The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, made a national broadcast to mark the 13th Anniversary of the return to democracy. As usual he said many nice things. However, the one aspect of his speech has ignited controversy is this:
It is also in this regard that the Federal Government has decided that late Chief M.K.O. Abiola be honoured, for making the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of justice and truth. Destiny and circumstances conspired to place upon his shoulders a historic burden, and he rose to the occasion with character and courage. He deserves recognition for his martyrdom, and public-spiritedness and for being the man of history that he was. We need in our land, more men and women who will stand up to defend their beliefs, and whose example will further enrich our democracy. After very careful consideration, and in honour of Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s accomplishments and heroism, on this Democracy Day, the University of Lagos, is renamed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Moshood Abiola University, Lagos. The Federal Government will also establish an Institute of Democratic Studies and Governance in the University.
One would have thought that this move would generate applause from Nigerians. Bearing in mind that Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) had long been canonized as the martyr of Nigerian democracy. For years, there have been pleas – notably from the South-West that MKO should be immortalized. That the central government should no longer sweep his memory into the archives – like a bad dream – that they would have wished never happened. So much so that the Lagos State Government celebrates Democracy Day on June 12.
However, this was not to be as the students of MAU (formerly UNILAG) have taken to the streets. They do not want a new name. They just lost their Vice-Chancellor and they are not ready to lose their name as well.
I empathize with Akokites for the sentimental attachment to the name of their school. Perhaps I would also go bananas if University of Ibadan were to be renamed Alao Akala University, Ibadan. However, this is beyond emotions, the President has the prerogative to name and rename: and he has exercised that privilege. It is painful, but the truth is that this is a struggle they cannot win.
Besides, MKO Abiola deserves to be honoured. It is therefore strange that the only central government which dared to do what others before it did not do, is faced with such opposition. For once, let’s give thumps up to GEJ!