“Yes sometimes government decisions get reactions from the populace, we do not as an administration see this as a disapproval.” Labaran Maku, Minister of Information
If the present government ends its life as the best government Nigeria has ever seen, all the praises would go to President Goodluck Jonathan. And behind every successful president, there are several loyal officers whose untiring efforts assisted in achieving that success. If, on the other hand, this government, as I fear, ends up to be one of the most effete that Nigeria has produced, the first blame will be for the president of Nigeria while lesser blames will be for the officers. It is no use blaming people for not giving the president good advice. In a presidential system, the incumbent has the power to select his advisers from among the 150 million Nigerians. If he selected those who have a flawed sense of history and therefore give wrong advice, he better changed them, else, whatever faults they have, the bucks stop on only one table.
With the background in the above observation, the pronouncement of the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, reported in the media yesterday is quite noteworthy. Before looking at Maku’s statement, let us observe that he is a product of the Nigerian University system. He is expected not only to have the amount of history dictated by his age, but beyond that as a university graduate capable of reading about events that took place long before he was born. There is therefore no hiding place for Mr Maku. The press reported that there is “no going back” on the decision of Government to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University. What reasons is Maku giving for this obduracy? Is there no going back because Abiola is deserving of honour? Is it because the president has the power to name and (un)name? Is it because due process has been followed? Is it because people are happy with the decision? Is it because there are no viable options to achieve the same objective in a non-controversial way?
Of these pertinent questions, Mr Maku addressed only the first. He even went on to picture Chief Abiola “turning in his grave” with approval. This statement may not have been intended by Maku as the signal point in his argument, however, on a closer look, it seems consistent with the whole mindset and understanding of this government. We shall now examine this in a little more detail.
To the Minister of Information of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the spontaneous demonstration and protest of the students of the University of Lagos is NOT viewed by the Jonathan Government as a sign of disapproval! Ladies and gentlemen, did you hear that! And, coming from Labaran Maku, you should please believe it! Remember that Labaran Maku is from Plateau State. He attended university in Jos. Over there, when you disagree about something – especially in recent times, you do not just protest. You set markets on fire, you throw bombs at people, you massacre villagers by setting their huts on fire. Is that what Mr Maku will want to see before understanding that the people are voicing out their disapproval? Now that the authorities of the university have decided to close it down in order to avoid a breakdown of law and order, how can Mr Maku be convinced that people are not happy with the illegal renmaming of their university? Or is it the Boko Haram paradigm that is defining for the Minister what true dissent is and how to express dissent? Is it not allowable in this present government’s eyes that dissent can be expressed in a peaceful and orderly manner? If those who make peaceful change impossible can be blamed for the inevitability of violent change, what can be said about those who find it difficult to understand peaceful dissent?
The most damaging conclusion we can draw from Maku’s announcement is that this Government is happier with the approval of dead people. Late Chief Abiola, according to Maku is approving from the grave; the protest of living university of Lagos students, which everbody can see does not constitute disapproval! Such convoluted logic in leadership may well explain why Nigeria is not getting it right! Are there more people like Maku in this administration? That will be a great pity! It is time for us to look for governments that will take the protest of living people seriously. Governments that will not wait for people to first die before hearing what they are saying!
Mr Maku is sure of Abiola’s worth to be honored. On that, we agree fully. We even think it’s a honour that should have been more thoughtfully considered earlier. There is no need to belabor that issue. This appears the only point in favour of the government and it even appears that the decision was taken with good intentions. Yet, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The fact therefore you have good intentions does not secure your destination. It will therefore be necessary, for the sake of Nigeria, its future and the life of its teeming young adults that Officers of government be such people who allow their minds to engage reality. It is pertinent therefore to note that neither the president of Nigeria nor its council can legally change the name of any university that was given by an act of parliament. The due process has not been followed and hence this present act is not only reversible but is a nullity as it stands.
The violation of the process is beyond the arbitrary naming ceremony of May 29. The president went further that there will be a Center for Democratic Studies at the University of Lagos in Honour of Abiola. Commendable! But still a nonstarter so long as it has not been examined and approved by the Senate of the University of Lagos. I am sure this is a large pill to swallow for people who have been brought up in the party with a culture of “capturing power”. The essence of a democratic setting is that of separation of powers. The president of Nigeria has tremendous powers to have things done in the way he wants at any Federal University. Dictating by military fiat is NOT one way of getting this done! The Government has the power to dissolve the governing council and appoint a new one. The most powerful positions in this body are selected by Government in a way that nobody can legally challenge. That is tremendous power but can only be exercised with patience. President Goodluck has Patience! He should exercise patience and use his power appropriately. A council can approach senate and convince it of the need for a new Centre that will be well funded by the Federal Government. With patience, it should have little problems. Setting it up “with immediate effect” on a radio announcement will not fly. This is beyond President Jonathan’s powers!
The present controversy over university renaming may still end well. Government officials such as Labaran Maku will need to get some more education on democratic processes or be shown the way out. The government will find that it is much more pleasant to eat the humble pie and follow due process than face the snowballing of opposition he will inadvertently create by the obduracy announced by Labaran Maku.