Brand UNILAG: A Subset of Nigeria’s Larger History

This article was earlier published June 12, 2012 at 3:33pm; and has been republished to provide a perspective to Dele Momodu’s latest article and as a reference to another earlier published article of mine – http://fbablogs.com/2015/01/24/the-hypocrisy-behind-the-significance-of-june-12/

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[Dedicated to MKO, Kudirat Abiola, their family and every other person lost during “The June 12 Struggle” and all those who stood up for it and remain committed to same]

“Within the next two years, it would be exactly 100 years since the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated and Nigeria was born. We need a lot more introspection, even as we look forward. We must take steps to heal the wounds of the past and work together, as a people with a shared destiny under one flag. We must strengthen our collective memory, draw strength from our history, and build bridges of unity to take our country to greater heights.

This is what we should do. And we must. As a starting point, we must draw strength from our history and work to ensure that the labour of our heroes past is not in vain. It is partly for this and other reasons, that I have directed, as part of the activities marking the Democracy Day, that all due processes should be initiated for the building of a Presidential Museum in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. This Museum will document the lives and times of Nigeria’s Presidents and Heads of Government since 1960, and remind us, by extension, of the high points of our national history.’’

It is also in this regard that the Federal Government has decided that the 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”

– President Goodluck Jonathan.  

These were the last three paragraphs of the Presidential address to the Nation on May 29, 2012, to mark “The Democracy Day” and the President’s one year anniversary as the third elected President within the last 13 years of Nigeria’s return to Democracy. I have a confession: before the speech I promised myself to look out for the highpoints within the speech that many of the President’s avowed critics would use to “flog” him right after it and when he read out the last paragraph of the speech, I screamed out to my Wife, who was in the kitchen at the time: “Wahala don shele, the President has renamed UNILAG!” Immediately, I knew a few things were going to happen: UNILAG Staff, Alumni members, Students were going to revolt against this; the opposition base (which the Civil Society Groups now seem to have signed a merger agreement with in what portends an apparent danger for this democracy) who had hitherto called for MKO to be properly immortalized within this polity were going to scream their heads off; and worse off: the rest of the entire 56-minutes-long speech by the President was going to be forgotten by many people to focus on this singular subject matter (which also provided a convenient escape for those that shunned the broadcast) and boy, was I right or what?

Within minutes, Facebook, Twitter, (and I guess Blackberry Messenger having dropped the ‘habit’ right after the January fuel hike brouhaha) became “red hot zones” with majority of the antagonists claiming: GEJ was planning to score a cheap political point in the South-West by this move; that MKO’s legacy should not and can not be reduced to sectional considerations; that MKO was more like the “Pillar of Sports” in Nigeria and should have had a Stadium preferably the one in Abuja named after him; that any such a monument, edifice, or institution that should have been named after him should have been located in Abuja to adequately depict the nationalistic nature of his struggles; that a brand new institution should have been built to properly immortalize him; the stakeholders in the school should have been consulted; and of course, the one that I consider the most laughable: that “UNILAG’s brand equity was much too huge an ‘Asset’ and its legacy much too rich for the University to be renamed at all; not even for the lofty purpose of immortalizing the one person [and of course moment] that almost everyone (including those taking these positions) within this political space agree to be “The true Martyr of our present Democratic Experience.”

So I had to ask myself “Is it really worth it to die for a Nation like Nigeria?” When it is almost so sure even “before you are killed” that your memory would be treated with so much disrespect, dishonor, hypocrisy and an unrestricted shameless politicization of the ideals you died for; how can a people become so petty for the convenience of “being right” despite the apparent and obvious flaws in such positions held by them?

So I guess this would be a good time to discuss the subject of “The importance of UNILAG, its history, legacy, brand equity, and attendant relevance as an educational institution” vis-à-vis “The significance of MKO’s struggles to achieve Nigeria’s democracy” within this polity – how exactly is the name (not the reputation) of a 50-year-old school that is one of many others albeit a very important one more relevant to the entire future of Nigeria? Shouldn’t this ensuing brouhaha from the renaming of this school call into question the measure of the importance that the average Nigerian actually attaches to this our Democracy?

All of a sudden Alumni members, current students and staff of the school are more interested in protecting the fancifulness of the name of the institution at the expense of a lasting recognition of an ideal time in the Nation’s history; all of sudden such people and their band of co-travelers cannot see that this gesture should have actually been treated as a rare honour on the school considering the significance of what “June 12” represents within this polity? All of a sudden they are joining hands with “opposing Politicians” to lampoon the President for this decision in what can best be described as “a fellowship of strange bedfellows.”

Isn’t it bewildering that many of these Patriots didn’t even seem to have heard the part of the presidential broadcast where he mentioned “The Federal Government will also establish an Institute of Democratic Studies and Governance in the University” and that such a plan in a place like UNILAG was an ideal opportunity to inspire the next generation of Nigerians towards becoming even more dedicated to the Nation in the same way that MKO and his wife, Kudirat, were true to their beliefs of seeing a better Nigeria? How can they not see that UNILAG with the unique identity of being based in Lagos also represented the best place to properly immortalize MKO considering that Lagos was also practically “The HQ of the June 12 Struggles” – for MKO declared himself President in Lagos; was arrested in Lagos; the bulk of the riots that saw many Nigerians killed by the junta were held in Lagos – the same ones that UNILAG students were at the forefront of, in which students from UNILAG were killed. Lagos was also practically the “unofficial rallying ground” for the Opposition base led by Abraham Adesanya’s NADECO that fought the Abacha junta to a standstill; Lagos was the home to magazines and newspapers like TELL, The News, The Guardian, The Punch etc whose editors and staff were routinely harassed and the papers shut down—a publisher was shot, an experience from which he never recovered, the Gani Fawehinmi group of Femi Falana, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Agbakoba were jailed without trial—for daring to speak up against the excesses of the ruling junta during those tortuous years before being whisked away to “Kuje Prisons;” Lagos was the place where Kudirat and other notable names that stood up against the junta were killed. And can someone, please, tell me how “Lagos isn’t National enough to represent the Nigerian State?” Wasn’t it the same place the capital city of the Nation until a few years ago? Isn’t it still the economic nerve center of the Nation, the same place that remains the largest singular confluence point of Nigerians from diverse backgrounds?

So where exactly is the “Sense of History” of the average Nigerian? How can some people go about rationalizing down such a momentous part of our National History for which we are all direct benefits today as occasioned by our new found rights to unabated freedom of speech, freedom to express ourselves in different political platforms without fear of being victimized for our affiliations, freedom to engage in protests even as enjoyed by the current UNILAG students? How can anyone reasonably state that “UNILAG is too big a name to be sacrificed for the purpose of immortalizing possibly the most important personality/phase of our entire Democratic Journey?” And not just for the significance of the moment itself but also for the physical characteristic shared by the moment and the school? And how does anyone compare the acts of MKO sponsoring sports in Nigeria to that of sacrificing his life and that of his wife for Nigeria? How does renaming of a school owned and funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria become an effrontery on the students, alumni, and staff of the school?

How would this name change reduce the quality of products being generated from the school? How has the President set out to score cheap political points by doing something that was long overdue within this Nation? Why should the South-West feel debased (and even threatened) by this decision – the same people that voted overwhelmingly for the President just 12 months ago and the same people who had clamoured beyond recognition before now that MKO be recognised appropriately for his role in the birthing of our current democratic dispensation?

Then to those who insist that the President should have consulted far and wide before arriving at this decision – to you I say “you might have to review your understanding of Democracy;” the President even after been voted into office by the majority does not necessarily have to consult with the public on every decision he needs to make – Barack Obama knew of the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden for several months before he struck and in those months not a single American outside of his defense inner circle knew about the plan; if such had become a subject of a CNN debate, you can bet that some Republicans would have screamed “Obama is about to waste tax payers’ monies on this futile expedition” all in a bid to secure some political relevance and Osama Bin Laden would still be alive today.

As I close, the Spirit of God just brought back to my remembrance the oft repeated admonition by my Pastor that “The lesser is included in the greater;” truly UNILAG, its legacy, its name, its products – past; present; and future, its supposed global brand equity (that now seems to have overshot that of Facebook, Microsoft, JP Morgan Stanley, Walmart, etc in recent days as measured by Unilag Consulting Partners) is still but a subset of Nigeria’s larger History!

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