Renaming Of UNILAG and the Quest for Quality Education
Renaming Of UNILAG and the Quest for Quality Education
By Lateef Adams
Few minutes after President Good luck Jonathan concluded his May 29 “Democracy day” address, protest broke out at the University of Lagos. Thousands of students stormed the streets of Lagos condemning the renaming of their university to Moshood Abiola University.
Late MKO Abiola is the widely-acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections which was annulled by the military. The action of the Babangida-led military Junta in annulling the election provoked a huge and widespread mass struggle which lasted for years and only ended with the ouster of the military and enthronement of civil rule in 1999.
Over 10,000 students on the first day participated in the demo to display their anger. The demonstration lasted for several hours with students singing solidarity songs and chanting anti-government slogan. Placards with several inscriptions were carried. “No to MAU we want UNILAG”, “Jonathan! Fund education NOT name change” etc were some of the slogans contained in the placards.
PERCEPTIONS OF THE STRUGGLE
While the protest enjoyed wide support from members of the University community, there is mixed feeling among the general public. Given that MKO Abiola is generally viewed as a symbol of the struggle against military rule, many people believe no honor is too small. Another section of the public feels that something else other than a Federal University should have been renamed to honor MKO Abiola.
This is against the background that this is the first time that the federal government is tacitly recognizing Abiola and naming something after him. Indeed every June 12 since the inception of civil rule in 1999 has always been a platform for pro-democracy activists, particularly in the southwest to demand that the government give Abiola post-humous honor up to recognizing him as a one-time president of Nigeria for his role and death in the course of the struggle against military despotism.
At the same time, many dismiss the protest as unnecessary, sentimental and lacking a real basis. They feel the students were only protesting because of the sentiment and pride they hold towards the name UNILAG. Hence, some people feel that the students should have embarked on protest on the real issues in the education sector and their university like fees, bad hostel and learning conditions, the about 7 years proscription of the Students’ Union etc.
IT IS UNDEMOCRATIC
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) holds no sentiment towards the name UNILAG. As far as we are concerned, whatever name a University bears, what is important is the standard of its teaching facilities and the quality of education it can provide for students.
However, nothing can remove the fact that the renaming of UNILAG again brings to the fore the undemocratic nature by which Universities and indeed the entire education sector is run.
Government decide by fiat what allocation is given to the education sector and what each of universities, polytechnics and colleges get without involvement of staff and students in order to know their real needs. Meanwhile, students and staff are the real members of the university, polytechnic or college community and yet they are excluded from decisions that affect their lives, education and job.
It is this same undemocratic process that is behind the announcement on national television of the renaming of UNILAG without prior consultation with the students, staff and the entire university community. Even the principal officers of the university management including the acting Vice Chancellor and the Dean of Student Affairs claimed ignorance of the change!
This is undemocratic and has to be fought! It is possible that had prior consultations been made, students and staff of the university would have had the opportunity to raise their sentiments, fears and feelings without having to storm the street. It would have been possible to determine by democratic debate if the name change will go down well with students and staff. This is one of the reasons the ERC has always called for the democratization of the decision-making organs of Universities and other educational institutions to include elected representatives of students and staff. This is to ensure staff and students democratically determine how best the university should be run, including how best funds could be managed.
HOW TO TAKE THE STRUGGLE FORWARD
Since the re-opening of the university after a two-week closure, the protest has subsided. The emphasis has now been placed on going to court instead of building the protest movement. Some students and members of staff have reportedly filed a suit challenging the decision of the federal government in the court on the basis that the announcement was made without going through the constitutional procedures required to change the name of a university. To preempt the court decision, the Federal government also has quickly sent a bill to the National Assembly seeking the approval of the name change in line with the procedure set out by the constitution.
Therefore, it is important for student activists and staff to discuss seriously how the protest can be best strengthened with a view of not only winning reversal of the name-change but also fundamental improvements in the decaying teaching and hostel facilities on the campus. Despite the massiveness of the protest, it suffers from a major weakness â€“ that of the absence of an organized leadership. This of course is a result of the proscription of the students union. UNILAG students’ Union has been proscribed since 2005! Therefore one of the key demands which students have to echo is the demand for immediate restoration of the students union. The staff unions should support such demand for respect of democratic rights of students with the same vigor they have been opposing the undemocratic action of the Jonathan government on the name change.
Especially in the present situation, there is the urgent need for students to elect for themselves a committee of representatives that can act as the leadership of the struggle. This committee should be mandated to lead struggle of students for the restoration of the students union. It would be hypocritical of the management whose senate has come out against the undemocratic approach of Jonathan in the renaming of the institution to continue its attacks on the democratic rights of students to freedom of association especially in a university community. Beyond the struggle against name change, students must appreciate the imperative of having a students’ union as the platform for the agitation for improvement in the teaching conditions and general welfare of the campus.