12th June, 2012
By Olaide Abass
Permit me to thank all of us present here this afternoon to deliberate on the future of our great institution, the University of Lagos, the university of first choice and the nation’s pride. We all heard, with most painful shock, the announcement by Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to rename our 50-year-old institution Moshood Abiola University to immortalise him for the supreme sacrifice he made for democracy. While honouring Abiola has been long overdue, the Federal Government would appear to have done the right thing in a very wrong way, creating concerns for many people, especially the alumni and the present students.
The University of Lagos was created by an Act of the Federal Parliament in 1962. In this Act, the power of the Visitor is clearly stated. It is the National Assembly that can change the name of the university not the Visitor. It would appear that Mr. President has chosen to adopt the method a military ruler used in the 1980s. The first act of a military ruler is to set aside the constitution of the country on assuming office.
On the contrary, President Jonathan is a product of our constitution and has sworn to uphold and defend the constitution. Adopting a military style, as it appears in this case, does not promote democracy, especially as Mr. President’s goal is to immortalise the name of a national hero.
We all know that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee Anniversary. The House of Commons is just debating naming a building after her. This is the type of democratic process Mr. President should promote as a way of enriching our democratic culture.
Unilag As A Strong Brand
In its 50 years of existence, University of Lagos has developed a very strong brand known and respected internationally. Those of us who recommend students for admissions to universities outside the country know that Unilag is one of the universities that will appear online and all you need to do is simply tick. The university has produced over 150,000 alumni. Some of us are present here today. Our certificates and diplomas have become part of our identities. They have become major components of our critical success factors in life. Can Mr. President, in a democratic setting, change the identities of over 150,000 people without consultation? What type of father would change the name of his child on his/her 50th birthday? The university is celebrating its Golden Jubilee Anniversary this year. What circumstance would lead to the change of brand Coca-Cola or Mercedes Benz? Unilag is a brand equivalent to Coca-Cola and Mercedes Benz. As they say, it is Mercedes Benz or nothing.
Presently the university has about 40,000 undergraduates. These students have valid letters of admission and they have sworn to oath of allegiance to the university. It would appear to me that they have a contract with the university. What will happen to the contract? I am told it is being suggested that they can seek mass transfer. Where will students in Medicine, Engineering etc transfer to? The founding fathers of the University of Lagos designed it as a professional university. Thanks to past and present academics, who have ensured that the university has remained faithful to its mandate. Where you train a professional matters. These students have exercised their right to choose Unilag and have worked very hard, like all of us did, to secure admission to Unilag. Are we saying that we should discourage the spirit of hard work in our youths?
Let me here appeal to students to sheathe their sword and allow the Alumni Association to continue to act lawfully in collective interest. As soon as the university reopens, all students should resume their academic activities. The Alumni Association will pursue all legal means to protect their interest.
Funding The University
Over the years, the government has been saying repeatedly that it cannot fund the university alone, and calling on the citizens to assist. The proposal to change the name of Unilag will deny the institution the opportunity to continue to enjoy financial support of her over 150,000 alumni.
Let me illustrate this point with recent financial contribution of the Unilag Alumni:
•During the 2007 Distinguished Alumni Awards, one of us promised to build a N159 million research laboratory for the university. I am happy to say here that it is almost ready.
•Another alumnus endowed a N50 million chair in one of the departments.
•Another has promised to build a digital library.
•The Alumni Association, in order to augment academic facilities on campus, is in partnership with a private concern putting up an Alumni Jubilee house on campus. We are planning to hand over this building to the university on 2 October 2012, in commemoration of 2 October 1962, when the first set of students received lectures at Idi-Araba.
By the grace of God, we shall still deliver the house as planned. But let me ask: Is this move designed to discourage or encourage us?
Cost Of Rebranding Unilag
I am not sure that the cost of rebranding Unilag has been considered. As a computer professional, I can easily estimate that it will cost billions of naira to preserve Unilag’s legacy record if the change is allowed. Can we afford the cost, given that no federal university has been adequately funded since the days of structural adjustment in the 1980s?
I also know that, as an IT professional, changing the identities of over 150,000 alumni will lead to security problems. In fact, it may fuel crime through identity laundering. Forensic investigation will be complicated.
About five years ago, the University Autonomy Act was passed by the National Assembly. The objective is to allow a university council, senate, congregation and convocation to take more responsibilities in the running of the university without unnecessary intervention by government or its agencies. Where is the relevance of university autonomy in the proposed change? Is it a case of one step forward, two steps backwards?
The City of Lagos
Every country on the planet, developed or developing, has one or two star cities. One of the characteristics of a star city is naming a university after it. Hence, we have University of London, University of Washington, University of New York, University of Nairobi, etc. The University of Lagos has become part of the identity of Lagos city, just as its lagoon. Changing Unilag to something else is similar to draining Lagos of its lagoon. Therefore, do not exchange the Peter of Lagos for the Paul of Abiola.
Let Unilag remain Unilag.
•Prof. Abass, National President of the University of Lagos Alumni Association, delivered this address at the Special General Meeting of the Association on 3 June.