Information Minister, Labaran Maku, says the administration is not in a mood to reverse itself in the naming of the University of Lagos after the late Chief Mashood Abiola, winner of the 1993 presidential elections.
Speaking to state house correspondents after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Mr. Maku stated that the president came to his conclusion on the matter as a way of honoring a great nationalist and true champion and martyr of democracy.
The Minister dismissed the students protest in Lagos as misguided, and the handiwork of a group of young people without a sense of history, and urged Nigerians not to allow those he called “some students” to dim the significance of the decision to immortalize Abiola.
“The decision has been made in very good faith by Mr. President and we have seen the reactions by a section of the students of University of Lagos,” Mr Maku said.
The information minister said the government hopes that in the long run “reasons will prevail” and that the decision will be appreciated by Nigerians especially the protesting students.
Since announcing the renaming of the 50 year old institution to Moshood Abiola University, May 29, students, lecturers and alumni of the university have condemned the act.
While students and lecturers of the university have staged two days protest to denounce the president’s plans, the alumni is planning to stop him through a court process.
The minister admitted the government knew the renaming would spark protest adding, “We do not as an administration see this as disapproval.”
“We just see it as a normal way in every democracy that when you make major decisions definitely sometimes you have public reaction,” he said.
Too young to know Abiola
The minister suggested those opposing the new name of the university are probably to young to understand the significance of Mr Abiola in Nigeria’s democracy.
“For those of us who have been part of this country for long and who have been adults that lived through the history of Nigeria, particularly in the last two decades if there is any figure that symbolizes sacrifice of self for this nation, it is Abiola” the minister said.
He argued that anyone familiar with Nigeria’s politics in the last two decades would understan the emotional significance of the June 12 elections which culminated to the death of Mr Abiola in 1998.
“There is no event in the political history of our country that touches the hearts of quite a significant number of citizens like the June 12 Presidential election,” he said.
In response to question bordering on whether the president had the power to unilaterally rename the university without an amendment of the Act establishing the school, the minister said the president acted in his capacity as a visitor to the school.
“He did so in the best interest of the country,” the minister argued. “He did so because any nation that does not honour those who clearly stand out and make a sacrifice as a role model cannot appeal to the best in its own traditions for citizens to follow.”
Protest against the president’s Democracy Day gesture to the late politician sparked two days of protest in areas around the university campus in Lagos. The protests led to a blockade of the Third Mainland Bridge, a major link between Lagos Mainland and the city’s business hub, Lagos and Victoria Islands.
Government threatened to shut the school Wednesday but school authorities rescinded the decision after the students resisted their eviction from campus.