The Senate of the University of Lagos on Wednesday shut down the 50-year-old institution for two weeks and asked the students to vacate the campus latest 11 o’clock in the morning.
The closure came on the second day of protest by the students who are against the renaming of the university after the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, MKO Abiola, by President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday.
Notwithstanding the closure the students on Wednesday vowed not to leave the campus.
The Federal Government has, however, said the decision to rename the university established by an Act of parliament in April 1962 was done in the best interest of the country and that the protest was not a disapproval of the decision to rename UNILAG.
Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, told State House correspondents on Wednesday, “The decision has been made in very good faith by Mr. President and we have seen the reactions by a section of the students of University of Lagos. We have also seen the outpouring of encomiums by patriots and statesmen who really understand the reasons why the President honoured Abiola.
“It is our hope that reason will prevail and that the decision to honour one of our nation’s icons and heroes will be appreciated by all Nigerians, including our youths and students who are the future leaders of this country.”
But the Senate has faulted the decision of Jonathan, submitting that only an amendment to the Act establishing the University of Lagos can alter its name.
Leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, said the National Assembly has yet to receive any bill to that effect.
Ndoma-Egba said the University of Lagos was created by law and only an amendment to the law creating it by the National Assembly could change its name.
“To the best of my knowledge there is no such bill before the National Assembly,” he said.
The protesting students on Wednesday shut down activities at the Yaba and Victoria Island areas of Lagos, blocking the Third Mainland Bridge with a BRT bus they forcibly took over from its driver.
For over three hours, Lagosians who work on the Island were trapped in the traffic gridlock while the main gate of the institution was blocked by the protesting students.
Dignitaries who visited the university to witness the special Senate Session organised by the university for its late vice-Chancellor, Prof. Tokunbo Sofoluwe, were forced to enter the institution through the second gate near the Mountain of Fire Church at Onike-Yaba.
As the protest was going on, the university Senate hurriedly met around 9am where the decision to close down the institution was reached.
After the brief meeting chaired by the acting VC, Prof. Rahman Bello, the university asked the students to vacate their halls of residence before 11am as all academic activities had been suspended for two weeks.
Bello after the meeting told the press that the decision to suspend academic activities for two weeks was to give peace a chance and to prevent the crisis from degenerating.
He said, “In view of the recent developments on our campuses, the Senate of the University has directed all academic activities be suspended forthwith for two weeks.
“Accordingly, all students are to vacate the halls of residence, latest by 11:00am today (Wednesday).”
But the students said they would not stop the protest until Jonathan reverse the decision.
Though they were dispersed from the Third Mainland Bridge, the students regrouped at Herbert Macaulay Way, where they continued with the protest around 11.30am.
They were chanting anti-Jonathan songs while some bore placards with the inscription “Jonathan is a liar, he must go,” “It’s only Jonathan that will attend MAUL varsity’ and “We hate Jonathan.”
They said that their next stage of the protest would be the Ikeja Airport, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
One of them, Martin Awolo, said, “We are going to the airport tomorrow, then NNPC and CBN. We are going to protest at these places. Our plan is to visit all the top organisations in the state. There is no giving up until Jonathan reverses this provocative decision.”
Another student, Mr. Saheed Adebayo, said, “We are going on strike for a month. We don’t care about our studies. Jonathan must not go free. He can’t change the name of our university. The name UNILAG carries weight. We have no business with Abiola.”
A student who identified himself simply as Wale said that students at all the campuses of the university across the state would be mobilised to join them in a sympathy protest.
“We are marching to Idi-Araba, LUTH; we heard that students there are having lectures. No student is to have lecture. We must all join the strike,” he said.
However, some students used the opportunity to destroy and loot items at a filling station inside the UNILAG AP and Total filling station on Herbert Macaulay Way.
A salesman at the TOTAL filling station, who identified himself as Soji, said that the students took gallons of engine oil worth over N10, 000 and also fuelled their cars and bikes with petrol without paying a dime.
He said, “The students came in groups and grabbed me. They were shouting, telling me to fuel their cars and bikes. When I refused, they said they were going to beat me up.”
The students were also seen harassing a female sales girl when she refused to heed their demands. Aside from looting gallons of engine oil and fuelling their cars, the students took soft drinks and snacks from the stations without any payment.
The President also came under heavy criticisms during the special senate session as most of the speakers described him as an “insensitive” leader.
The President, Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, and the Vice-Chancellor, Ekiti State University, Prof. P.O. Aina, as well as the Provost, College of Medicine, UNILAG, Prof. Oluwole Atoyebi, said the decision to rename UNILAG was not well-thought out.
“This is the most inappropriate time to make such a decision. It shows that the president is insensitive; this is a period of mourning. That decision to rename the university should not have been disclosed at this time. Education is not in the forefront. I’m sure President Jonathan did not make any consultation before going ahead with the decision to rename the university,” Ibidapo-Obe said.
Atoyebi said that the name change was a rumour.“As far as I know, the President’s decision to rename the university is a rumour. I believe it’s just a thought on his mind. It’s a rumour or a proposition on his mind, because this university was set up by an Act of Parliament. So maybe he is proposing to send a bill or something. Until then, this university remains UNILAG,” he said.
What do you think? Is the Federal Government right in changing a 50 year old institution JUST LIKE THAT? I know many will argue the point that they are immortalizing a great leader, but Nigeria is a democratic Government, the students should have a SAY in what affects their country and in this situation their school