by Idris Bello
The morning of May 29, 2012 found me making the three hour journey from Mbabane, the capital city of Swaziland to Nhlangano, in the southern part of the country. I was again thinking about the great road network I have seen across this small country of a million people, where for over three weeks, I was yet to witness a power outage.
I faintly remembered that the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan would be making the usual broadcast to list his government’s accomplishments in the last year, but having read Tolu Ogunlesi’s piece the previous day, I was not expecting anything newsworthy. Alas, I was wrong.
A few hours later, I logged on to Twitter, and TwitterNaija was agog with jokes about MauMau , MAUL, MKO Babes and the rest. It took me a while to figure out that in his characteristic way of doing even the right things wrong, GEJ had made an announcement in his anniversary speech changing the name of the University of Lagos (Unilag) to Moshood Abiola University (MAU, MAUL, or MAULAG), in honour of the late Moshood Abiola (MKO), the winner of the June 12, 1993 election.
On the surface, who could have thought anyone could go wrong by immortalizing Abiola after several years of demand by Nigerians (which OBJ, his townsman in his characteristic manner had failed to do). But then, this is GEJ we are talking about, the man who has had his foot in his mouth since the days he was able to afford shoes.
There have been protests in Lagos and in cyber space, especially on Twitter with a free-for-all among various Twitter thugs, voltrons, and vextrons on the appropriateness of the name change.
But what are we really protesting about here?
So the first question here is ‘Does the Federal Government have the power to change the name of the University of Lagos?’
I have seen some laughable tweets comparing GEJ’s act to Obama changing Harvard’s name in a State of the Union Address. But that misses the point. Harvard is a private institution; The University of Lagos is 90% federally funded and exists by Federal charter.
So the Federal Government does have the power to change Unilag’s name. Whether it should have done so is another matter. But this is GEJ we are talking about, our venerable leader who announces a fuel price increase on New Year’s Day.
There is also a precedent in the case of the University of Ife. In May 1987, the Federal Military Government changed the name of the university to honour the highly revered sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Reactions to the name-change were very similar to what is happening now in Unilag’s case.
Quoting Professor Wale Omole, ex-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ife,
“While it could not be controverted that students, staff and people in general admired and loved Chief Awolowo, the university community was depressed that the name of their university was lost. There were student protests, petitions etc., but the Federal Government had already spoken……… There was a general reaction from the community that what belonged to us, that is, the University of Ife, had been taken away, and there was need to be labelled with the old school. Students, staff and even friends of the university fell short of their high level of enthusiasm. The matrix that the situation produced is difficult to describe”.
So pronounced was the impact of that story that universities abroad had to double-confirm the identity of “Ife” grads before admitting them for post graduate programmes. My father, who finished from Ife in 1971, still reminds me to this day that he attended University of Ife, while I attended Obafemi Awolowo University.
However as we have seen in the case of Ife , which has since grown to adopt and revere the OAU acronym (Oba Awon University, Only African University, Omega Alpha University), while also retaining the ‘Great Ife’ sobriquet, the student protests did not cause the government to revert to the old name. Hence, after a few protests and cyber-fights, I think it is now time to move on to more important issues that affect the quality of education in our country.
Quoting Prof. Friday E. Okonofua, former Provost, College of Medical Sciences, University of Benin in a recent paper,
“ Unfortunately, comparative data indicate that whereas Nigerian Universities ranked as some of the world’s best in the 1960s and 1970s, the situation today is the reverse. Today’s Nigerian University is a shadow of its old self, and is epitomized by decaying and obsolete teaching and research facilities, inadequate students and staff accommodation, weak and fragile municipal services, obsolescent library and communication facilities (including low ICT coverage) and a generally inappropriate learning and research environment.
These are the issues we should be discussing. Also, rather than a name change at this time , with the attendant financial implications of rebranding, the Federal Government should have focused on ways to improve the quality of university education and the quality of products emanating from Universities and other tertiary institutions.
In closing, as an alumnus of Great Ife, I cannot resist a parting shot at the new MAULites.
Despite OAU’s name change, it still retains its ‘class’. It is now time for Unilag to show that its ‘swag’ goes beyond its name. But then swag is for boys, while class is for men.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
* The fuel subsidy removal of January 1, 2012, which led to a fuel price increase was not announced by the President.