The controversy that trailed President Goodluck Jonathan's Democracy Day national broadcast announcing the decision to rename the prestigious University of Lagos after late Chief Moshood Abiola, acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, but annulled by the military regime at that time, may not be resolved for a long time as major stakeholders have vowed to resist the change.
Meanwhile, due to the persistent protest by students of the institution for two days following the announcement, the management of the University of Lagos, has suspended academic activities and closed halls of residence with effect from 11.30 am, May 30, 2012.
In a statement, the authorities said that "in view of the recent developments on our campuses, the Senate of the university has directed that all academic activities be suspended forthwith for two weeks."
Accordingly, all students had to vacate the halls of residence, while the university security operatives were mandated to ensue compliance. But this development did not affect the burial arrangements of the late Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adetokunboh Babatunde Sofoluwe who died suddenly of cardiac arrest on Saturday May 12, 2012.
When Saturday Vanguard visited the campus on Thursday, most of the students seemed to have vacated the halls of residence, although some had refused to move. That was the day the late Vice-Chancellor was interred, after which the university community converged inside the 5,000 capacity multipurpose hall for the reception where food and drinks were generously served with a live band playing music to entertain everyone present. Armed Policemen in pick up buses were still stationed at the entrance of the university combat ready.
Saturday Vanguard met the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) - University of Lagos branch, Dr. Ogbinaka Oghenekaro, at the entrance of the multipurpose hall already filled up to the brim, by members of the university community, many of them in "aso-ebi" attires for the reception.
Asked what will happen next in the wake of the renaming of the institution to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAUL), he retorted: "We will fight back, we will get at them one by one. We know them. If the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) and others cannot constitute opposition (against the change of name), we will be the opposition."
On the next move after expiration of the two weeks closure of the university, Oghenekaro said: "After the two weeks, when the university opens, management will let us know what to do. All of us will fight them. We know them. After the reception for our late Vice-Chancellor who has been buried today, we will come and fight them."
A Professor who was entering the hall for the reception had remarked in an interaction with the ASUU - UNILAG Chairman, saying that "the name of a university is a key aspect of the university."
A lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication (name withheld) told Saturday Vanguard that there was nothing wrong in the change of name, only that the timing was bad. "President Jonathan should have shown respect for the late Vice-Chancellor as the staff and students were already in mourning. He should have postponed the announcement for some days, allowing the burial ceremonies to be concluded."
Other reactions were mixed. Former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe had expressed displeasure, saying that the change of name was totally unacceptable, because stakeholders were not consulted. According to him, decisions in a democracy are taken by consultations. "We are not happy with the decision and that is why the students spontaneously went to the streets to protest it."
In a press release signed by Professor Olayide Abass, National President, and Femi Oladimeji, National Secretary, University of Lagos Alumni Association, on behalf of all the members, students and the entire university community, rejected the "shocking announcement by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during his democracy day address renaming the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University."
The statement explained that the University of Lagos is the first university to be established by an Act of Federal Parliament in 1962 and has built a strong brand name in its 50 years. "We expect that any change in name should have taken stakeholders interest into consideration and followed due process. We are aware that neither the Governing Council nor the University Senate nor any other stakeholder was consulted before the change was announced."
It added that, "without prejudice to the person of late MKO Abiola, we the Alumni Association, on behalf of the entire university community reject the name as announced." Professor Abass said if President Jonathan wants to change the name, he should go back to the National Assembly for amendment of the university law.
Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Rahmon Bello, said the decision to rename Univesity of Lagos was a surprise, and did not go down well with staff and management. "This took us by surprise because no consultations were held with us," he reportedly told the protesting students.
Mr. Emeka Ngige (SAN) was said to have reminded the government that the University of Lagos was established by law - an act of Parliament. For the Federal Government to effect the change, it should seek an amendment in Parliament and the new name gazetted.
To many people, UNILAG is more than a name. It has become a brand of 50 years. Some of the students acknowledged that late Abiola deserves to be immortalised as a democracy icon in a struggle that consumed him and his wife. But they wondered why University of Lagos has to be sacrificed for this objective.
Other reactions monitored by Saturday Vanguard pointed to the fact that "President Jonathan is not a Yoruba man, but did what others cannot do. Abiola in his life time donated money to several universities in Nigeria. He was a unique man. That people are just making noise as Abiola was a wonderful person. Jonathan's announcement was just an expression of intent and so the matter will still go to the National Assembly". Although President Jonathan has asserted that the decision is irreversible and there is no going back, he was advised to rethink.
According to Barrister Ubani in a radio programme, the President should say he is wrong and then go to the National Assembly. Jonathan really did not follow due process in announcing the change of name because he probably feared that the legislature won't pass the amendment bill to change the name.
If there had been more dialogue, consultations, the crisis won't come up like this, the polity won't be overheated.
May be this is what was in the mind of legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola who commented that the change of name was noble but the procedure was not right. Others believed that a name does not change the value or academic excellence of an institution. People have been clamouring for the immortalisation of Abiola, and now that it has been done, they are now complaining.