UNILAG Renaming: It’s Political Meaning

June 18, 2012 – Since Nigerians were treated to the fuel subsidy scams which dust is yet to settle, the public attention is now being turned to the renaming of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University as announced by President Goodluck Jonathan in his Democracy Day broadcast to the nation on May 29, 2012. Considering the deluge of protests and barrage of remarks that followed the action of the president, it will not be out of place to say that the renaming of the university has indeed heated the polity in no small measure.

The refusal by the president to carry along stakeholders in the university such as the senate of the university, the university community, the university’s alumni, the current students in the university has been roundly condemned by eminent Nigerians in all fields of endeavour both at home and abroad.

Out of the other reasons advanced by those opposed to the president’s action, the most talked about is the illegality behind the renaming of the university in the first place as the university was duly established by an Act of Parliament which as expected should have made the National Assembly to be in the know before the renaming but this was not the case as all members of Senate and the House of Representatives like other millions of Nigerians both at home and abroad were caught unawares by the action of Mr. president.

There is no doubt that the manner of immortalising the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola by renaming the University of Lagos after him, as expected, has started to generate controversy and bad blood within and outside the country. Those in support of the step taken by Mr. President, hinged their stance on the need for recognition to be accorded the late politician for laying down his life for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.

But some Nigerians that have remained impassive to the renaming of the university have been quick to point out that there is indeed nothing to show for democracy in the real sense of the word in this part of the world and that what Nigerians are indeed being forced to celebrate are: corruption at all levels of governance, abject poverty, high rating in the corruption index by Transparency International, elite corruption, epileptic power supply across the nation, high cost of education, systematic bastardization of public schools and universities at the expense of private schools and universities, unemployment, money laundering, oil bunkering, bad governance, unfulfilled election promises by politicians, institutionalised corruption by treasury looters through ‘plea bargaining’, sweeping of probes under the carpet, power recycling at the detriment of the suffering masses, lack attention to issue of pervasive cultism in the polity, just to mention a few as the list is endless.

If indeed Mr. President is convinced to have have carried out the immortalization of the late politician in the interest of the nation and as a mark of propagation of democratic governance in Nigeria, the million question is: is the kind of democracy we have been practicing in Nigeria since 1999 the type the late politician bargained for when he campaigned and eventually offered himself for election during the presidential polls in 1993?  It is doubtful if the late business mogul/politician would be happy in his grave today at the turn of events as being witnessed today in governance in Nigeria, despite the ranking of the country as the 6th largest exporter of crude oil worldwide.

Without mincing words, the manner of the renaming of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University by Mr. President has been viewed as a ‘Greek’ gift and a ploy to win the support of Yoruba who undoubtedly have been marginalized by the present Goodluck Jonathan administration as decried in an article titled “Ugly signs of Yoruba marginalization” published in the ‘Tunde Fagbenle on Sunday’ column at the back page of Sunday Punch of December 18, 2011, Others see the move as a ploy to destabilize the Southwest geopolitical zone which the president’s party (PDP) has lost to the main opposition party (ACN).

For now, President Goodluck Jonathan has succumbed to pressure from well meaning Nigerians both at home and abroad to follow due process and the rule of law  in the renaming issue while pressure coming from various quarters in the polity  is being mounted on him to think more of other meaningful and acceptable ways of immortalizing the late politician by either renaming one of the following after him: the National Assembly, Abuja, the Eagles Square (where all political parties in Nigeria hold one event or the other), the Abuja stadium or any of the existing national monuments or prominent highways in the Federal Capital Territory or in any other part of the country.

Nigerians want politicians to imbibe the processes that brought about the so-called freest and fairest 1993 election.  The bitter truth is that Nigerians and the Nigerian electorate in particular are looking forward to when all political parties in the country will collectively accept the Option A4 method of election which to a large extent curtails rigging to the barest minimum.

Option A4 is the answer to emergence of true democracy in Nigeria.  This is no doubt the bitter pill which all the political parties in the country will have to swallow if they are actually in favour of free and fair election as the one carried out in 1993.  To demonstrate our preparedness to see to the emergency of true democracy, we should start the journey through the use of Option A4 in all forthcoming local government elections that are to be held in not less than 25 states of the federation. If Option A4 worked achieved the desired results in 1993, why can’t it work from now on in the same country with the same people?  It is high time Nigerians both at home and abroad insisted on the adoption of Option A4 for electing their representatives at all levels of governance in Nigeria as this is the only way by which May 29 and June 12 can remain relevant and not seen as mere jamboree in our country.

It is true that the name of Chief M.K.O. Abiola cannot be denied prominence when writing the history of democracy in Nigeria but there is indeed the need for searching of conscience by our politicians with a view to determining who the real beneficiaries under our type of democracy are.  The answer can be found in the appraisal of dividends of democracy in Nigeria by a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Alhaji Bolaji Yusuf Ayinla, where he berated politicians for enjoying the dividends of democracy at the expense of the electorate and accused them of waiting till election period before they take the necessary step to do what they ought to have done earlier in alleviating the suffering of the electorate. His view was reported on page 4 of P.M.NEWS of Monday, 11 June, 2011.  He said further in the report that, “politicians are just five percent while the remaining 95 percent are the electorate.  It is only this five percent that are enjoying the proverbial dividends of democracy at the detriment of the electorate that voted them into office.  They made empty promises to them during campaigns and neglect them for three to four years.  What they do is to host poverty alleviation for them at the expiration of their tenures so that they will vote for them again.”  He added “these people (the electorate) struggled, they went through hell, some lose their lives to ensure that we (politicians) get into office but what do they get in return? Nothing.  They are deprived of all basic social amenities.”  The down-to-earth member of the Lagos State House of Assembly went further to explain that during one of his surveys, it was discovered that out of the 500 wells existing  in the whole of Mushin local government only about 15 (3 per cent) is drinkable.

Immortalisation Chief M.K.O. Abiola as the symbol of democracy in the history of Nigeria is really not the issue but the untold hardship to which the people are being subjected through the usurpation of dividends of democracy by politicians, who, as earlier mentioned, make up just a minor 5% of the populace and institutionalized pervasive elite corruption in the society with no end in sight.  The bitter truth is that those Nigerians who were of age during the military administration in Nigeria would readily say that life was meaningful as opposed to what the people are being made to go through under our present democracy.  Will it be out of place to define democracy that we celebrate every year on May 29 under the present ravaging poverty that is undoubtedly snuffing life out of the people in the country as the government of the politicians, for the politicians and by the politicians. This is another bitter truth.

•Odunayo is the Publicity Secretary, Lagos/Ogun States Chapter of Okun Development Association. Email: odunayo_ joseph2006@yahoo.com. Tel: 08053488121