Vanguard (Lagos)

3 June 2012

Nigeria: Honour for Abiola - Renaming UNILAG is Not Enough

Students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and other interest groups who some days ago vehemently objected to the renaming of that University after the late statesman and democrat, Moshood Abiola (MKO) may have their reasons.

Their action can however not be described as new because when the University of Ife was similarly renamed Obafemi Awolowo University also in the month of May, 25 years ago, the decision did not go down well with some people especially the alumni of the University.

In earnest, the problem has nothing to do with the name used; rather it has to do with the inability of some people to accept change. Indeed, if UNILAG was from its inception named MKO University, the opposition to its being renamed the University of Lagos that many appear to like now could probably have been more acidic.

It thus makes sense to allow those opposed to the renaming of the University to vent their grievances provided they do not violently compel the rest of us to see the issue from their own perspective only.

For me, the renaming of UNILAG in honour of MKO is not a bad idea but government should not stop at that because it is too little an honour for Nigeria's greatest politician. Since some other great Nigerians have more than one national monument named after them, Abiola, the only Nigerian Presidential candidate who was killed simply because he won an internationally recognized free and fair election should not be honoured less.

Naming one institution after him even if it were to be my own revered University of Ibadan is not enough. The Abuja National Stadium and indeed the National Assembly Complex which have been suggested as more befitting can be added but they are, to me, still inadequate.

Abiola did not die because he wanted a University or a Sports Complex or a Parliament building named after him. The man did not die while seeking to own any university and as such it is not a university that would remind posterity about him. Again he did not die because he wanted to be a legislator; instead, he died because he contested and won an election to be President.

Those who say the election was inconclusive are only in tune with the booby scheme of an ambitious military elite. Abiola did not only win in the polling booths in military barracks across the nation as revealed by the Nigerian Election Monitoring Group (NEMG), he also defeated his opponent in the latter's home base.

Thus MKO met all the legitimate requirements for becoming President. Accordingly, what should be named after him is the Presidential Villa. The National Assembly should feel free to once again invoke its famous strategy of the doctrine of necessity to formally proclaim the late elder statesman President from June 22 1993 when his elections was annulled till July 07 1998 when he died. Thereafter, MKO should be post-humously decorated by President Jonathan with the award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).

One of the positive effects of all of these is that it would ensure that the absurd annulment of an election does not recur in our history. More importantly, it would encourage the political class of today to imbibe the traits of selflessness - a virtue whose absence in our polity is largely responsible for the nation's stunted political growth.

Oh yes, on this subject no other Nigerian group has a greater blame than our political class. It is true that Abiola's ordeal was formally executed by the military but the latter was aided by his competitors and associates. First, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and their candidate defeated by Abiola in the June 12 1993 election greedily refused to accept defeat as is usual with the average Nigerian politician.

Second, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Abiola's own political party, his campaign managers and even his running mate ditched their flag bearer as Nigerian politicians always do. Third, some of the chieftains who formed the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) ostensibly to fight Abiola's cause and who everyone thought would on the basis of activism or ethnic sentiments take the fight to a logical end later capitulated so as to serve as Ministers in the government of the usurpers of our collective mandate.

Against this backdrop, nothing is too much for MKO if the government of the day becomes humane and decides to give honour to whom is due.

The other honour which Abiola deserves is for the government to, for his sake, show greater commitment to democracy. In all that they do, our politicians should for the sake of Abiola remember that democracy is premised on the sovereignty of the people, the rule of law, majority rule and minority rights as well as free and fair elections.

It is the people who should matter the most in a democracy but not in our clime. Whether the Nigerian people are happy or not does not matter for as long as our politicians can materially induce opinion moulders to engage the rest of us in the futile debate of what to expect in the 2015 elections that are due in three year's time. When shall we discuss what is due to the people now?

Meanwhile, one obvious difference between military rule and democracy is the mode of getting people into political offices .While the former handpicks, the latter elects. In Nigeria however, there is doubt if we have genuine democrats.

Otherwise why for example, would some politicians elected into the office of state governor subvert democracy at local government level by imposing their party stalwarts rather than have the people elect their own councilors?

Next month, Governorship elections will hold in Edo State with an obsolete voters register because claims and counter-claims by politicians have stopped INEC from updating the register thereby disenfranchising many citizens.

Whereas Electoral bodies are equipped to handle such logistical issues in other parts of the world, Nigerian politicians deliberately heat up the polity when elections are drawing near only for INEC to invite them to a meeting where it would then be agreed by all that best practices in election management be put on hold to avoid bloodshed.

With the unending decamping from one party to the other, each political party now has its own rigging professionals hence they are all united in thwarting any effort to computerize our election process. We are told now and again that because of the low literacy rate in our nation, it is premature to use technology to redress our electoral lapses.

Yet the same illiterates are made to follow some technological devices to obtain international passports for travels; use the electronic telecommunication system popularly known as GSM and transact banking businesses. If the same technology is barred from our election process, how then can we have free and fair election which is a prerequisite for sustainable democracy?

Our premise is that citizen Abiola who paid the supreme sacrifice to enable us attain democracy should be adequately honoured and emulated.

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