By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
With its popularity on a nosedive, it looked like a masterstroke for the Goodluck Jonathan administration to anchor its revival on the name of Moshood Abiola.
That was the name which eighteen years ago defied ethnic and religious biases in what has remained the freest and fairest presidential election that was ironically annulled by the ruling military junta.
Faced with popular revolt over its seemingly rudderless response to the insecurity situation in the country, a listless war against corruption and the bad blood flowing from last January’s removal of the alleged subsidy in petrol prices, it could have been a politically sagacious gambit.
That perhaps may have dictated the decision of the administration to rename the University of Lagos after the martyr of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
However, as with many policies of the administration, its good intentions have been so badly conveyed and have now turned into a disastrous public relations nightmare for the government.
As President Goodluck Jonathan tailed off his May 29 Democracy Day speech two weeks ago many Nigerians were yet looking for something to go away with that Tuesday. As he rounded up his 5,636 worded speech the president crossed the line that even his more adventurous predecessors had so much ignored.
President Olusegun Obasanjo who was the immediate beneficiary of Abiola’s martyrdom perhaps for childhood rivalry reasons or some other unfathomable considerations, did not contemplate any honour for Obasanjo. Indeed for his eight years in office, the name Abiola was not mentioned in public by Obasanjo.
President Umaru Yar‘Adua who succeeded him in 2007 may have been more forthcoming but illness did not allow him to fully manifest.
So it may have seemed logical for the Jonathan presidency to pick on where angels dared to dread for a bounce in public goodwill with its decision to honour Abiola.
President Jonathan’s path to rediscover the goodwill that shadowed his emergence is now bogged with the decision to rename UNILAG after the deceased politician and international businessman who died in incarceration in 1998 following his insistence on assuming the mandate he won in the 1993 election.
The reaction to the decision has been largely flayed for its lack of consultation. It also betrayed ignorance of the law establishing the university. Though a bill has now been submitted to the National Assembly for that purpose, the question in some lips is what if the National Assembly rejects the presidential bill.
While stakeholders of UNILAG muse that the decision would diminish or distract from the university brand, others grumble about a coyness on the part of the administration in relocating Abiola’s national brand to a Southwest brand by naming a Southwest institution after him.
Suggestions by some democracy stakeholders including Prof. Omo Omoruyi, who was director general of the Ibrahim Babangida era democracy training institution, Centre for Democratic Studies, CDS have tilted towards honouring Abiola with a national public holiday.
That suggestion is in the mould of the celebration of the Martin Luther federal holiday in the United States which started as a public holiday in some states in the US.
Remarkably, all the states in Abiola’s base in the Southwest have declared today, June 12 as a public holiday. Suggestive of the mark of distinction Abiola deserves for his sacrifice, President Jonathan in his May 29 address had said: “He deserves recognition for his martyrdom, and public-spiritedness and for being the man of history that he was.”
But eighteen years after the landmark untainted election that united Nigerians across religious and ethnic strands, the issue of placing Abiola among the heroes of the fatherland remains an issue. Jonathan almost got it.