Few hours before this year’s Democracy Day speech was aired, I had a discussion with an erudite scholar on the successes of this administration after a year in office with special reference given to the deserving, or otherwise, of another year – talk less of a second term. The discussion became a debate, but we both agreed on the fact that this president’s approval rating is at an all time lowest. He direly needs to win the trust of the people.
As if he was listening, in his Democracy Day speech to Nigerians, he announced what ought to please the Yoruba people, especially those who are always asking for the immortalization of late chief MKO Abiola. Although it was applauded by lots of Nigerians, the president’s deployment of an archaic political tool further attests to the assertion that his administration lacks creativity and wherewithal to solve the nation’s numerous lingering challenges.
Like the speed of light, the responses came in swift. Pictures of protests by UNILAG (or MAU) students surfaced appeared online. Sensitive conversations are heating up and one thing is very clear, this isn’t a decision that is going down well with all Nigerians; even with the Yoruba nation in particular.
These concerns are quite necessary because before, it was quite timely, unifying and honourable when such decisions are taken. Take for instance, the renaming of University of Ife to Obafemi Awolowo University, the decision was well received and overwhelmingly supported. But few decades later, the act has been greatly abused and misused by subsequent administrations that had also made the national awards nothing but mere medals.
Also, the rate at which the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration is going about renaming federal institutions and facilities is fast becoming unacceptable. Take a swift assessment and you will think he’s only focusing on the south west because few months ago, his administration approved the renaming of Liberty Stadium in Ibadan to Obafemi Awolowo Stadium. Less than nine months later, another re-christening is taking place in the same region.
The first major reason why many Nigerians are not applauding the president’s announcement is the generic nature of the honour. Anyone can predict that! Hence while it was meant to be an honour, it turned out to be a mere announcement and another means to award more contracts since contract for a new logo design will be awarded, monuments will be erected and university materials will have to be changed so that new ones will be procured.
It also demonstrates the shallow nature of the thought process. While the executive council can make such pronouncements, it would have been more honourable if Nigerians and people of the UNILAG community and the entire south west were carried along, and allowed to be part of the decision-making process. As someone whose life personified democracy and hard work, he is being honoured in an autocratic manner. A democratically decided honour, no matter how small, would have been more appropriate. If The Senate and House of Representatives could conduct referendums to get the opinions of Nigerians, the federal government should have asked for the opinion of Nigerians before forcing it down their throats, just like the military era.
The plight of the students ought to have been considered too. This decision further shows that the executive council cares less about the plights of the students of the affected institution, it just wants to score vital political points and record popular “achievements” or how will a student explain the rationale behind UNILAG admission letter but MAU certificate without using words like “crazy people”? Little wonder the students are protesting. What an honour.
It is quite unfortunate that apart from falling standards of education, ASUU strikes and other academic calendar disrupts, Nigerian students now have popularity crazy administrations to factor in as they continue their education. It’s only in Nigeria that a student knows when he gets admission but can never say when he graduates; it’s also only here that you know the name of the school you got admitted into but can never say what the name of the school will be when you are graduating. In other words, things aren’t predictable here; and commonsense is a rare commodity. Imo State University is a good example.
After only-knows-what, Governor Ikedi Ohakim changed the name of the state-owned university from Imo State University to Evan Enwerem University. But after taking the oath of office, Governor Rochas Okorocha reversed the decision and the school is now known as Imo State University.
Whenever decisions like this are made, lives are affected, legal documents become null and void, and multiple inter-agency bureaucratic bottlenecks are expected. These are understandable in Nigeria but outside, they make us look like fools.
In my opinion, I believe if you want to honour somebody, you go to the market and buy an expensive gift for that person; you don’t hijack another person’s gift and write the name of the person you want to honour on it. In the same vein, if any government wants to honour any individual – dead or alive, such government should start projects from the scratch and not merely change the name of an already established institution. If it takes the later option, it would depict such government as lazy, opportunistic and one that doesn’t even know what honouring is all about.
To ensure that the right steps are made, I believe the legislative arm of government should enact laws that bind renaming of public institutions but promote initiation of new projects. That way, in addition to honouring deserving individuals, the nation will also be enjoying new projects that such honour would bring to communities.
Furthermore, we need to secure the destinies of the students of the thirty seven federal universities, thirty seven state-owned universities, seventeen federal polytechnics and twenty six state-owned polytechnics whose lives may become affected by the president or governor who wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and decides to change the name of institutions and establishments he didn’t establish to “honour” his political godfather or meet the request of his secret lover.
This is not how it is in developed countries. When Johns Hopkins wanted several institutions named after him, he didn’t wait for the government to do that, his bequests founded Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It is high time Nigerian governments realized that honouring people is more than just naming public institutions after them; it should be something that will cost us something that is more than ordinary files, fancy declarations and unnecessary paper works. We can all agree that cheap honour is dishonour.