KENNEDY EMETULU’S MASTERSTROKE ON RENAMING UNILAG MOSHOOD ABIOLA UNIVERSITY
It’s the education, stupid!
The fact that some people are protesting the change of name from University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University indicates how far we have fallen in political and social consciousness. Do these protesters understand who Abiola was and what he represents in our nation? Who is worthier to have the University of Lagos renamed after him if not the foremost icon and martyr of Nigerian democracy? Do they know what honour the name of Abiola is bringing to University of Lagos, including President Goodluck Jonathan’s promise to also establish an Institute of Democratic Studies in the university? Do they know how much Abiola contributed to the University of Lagos while he was alive sans politics? Yes, Abiola contributed immensely to the wellbeing of several Nigerian universities while he was alive, but none more than the University of Lagos. Indeed, if there is one Nigerian university to which Abiola’s name should be fully associated, based purely on his financial and moral support, even before the events of June 12 1993, we need look no further than University of Lagos.
I think there are two negative and ignorant impulses at work here. One is that some people are letting their ahistorical limitations stampede their politics and the second is that those members of staff, students and ex-students protesting are trying to redefine radicalism as ignorance and lack of intellectuality. It is in the latter light that I categorize the reaction of the National Executive of the University of Lagos Alumni Association.
Honestly, I don’t know how they arrived at categorically declaring that the “students and the entire University Community reject the shocking announcement by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during his democracy day address renaming the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University”. When was the poll conducted amongst the alumni to determine this? I mean, one of the grounds for their rejection of the change of name was the claim that Jonathan did not follow “due process”, because “neither the Governing Council nor the University Senate nor any other stakeholder was consulted before the change was announced”. But who did they as the National Executive of the University of Lagos Alumni consult with before making such categorical claims of rejection?
Worse still is the claim that President Jonathan needs an Act of the National Assembly to change the name, because the University of Lagos was established in 1962 by an Act of Parliament. Well, the plain truth is that the President, as the Visitor, does not have to consult with anyone to do such a thing as the change of name of the University, because this is not one of the objects of the University or something over which the University Council or Senate have been expressly given power to decide . As the Visitor of the University, the President actually has inherent power to change the name of the university without consulting anyone. There is no law anywhere in our books requiring him to send a bill to the National Assembly simply for a change of name or any one requiring him to seek the approval of the University Governing Council or University Senate to do so. In fact, a reading of Section 15 of the University of Lagos Act would indicate that renaming the school is within the discretion of the Visitor:
15. Power of Visitor to decide meaning of statute
(1) In the event of any doubt or dispute arising at any time as to the meaning of any provision of a statute, the matter may be referred to the visitor, who shall take such advice and make such decision thereon as he shall think fit.
(2) The decision of the Visitor on any matter referred to him under this section shall be binding upon the authorities, staff and students of the University, and where any question as to the meaning of any provision of a statute has been decided by the visitor under this section, no question as to the meaning of that provision shall be entertained by any court of law in Nigeria: Provided that nothing in this subsection shall affect any power of a court of competent jurisdiction to determine whether any provision of a statute is wholly or partly void as being ultra vires or as being inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.………..
What does the above mean? It means the President is the law within the University of Lagos to the extent that no court can entertain questions relating to how he interprets the University of Lagos Act. So, of what use is quoting the same law for him over the renaming of the University of Lagos when it is easy to justify the renaming and when it is obvious that there is nothing in that Act that can be or has been construed as inconsistent with the Constitution? And, of course, the man has a long list of precedents to fall back on to justify this by way of convention and practice. Or did Samuel Ogbemudia consult anyone before renaming Institute of Technology, Benin as University of Benin in his Budget Speech of April 1972? Did President Ibrahim Babangida consult anybody before renaming University of Ife after Obafemi Awolowo in 1987? The fact is the naming and/or renaming of a university is not such a huge issue as to detain anybody making a case against it before a judge. The law establishing every university in Nigeria strongly, even if impliedly, supports the Visitor doing virtually anything they can, except those things expressly indicated that they cannot do.
For the professional politicians who think President Goodluck Jonathan renamed the University of Lagos in Abiola’s name to win over Lagos to the PDP from the ACN, all I can say is that such claims are scraping the barrel stuff. Goodluck Jonathan may have done this to score a political point, but it is not a bad point for him or the nation and indeed, it is not a bad point for the political opposition as well. This is because the protest is antithetical to the unifying political truth that nudged us here. Any true democrat knows what June 12 was and still is about. It was the day the freest and fairest election was held on our shores. It was the day Nigerians, North and South, opened their eyes to a new day of political unity based purely on secular sentiments without the fear of religion or ethnicity tainting their resolve. It was the day the man who won the historic vote of the day showed that Nigerians from everywhere will support anyone who has a real vision for change in the country.
For almost 20 years now, the political establishment that killed the man have been trying to bury his political legacy to no avail, because, no matter what they do, June 12 and Abiola keep popping up in every political discourse. We have had 13 years of uninterrupted democratic rule and yet, June 12 remains a scar on the conscience of the Nigerian establishment. Year in, year out we accuse the Federal Government of not honouring Abiola’s name or of not doing enough to immortalize him. Now, President Jonathan, for whatever reason anyone can think up, finally names a worthy institution after him and we get brainless protesters spilling out of everywhere, spewing tosh! Why are they complaining because the acronym doesn’t sound ‘nice’? Are they concerned with the form or the substance?
For me, the solution is simple. President Jonathan has to stop this mischief dead in its track. He should get back on national TV and tell Nigerians that the University of Lagos is renamed “Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola University” and let’s see how many pinheads will be running around crying blue murder with the ‘MAUL’ acronym!
It’s actually a sad indictment of today’s Nigerian university undergraduates that they’ve got no sense of history; but then what can one say about the ex-students and other members of the university community joining in. It’s the education, stupid!
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS BY EMETULU IN RESPONSE TO NAYSAYERS
Every discretionary power has to be exercised responsibly. The fact that the Visitor has power to change the name of the university by the effect of Section 15 of the University of Lagos Act does not mean every new Visitor will ultimately be changing the name willy-nilly. For instance, even you have the right to change your name everyday, but you won’t do it that constantly, because it is not in your interest to do so, even as you have the power. The point here is that the Visitor has given a valid enough reason for the change of name, even if we disagree with his choice. Yes, we can express our preferences about how we think he should honour Abiola, but the uncontestable fact is that he is the one with the power to make the decision and he necessarily has to do so based on his preferences, as far as the preference is not unlawful or repugnant. In Nigeria and around the world, we have a long established precedent of naming universities after persons and the President only acted according to that convention. I mean, there are some people claiming Harvard cannot be renamed after a person, yet they fail to realize that Harvard was actually not the name of the University upon establishment. The university name was New College, which was changed to Harvard in honour of John Harvard, an early benefactor of the university upon his death.
Secondly, you talk about the decision as being autocratic; but I have showed from the provisions of the University of Lagos Act that it is not, as the President as Visitor acted within his powers. Everyone claiming he acted autocratically has not proved it neither has anyone claiming it’s an abuse of power. As I explained, it is discretionary power and as far as the exercise of that power did not harm anyone or deprive anyone of their fundamental human rights, it is not an abuse. Jonathan did what he is entitled to do, even if his choice may not be to our liking.
Thirdly, I fail to understand why the timing is wrong. For 14 years we have stridently called on the Federal Government to immortalize the man and every year they have refused. Finally, after almost a decade and half, the same Federal Government under Jonathan does the right thing and we turn round to say the timing is all too wrong? So, when is the right time, Meg?
Fourthly, you imply that it’s sycophancy, but how? Why would the President of Nigeria be sycophantic towards Abiola, someone dead for almost one and half decade? What does he hope to gain? Of course, anyone can say he hopes to make political gains from this, but what is wrong with that? Does the opposition that has been canvassing for Abiola to be immortalized not also stand a chance to gain by declaring this a victory for their agitation? At any rate, there is no sycophancy involved, because the President as the highest political office holder has nothing to gain by naming an institution after a dead Nigerian hero. Also, the question of ex-presidents building libraries after themselves does not arise here, because Jonathan isn’t naming the University of Lagos after himself.
The issue of naming public places and institutions after individuals is debatable and you are entitled to have a view. If I were the President, I personally may not make the choice of naming the University of Lagos after him, but that is not the issue. As far as we are all entitled to our choices and preferences, the President is entitled to his. More crucially, he is the one with the legal power to make a choice. He is the one with discretionary power to determine what to name after Abiola. He chose the University of Lagos. We may not like it, but the question to address is whether he has the right or the power to do so. The answer is an emphatic yes; any other thing is sentiment.
However, the point you are making about how Jonathan could have spent time building the power infrastructure and so on is valid, but not because I think he should be naming these after Abiola, because just as I explained earlier, everyone have their preferences. I say it’s valid because that is what we all should have been concentrating on, rather than dissipating energy fighting over a change of name! I mean, who is losing now that students are out in the streets and the University Senate is stopping all school activities including lectures for two weeks at first instance? Over what? Yet, what the people should have been holding Jonathan responsible for in that speech, his failed promises during the elections, they have ignored! Yes, we are here getting all hot under the collar over a university change of name, an ordinarily unimportant part of his speech, and leaving out the core developmental issues that we should be asking questions about! If it’s a political gimmick to divert attention from his failures, then he’s succeeding very well!
I have no qualms saying without fear of contradiction that Professor Wole Soyinka is wrong on matters of fact here, even while entitled to his opinion about President Goodluck Jonathan’s choice of what to honour Abiola with. Of course, it is a gaffe for Jonathan to refer to Abiola as “presumed winner” of the June 12th 1993 election, but further reading of the statement’s summation on Abiola makes clear that the President was not insulting the man. Soyinka at best is making a minor point and at worse, nitpicking.
As for facts, let the legalists he refers to come out to show us the law that compels President Jonathan, the university Visitor, to consult the university Council or Senate over a change of name. Merely accusing the President of disrespect will not do. As far as I’m concerned, it is more disrespectful not to honour Abiola at all than honouring him with a gaffe in tow.
Thanks J. A. Dyer!
It’s false to call the exercise of a discretionary power arbitrary when the exercise hurts no one. It certainly is not true to equate this with “military governance”, because President Jonathan lawfully exercised powers bestowed on him by our laws under a democracy and he has not hurt anyone in exercising these powers.
Prof Soyinka wants the University of Lagos to go to court, backed by other universities, with a view to asking for what he described rather dramatically as ‘a stay of execution’. Well, if the legalists he depends on are sincere, they will tell Professor Soyinka and whoever supports his idea that they would be laughed out of court. I recommend they take a look at Section 15 (2) of the University of Lagos Act, the law they are depending on, to know that they stand no chance. Here is what that Section 15(2) of the University of Lagos Act says:
“The decision of the Visitor on any matter referred to him under this section shall be binding upon the authorities, staff and students of the University, and where any question as to the meaning of any provision of a statute has been decided by the visitor under this section, no question as to the meaning of that provision shall be entertained by any court of law in Nigeria: Provided that nothing in this subsection shall affect any power of a court of competent jurisdiction to determine whether any provision of a statute is wholly or partly void as being ultra vires or as being inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999”.
Of course, all this talk about naming some stadium after Abiola because he was “Pillar of Sports” is actually what should be considered insulting, because sports was not the most important thing in the eclectic man’s life and certainly it was not what he is most remembered for today or what he died for. Like Professor Soyinka, Jonathan has a right to his preferences with regard to how he wants to immortalize Abiola; but it’s only Jonathan that has the constitutional power as President to exercise his choice. He’s done so lawfully and everyone should leave it at that and focus on something else.
I’m happy Prof Soyinka has revealed how he deplored and still deplores the change of name of the then University of Ife to Obafemi Awolowo University. A quarter of a century after, that decision stands; but there’s no record of anyone going on a rampage or blocking a bridge to show their disagreement with that decision. So, let us accept this very one in the same way. That is enlightenment – the propriety of accepting a lawfully made decision, even where we disagree with it.
- Jonathan renames UNILAG, Moshood Abiola University (vanguardngr.com)
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- Unilag community rejects Jonathan’s christening (vanguardngr.com)
- Moshood Abiola Varsity : No going back, says FG (vanguardngr.com)