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Abiola: A honour long deserved

Published by Tribune on Thu, 12 Jul 2012

The recent renaming of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), as Moshood Abiola University of Lagos (MAULAG), has continued to generate an amazing variety of opinions. Suffice to say that it has stoically refused to abate. Although it may not be necessary to discuss this assortment of arguments, yet we must concentrate on a few of them, to help deepen our understanding of the issues involved, and put it in a proper contemporary perspective. Quite a number have argued that the name-change did not follow the right procedure. Good argument! Here is the big question, 'what is the right procedure for renaming a public university'' It is trite that there is no laid down procedure under any law in Nigeria, for the purpose of renaming any public university.However, the force of logic presupposes that an institution established by an Act of Parliament can only be renamed finally by an Act of Parliament. This means that the Federal Executive Council (FEC), must first meet, take a decision on the matter, make a formal announcement, and then send a Bill to the National Assembly, for an amendment to the Act establishing the university.This, the President has done. The President has not claimed that the May 29 announcement is all that is needed to rename the university. The Presidency has only announced the Federal Government decision to rename the university which will surely be backed up by law. It is thus utterly preposterous for people to jump to very strange conclusions on a matter not yet concluded.Moreover, the University of Lagos (as it then was), is a Federal university, under the ownership and overall superintending powers of the Federal Government.Though, it may be true to say as a counter-argument, that the Federal Government holds the University in trust for Nigerians, however, the truth is that, having democratically elected Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, the people have given him their mandate to act for and on their behalf, with the reasonable expectation that he will do their yearnings. The yearnings of majority of the Nigerian people for a long time, has been that the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, Chief M.K.O.Abiola be immortalised and this the government has done. Another argument against the name-change is that the appellation Moshood Abiola University, Lagos would reduce the value of the brand of the university. I strongly disagree. This argument is inconsistent with reason and amounts to an exercise in lazy, intellectual thinking. I submit with all sense of responsibility that the value of a brand anywhere in the world, is not a function of the name, but a function of the quality of its output or product, and very many examples abound. Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford are today world-class brands. However, Harvard and Yale are not world-class brands simply because their name is Harvard and Yale, but because of the quality of their output in terms of teaching, instruction, research, inventions and their products all over the world.For example, in contemporary American history, most of their recent Presidents either attended Harvard or Yale, even when they never knew they would become Presidents. All of those ex-presidents are what they are today because of the quality those universities put in them, and not the name.For those who have seen the movie, 'The Social Network', a movie that tells the story of how the social network, Facebook, was invented by Mark Zuckerberg. A popular line in that movie is where the President of Harvard opined proudly that every Harvard student is known for inventing something.This suggest that if the quality of teaching and research in Harvard should by any means drop, the value of the Harvard brand will immediately drop, even when the name remains. In the same vein, if there happens to be a change of Harvard's name today, while the quality of teaching and research continue to go up, then the Harvard brand will remain. To make matters worse, and to really bring home the level of decay in this day's university education system, some of the protesting students were shown on TV saying the new name is not stylish and sounds rather local. What an unintellectual and shallow way of reasoning, particularly for undergraduates. What this suggests is that most of these students simply chose to attend that University simply because of the style and glamour that surrounds the University name, and not for any real substance or intellectual work. What a pity! No wonder our employers of labour keep lamenting that the average Nigerian graduate is half-baked and regrettably unemployable. Another section has argued that renaming UNILAG after Abiola, is an attempt to reduce him to a regional leader. What hypocrisy! Has the renaming of University of Ife as Obafemi Awolowo University reduced Chief Obafemi Awolowo to a regional leader' Or has the renaming of the University of Northern Nigeria as Ahmadu Bello University, reduced the pride and prestige of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello' Universities such as Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Bayero University, Kano; Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, and the likes remain great universities, till date, even though they are all named after national heroes.It is rather sad that the generation of today's youths do not have a rich sense of their fatherland, neither can they meaningfully connect with the nationalistic spirit of the nation's heroes gone by. Rationally, it should even bother the intellectuals in our society that those students are on the street protesting.Protesting against what' That they do not want the University they are attending, named after the man who sacrificed all to enable them have the democracy they enjoy today' How many of them even know what June12 and Abiola stands for' How many of them know anything about Abiola Presidential declaration at Epetedo' How many of them know who ran against Abiola and how Abiola roundly defeated him in his home state of Kano' How many of them know about Arthur Nzeribe's Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), and the black market Court injunction procured on the eve of June 12, 1993' How many of them know anything about how HOPE '93 united all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic group or faith' Our leaders and the intellectuals in our society need to bow their heads in shame for this generational gap. Today, the University of Johannesburg is one of the best universities in the world, ranked amongst the first 300. If the South-African government decides to rename this University as Nelson Mandela University (assuming there is no such university, even though one exists at the moment), would any South African student be found on the street protesting' That says so much of a country where the generation of today knows where they are coming from. In the words of Frantz Fanon, projecting into the future: 'Every generation will out of relative obscurity discover its mission; it will either fulfil it, or betray it'. It doesn't look like this generation has anything to discover, let alone betray. The late Chief Abiola was one man in his generation, who exemplified a special conception of heroism in which intellectual brilliance, political sagacity, and immense philanthropy were all fused with human values, dedicated to banishing poverty from our country. This is one man who deserves whatever honour is bestowed on him, for bringing hope for the first time to common Nigerians and transmitting the values of peace, economic empowerment, and social equality.As usual, history will never forget the role each individual has played in this historic time of Abiola's honour.Adegbite, a lawyer, writes in from Ile-Ife, Osun-State.
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