With the announcement yesterday of rechristening of University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University it is yet another slap in the face of the Yoruba people and it has become imperative to mention some of these follies against the Yoruba Nation.
Is it now the turn of President Goodluck Jonathan to continue the folly and the vexatious naming of institutions in Nigeria against Yoruba interest? University of Lagos is 50 years old; it has become a brand recognized for its name across the world. The students are not in the street because they hate Chief Abiola, the students are in the street because of the un-thoughtfulness of the action. Many of these students were born well after the 1993 elections had been concluded and annulled, as much they appreciate the impact of that history, they have come to be identified more with the name UNILAG, it is bound to evoke some emotions. We appreciate what Abiola did for education in Nigeria, besides awarding several scholarships to students across the country, there was a time he bankrolled all the higher institutions in Nigeria from Colleges of Education to Universities. But people have greater sentimental attachment to the name of their alma-mater than the memory of an individual. They carry the name as an identity. Chief Abiola could be recognized in other areas where he tremendously contributed to Nigeria like in sports, what about naming the Abuja Stadium after him? What about naming the Central Bank of Nigeria building after him? What about naming one of those federal buildings in Abuja after him? Okay what about University of Abuja?
Naming the University of Lagos after him was another attempt to sectionalize his position in the history of Nigeria, like they did to a man who was second in command and the most senior civilian in the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria in its most turbulent times but saw the country through with his ingenuity. For their memory upgrade, MKO Abiola was the man who won the most detribalized votes across Nigeria and died fighting for Nigeria people’s mandate. Why not look outside Yorubaland for a structure, why UNILAG?
Only recently our Minister of Finance and the Central Bank Governor cried out that our economy is in jeopardy, did Mr. President consider the financial implications of changing the name of a University in the light of our present economic reality? Or he is just running a day by day government depending on what side of the bed he wakes up from? Naming an institution like CBN or Abuja Stadium would be more financially prudent since CBN or Abuja stadium equipment and stationeries will still carry the name of the institutions unlike a University, everything carrying the old name has to be changed. Or should we consider this another opportunity to create a "come and chop" avenue for the boys?
The shenanigans of institution naming in Nigeria did not start with President Jonathan, there is a background to it. At the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1987, the only institution that then military President Babangida considered worthwhile to name after him was that great tertiary institution known then as the University of Ife an institution that was a brainchild of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his ruling Action Group at the Western Region at the time. The University was conceived and launched in response to leaving the then Western Region out of the regions where federal universities would be sited as recommended by Ashby Commission.
The Commission was set up by the colonial government to review education in Nigeria. It recommended one University each for the Protectorate of Lagos, Northern Region and the Eastern Region while the Western Region the most educational vibrant region in the country was left out of the equation. The Western Region had turned out several high school graduates due to its free education program and the only available University, the University of Ibadan was not only incapable of absorbing all the qualified graduates, it also did not have relevant courses like Pharmacy, Law, Engineering etc. This was how University of Ife was born, the University tagged ‘Africa Most Beautiful Campus’ was later hijacked by the federal government of Nigeria.
We the students of the then University of Ife took to the street to protest the effrontery not only because we believed that naming a University conceived and inaugurated by Awolowo 25 years earlier is patronizing and sectionalized the achievement of the deceased foremost Nigerian nationalist, but because we also believed that the University of Ife has become a brand internationally recognized for its name and should be preserved as it were. We believe then that if any institution was to be named after him by the federal government; it should be an institution outside his Western Region and definitely not an institution taken over from the West by coercion in the first place. What about other federal institutions that originally belong to federal government of Nigeria? If Awolowo had wanted it, the University would have been named after him from inception afterall the recommended University of Northern Region was immediately changed to Ahmadu Bello University the name of his contemporary from the North.
Recently, President Jonathan just woke up and decides to name the Liberty Stadium Ibadan after Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Then you start to wonder what is in that 1 billion Naira designer foods they eat at Aso Rock. The same Liberty Stadium the first Olympic-size Stadium in sub-Sahara Africa was another idea conceived and executed by the Great Awo. Naming those institutions that belonged to the Western Region; institutions that were initiatives of Chief Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group after him several years after is disingenuous. If Chief Awolowo was like the present crop of Nigerian leaders who name everything from bridges to danfo buses after themselves, all the institutions would have borne Awo’s name at creation. We do not need big brother Nigeria to do that for him. Liberty Stadium has its inherent meaning, we all know what liberty stands for, it needs no introduction, and the first skyscraper built with Cocoa money was named Cocoa House for that reason. The name of University of Ife followed other contemporaries like University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and later University of Benin. So what should we expect after Unilag? Naming University of Ibadan Rashidi Yekini University? Even Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe vehemently opposed changing the name of University of Nigeria Nsukka school to his name when the idea was proposed by the then Minister of Education Alhaji Jubril Aminu. Those are the people that appreciate branding and the sanctity of originality.
I always shake my head in disgust each time I visit Abuja and I see that awkward little street named after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the greatest nationalist of his time, the man that brought many firsts to Nigeria, the man that managed the finances of that country through three and a half years of bitter Civil War without borrowing a penny and the man that has been referred to as the best President Nigeria never had.
Whereas we know how many more conspicuous and better streets are named after far, far less responsible Nigerians. We know what street is named after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in Lagos, we know what street is named after K. O Mbadiwe, and we know the prominence of Ahmadu Bello Way, all who were his contemporaries in Lagos. Why is the story different in Abuja, making a statement against Yoruba leadership?
We know the number one gateway in Nigeria is named after a coup-plotter named Murtala Mohammed and we know that Abuja Airport is named after Nnamdi Azikiwe, they would not even give Chief Awolowo the honor of naming a befitting street after him in the federal capital, we are taking notes.
Before the creation of Abuja a city that has become the pride of Nigeria, a Panel was set up to determine the best place to situate a new capital city for Nigeria, that committee was chaired by Hon. Justice Akinola Aguda, a Yoruba man. His committee took a totally detribalized decision by recommending old Suleja present day Abuja a central place in the country for citing of the proposed new capital territory. In honor of Justice Akinola Aguda, it was decided that the residence of the President should be named after him.
Therefore the original plans of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has the present day Akinola Aguda House as the home of the President, but when Major Gideon Orkar coup of April 22, 1990 scared General Babangida out of Lagos, he hurriedly built an illegal fortress under a rock called Aso Rock where he ran for safety. Aso Rock the name of an insignificant rock has since been the new name for the residence of the President. For all intents and purposes, the founders of Abuja wanted the residence of the President named Akinola Aguda House in honor of the man that headed the panel that discovered Abuja. Therefore, the new structure housing the President should have been rechristened Akinola Aguda House. But probably because he is not from a tribe that is born to rule, they refused to accord him the deserved honor. The building bearing his name was first relegated from being the official home of the President to the official home of the Vice-President and now it has been relegated to AKINOLA AGUDA HOUSE and HALLS a guest house where they keep their retinue of girlfriends and concubines! What a shame! Babangida was disgraced out of his rock of refuge and two Presidents have died under that rock already. Who knows what spirits feel threatened by human occupation under that rock, God dey!
Besides the shenanigan involved in the re-naming of UNILAG, it is an illegal act. The University of Lagos was established by an Act of Parliament, it would take an amendment by the competent institution to change the name. The purported change of name is therefore illegal, null, void and of no effect whatsoever!
By the way, when will Mr. President reinstate Justice Salami as advised by the National Judicial Council and other eminent jurists, some of the best the world has to offer? When will this President who ran for Presidency with a campaign slogan of restoring the rule of law start to respect the rule of law?
Ayo Turton is the National Legal Counsel to the Egbe Omo Yoruba USA & Canada.