Many have read several meanings into the presidential gesture of re-naming the 50-year old University of Lagos, after the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olwale (MKO) Abiola, fondly regarded as the June 12 hero and democracy icon, which many believe prefaced the birth of the nation’s democracy.
While some think it is a political masterstroke to break into the South west political bloc, others see it as playing to the gallery, as it upturns the trend in the past where the Federal Government shied away from discussing the Abiola phenomenon in the Nigerian political space. Yet, others think it is mere red herring tactic to divert attention from the core issues of governance.
But more curiously, the gesture seems to have provoked avalanche of mixed reactions, many of which are condemnatory of the Federal Government .
The first kick came from the students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, who, yesterday, trooped out to protest the renaming of the institution after the Chief Abiola.
The students who defied the early morning rain, marched from the gate of the institution through the Yaba neighbourhood and back to the school protesting the change of name.
Although the protest was peaceful, it almost turned violent when one of Unilag security officers, arrested one of the protesting students and took him into custody. A full riot was however averted when the security officer was arrested and handcuffed to a burglary proof.
The protest was quickly and effectively managed by DECOMPOL Operations Nine as aggrieved protesters at Yaba, Shomolu and Ikorodu Roads were pacified and persuaded to return to campus and embrace dialogue.”
The acting president of the students union, Mr Idowu Odumose, described the name change as an act of injustice.
“It is an injustice to the institution. The change cannot be done unilaterally without amending the act setting up the university,’’ he told NAN.
In the same vein, the Acting Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Rahmon Bello described as a surprise the Federal Government’s decision to rename the institution.
Bello made the remark while addressing protesting students.
A Professor of Law and Jurisprudence of the institution, Akin Oyebode who has taught in the institution for 40 years, queried the timing of the action, saying that the presidency cannot just change it now when UNILAG is planning to bury its late Vice Chancellor, Prof. Babatunde Olatokunbo Sofoluwe.
Chairman of the Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU) of the institution, Dr. Karo Moses Igbinaka calmed the students, stressing that UNILAG is a brand that has been built over the last 50 years. .
“The decision to rename the UNILAG was mainly PDP. UNILAG is a university established by an act of parliament and you cannot just wake up one day to say you want to rename it. The President recently established nine new university in the country, he can afford to rename those ones if he so wishes. UNILAG is not what you can just change overnight.”
But expectedly, the President’s announcement excited the Abiola family which, yesterday, said they were ecstatic over the renaming of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as the Moshood Abiola University.
In a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mr Abdul Abiola, son of the late politician said there was nothing wrong with the naming of the university after his father.
“We are shocked by the reactions trailing this development. My late father believed so much in education.”
Abiola’s first child, Lola Abiola-Edewor and Hafsat Abiola-Costello said that the Federal Government should be commended for recognizing the contribution of the late politician to the return of democracy in the country.
Abiola-Edewor however condemned the protest by some students saying that the gesture was long overdue.
Like her brother, she said: “I really do not understand all of the hues and cries. Nigerians had demanded severally that MKO be immortalised and asked why nothing had been done till date. What I cannot understand though is how renaming of UNILAG has degenerated into such a controversy. University of Ife was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University and it has remained,” Abiola-Edewor said.
Abiola-Costello however tasked the Federal Government on the alleviation of poverty amongst Nigerians.
In the same vein, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) has said Abiola deserved the highest honour in the land.
“While acknowledging the place of Abiola in the political history of Nigeria, we deplore the renaming of the University of Lagos after him,’’the SNG said.
But according to a former special assistant to the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Lisa Olu Akerele, the gesture is not even enough to honour the late politician, describing it as “mere tokenism and not far-reaching enough.”
A constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said the president should be praised for his effort to immortalise Abiola, adding that he, however, made a wrong choice in choosing UNILAG.
Sagay said: “The president should be praised for his effort to immortalise Abiola. It was done out of good intention but he chose the wrong institution.
Mr Bamidele Aturu, a human rights activist, said the president had the power to change the name of the institution¸ stressing that nothing was actually wrong with the name change.
He said: “The renaming itself is not the problem it is was a populist gesture. This must not been seen as a way to garner the sympathy of the people of the South West.
Yet, Mr Wale Ogunade, President, Voters Awareness Initiative, said the proper way to honour Abiola would have been to recognise June 12 as a national holiday.
“MKO Abiola is not known to be an educationist. The best way to have honoured him is for the Federal Government to recognise June 12 as a national public holiday”, he said.
Also, the Edo Consultative Forum (ECF), Tuesday, commended the Federal Government for the gesture.
In a statement signed by its Director of Media and Publicity, Mr Matthew Aramunde, it said the honour was overdue, stressing that the history of Nigeria democracy would not be complete without noting Abiola’s contributions.
It questioned the protest against the gesture, asking, “How would the re-naming of UNILAG after M.K.O. Abiola affect the results and grades of the students?
“UNILAG is the property of the Federal Government of Nigeria, it can change the name as it pleases any time.
“The students should protest against the killings in the north. They should protest against those mentioned for corruption and not the change in the name of their school,’’
But tailing off into the political, former President, Academic Staff Union of University [ASUU] Prof. Festus Iyayi argued that the best way to immortalise Abiola was to concentrate on development and for President Jonathan not to contest the 2015 election, but focus on raising the living standard of Nigerians in all aspect of life.
But former Edo State governor, Chief John Oyegun said “for me it is very good. It is high time a major national monument is named after Abiola.