Abiola's family ecstatic over UNILAG renaming

The family of late Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections, on Tuesday said they are ecstatic over government’s decision to rename the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as Moshood Abiola University in honour of their late patriarch.

President Goodluck Jonathan in a national broadcast to commemorate Democracy Day on Tuesday announced the renaming of the institution after the late Mr. Abiola as a gesture of the present administration to acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of the late presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the cause of democracy in the country. 

Although the decision has generated mixed reactions from a cross section of Nigerians, the politician’s family members and close political associates hail the decision, describing it as most deserving and overdue, considering their late mentor’s contributions to the growth of education and scholarship in the country during his lifetime.

The son of the late politician, Abdul Abiola, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a telephone interview that the family sees nothing wrong with the decision of the government in honour of their late father.

“We are shocked by the reactions trailing this development,” Mr. Abiola said.

“My late father believed so much in education. He donated money to universities across the nation. Naming a university after him was a well-deserved honour.

“He should still be given more honours. We see nothing political in this. We are happy about it and we are yet to understand the rationale behind people going up in arms over this.”

According to Mr. Abiola, the renaming of an institution as big as UNILAG after the late business mogul and philanthropist is just one of many ways to honour and immortalise him for all he did for the country’s education sector when he was still alive. 

But, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), the opposition political group, appears not impressed with the decision of the government, as it claims Mr. Abiola deserves to be conferred with the highest honour in the land.

“While acknowledging the place of Abiola in the political history of Nigeria, we would want the highest possible honour for him,” the group said on Tuesday in a statement in Lagos by its spokesman, YinkaOdumakin.

“We, however, deplore the renaming of the University of Lagos after him. We restate our demand that Abiola must be given a befitting honour for the sacrifices he made for democracy in Nigeria in a decent and worthy manner.” 

The group said it deplores the “indecent” manner in which President Jonathan re-named the University of Lagos after MKO Abiola, arguing that renaming a University established by law through presidential fiat is an abuse of power. 

“This would make even the symbol of democracy turn several times in his grave, as he died in the process of fighting against arbitrariness and rule of the thumb, which the annulment of June 12 represented. 

“It is violation of the principles and tenets of democracy, which government officials are celebrating, to go on air to announce the renaming of an institution like the University of Lagos without any consultations with the university community in a manner reminiscent of the autocratic ways of the military brass hats who denied Abiola his victory in 1993 because they arrogated to themselves better knowledge than 14 million Nigerians who went to the polls.

“This presidential misdemeanour displayed on the purported renaming of the University of Lagos without due process is at the heart of the mis-governance that has been the signature of a ‘democratic’ president behaving like an Emperor in the last one year,” Mr. Odumakin said. 

He said the scant regard for appropriation laws that led to the theft of N3trillion on fuel subsidy, as against only N245 billion that was appropriated; the deployment of soldiers against peaceful protesters against the law, and other violations of due process in the last one year, are all signals of a dangerous mind set driving the country into a full dictatorship, while pretending to be a democratic order.

“It is high time President Jonathan embraced a democratic mind set and stop behaving like maximum ruler,” he said. 

Similarly, the former special assistant to the late politician, Lisa Olu-Akerele, has described the naming of the University of Lagos after the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election as “mere tokenism and not far-reaching enough.”

Mr. Olu Akerele said in Abuja that the activities of late Mr. Abiola transcends the South-West geo-political zone where he came from, noting that naming UNILAG after him tends to limit his recognition to the Yoruba-speaking areas of the country.

Though he commended the President for the honour, Mr. Olu-Akerele suggested that the government should have named either the Eagle Square, Abuja or the University of Abuja after him for sacrificing his life for democracy. 

Mr. Olu-Akerele, who spent time in Abacha’s gulac along with Mr. Abiola, noted that it would also have been appropriate to have named the National Stadium, Abuja after the acclaimed Pillar of Sports in Africa in his lifetime.

“It is not late in the day for President Jonathan to name Eagle Square or the National Stadium after Abiola,” he said. “Anything worth doing is worth being done well.”

He berated former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, he described as the direct beneficiary of Abiola’s sacrifice, for refusing to acknowledge the late politician’s contributions to democracy. 

“With Jonathan’s tokenism, Abiola’s ideas have outlived Obasanjo’s wickedness and self-centredness,” he said.

Meanwhile, some prominent lawyers hold differing opinions over the decision, with constitutional lawyer, Itse Sagay, praising President Jonathan for attempting to immortalise the late politician. Abiola, though he faulted the choice of UNILAG. 

“The president should be praised for his effort to immortalise Abiola. It was done out of good intention, but he chose the wrong institution. Unilag is too well established and has its own individual personality, which will be difficult to overshadow,” he said. 

Mr. Sagay said the president could have named one of the nine federal

universities being constructed by the government in honour of the late businessman, pointing out that this would have been less contentious, since they, unlike UNILAG, are yet to be given names nor have any identity of their own.

For human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu, though the president has the powers to change the name of the institution the decision must be with the approval of the university’s council. “The renaming itself is not the problem. It is a populist gesture. This must not been seen as a way to garner the sympathy of the people of the South West.”

The President of Voters Awareness Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, Wale Ogunade, said the proper way to honour late Mr. Abiola would have been to recognise June 12 as a national holiday. 

“MKO Abiola is not known to be an educationist. The best way he would have been honoured would have been for the Federal Government to recognise June 12 as a national public holiday,” he said, warning that lawyers in the country are poised to challenge the decision in a court if it is not reversed.

“The University of Lagos was enacted by an Act, so nobody can unilaterally change its name without an Act of the National Assembly. I can assure you that this will be challenged in the court, because it is an illegality,” he said.

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