THE RENAMING OF IMO STATE UNIVERSITY (1)
In 1976 the military government decided to immortalize Murtala Muhammed by renaming the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Umuahia as Ramat Hospital. One of the early acts of the Sam Mbakwe government in 1979 was reversing the name of that hospital to Queen Elizabeth.
Around the same time in 1979 or early in 1980, I recall an NTA Aba interview of Dr Akanu Ibiam, who at a time was the Chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers. In that interview, he stated that he had requested Governor Mbakwe to reverse a government pronouncement that was not proper and that if he did not, he would commence a hunger strike. Mbakwe granted that. Akanu Ibiam did not see his act as a favour to Queen Elizabeth nor antagonistic of Murtala Mohammed.
He stated in that interview that it was based on principle. Recall that the same Akanu Ibiam, during the Nigeria-Biafra war, had returned to the same English establishment the honour of knighthood conferred on him. Today, where are the Akanu Ibiams with moral authority and where is the Mbakwe with strength in humility to accept that a government can be wrong? The issue, this time, is the renaming of Imo State University as Evan Enwerem University.
My interest is to address what many persons in Imo State know as a wrong policy and are saying so privately. That is that the renaming of Imo State University to Evan Enwerem University is a very anti-Imo people policy. Before going into details, for those who will want to crucify me for writing this truth, I ask of you just one thing before you crucify me. If you have a child in the University or in the senior secondary, please do just one exercise and that is ask him or her, or ask what their friends are saying.
Ask them if they will wish to have a certificate reading Evan Enwerem University (EEU) or if their friends will want such a certificate. If the answer is yes and you are sincere about that, then stick with EEU. But I know that an overwhelming majority of Imo children in universities and those aspiring to get into universities find that name unacceptable and that is putting it mildly. Their reasons are not merely pedestrian such as that the acronym EEU is phonetically similar to Ewu (Goat). There are serious reasons why a considerate government should revert to the Imo State University (IMSU).
Sometime in February this year at one of the chaplaincies in the university, the students were invited to give their offerings. All attempts to make them stand up as the MC announced it was the turn of EEU students was stoutly resisted. The MC realised that if he was to get the students up and do what they had always done, he had to accept the reality. Once he announced Imo State University students, the students broke out in jubilation. That is for the students.
What about the staff. Imagine that the Governor of Imo State visits the university and chooses to address the university community as several past Governors did in the past. Imagine his opening comment says, I have heard what your feelings are about the new name, and the first thing I say is that we revert to Imo State University. Imagine the ovation that will follow such an announcement. That reminds me something I read in National Life of Sunday March 21, Page 9. 'Why Jonathan must make a difference' by Lanre Aminu. He says: 'The strength of great Nigerian leaders like Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe was in their ability to do what their people wanted.
Their ability to provide what their people desire. Their ability to see their people from their perspectives….They have genuine love for their people. This is the reason why they had such a large army of truly committed followers. Robert Greenleaf the modern propagator of servant leadership concept in governorship sums it thus: the test of good leadership is that it has good followership.'
In this citation above, note the words strength and leader (not ruler). I suspect that some people will tell the governor not to reverse this as it will be a mark of weakness, not strength. But that is false. It is strength to accept your mistake.
The counsellor of Ahitophel and the young men advisers of Rehoboam must have reasoned that accepting reasonable opinions smacks of weakness. The strength that is anti-people demonstrated by Rehobom led to the split of Israel. Wise leaders like Solomon aligned their positions with the love of their people. But I can bet that none of those who will be advising the governor not to listen to the wishes of the people of Imo state, men and women in the corridors of power who never are able to tell the governor the truth, have their children in Imo State University.
It will be interesting to find how many of current political officers whose children are not in private universities in southwest Nigeria when they are not outside the country. Unwise counsel and isolation from reality and truth, create ignorant rulers. Most of them are often rattled by the antagonism and despise from many of their cheer parties when they leave office. No matter how a former governor pretends, he must be miserable when out of office and men and women who hailed him as 'Your Excellency Sir' take spaces in newspapers to call him names.
However, one person who cannot be reasonably argued to be against the governor has made a contribution that should call the attention of the governor to the feelings of Imo people. That person is Fidelis Chukwu who has his interview published in The Nation of Sunday, December 13, 2009 pages 48 and 49. Note that his wife has been Commissioner for Education and Works in the Ohakim government. He said, 'Public reaction to the attempt to name Imo State University after Evan Enwerem should be a lesson to him. At the Concord Hotel, Chief Udenwa's attempt to change Sam Mbakwe Hall incurred public rage and odium. Perception is everything'.
I had in a previous article written that those are very fine words. If we are sincere, we will admit that with the very bad image of IMSU, why add the burden of Evan(s) considering the controversies surrounding the name and person. Is it a sign that we have lost our sense of honour and what is deserving? A university degree is earned for learning and character. What will be the motto of an Evan(s) Enwerem University? What models do we lift up for our children? Why seek to cast further aspersions on the integrity of IMSU? Why destroy the credibility of the degrees of our children? The IMSU alumni have persistently cried out against this. Who listens? Who cares?
It has taken me weeks to sit and write this article because after a series of articles on Imo State University, many persons have asked me not to write for fear of my safety. Someone only recently told me that the hottest part of hell will be reserved for those who knew and refused to speak. On the Evan Enwerem University matter, many tell me that the next government will certainly reverse the name back to Imo State University, so we should not bother. But I see it differently, because no one knows it all. One reason Mbakwe did well was the existence of a vibrant House of Assembly and a strong opposition.
Today, that is not the case. Once again, nobody knows it all and it is a duty we owe God and humanity to save the perishing. I do not quite agree that the situation has reached the stage in 1996 when ASUU called-off her national strike because of the conviction that Abacha did not posses the mental capacity to appreciate the issues at the time, and that strike will continue when he leaves. Certainly, the present government in Imo state will leave one day, but while the government is still there, we have a duty to tell truth to power.
Those who hold the view that we should not bother, that this government does not have the capacity to understand, cite the last ASUU national strike and the fact that the Imo State Government was the only one in the country that demonstrated ignorance of what was happening and even went as far as saying she was sacking all lecturers, and then advertised for academic staff in newspapers. The situation got so bad that every Wednesday during the strikes academics from not just Imo State University assembled in the Imo State University campus to pray against the situation.
Those who will rather we keep quite and wait as was the case in the Abacha era, may not be right. I am optimistic and I know some persons in today's government who if asked privately their sincere opinion will advice against some of these things. I am therefore encouraged and hopeful that my contribution may have some merit with some persons in Government and they will accept this truth that the change of name is a net deficit against Imo state.
One other thing that encourages me to write is watching the Imo state governor on NTA network news on Wednesday, March 5. Seated at the lounge of the catholic Pastoral Institute Bodija Ibadan, I saw and heard the Governor say something like, anyone with a proposal on how to do something good in Imo state should bring it up. And I thought perhaps I can test how sincere that request is by suggesting something that will cost the government nothing, though the poor university would have incurred expenses changing names on vehicles, boards, papers etc.
Two days after this request I am off to Germany to attend a meeting at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Bonn, where they are starting two new programmes to help African universities and have asked two of us, professor Chris Shisanya from Kenya and my self to review what they plan. The DAAD is perhaps the most important consistent provider of scholarships to people from the less developed countries but is very competitive.
At some point in that meeting, I could not help but wonder how our people are faring in the global arena of competitive education. A typical officer accessing application from all over the world has some preliminary and basic things he will do. The first will be search the name of the university on Google or any search engine.
Nwajiuba teaches at the Imoe State University, Owerri