Students of the University of Lagos on Thursday suspended the protest they embarked upon to protest the renaming of their university by President Goodluck Jonathan. President, on Tuesday, had renamed the institution after the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Abiola.
The students took the decision after deliberations on Thursday morning at a congress held in front of Jaja Hall of the institution.
Though they made it clear that the protest was suspended in honour of the late Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, Prof. Tokunbo Sofoluwe, they vowed to continue the protest on Friday (today).
Consequently, the main gate was thrown wide open to enable dignitaries who came for last burial rites of Sofoluwe to enter the institution without let or hindrance.
Also the Third Mainland Bridge, which the protesting students had blocked on Tuesday, was open to traffic.
They also ensured that the burial programmes including the lying-in-state organised for Sofoluwe at the Sports Centre and the burial service at The All Saints Church, Montgomery Road, Yaba went without any untoward incident.
Some of the students including Abdulsalam Idowu, a 200-level Law student, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said that the decision was taken to honour the late VC.
“The government will be making a mistake to think that the protest is over. No, the protest is just starting, we only suspend it today (Thursday) just to honour our loving VC, Prof. Sofoluwe, and all principal officers of the institution so that the burial plan will not be disturbed. Tomorrow we will resume the protest,” he said.
Corroborating Idowu, another student, Mr. Sam Olowo, said, “We are calm today because we respect our VC. We loved him. Today is for him. However, tomorrow, Jonathan will see the mother of all protests. Our protest is going to be heard in Abuja. We are ready to fight to regain the name of our university. We are going to the Murtala Muhammed Airport tomorrow.”
A female student, Miss Yetunde Thomas, said, “That we are not protesting today does not mean Jonathan has won. We love our VC. He was the VC of students, not only of the university. Tomorrow, the game is on. Jonathan should focus on more important things other than UNILAG.”
Instead of renaming UNILAG after Abiola, Thomas advised Jonathan to invest more in the nation’s universities.
“Our hostels are in a terrible state. He should rebuild them. He can also change the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic to a university, if he feels that a university should be named after Abiola,” she said.
But in reaction to criticism that the President did not consult stakeholders before he unilaterally changed the institution’s name, the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, on Thursday said this was not true.
Okojie while answering questions from State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the President did consult before he made public the name change.
He said, “Who told you there was no consultation? Can the President act alone? Even on the matter of nine new universities, from the scratch I know the committee that worked on it.
“Jonathan is the most engaging President, he is very accessible. I can tell you about that. That he didn’t consult will not be the truth.”
When asked whether the President consulted the acting VC of UNILAG and the institution’s Senate, Okojie replied, “Is that the level of consultation? Who is the proprietor of federal institutions? It is the Federal Government of course. It is at that that he will consult and they have been told.”
On whether he did not feel that such a decision should pass through the National Assembly, the NUC boss said, “The President has never said there is no due process. He has not said we should go and pull down the billboard of University of Lagos today and put Moshood Abiola. He is a man who believes in due process and he won’t do anything out of the ordinary.”
He, however, said he could not be specific on when the due process would be followed since he was not running the system.
He said no matter the consultation, there was nothing that could be done in the university system that students would not react to.
In spite of Okojie’s defence, the students, the UNILAG Alumni Association and the institution’s Parents Forum said that nobody was consulted in UNILAG before the action was taken. They stated that the action was undemocratic and self-serving.
The forum in a statement by its chairman, Mr. B.B. Majekodunmi, and the General Secretary, Mrs. Victoria Osinuga respectively, called on President Jonathan to rescind the decision. The forum added that otherwise would impact negatively on the global image of the institution and its students.
Though they believed that Abiola, being a hero of democracy, was worth immortalising, they argued that changing the name of UNILAG was uncalled for because “the name University of Lagos is not a social identity, but a brand identity.”
“The renaming does not seem to take into consideration the image problems, as well as social and psychological consequences for the university, its stakeholders and the serious financial implications, including the cost of changing name plates, tags and certificates. How does the Federal Government intend to make the renaming reflect in the funding and infrastructural development of the university?
“If this decision is not reversed, it will affect the image and global ranking of the university,” the parents stated.