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Hey MAUL, What’s Up?

UNILAG students protest university name change to MAUL

In Lagos, the past few days have been quite chaotic as students of the University of Lagos Nigeria, have protested vehemently the sudden change of the school’s name to Moshood Abiola University.

What caused it?

Apparently, in a broadcasted speech given by the president Jonathan Goodluck, on Democracy Day, to honor some eminent or patriotic Nigerians who have striven in one way or the other to advance the cause of democracy in Nigeria, the president figured it would be great to honor the dead Moshood Abiola by renaming the premier university in Lagos state after the man.

For the benefit of anyone who might not know, Moshood Kashimawo  Olawale Abiola was a widely recognized Yoruba business man and philanthropist who ran for  the presidency in 1993 under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and actually defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). However, after the victory, the results of the election were annulled by the Head of State at the time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on June 12, 1993. Abiola therefore never got his mandate to rule until he finally died in 1998.

When the result of that election was cancelled, IBB put in a transitional government led by one Ernest Shonekan. It wasn’t too long afterwards that IBB, fearing a possible descent of the polity into anarchy, teleguided the seizure of power by his comrade General Sani Abacha. I remember vividly that at the time his mandate was denied, the Yoruba segment of the population felt especially cheated and some of the more extreme supporters of Abiola promised to make the country ungovernable if his mandate was not restored. Abiola tried to play it intelligently and strategically to avoid being perceived as being overly power-hungry, but when it finally dawned on him that Babangida had no intentions of reversing his decision, his (Abiola’s)  utterances on the matter assumed a revolutionary dimension.

He declared himself the constitutionally elected president of Nigeria (which indeed he was) at a time when there was already another government structure in place headed by General Sani Abacha. It wasn’t very long afterwards when there was massive unrest and panic in Lagos state, as supporters of Abiola went on a vengeful and destructive rioting spree. Many Northerners and South-easterners fled Lagos state and returned to their respective geographical enclaves fearing a protracted and deadly civil war. Nevertheless, that didn’t pan out as the petty rebellion was snuffed out by the military and Abiola himself apprehended on charges of treason and thus held in captivity till he eventually languished and died in jail.

So, from the little above, you may agree that he stood firm on his pro-democratic persuasions and ultimately laid down his life for his principle. You might even agree that he was one of the few members of the Nigerian political class that might have indeed merited honor. So why then was the larger student body at the University of Lagos Nigeria incensed to the point of rampage when Jonathan announced this change? Your guess is as good as mine. The rioting was so severe that the school authorities had to close down the university for 2 weeks to allow calmer heads prevail in the matter.

My question is: what was the big deal about this announcement? Was it that the students did not value MKO and never regarded him with the sort of honor that Jonathan wishes we recognized him? Was it that the student body felt slighted by the president in that there was no time the proposition for the change of the university name was put to a referendum by the alumni and the current students of the university? Was it that the students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) did not particularly despise MKO Abiola but nevertheless found the name Moshood Abiola University Lagos (MAUL) less palatable or less cosmopolitan?  Things get renamed all the time so it is not as though this is the first time something like this has happened. So what exactly about this renaming incident made it the peroverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

What indeed is in a name? I am reminded of the adage that says that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I sincerely wonder whether the priority of these students shouldn’t have been on real matters like school infrastructure, quality of teachers, cost of tuition and other more important issues rather than on a mere name. If it could be said whether factually or otherwise, that UNILAG has great faculties and staff, or a generally clean environment, or relatively affordable tuition for all, or viable infrastructure, then by Jove, what is the hullaballoo about the name change? Frankly, a name change is not going to alter in any meaningful manner any of these circumstances on the ground. If these students are to protest at all, it would be better if it were for more substantive issues and not for something as trivial as a name change.

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Posted on May 30, 2012, in Nigerian Affairs and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I was on third mainland bridge to witness the first ever protest that would shut down traffic on that major highway!. what is in a change of name, so many are asking….. I dare to say everything.

    1. Should an illegality to be made legal just because it is a pronouncement by the President? Unilag was set up by an Act of Parliament, any renaming should follow due process and in this case a bill sent to the National Assembly
    2. MKO is a national icon, why score cheap political point by naming an institution after him in a geo-political zone where he already has major streets, a polytechnic and stadium all named after him?
    3. Are there not better ways of recognizing an icon? commemorative stamps, having is picture on a bill, having a day of the year named after him to celebrate him, (oooh and there are 9 federal universities being proposed, cant one be named after him?)
    4. Unilag is a brand, so are the graduates, certificates issued and documents. was there any consideration given to the implications of change of this brand value. Like the adage Image is everything
    5. Suffice it to say that the premier university in Nigeria U.I can be renamed *Lamidi Adedibu University come Oct 1st. ( I heard he was a big philanthropist)
    6. Why don’t they name Notable Public Universities in the U.S and U.K after icons such Churchill Winston, Martin Luther King, J.F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher. (I bet the process would involve consultation with various stakeholders and not just an after thought or act of ‘seeming magnanimity’)
    7. If truly the Federal Government wants to honour MKO, why not start with acknowledging and apologizing for the role it played in the annulment of the freest and fairest election in the annals of Nigeria?
    8. Seems our leaders are bereft of ideas cause there are more urgent things to do in this nation. Fix the roads, provide constant power, fix the hospitals etc ( I am sure budgetary allocation assigned to this name change would go a long way to help)

    And by the way, I am a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University.

    *Missed your write-ups GF!!! How are you though?

  2. Hey Tripen, how are you doing bros? I am fine. I’ve just been busy. I hope all’s well with you over there. Please always draw my attention to important developments over there. Regarding your comment, I wish to reply thus:

    MKO is a national icon, why score cheap political point by naming an institution after him in a geo-political zone where he already has major streets, a polytechnic and stadium all named after him?

    If I understand this objection clearly, you seem to be suggesting that MKO does not deserve further accolades in the South-western region because he already has a lot of things dedicated to his memory. So, in a manner of speaking, you would have been okay with the administration’s pronouncement if MKO was honored in other parts of the country. But how realistic or feasible is this proposition? Knowing the often sectarian nature of Nigeria’s political discourse, do you not see that if some university in some part of Nigeria other than MKO’s southwest zone, was renamed after MKO, that such an action is even more likely to precipitate a protest? Anyone would be forgiven for wondering why MKO memory has met with such forceful opposition in his beloved Yorubaland.

    Are there not better ways of recognizing an icon? commemorative stamps, having is picture on a bill, having a day of the year named after him to celebrate him, (oooh and there are 9 federal universities being proposed, cant one be named after him?)

    Well, there are many ways to skin a cat. In the final analysis, there are many ways to seek to honor the memory of MKO; it does not preclude the renaming of UNILAG or any other higher institution in the geo-political area after him. You’ve mentioned some of the ways to memorialize him, but I’ve not seen any argument for why the measure adopted by the Federal government ought to be stricken from possible consideration. You may object to the manner with which it was done, but the question would focus on whether the action taken by the government is to be even considered in the first place. In other words, is there an argument for why the government could adopt any of the measures you enumerated but somehow not adopt the measure it finally did?

    Unilag is a brand, so are the graduates, certificates issued and documents. was there any consideration given to the implications of change of this brand value. Like the adage Image is everything.

    UNILAG is just an acronym for the University of Lagos, simple and short. It is simply a name. You may be concerned about all the documents that may have to be updated to reflect the change, but has anyone proposed that the changes must be immediate? I don’t think that any reasonable person would somehow expect that everything bearing the former name of the university will somehow change overnight to reflect this proposed change. You know, ultimately, these protests may move the hand of the government and they may finally accede to student’s demands. But supposing the government does not yield and insists on the change, what implications are we likely to witness? What tangible way is this name-change going to affect or change anything, if at all? Is the name change going to add or take away anything from the university? I don’t think so. It is what it is–just a mere name change which would eventually stick after prolonged use.

    Why don’t they name Notable Public Universities in the U.S and U.K after icons such Churchill Winston, Martin Luther King, J.F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher. (I bet the process would involve consultation with various stakeholders and not just an after thought or act of ‘seeming magnanimity’)

    Here in the US, things can get renamed here and the sky will not fall. Besides, unless you are suggesting something else, many schools, public institutions, parks, hospitals, etc are named after powerful and prominent Americans of the past. They take pride in naming national infrastructure after outstanding figures of their rich past. Your argument here makes my case. If things can get renamed to bear the names of icons, I see no reason why Nigeria’s case has to be any different.

    Seems our leaders are bereft of ideas cause there are more urgent things to do in this nation. Fix the roads, provide constant power, fix the hospitals etc ( I am sure budgetary allocation assigned to this name change would go a long way to help)

    You’ve made a great point here challenging the priority of these Nigerian leaders. I wholly agree with you that in many cases, this government and the corrupt officials running it have shown themselves to be misguided, myopic and incompetent. Nevertheless, if we want to be very accurate, we would remember that this was just a reaction to a speech gave by the president on a day set aside to remember and honor Nigeria’s heroes. One cannot meaningfully infer from this incident ALONE, that the president or other members of his administration are “bereft of ideas”; one cannot in all conscience decide from this alone that the government cannot effect a name change and continue with its other programs. Its not like it is the biggest worry in the world to honor one of one’s country’s great men and women.

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