In all my years as an undergraduate or alumna, I have never heard of a Nigerian student charging an incumbent or former President to court. It’s not for lack of reasons, no, several reasons abound why most of our past and present leaders should be charged to court over their negligence of the education sector. But it has never happened. Nigerian students have never felt the need to or ‘had the balls’ to charge a President to court, at least not until President Goodluck Jonathan made a Democracy Day broadcast, announcing the renaming of the University of Lagos.
In honour of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, President Jonathan said on May 29, 2012 that the institution would be renamed as Moshood Abiola University.
Minutes after the announcement was made, all hell broke loose at Unilag. The response was swift. It was as if the students were so bored, lying in wait for an opportunity to take to the streets. From an institution that has no running Student Union Government to organize street protests, the speed at which they gathered together up and spoke with one voice was amazing. The President’s announcement triggered one of the swiftest responses in the country’s history.
Who dared change the prestigious Unilag name to a razz name like Moshood Abiola University? Who tampered with the name that has garnered so much class and recognition over 50 years of existence? It was unacceptable.
And so they took to the streets, blocking major roads around the campus, carrying placards, chanting, singing, resisting the name change. On the second day, they didn’t relent, and marched to the Third Mainland Bridge, disrupting traffic on the major road for a few hours. It took the campus closure to calm the student protests down, but even then, they haven’t relented in their resistance.
Now, 10 students have brought their case before Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking for a declaration that the University of Lagos being a creation of an act of the National Assembly, cannot be governed except in accordance with the provisions of the University of Lagos Act, 1967.
They are seeking a declaration that power to change or amend the name of University of Lagos, being a corporate body having perpetual succession with common seal as provided under the University of Lagos Act 1967(as amended), belongs to the National Assembly.
They have sought the court’s order declaring that the announcement contained in the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s May 29, 2012 broadcast changing the name of University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, is unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
The students – Sunday Asaolu, Julius Ayoola, Idowu Odumosu, Seyi Olowu, Oladapo Obasa, Idowu Awopeju, Adebanjo Sunday, Femi Omotosho, Segun Ogunjobi and Aiyelabola are no doubt brave and passionate about the name of their institution.
But this gets me wondering, how about all the other pressing matters, other shortcomings in the education sector that require such radical responses from Nigerian students. How about our ill-equipped laboratories, our scanty libraries with books several generations old, our cramped and dirty hostels, our broken and insufficient furniture, our non-existent computer rooms, our outdated syllabus and teaching methods just begging for a review? We sit mute and endure this and then jump on the streets, waving placards and blocking roads because our classy name has been changed.
Every time our lecturers go on strike, we just sit on the sidelines and cheer them on, not too loudly, so that they can also hear our pleas, urging them to call off the strike. We leave all the fighting for them and then suddenly remember there is a court when our name is changed.
Before you begin to castigate, before you start to say I don’t know how it feels, yes I do. Unilag is my alma mata, and the memories of my time in this great institution are still fresh. As fresh as the fact that I haven’t even collected my certificate yet and I wonder what name would be written on it now. So, yes, I do understand how it feels and I still feel the irritation I felt when I heard the announcement.
But I can’t help but think that we have left the most important issues behind, kept mute over the falling standards of education for so long, allowed the government take us for granted and then jump to the streets, affixing our names on petitions when our name is changed. Can’t we also sign petitions to improve the standards in our institutions?
Whether Unilag remains Unilag or becomes Maulag, it is my desire that as Nigerians, not just students, we learn to speak up at the right time, for the right reasons and through the right channels.