MKO ABIOLA: AN HONOUR SO LONG IN COMING
BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, Deputy political editor
THIRTEEN days to the 19th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, dubbed the freest and fairest polls ever conducted in Nigeria, and 39 days to the 14th year of the death of the presumed winner of that election, Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, the Federal Government, Tuesday, honoured Abiola.
President Goodluck Jonathan, in his Democracy Day speech, renamed the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as Moshood Abiola University (MAU). Abiola was a renowned statesman, pillar of sports, philanthropist, business mogul and politician.
Coming after 19 years of unceasing call on the Federal Government to immortalise Abiola, the honour is, however, raising dusts in the polity with UNILAG students embarking on protests to effect a reversal and the institution's Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, vowing to go to court to stop the move. And given Abiola's national and international stature, some have described the honour as a dishonour.
Since the annulment of June 12, the country has had six heads of state: Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (the man who annulled the election); Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo (a civilian ruler for eight years and Abiola's kinsman); Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Apart from Babangida, the other rulers came to power from the ashes of June 12. And for 19 years, they ignored calls from the pro-democracy community and concerned stakeholders to immortalise Abiola nationally and make June 12 Democracy Day, which they see as the watershed for Nigerian newfound civil rule as opposed to May 29.
Avalanche of honour
By taking the controversial step of renaming UNILAG as Moshood Abiola University, Jonathan has separated himself from his five predecessors, who side stepped the issue. He has also joined the league of South-West state governments, which over the years, have heaped an avalanche of honour on Abiola.
Aside making June 12 a public holiday and holding June 12 commemoration events since 1999, monuments named after Abiola in the South-West include MKO Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta; MKO Abiola Gardens, Ikeja Lagos; and Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), Abeokuta, Ogun State, etc.
Sad with the manner the Federal Government was handling the issue of immortalising Abiola, one of his children, Jamiu, said last year that the best form of honour the government could give his father was ensuring good governance, banishing poverty (as Abiola promised to do if elected) and delivering the dividends of democracy. He hoped that in future a populist government that would immortalise Abiola would come to power.
For a man who devoted his life helping the needy, developing sports, empowering people through his chains of businesses, fighting for Africans through his reparation crusade, helping to shape the nation's politics from the Second Republic and dying for the cause of democracy, there is no doubt that Abiola deserved a national honour.
By insisting on the actualisation of his presumed mandate, Abiola was arrested in 1994 and detained by the Federal Military Government. He vehemently refused government's plea to forgo his 'mandate.' While in detention, his wife, Kudirat, who fought with him, was assassinated in 1996 by agents of the government. And Abiola also died in controversial circumstances on July 7, 1998 during the reign of Abubakar, who took over from Abacha, who had died a month earlier.
Thereafter, Abubakar fast-tracked the return to civil rule. A national understanding that the South-West, Abiola 's zone should be compensated paved the way for the three political parties that contested the 1999 presidential polls to field Yoruba candidates: Obasanjo (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) and Chief Olu Falae (Alliance for Democracy, AD/All Peoples Party, APP). Obasanjo went on to win the elections but could not name any national monument after Abiola, a failure that paved the way for yesterday's decision of President Jonathan.
However, the decision has elicited outrage from Alumni, lecturers and students of UNILAG and some observers. An Alumni said the move was a cheeky thing to do because 'it divides the academia and people. Why does the government like so much controversy? I would suggest anything in the Federal Capital be named after MKO - the International Conference Centre, National Hospital, National Stadium, even Aso Villa. But at this time, when our universities are struggling for international repute, the least you can do is leave their names as they are.'
Reacting to the issue, Olu Ojedokun, who faulted comparison of renaming UNILAG to that of University of Ife, which was named Obafemi Awolowo University, said UNIFE was renamed by a military regime via a Decree. Since we are in a democratic setting, he said, the President's renaming of a pre-eminent institution without consultation 'dishonours Abiola.'
Indeed, UNILAG ASUU Chairman, Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, said they would go to court to challenge the decision because ' UNILAG was establish by an act of Parliarment' and any change of name has to be approved by the Parliament, which he said was not done in this instance.