It is difficult to figure out the rationale behind President Jonathan’s decision to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos. The president said it is to honour the late politician, who died while trying to claim the mandate given to him by Nigerians on June 12, 1993, but this reasoning is defective on a number of counts.
First, the very best honour anyone can give the late Moshood Abiola is to make sure that real democracy takes root in Nigeria. This is a responsibility that should be paramount in the mind of the president. So far, there hasn’t been a lot to celebrate, and this re-naming smacks of a skin-deep treatment of several deep problems that Nigeria faces in 2012. We do not care for re-naming of universities, electricity, security, and good governance is what Nigerians demand. That is the best way to honour Abiola.
Names are very important. The University of Lagos is, to put it simply, a brand. This year will mark 50 years of Unilag’s existence, and over time a reputation has been built which influences everything and everyone connected with it: Current students, alumni, teaching and non-teaching staff. Unilag is a name instantly recognisable all around the world, a name that opens doors. Those who have benefited from that will now have to stomach seeing those who come after, lose that name recognition. Such a loss cannot be quantified.
People are very attached to names: the reaction from most when their names are badly pronounced or wrongly spelt is a clear example. What has happened this morning is equal to an assault on the emotional make-up of millions, who have a sentimental attachment to the name: Unilag. In doing this, the president has not only underestimated that emotional connection, but has rubbished it. Before taking such a decision, did he consult the school authorities? Students? Is there any evidence of due consideration for the necessity and effects of such a decision? No.
Next year will mark twenty years since 1993. Every year that passes by makes MKO’s memory less and less prominent. It is unfortunate, but that’s how it is. Re-naming a school like Unilag after him would have been better done at the dawn of the 4th republic in 1999, but it wasn’t. The simple truth is, we have far bigger problems now.
The majority of Nigeria’s young people do not connect with June 12. They connect with the bad governance they see everyday. Our nation is one that deals in the superficial, in the white-washing of tombs, in putting ‘lipstick on a pig’. We specialize in putting carts before horses. We specialize in a semblance of democracy, but deny the substance thereof.
On Democracy Day, this is the real tragedy. Long live the cassava republic.