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Jonathan hangs himself on MKO's memory

Source: huhuonline.com
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A highlight of President Goodluck Jonathan's Democracy day message was the renaming of the University of Lagos after Chief Mashood Kashimawo Abiola, the 1993 winner of the landmark presidential polls that was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida's administration for


A highlight of President Goodluck Jonathan's Democracy day message was the renaming of the University of Lagos after Chief Mashood Kashimawo Abiola, the 1993 winner of the landmark presidential polls that was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida's administration for reasons yet to be sufficiently explained, though the retired general may think otherwise. The 1993 presidential polls remain still the most free and unblemished in the annals of Nigeria's electoral politics, it marked one of the rarest moments Nigerians demonstrated with an overwhelming unanimity to cast their lots through their votes for one man, a man who everyone thought came close to the ideal.

Abiola, of course was not your everyday politician. A wealthy businessman and quintessential entrepreneur, who made tonnes of money from government contracts and many other sources, endeared himself to Nigerians by putting his vast wealth at their behest through unstinting philanthropic gestures. He built mosques and churches across the nation, practically anywhere he was called upon to do so and also endowed professorial seats in universities for the search of knowledge, as well as placing the children of the high and low on scholarship in colleges and universities at home and abroad. He gave liberally to whosoever knocks at his door seeking succor.

By the time he made his ill-fated foray into politics he was already a house hold name, and his larger than life personality had become synonymous with industry, large-heartedness and public spiritedness. These values stood him in good stead at the 1993 presidential election as Nigerians whole-heartedly gave their votes to him en mass.   But for some inscrutable reasons their votes were quashed by a government whose members up to today have not owned up to the fact that what they did was outrageous and indefensible. They thwarted Nigeria's yearning for clean elections-a feat that somehow has eluded us up to now. The only time it was pulled off those who should have beaten their chests for bringing it about caused it to become still -born. Eventually the man who had been given the people's historic mandate died in the custody of the government.

Since then the nation has agonized on a fitting way to honour him. The Yoruba-the cultural group from which Mashood Abiola hailed had expected former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose ascendancy to the presidency owed largely to the political crisis that ensued in the aftermath of the annulment, to recognize MKO's real place in the quest for a sustainable democracy. During the travail of MKO in incarceration and the huge anti-government anger and indignation that rose among his supporters, Obasanjo had been quote to say Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria needed. The statement did not go well with many of them who saw it as totally unhelpful to the plight of the man being held for insisting that he be given his mandate. The statement went against a well known Yoruba aphorism which translates roughly into ''if a deity cannot help one who is down on his luck, then it should leave him as he is and not worsen his situation''. It was hardly surprising that the gesture of naming a street after MKO in Abuja by the Obasanjo administration was seen as not good enough but also downright demeaning to the stature of MKO.

It is plausible therefore to infer that President Goodluck Jonathan aimed to endear himself to the prevailing MKO sensibility and perhaps win some political capital from the South West, which may have informed the naming of University of Lagos after MKO. The fact remains that MKO deserves to be fittingly honoured as a national icon and Jonathan is on firm ground in his bid to do so. But should a half century old university lose its name, its identity and even good will garnered over all the years of existence by assuming another name, even if that name belongs to Abiola? First, the point has to be made that despite MKO's mammoth electoral success in 1993 across Nigeria, events following the annulment polarized opinions across Nigeria. The fruitless struggle to actualize the mandate became essentially a South West preoccupation, with many sections of the country arguing that that part of the country hijacked what should have been essentially a national crusade. This point may be self serving but it gained a wide acceptability then. In the same vein it could be said that Jonathan has fallen into the same trap by giving MKO's name to an institution in the South West. Judging by the fact that MKO came close to being a national folk hero wouldn't it be more appropriate for a fitting monument to be established for him from scratch in Abuja or somewhere else outside the South West?

The University of Lagos has been plunged into a predicament. It is currently mourning the passing of its vice chancellor who is yet to be interred and now its bereaved authorities must contend with the fallout of ill-thought out decision to invest the university with another name. Certainly those of them who have spent all their lives teaching and researching in the institution must be ruminating what uncommon malady gave rise to this outcome, contemplating in the process what UNILAG in all its fifty years has come to connote not only in the academic and intellectual sense but also in its intrinsic cultural essence which a new name may distort or even obliterate.

The authorities had to quickly close down the institution as a result of students' restiveness which spontaneously arose because of the change of name. In a country where incessant closures have wrought havoc to the quality of graduates coming out of the universities, one official misguided measure has precipitated another closure. It indicates the inability of government to think through its policies thoroughly before making them public. UNILAG was a creation of parliament duly recorded in the gazette, it would have been more appropriate to change the name through the same process which would have exposed the pitfalls inherent in the decision. It demonstrates a penchant for deploying executive action without recourse to procedure. Had that been done the repercussion manifesting now would have been avoided.

The point has been made that government is currently establishing several federal universities across the nation, giving one MKO's name and subsequently making the authorities of the university work to meet the qualities and values embodied by MKO would have been a more fitting way to honour the man. Government has dismissed calls to rescind its decision and said it will not go back on it. Such an attitude can be characterized as being pigheaded and stubborn in the face of a patently wrong action and it will not reflect well on its image. There is a lot of wisdom in accepting one has erred badly and graciously yielding and making amends. Rigid and recalcitrant stand in the face of glaring error is an exhibition of a bad case of unnecessary hubris that further makes the weak and poor manner salient decisions are taken unacceptable.

reasons yet to be sufficiently explained, though the retired general may think otherwise. The 1993 presidential polls remain still the most free and unblemished in the annals of Nigeria's electoral politics, it marked one of the rarest moments Nigerians demonstrated with an overwhelming unanimity to cast their lots through their votes for one man, a man who everyone thought came close to the ideal.

 
Abiola, of course was not your everyday politician. A wealthy businessman and quintessential entrepreneur, who made tonnes of money from government contracts and many other sources, endeared himself to Nigerians by putting his vast wealth at their behest through unstinting philanthropic gestures. He built mosques and churches across the nation, practically anywhere he was called upon to do so and also endowed professorial seats in universities for the search of knowledge, as well as placing the children of the high and low on scholarship in colleges and universities at home and abroad. He gave liberally to whosoever knocks at his door seeking succor.

 
By the time he made his ill-fated foray into politics he was already a house hold name, and his larger than life personality had become synonymous with industry, large-heartedness and public spiritedness. These values stood him in good stead at the 1993 presidential election as Nigerians whole-heartedly gave their votes to him en mass.   But for some inscrutable reasons their votes were quashed by a government whose members up to today have not owned up to the fact that what they did was outrageous and indefensible. They thwarted Nigeria's yearning for clean elections-a feat that somehow has eluded us up to now. The only time it was pulled off those who should have beaten their chests for bringing it about caused it to become still -born. Eventually the man who had been given the people's historic mandate died in the custody of the government.

 
Since then the nation has agonized on a fitting way to honour him. The Yoruba-the cultural group from which Mashood Abiola hailed had expected former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose ascendancy to the presidency owed largely to the political crisis that ensued in the aftermath of the annulment, to recognize MKO's real place in the quest for a sustainable democracy. During the travail of MKO in incarceration and the huge anti-government anger and indignation that rose among his supporters, Obasanjo had been quote to say Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria needed. The statement did not go well with many of them who saw it as totally unhelpful to the plight of the man being held for insisting that he be given his mandate. The statement went against a well known Yoruba aphorism which translates roughly into ''if a deity cannot help one who is down on his luck, then it should leave him as he is and not worsen his situation''. It was hardly surprising that the gesture of naming a street after MKO in Abuja by the Obasanjo administration was seen as not good enough but also downright demeaning to the stature of MKO.

 
It is plausible therefore to infer that President Goodluck Jonathan aimed to endear himself to the prevailing MKO sensibility and perhaps win some political capital from the South West, which may have informed the naming of University of Lagos after MKO. The fact remains that MKO deserves to be fittingly honoured as a national icon and Jonathan is on firm ground in his bid to do so. But should a half century old university lose its name, its identity and even good will garnered over all the years of existence by assuming another name, even if that name belongs to Abiola? First, the point has to be made that despite MKO's mammoth electoral success in 1993 across Nigeria, events following the annulment polarized opinions across Nigeria. The fruitless struggle to actualize the mandate became essentially a South West preoccupation, with many sections of the country arguing that that part of the country hijacked what should have been essentially a national crusade. This point may be self serving but it gained a wide acceptability then. In the same vein it could be said that Jonathan has fallen into the same trap by giving MKO's name to an institution in the South West. Judging by the fact that MKO came close to being a national folk hero wouldn't it be more appropriate for a fitting monument to be established for him from scratch in Abuja or somewhere else outside the South West?

 
The University of Lagos has been plunged into a predicament. It is currently mourning the passing of its vice chancellor who is yet to be interred and now its bereaved authorities must contend with the fallout of ill-thought out decision to invest the university with another name. Certainly those of them who have spent all their lives teaching and researching in the institution must be ruminating what uncommon malady gave rise to this outcome, contemplating in the process what UNILAG in all its fifty years has come to connote not only in the academic and intellectual sense but also in its intrinsic cultural essence which a new name may distort or even obliterate.

 
The authorities had to quickly close down the institution as a result of students' restiveness which spontaneously arose because of the change of name. In a country where incessant closures have wrought havoc to the quality of graduates coming out of the universities, one official misguided measure has precipitated another closure. It indicates the inability of government to think through its policies thoroughly before making them public. UNILAG was a creation of parliament duly recorded in the gazette, it would have been more appropriate to change the name through the same process which would have exposed the pitfalls inherent in the decision. It demonstrates a penchant for deploying executive action without recourse to procedure. Had that been done the repercussion manifesting now would have been avoided.

The point has been made that government is currently establishing several federal universities across the nation, giving one MKO's name and subsequently making the authorities of the university work to meet the qualities and values embodied by MKO would have been a more fitting way to honour the man. Government has dismissed calls to rescind its decision and said it will not go back on it. Such an attitude can be characterized as being pigheaded and stubborn in the face of a patently wrong action and it will not reflect well on its image. There is a lot of wisdom in accepting one has erred badly and graciously yielding and making amends. Rigid and recalcitrant stand in the face of glaring error is an exhibition of a bad case of unnecessary hubris that further makes the weak and poor manner salient decisions are taken unacceptable.

By Murtala Opoola