One is thoroughly fed up with the frivolities of the category of people who call themselves politicians in Nigeria. From 1930 to 1960, Nigeria had politicians like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Eyo Ita, Aminu Kano, and their many followers who had ideas and became prominent because of their ideas and patriotism and not because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths or because they occupied high administrative office. These were anti-colonial ideologues, inspired men and women, and they inspired millions of Nigerians.
I have said often that it was not British colonialists that created a nation called Nigeria; what the colonialists created was a colony, which they called Nigeria. It is the patriotic and ideological inhabitants of that colony that wanted to be free from colonialism and agitated for national sovereignty to become recognised as a self-governing or an independent state recognised as such by the world’s comity of self-governing or independent states.
The present generation of so-called politicians is simply a crop of opportunists reaping where they did not sow. Their own role is to scramble for the resources, revenue, administrative posts, and power positions in what they see simply as a country of tribes, territory or well-endowed garden to be grabbed and exploited.
I was with the patriots when I was very young and I knew them and their minds. Most of them fought for not simply self-rule but independence. These are too numerous to mention. Between 1952 and 1959, a generation of opportunists who were simply interested in what they could gain for self from politics declared themselves politicians and got involved in a kind of politics that no more required heavy sacrifices but promised power position and wealth. This crop of opportunists has in one way or other fastened itself on the working people of Nigeria as a malicious ruling class. Today the largest of this collectivity of opportunists is a group that falsely calls itself Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) but is not owned by the people, does not aim at a people’s democracy, and is not a political party in the authentic, that is, ideologically conscious, sense of that term ‘political party’. It is simply, as all honest observers and all the common people can see an organised gang of cake sharers or, as they are popularly called, money sharers. The crop of politicians that came between 1952 and 1959 when British colonialists began to promise self-rule did not understand independence, did not care for it, and have no idea of it. They simply flung independence into the Lagos lagoon and grabbed self-rule as a means of self-aggrandisement.
The above is the real character of the owners of what is called PDP. Some other so-called political parties may be birds of the same feather though they refuse to flock together. The above is the background to the speech of the formal president of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on May 29, the so-called Democracy Day. None of the crowd that prattle about democracy in Nigeria has ever bothered to ask what democracy means. The time when Nigerians could ask questions about the meanings of terms from Europe and America seems to be past. Today the crop of so-called politicians merely echoes their master’s voice like parrots and slaves. In his speech, Goodluck Jonathan made a commonplace review of Nigeria’s problems as usually catalogued by superficial observers. The Nigerian rulers are totally incapable of raising let alone tackling any fundamental question. Consequently, they address to one another and to their listeners only superficialities, platitudes, and pleasantries.
I read Jonathan’s speech as a set of platitudes that he imagines will persuade simplistic tribalists to agree that he should stay for another term as president. In this piece, my intention is not to waste my time or the reader’s time in going into all of this speech. All I want to do here is to ask a number of basic questions. First, what does ‘private sector’ mean? Secondly, does the Nigerian economy really have a private sector that is Nigerian? Thirdly, what is the character of the so-called private sector called Nigeria? Fourthly, what does ‘private sector driven’ mean? Fifthly, if the state is supposed to deal with the problems of power supply, all forms of transportation, industrialisation, banking and finance, agriculture, rural poverty, unemployment, inflation, education at all levels, health at all levels, and a lot more, what is the meaning of private sector driven if it is not merely an ideological dogma imported from certain imperialist countries as a euphemism for all manners of conversion of government revenue and national resources into private estates for a few multimillionaires, multibillionaires, and multitrillionaires? The masses are not deceived, hence the rising violence which the rulers themselves provoke everywhere. Sixthly, where is the self-rule in merely copying programmes dictated by foreigners?
The most outrageous part of President Jonathan’s long rambling about frivolities was his announcement that he himself alone irrespective of what all other Nigerians may think has decreed the change of the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University. What is democratic about such highhandedness? I learn that the students of the University of Lagos have gone on a rampage, as they should. I learn also that the alumni of the University of Lagos will not accept it. I learn further that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has denounced the announcement. Let me simply say that today the establishing and naming of universities has become the frivolous pastime of the frivolous class that rules Nigeria.
Let me simply say that the universities of the world have university tradition. One of their longest traditions is university autonomy. Universities of the world are not frivolous institutions, which politicians can play games with at any time they like. The retention of the name under which it has a charter to operate as a university is an important part of the existence of that university. This is why Oxford University is Oxford University and no British politician will be mad enough to attempt to change it. University autonomy means that a university is an institution that has a right to govern itself by its own laws, which are a part of the laws of a state and that no politician has a right to tamper with the laws of a university that has a charter to run.
I must also say that the world’s college of professors expects every university to grant only worthy and respectable degrees. Only the senate of a university can award anyone the degree of that university. A university is supposed to be proud of any degree it awards and the awardee is supposed to be proud of the degree given to him by his university. He or she is not expected to disgrace the degree in any way. It is for this reason that we have the term alumni, meaning all graduates who have a degree from a particular university.
For a politician to change the name of a university arbitrarily is like a politician coming to announce to the children of a man or woman the name that his father or mother must bear from that moment. One can see the strength of feeling behind the revolt of the alumni of the University of Lagos. As for ASUU, considered from the point of view of ASUU, the way in which some people regard universities in Nigeria is simply uninformed and ridiculous. One wonders what the changing of the name of the University of Lagos has to do with state policies. This particular frivolity shows that the PDP regime of Jonathan has nothing serious to think about. The sooner one forgets about people like him as president or leader, the better for Nigeria unless we can afford forever the theatricalities of a PDP presidency.
One point I must make. The change of the name of the University of Lagos was not an act of the Federal Government as some mistakenly allege. The Federal Government consists of the two arms of the National Assembly, the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the Special Independent Commissions defined by the constitution, the Federal Civil Service, the Federal Judiciary, and the Armed Forces. Jonathan’s act was simply a unilateral dictatorship. It is the very opposite of any concept of democracy. One can see that the country is governed by political illiteracy. In actual fact, since the so-called People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has no ideologically based programme, it is a chaotic cabal of individual opportunists. The consequence of this is witnessed everywhere. Every president, minister or governor is on his own and a president or governor refers to the government he heads as my government. The country is completely lost to the individual autocracy of cake-sharing gangsters. From where we are to a democracy is a very long way indeed. Fascism is already on the doorstep of Nigeria.
As for me, my sympathy is definite. It is for the students, the alumni, and ASUU. This actually is an issue in which all universities in Nigeria are concerned and all youths of university age in Nigeria and abroad and not simply the University of Lagos. The event shows how misguided are the ideas of today’s Nigerian rulers about a university. For those of us who know the history of universities in the world, it is a reminder of the origin of university autonomy, the building of walls around universities, and the naming of universities in terms of location since their ideas, teachers and students could come from anywhere in the world. The naming was not a matter for the petty ambitions of politicians. Cambridge University is Cambridge University. Those were acts intended to protect a harmless scholarly community of thinkers from generals, politicians, and other power-hungry ambitious people.
• Prof. Toyo is a retired professor of Economics.
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