Moshood Abiola University

The Government of President Goodluck Jonathan has done it again! Act first, Think later. This is the burden Nigeria continues to bear as it has been saddled with this present iteration of PDP in government. By what looks like a Babangida masterstroke, at the end of a better-forgotten alibi of a “Democracy Day speech” he announced that the “Federal Government of Nigeria has decided to rename the University of Lagos, Moshood Abiola University”. And so it is, I am now a professor at the MAUL – the Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.

I live in close proximity to the students at the university of Lagos. My present accommodation not so far from one of the residences I called home since my days as a student at the University of Lagos  nearly forty years ago. It is natural that an old hand like myself immediately reacted with disbelief as I heard the president’s statement. What I did not prepare for was the spontaneous action from the student’s hostel across the road. They were even more vehement than I and would have nothing to do with the purported name change. This article examines the issues around this new name. Does it benefit anyone? What is gained, and what is lost? What is the best way forward to save our university and our nation unnecessary chasing of shadows when there are real problems on the ground to solve? I hope there will be sufficient room for the government to work with in getting out of this self-immolation.

First, the government wants to honour Chief MKO Abiola. He extolled the sacrifice of the late winner of June 12 1998 elections. He was therefore trying to find a worthy National monument to immortalize him. This is the good intention of the President. On that score, even those of us that may not agree with his decisions must at least give him credit for the good intention that must have motivated this move.

Second. Looking over the entire Nigerian Landscape, President Goodluck Jonathan could not find a monument big enough to honour Abiola than Unilag! What is that so? There are airports, stadia, edifices all under the control of this government. Why does the President need the University of Lagos? Even if a university must be offered for this noble cause, it is a reduction in the status of Chief Abiola to seek a University located in the SouthWest. The University of Abuja looks better than Lagos in finding something national on a neutral ground to fully carry the import of Abiola’s national effort and appeal. There are also several newly-created Federal Government Universities looking for identity that Abiola’s name would have conferred on them immediately. There are the National stadia – notable national edifices and which, considering Chief Abiola’s support for sports throughout Nigeria, would have been befitting. The Airport in Port Harcourt is another cognate edifice. It is a no-brainer to find up to twenty suitable things to name after Abiola that would likely attract the support of most Nigerians and create little controversy. In the midst of these, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan chose Unilag!

There are two immediate reasons why Unilag is an inappropriate choice. First, this university is presently mourning the loss of a well loved Vice Chancellor. This is certainly not the kind of distraction required by anyone in Unilag at this time. The advisers of the president are probably too far removed from the reality on the ground, else such an obvious fact ought not to have eluded them.

The second immediate problem is that the University of Lagos is celebrating the fiftieth year of its founding. Who did President Jonathan consult? Did he talk to the council – a place where the president selects the chairman and where several important representatives of his government sit. What did they tell him if he did consult them? I know for certain that the Senate of the University of Lagos was NOT consulted. I am a member of that body and there is no record of such a move by the government. Did the Government consult the staff bodies? Neither ASUU nor the other staff organizations were consulted. What about the students? These went on instantaneous demonstration at the announcement! In a democracy, the government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people. It appears to me that the present government is not consulting far enough. Its understanding of democracy seems to have a typographical abbreviation: Government of the Pdp, by the Pdp and for the Pdp! It will be difficult for him to make this decision of a military fiat stand. At least I am certain that several interested parties at Unilag will challenge this action in the court of law. That is a distraction that even this president and his government do not really need.

The above are facts that ought to be obvious to President Jonathan. They are easy facts that a working government ought to have considered before making an announcement. Yet these are NOT my reasons for not supporting the idea. Against the action of President Jonathan, I have three reasons to object:

  1. The name of a University is part of its branding. This is the first time that a 50 year old brand that is doing very well will be jettisoned like a worthless dross. People argue that the University of Ife was changed to OAU without any fuss. The University of Ife was 28 years old when its name was changed to honour the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. There is the inevitable comparison. This may be the basis and encouragement that President Jonathan is relying on. However, there are three differences we should bear in mind: The late sage occupied a place in the hearts and souls of the Yoruba people that they may not even mind if the Oodua nation were to be named for Awolowo. Apart from being the chief architect for the University that now bears his name, the free education he pioneered in the West remained the biggest reason people remember him. #We must not also forget that this was done under the military usurpers who are a law unto themselves and are both legislature and executive combined so their decrees can override acts of previous assemblies. Even in that case, we had twenty eight years of a brand now we are talking about fifty. It is not too late in the day to revert OAU back to University of Ife and find better things to name rather than well supported brands. President Jonathan is dreaming of life as a Military dictator who can issue decrees! No sir, you are claiming to be an elected president! No decrees from you!
  2. It will cost no less than two to five hundred million Naira just to give effect to this purported name change. This is coming at a time when the infrastructure at the University of Lagos is crying for renewal. That money, spent on revamping the Coastal modeling laboratory, replacing the obsolete equipment in most engineering labs and purchasing new equipment will give more hope to hapless Nigerian students. This is the time when students are likely to be told to pay fees; This is at a time where parents are out of employment and we have a government that has little more than promises and platitudes to give them. What is the madness of an unnecessary name change going to add to these miseries? More pain! Who needs that?
  3. The name change creates a disconnect between the alumni and the University at a critical time in the life of Unilag. Here we are celebrating our fiftieth year. Change the name now, old students will never accept they attended MAUL. This new entity will need to build its own brand and that unnecessary burden by a university that does not need it. Instead, it needs all the goodwill its brand can give it to get the funding the neglectful government cannot give to reestablish its position as a university that can be reckoned with in Nigeria and beyond.

Mr President, we thank you very much for your “Democracy Day” gift. There are no takers at the University of Lagos. See you in Court!