UNILAG/MAULAG Protest: Is there more than meets the eye? By Mbasekei Martin Obono

In 1999, the then military Head of State, Abdbulsami Abubakar handed over power to President Olusegun Obasanjo, since then, in Nigeria, May 29 has become a public holiday that gives us the opportunity to celebrate transition of power from military to democratic rule.

As a teenager in 1999, I was glued to my television, watching events, all through, asking questions and compelling answers out of those who were either unwilling to provide them or just did not have a clue. I was never a victim of military dictatorship, maybe I was too young or over protected. I had people close to me who were in the Military and wielded a little bit of power within their circle of influence but I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with military rule. I was chiefly excited about transition to democracy at that time and I was eager to learn democratic tenets and participate as well, perhaps it sounded civil despite my quest to enrol at the Nigerian Defence Academy.

But Obasanjo came and fumbled throughout his eight years at the Presidential villa. He violated human rights, disrespected the rule of law which is the cardinal point of democracy, and sold government properties to cronies in the name of privatisation. For me and I think for many other Nigerians, Obasanjo was a case study. Nigerians endured him for eight years and he handed us a laggard – Umaru Musa Yaradua. Yaradua had dire health challenges and could not discharge his duties accordingly yet, he would not resign. The obstinate position of Yaradua and his handlers increased public awareness and thronged participation in our democratic systems among young people in Nigeria.   All the while, we saw one reason or the other to celebrate Democracy day, whether we earned it in a hard way or on a platter of gold. Now, Goodluck Jonathan has started and he is obviously leading us towards opening a new chapter in our democratic walk.

Unlike other Democracy day celebrations, I was disillusioned. The serial allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public funds going on by this one year old administration is unprecedented. So much money has been stolen, Millions don’t count anymore. They steal in Billions and Trillions and they do so with impunity. Citizens can perish for all they care. Our women should continue to die as a result of absence of primary healthcare, our brothers and sisters should be maimed and killed by bad roads, electricity is a luxury that the average Nigerian cannot afford because his minimum wage is not enough to buy an electricity generating set and fuel it. The standard of education is enjoying the ride of a free fall and intellectualism is gradually disappearing into the abysmal. Meanwhile, lootocratic tendencies are gaining grounds and thriving in a country where ethnic and religious lines are so bold that one with an eagle eye may still stumble upon.

I was persuaded by my friend to watch the President’s broadcasts, So, I tuned in. It was clear that neither the Presidency nor the Federal Government consulted with the school management before the honour was given to MKO Abiola, because he created a few seconds of suspense while reading through paragraph 71 of the address and I thought deep down within him, he must have felt he scored a good political point in the South West and gave them a surprise and pleasant gift.
But it wasn’t too long after, they were Blackberry display pictures of the protests in the University of Lagos.  A friend of over 12yrs who had his diploma, Bachelors and Masters from UNILAG was perplexed, he sent messages, designed a display picture in less than an hour in protest of the new name. I found it quite ridiculous, questioning the rationale behind the protest but got no concrete response. One person said the name wasn’t swagger-licious as compared to UNILAG, that got me worried. I have never been a fan of MKO Abiola, (please do not crucify me, I have right to choose my heroes and heroines),but I find it quite disturbing that . My worry is that, if students cannot protest the absence of accessible scholarship schemes from government, student loans, improved facilities, electronic library and free internet access in their school but decide to protest a mere nomenclature based on swagger then we are in deep trouble as a nation. It only shows the kind of myopic learning that is going on in that institution. Some students of the institution have complained about the quality of lecturers in the school and they have opined that the only thing they have going for them is the brand attached to their certificates – UNILAG, therefore, they cannot compromise or trade that to a name that doesn’t hold water. Madness? Surely an understatement.

Since we love to copy from the West, let me give a little example using my Alma-Mater, Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The school was founded in 1936 as Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration (GSPA) with funds from a graduate of Harvard college. In 1966, the school was renamed after President John F. Kennedy, I am not sure if the students protested but today all our politicians, public administrators and even social sector development experts are trooping to get certificates or degrees from HKS. Perhaps, the students can use the medium of protest to demand for qualitative and affordable education that will produce world class graduates instead of protesting a nomenclature. What of Harvard University itself? In 1630s Harvard was founded by church ministers who wanted to train clergy for the new commonwealth and they named the school New College. Years after, John Harvard became the first benefactor of the institution by giving one half of his estate towards the erecting of a college and all his Library which also helped it to become a university in 1780. So, the name was changed to Harvard in his honour. So, what is the protest about? Is it about politics or a distraction from the lies and unfulfilled campaign promises after one year? No one is saying much about insecurity in the country, no one is asking the president about the fuel subsidy report from the Ad-Hoc committee of the House of Representatives. Not much was said about the war on corruption. Perhaps, we could as a nation tell Mr. President that changing the name of the institution will cost the country more money at a time where it is gradually becoming difficult to pay salaries of workers and challenge him on that.

Truly, President Jonathan should be given hard knocks or even flogged on his butt for displaying such autocratic tendencies by declaring the change in nomenclature without necessary consultations as claimed by the school’s acting Vice Chancellor, Senate and Alumni association. He didn’t follow due process, he totally gnarled the same values and mantra through which he and his predecessor came into office in 2007 – Rule of Law. I wonder if the Attorney General of the Federation or the President’s handlers on legal issues did not advice him that UNILAG is a product of an Act of parliament in 1962.
However, apart from this absence of consultations with the University authorities and our national assembly, do the protests show that the people consider UNILAG too sacrosanct an institution of higher learning to be named after MKO Abiola – a politician and businessman? You remember ITT and its effect on telecommunication in Nigeria until GSM came to our rescue?

The Elders and people of the South West have been clamouring for immortalization of their beloved MKO Abiola, now the very Goodluck Jonathan who they massively voted for has decided to honour him, perhaps as a way of saying thank you for the votes, yet these Elders watch their own youth take over the streets without caution. I wonder if the monumental honour is too much for the man MKO, or are there some people who feel MKO has not achieved enough to deserve the parity of honour that is given to the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe among our own ivy colleges? Does it mean that those who never wanted MKO to be president are still present and will do everything humanly possible to ensure his name dies along with him?


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