much in education.

"He donated money to universities across the nation. Naming a university after him was a well-deserved honour," he said.

According to Abiola, the renaming was just one way of honouring and immortalising the late business mogul.

"He should still be given more honours. We see nothing political in this. We are happy about it and we are yet to understand the rationale behind people going up in arms over this decision," he added.

The governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, on Tuesday advised President Jonathan to go a step further by recognising the victory of the late Chief MKO Abiola in the June 12 presidential election.

The governor, while applauding the honour done the late Abiola by the renaming of UNILAG, however, said that what could permanently heal the wounds of the incarceration of Abiola and the brutalisation of his supporters was to officially recognise the fact that he won the presidential election of June 12, 1993, and accord him posthumously all the rights and privileges associated with the office.

The director, Bureau of Communications and Strategy in the Office of the Governor, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, quoted Aregbesola as saying that Abiola won the election decisively.

"While acknowledging the fact that Abiola deserves the honour, we must not forget the need to recognise his victory. The fact that the federal government has eventually honoured him with this renaming of the University of Lagos is an admission of the fact that Abiola was unjustly denied his victory. If that is the case, then, I urge the federal government to go the whole hog to recognise his victory, and accord him all the rights due to the office of the president of Nigeria posthumously.

"This is the only way to heal the wounds inflicted on Abiola and the brutalisation of the psyche of the Nigerian people," the governor stated.

A former military governor of old Kaduna State, Col. Dangiwa Umar (rtd), commended President Jonathan for his decision to rename UNILAG as Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.

According to Dangiwa, "The decision by the federal government of Nigeria to rename University of Lagos Moshood Abiola University is long overdue. I salute the president for his magnanimity and courage. Thank God common sense has finally prevailed."

A chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has also described the decision as commendable.

Adebanjo, while lampooning those against the decision said the government though would have undertaken wider consultation before taking the action.

Adebanjo in a telephone chat with LEADERSHIP in Lagos, said the gesture was long overdue but government could do more in honour of Abiola.

"As far as I am concerned, the government has acted well in this wise, even though it took this long before government could appreciate the role played by Abiola in the restoration of democratic order in the country.

"I admit that government should have consulted widely before embarking on the move but people should know the man was the harbinger of democratic rule who paid with his dear life," Adebanjo stated.

A constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said the president should be praised for his effort to immortalise Abiola, adding that he, however, made a wrong choice in choosing UNILAG.

Sagay said, "UNILAG is too well established and has its own individual personality which will be difficult to overshadow".

He noted that the president could have named one of the nine federal universities being constructed by the government in honour of the late acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

"This would have been less contentious because they are yet to be given names and have no identity of their own, unlike UNILAG," Sagay added.

Mr. Bamidele Aturu, a human rights activist, said the president had the power to change the name of the institution, stressing that nothing was wrong with the name change.

He said: "The renaming itself is not the problem; it was a populist gesture. This must not been seen as a way to garner the sympathy of the people of the south-west: "The federal government has the power to change the name of any of its institution but it must be done with approval of the university's council.

"If the UNILAG Council did not approve the name to be changed, then, there will be a problem because it means that due process has not been followed".

Also, Mr. Wale Ogunade, president, Voters Awareness Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, said the proper way to honour Abiola would have been to recognise June 12 as a national holiday.

"MKO Abiola was not known as an educationist. The best way to have honoured him was for the federal government to recognise June 12 as a national public holiday," he said.

CPC, SNG, students kick

But the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has condemned the decision to rename UNILAG after the late Abiola.

The party described the decision as cheap populism and an awful decision. The national publicity secretary of the party, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said that President Jonathan sought to score cheap goodwill of the people in the West by renaming the university after the late winner of the annulled June 12 presidential election.

Fashakin said: "This is cheap populism. Chief M.K.O Abiola would turn in his grave that a good-for-nothing regime is using his name for vain political succour after pauperising the citizenry. Chief Abiola stood on the side of the people all his life; he did a lot for democracy to entrench in our polity, and laid his life for it, and he is worth being named after any public edifice, but not by this government the country has today, because it is immoral for them to do that.

"The president just wants to use the memory of Abiola to climb to the heart of the people via populism, and it is very immoral, because President Jonathan wants to reap from where he did not sow. In essence, he wants to reap goodwill of the people while he did not sow good service to them, and whoever advised him to take such decision has damaged his public worth."

The Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and constitutional lawyer Bamidele Aturu have berated the president for arbitrarily renaming of the university.

In separate statements from the SNG and Aturu, they noted that the manner with which President Jonathan changed the name of the institution was undemocratic.

In a statement signed by Yinka Odumakin on behalf of SNG, the group stated that though it "acknowledged the eternal place of Bashorun MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12 election, in the political history of Nigeria and would want the highest possible honour done to him, we deplore the indecent manner President Goodluck Jonathan has renamed the University of Lagos after him."

SNG said, "renaming a university established by law through presidential fiat is an abuse of power which would make even the symbol of democracy turn several times in his grave as he died in the process of fighting against arbitrariness and rule of thumb which the annulment of June 12 represented.

"It is a violation of the principles and tenets of democracy which government officials are celebrating to go on air to announce the renaming of an institution like the University of Lagos without any consultations with the university community in a manner reminiscent of the autocratic ways of the military brass hats who denied Abiola his victory in 1993 because they arrogated to themselves better knowledge than 14 million Nigerians who went to the polls."

The SNG demanded that Abiola be given a befitting honour for the sacrifices he made for democracy in Nigeria in a decent and worthy manner.

Aturu, in his own reaction, said that the way the students of the university resisted the name change showed that there was no due consultation before it was done.

"The reaction of the students to the change of name shows clearly that the government did not consult with the stakeholders, and this reveals the shoddy way this administration handles sensitive issues. Democracy is all about consultation and consensus. The government has clearly and manifestly failed to carry the people along. The lesson for it is that no matter how lofty its aims may be, it must win the support of the people on critical issues. I sincerely hope that it will take this lesson to heart in its proposal to jerk up electricity bills and fully deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry, whatever that really means."

A student who refused to disclose his name said the president failed to consult with major stakeholders in the school before taking the decision which, he said, may ruin the institution.

Another student from the Department of Marine Science, Ademoye Korede, said, "This is a wrong timing for Jonathan to have changed the name of the school because the name is what all students of the institution rely on. He should have looked for something else to name after the man, not our school."

Korede affirmed that they (the students) appreciated the fact that the president wanted to honour MKO Abiola but not by changing the name of the institution.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) chairman, Dr. Karo Ogbinaka, said: "Anybody who tries to change the letter-headed paper of the institution will die. Jonathan did the wrong thing and we promise that after the burial of our vice chancellor, Prof. Babatunde Sofoluwe, we are going to fight the cause.

"The name had been there for 50 years now and, suddenly, President Jonathan changed it."

On his part, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science of UNILAG, Professor Ibidapo Obe, stated that changing of the institution's name was not necessary.

"UNILAG has made its impact internationally, how can he wake up and just change the name of the institution without consulting the major stakeholders in the school?" Obe queried.

The registrar, Oluwarotimi Sodimu, while speaking with LEADERSHIP, said the management would ensure no crisis erupted on the campus. He said he was trying to see how students could return to the campus.

He refused to comment on the change of name of the institution when asked to react.

Also, the representative of the alumni, Mr. Tunde Fadahunsi, appealed to the students to calm down so as not to invite the police to the premises to teargas the students.

Jonathan to the nation

In the nationwide broadcast yesterday, President Jonathan assured Nigerians of his administration's readiness to combat terrorism, saying that as a nation of resilient people, the country will never disintegrate nor yield to the forces of darkness.

He said government has strengthened the national counter-terrorism strategy by developing a new security architecture to strengthen the security environment.

"I wish to reassure every Nigerian that we will confront this threat against our collective peace and security, and bring the perpetrators to justice. We will confront the few misguided persons who falsely believe that, through violence, they can impose their agenda of hate and division on this nation of good people. We must confront all those who think they can derail us by engaging in indiscriminate violence and mass murder perpetrated in places of worship, in markets and public places, against the media and security personnel. Nigeria is a nation of resilient people. We will never yield to the forces of darkness. Nigeria will never, ever disintegrate," he stated.

Continuing, he added: "As president, it is my solemn duty to defend the constitution of this country. That includes the obligation to protect life and property. We are doing everything possible to check the menace of terrorism. In this regard, we are determined to review some of the existing laws, to further strengthen the national counter-terrorism strategy. Coordinated joint action among our security agencies has now assumed greater importance. We have developed a new security architecture to strengthen the security environment."

While admitting that there were challenges confronting the country, the president said: "But we are working hard to address those challenges. And, by God's grace, we will succeed. My confidence is bolstered by the results which we have achieved in different sectors within the last 12 months."

On the electoral process in the country:

Speaking on the electoral reform and process in the country, the president said: "Following the spate of violence in some parts of the country, after the 2011 elections, our administration set up a committee on post-election violence to, among other things, investigate the causes and nature of electoral violence and make appropriate recommendations. We will be guided by the white paper on that committee's report in dealing more firmly with electoral violence and fraud.

"This will include the establishment of electoral offences tribunals to deal speedily with established cases of electoral violence. We cannot afford to treat the success we have recorded with our democratic experience with levity. Electoral reform is central to our administration's transformation agenda. I urge all political parties to embrace this reform."

On power supply

President Jonathan, who assured that the commitment of his administration to the provision of regular and uninterrupted power supply remained strong and unwavering, said his administration is judiciously implementing the Power Sector Roadmap, which is at an advanced stage, to fully privatize power generation and distribution while reducing the cost of electricity to rural households and the urban poor.

Noting that the national power output which was about 2, 800MW reached a peak of more than 4,000MW by the end of 2011, the president said a National Gas Emergency Plan has also been launched to redress the problem of gas supply which arose essentially due to poor planning.

On corruption

The president said all Nigerians should be rest assured that his administration was committed to waging a sustained battle against the menace, even as in the last one year government has taken specific steps to reduce opportunities and avenues for corruption, and to strengthen the capacity and integrity of our institutions.

He said, "We have strengthened the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Both agencies are being re-positioned for more effective service delivery. We will continue to strengthen the law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies for optimal performance. We will also need the support of our courts. The courts have to do more.

George Agba, Sefiu Ayanbimpe, Olaolu Oladipo, Gabriel Ewepu, Omotola Oloruntobi, Ruth Tene, NSE Anthony-Uko, Tolulope Aderibigbe, and Paul Dada and Taiwo Ogunmola

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Second day of protest by students.

President Goodluck Jonathan submitted a Bill seeking to formalise the change of name of University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos to the Senate. Read more »