The University of Lagos, popularly known as UNILAG, is a Federal Government university founded in 1962. In the eyes of its students, it’s Alumni’s and Nigerians as a whole, the university has become a reputable, desirable, enviable, respectable, highly regarded, well thought-of and decent colossal institution; and justifiably so. Academic and Non-academic staff members, Students and Ex-students of the university talk about “their UNILAG” with great pride, delight, enthusiasm, zest and gusto, almost in the same way those from the Harvard University do. It was therefore a terribly shocking news when on the 29th May 2012, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, renamed the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University in honor of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola who died in jail as a political prisoner in 1998. Abiola was the great Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist widely believed to be the winner of the 1993 presidential poll annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; and whom Babangida’s military successor, Gen. Sani Abacha, jailed until he, Abiola, died in detention in 1998. Amongst socio-political knowledge experts and commentators all over the world, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (popularly known as MKO) is celebrated and believed to be a major catalyst to the establishment of the democracy Nigeria has enjoyed for 13years. He was and is still a National Hero, even in death. The name change therefore is meant to honor Abiola’s “martyrdom,” Jonathan said, on a public holiday marking Nigeria’s 13th year of uninterrupted democracy.
Now, my take is Two-phased. For one, the Federal Government seems to have mastered the art of shocking announcements; and is passionately committed to initiating changes without due process. I would have expected the Federal Government to have learnt necessary lessons from the unguarded announcement of the fuel subsidy removal. Like many other Nigerians, I supported the removal. But I am yet to meet one Nigerian who supported the subsidy removal and did not criticize the wrong timing and poor execution that characterized the announcement. The PR advisers and the Ministry of Information as well as Internal Affairs are obviously comatose. The protest that followed the announcement may have been unavoidable but the kind of execution that carries everyone along would have created a better situation. This “unguarded-announcement-model” of the Federal Government has reared its ugly head again with the shocking way the UNILAG name change was announced. Yes, the Federal Executive Council must have been carried along, but unfortunately they do not represent the total yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerians people. Yes, the owner of an institution can decide to change the name as it pleases, but with the due process that the owner had laid down.
While no proactive measure can eliminate variations and reservations about the name change, effective and proper execution that embraces due process and best practice can calm the situation, eliminate street protests and convert anger and reservation to the kind that can be civil enough for peaceful and meaningful exchange. In executing change, thorough analysis of the pros and cons should have been thoroughly previewed. People should have been duly informed, educated and prepared for such change. Due process should be followed. The University Governing Council, the Management, the University Senate, the Staff, the Students and even Alumni should have been consulted and thoroughly carried along. Arbitrary decision-making, if it continues, possess terrible implications for our socio-economic and socio-political landscape. The Federal Executive Council has acted most inappropriately. It is a pure disrespect and disregard to the institution, the Alumni, the students and all stakeholders within the institution. As a matter of truth, it is a terrible disrespect to all Nigerians; and it will not be a lesser error if the name of any other institution or organization was changed in this manner. If the government of the day is proactive enough, it will likely have prepared the people ahead of time, at least for a few months, declaring and publicizing its plans, communicating the reason and allowing people to understand the purpose for taking such steps. A stakeholders/media parley, symposium or conference held about a month to execution would have been perfect. This will communicate respect for all stakeholders within the institution and the nation at large.
My second take is this: MKO deserves such recognition. All over the world, the names of Species of animals, plants, libraries, institutions and organizations have been changed to human names for reasons not even as weighty as the one in question. Entities are re-named after famous people either based on their humanitarian, social, economic or political contributions or for contemporary royalty in honor of historical people, at times connected to the entity experiencing the name change, and at other times, totally unconnected to it. This practice has been upheld all over the world. Such changes have never resulted into non-functionality, reduction in performance, or loss of its prestige or popularity on the international scene. After a name-change, necessary clarifications needed to determine legitimacy, authenticity and credibility of claims are sorted through fax, e-mails, telephone, correspondence in writing or whatever means of communication acceptable for such. Also, those who argue for the financial implication (changing names on documents, office tags, labels and other important material) of the name-change should simply understand that necessary change at any level will always come at a cost. As long as it is necessary, the meaning must outweigh the cost, and that makes it worthy. Change may consume resources and time, it may require some sacrifice and adaptation, but change is inevitable, constant and universal. Necessary change must of course be adopted, adapted to and adequately managed. This is not the first name-change event, and trust me, it will not be the last.
The great Yale University, rated as the fourth best university in the world, was founded in 1701 with Collegiate School as its name. In 1716, the school moved to New Haven and, with the generous gift by Elihu Yale of nine bales of goods, 417 books, and a portrait and arms of King George 1, the university was renamed Yale College in 1718. Yale College became Yale University in 1887. Harvard College was established in 1636 and was named for its first benefactor, John Harvard of Charlestown, a young clergyman whose bequest of £780, was (in 1639) the first principal donation to the new institution. Stanford university was named in honor of the only child of Leland Stanford, a railroad magnate, United States Senator, and former California governor, and his wife, Jane Stanford. The child, Leland Stanford, Jr., died in 1884 just before his 16th birthday. In Nigeria, the University of Ife was changed to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria; and we have the Ahmadu Bello University, Nnamdi Azikiwe University amongst others. I agree that the Nigerian Universities mentioned above are not on the list of the first 5000 universities in the world, but whatever the challenge that has kept them off the list is not due to name-change in any way.
What is true is that most of the critics of the name change will relish the opportunity to send their kids to study in the Universities with human names abroad. The student critics will not even care what the names of the foreign universities are, as long as they can attend. What is sure is that name is not really the challenge and name-change should not be the challenge either. Many have turned against the choice of the name “Moshood Abiola” because of their biased and jaundiced conception as to what they feel the name sounds like and its imposition on the supposed premier University. We should be careful, lest we throw the baby out with the bath water. We should be careful, so that a justifiable rejection of the imbalance of the Federal Executive Council and the President does not become the very ideology of casting aspersion on the pedigree of MKO. Let us not forget that MKO did the needful and made the ultimate sacrifice for a worthy national issue. Perhaps it will be good to suggest that the people rejecting the name should do a background check on the role and the impact of the personality in question on our nascent democracy; as rejecting the name maybe in itself an attack on the personality, the life and the achievement of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. This act may not be better than the arbitrary decision-making culture of the Federal Executive Council…and may even be worse. I have wondered that if MKO’s name was Jeffery Walter and today, UNILAG is being renamed Jeffery Walter University, will the anger be as heightened? I believe if that was the case, the reservations will strictly be about the poor execution of the renaming. I may be crucified for this, but I believe the real problem most critics have with the name-change is the idea that the name is local. It seems that this is what most critics mean that they are not saying. Most believe the name is too local for the “greatness” UNILAG has achieved. It sounds to me like a “War of Sophistication”. Since no one can deny that MKO is deserving of the recognition, reasonable alibi will have to be invented to prevent critics from shamefully admitting that sophistication is the unspoken real battle. This is the shame in this name-change saga.
For years, I have been a vocal proponent of originality in all its ramifications. On almost every platform I grace, I have scarcely come short of saying no person or people can make any form of critical advancement without seizing responsibility for their originality. The world is filled with seven billion people and well over half of them are caught up in an identity crisis. They possess a very fragile concept of self, and unconsciously believe all they need to do to get by is to be somebody else. Originality sells and makes a difference, but it’s scarce. It takes guts to be truly original in a crowded, competitive world where the media peddles sophisticated influences, urging us to be everybody and everything else but ourselves. Rarity is the synonym for value, and in life, nothing of substance has ever endured, that misrepresents or obscures its identity. A critical part of a people’s identity is their language and their names. To strip this away or to subject it, by foisting another language on them, or to respect another foreign name above that which nature (through culture) bestows on them is to alter their identity, shackle their originality and tamper with their sense of self. Have you ever wondered about the English language and its “Westernized Oppression” on our essence as a people? Have you observed its import on our psyche and our individual and collective development? Well, I have and it bothers me.
The people of 50years ago and before must be forgiven for the colonial mentality that created a critical part of the inferiority complex of our times in the name of modernization and urbanization. We cannot forgive the people of 2012 and beyond if they refuse to defend the uniqueness of the names we bear, that in themselves so legitimately communicate the strength and dignity both of our languages and the people that speak them. Oppression begins as an invisible enemy, quietly speaking to our mind, will, conscience and spirits to accept ourselves and our contents as lesser and inferior fabrics. Nobody will come out to tell us we are inferior, but we can say it to ourselves through our attitudinal exchanges and actions. Accepting another man’s name as acceptable, and neglecting ours, is a very silent way of announcing and emphasizing our inferiority to ourselves and our unborn generation. Let us rethink the ideologies we are selling to our children who are being brought up in a global competitive world economy, where they would be unable to compete without the relevant self confidence, drawn to great extents from their sense of identity and originality. Without doubt, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o was right after all; a people’s identity is hidden somewhere in their language. We must make a change, and without this change, even western names may become another platform of self-enslavement. It will remain a lethal distraction to our global competitiveness and collective prosperity. I stand to be corrected, but as far as acceptable and legitimate identity is concerned, there is no single difference between a MOSHOOD ABIOLA UNIVERSITY and HARVARD UNIVERSITY—the difference at this level ONLY EXIST in a DEFEATED and WEAK MIND. This is the shame in this name-change saga.
OLAKUNLE SORIYAN is the PRINCIPAL TRANSFORMATION STRATEGIST of the OLAKUNLE SORIYAN COMPANY. He is one of Nigeria’s most sought-after speakers. Soriyan serves on the Board of various organisations, and is a philosopher,Trainer and Consultant of high pedigree.The personal Advisor and coach to many high-net worth individuals (HNI) and organisations, promotes ORIGINALITY as a critical pathway to PURPOSEFULNESS at any level of development. For more insight, Visit: blog.olakunlesoriyan.com or you can send us a mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org