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.