Was the renaming of University of Lagos (UNILAG) Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAULAG) by President Goodluck Jonathan legal? No, say some lawyers, who are urging him to seek an amendment of the UNILAG Act before the name change. Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), Prof Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), Prof Gabriel Olawoyin (SAN), Lagos Attorney-General Ade Ipaye, Femi Falana, among others, spoke with ADEBISI ONANUGA, JOSEPH JIBUEZE and PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU .
The renaming of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAULAG) should ordinarily be hailed by all.
Instead, the name changed as contained in President Goodluck Jonathan’s Democracy Day’s broadcast has generated widespread reactions.
While some have lauded the decision to honour Abiola, describing it as long overdue, others including alumni, staff and students of the university and some public analysts have condemned the decision.
Those opposed to the decision are worried that such a change will bring harm to the original name of the university, which many describe as a brand in itself.They also condemned the timing of the decision which they described as belated.
The announcement led to spontaneous protests by students, who also blocked the Third Mainland Bridge for over two hours last Wednesday. They later clashed with the police. The resultant consequence was the closure of the institution for two weeks by the Federal Government.
Lawyers are unanimous in their view that the name of UNILAG cannot be changed until there is an amendment to the Act establishing the institution.
Those who spoke include former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, UNILAG, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), Prof Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), Prof Gabriel Olawoyin (SAN) and Mr Dele Belgore (SAN).
Others are Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Mr Ade Ipaye, Mr Fred Agbaje, Mr Femi Falana, Mr Bamidele Aturu and Mr Abdul Oroh
What the law says
UNILAG is a creation of statute. The university was founded in 1962 by an Act of Parliament. The extant law is the University of Lagos Act Cap U9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The Act provides for the establishment, incorporation and administration of the University among others.
Section 1 provides: There is hereby established a University to be known as the University of Lagos (in this Act referred to as “the University”) to provide courses of instruction and learning in the faculties of arts, law, medicine, science, education, commerce and business administration, engineering, and any other faculties which may, from time to time, be approved under this Act.
The University shall be a body corporate and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal.
According to Babalola, the name “University of Lagos” is derived from an Act of the National Assembly. Therefore, any other name other than “University of Lagos” would run contrary to the provisions of the Act.
“With the above in mind, it is not difficult to see that the name announced by the President Jonathan is unknown to the University of Lagos Act,” he said.
He said being an Act of the National Assembly, the provisions of the University of Lagos Act can only be amended by another Act of the National Assembly.
“Prior to the decision of the Federal Government to change the name of the University, no amendment was made to the provisions of the University of Lagos Act.
“The decision of Mr President ostensibly acting in concert with the Federal Executive Council amounts to an usurpation of the powers of the National Assembly.
“Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended confers Legislative Powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the National Assembly which consist of the Senate and the House of Representative.”
Do President Jonathan’s powers as visitor include ability to change a university’s name without amendment of its establishment law? Babalola
Section 16 of the University of Lagos Act provides as follows: The President shall be the Visitor of the University
The Visitor shall as often as circumstances may require, not being less than once every five years, conduct a visitation or direct that such a visitation be conducted by such persons and in respect of the affairs of the University as the Visitor may direct.
It shall be the duty of the bodies and persons comprised in the University –
to make available to the visitor, and to any other persons conducting a visitation in pursuance of this section, such facilities and assistance as he or they reasonably require for the purposes of a visitation; and to give effect to any instructions consistent with the provisions of this Act which may be given by the Visitor in consequence of a visitation.
Babalola said: “I am of the considered view that the powers vested in the President by virtue of the above stated provisions of the Law do not empower him to unilaterally direct or effect a change in the name of the University.
“The powers of the visitor are as expressly contained in the University of Lagos Act. It is settled that where power is vested in any individual or body such body or individual cannot exceed the powers which had been so vested. To do so would be to act ultra vires.
“A careful perusal of the provisions of Section 16 of the Act will reveal that the exercise of the powers vested in the visitor of the University must be consistent with the provisions of the Act.
“This is the direct purport of Section 16(3)(b) which requires bodies and persons comprised in the university to give effect to the instructions of the visitor which are consistent with the provisions of the Act.
“Clearly, a unilateral change in the name of the university from that stated in Section 1 of the Act cannot under any guise be regarded as consistent with the provisions of the Act.
“In any event, it is settled that there is a world of difference between the office of the President and that of the Visitor of the University even though both are occupied by one individual.
“This is in itself instructive for two reasons:cIn making the announcement, President Jonathan was not acting as the Visitor of the University. He was acting as the President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As stated earlier, this position cannot and indeed does not enable him to usurp the powers of the National Assembly.
“Even if it were to be assumed that in making the announcement, President Jonathan was acting as the Visitor of the University (which obviously is not the case), it cannot be denied that he exceeded the powers vested in him in Section 16 of the University of Lagos Act.”
The eminent jurist said whatever reasoning may have informed the decision of the Federal Government to announce the name change; it would have been better effected if proper attention had been given to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the University of Lagos Act.
“It is instructive to note that many notable Nigerians who championed the call for the immortalisation of the contribution of the late Bashorun MKO Abiola to the current democratic dispensation are appalled at the manner with which the government has gone about its decision.
“It is my view that things could have been better handled. While it is proper to give honour where it is due, such must be done in accordance with the Law. Afterall, respect for the law is an integral part of democracy itself.
“It is my hope that the authorities concerned will review their position and take appropriate step to do things in a lawful manner. That to my mind would be the greatest honour to the late Bashorun MKO Abiola.”
Varsity teachers’ stand
Professor of Law Osipitan (SAN) said the President’s announcement still remains an intention. It will take effect when it is backed by law.
“I must commend the President for remembering to honour Abiola, but the President should know that the only way the University of Lagos can be renamed is through the National Assembly (NASS).
“This is because it is an institution that is established by law and the NASS will have to amend the law establishing the university.
“If the president really wants to honour Abiola, he should have thought of naming one of the new federal universities after him because UNILAG is a very cosmopolitan institution with local and international image,” he said.
Another professor of law, Prof Olawoyin (SAN), agreed with Osipitan. He accused Jonathan of acting as if he were in a military dispensation.
“This is not a military rule. What the President attempted to do was what a military man would easily have done but in a truly civilian administration, you don’t do that kind of thing,” he said.
According to the law professor, UNILAG is an institution created by law and any change in the law has to go through the National Assembly before any pronouncement is made.
“The President may have done the right thing, but in a wrong way,” Olawoyin concluded.
Other lawyers’ position
Former Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governorship candidate Belgore said President Jonathan got it absolutely wrong, adding that it is a desecration of a national institution.
“There are procedures to follow, you do not just get up and announce the renaming of an institution created by law. Since the law says that institution shall be called the University of Lagos, the law establishing the institution has to be changed before such an announcement.
“If there was broad enough consultation, I believe he will probably not have fallen into this kind of error.
“A protest that cause inconvenience to the public should be generally condemned, but looking at it from the protesters point of view, they have got to be heard. If they do not create inconvenience for the public, nobody is going to hear them.
“The question is: Is it really what we need at this time? UNILAG will be 50 in a short while. Let’s even assume it is the right time to change the name, is it the way to go about it?
“So, the action itself is provocative and one that has given rise to the protest,” Belgore said.
Lagos Attorney-General Ipaye said he viewed President Jonathan’s announcement as a “proposal”.
“I take it as a proposal by the President, a form of bill. It will have to go through the lawmaking process, including public hearing.
“Everybody will have ample opportunity to contribute. You can’t change the name of a university, which is created by law, unless you change that law.
“If you don’t pass a law to amend the Act, then there is no name change.”
Lagos lawyer and human rights activist Falana said rather than the University of Lagos, the Federal Government should rename the National Stadium, Abuja or the Eagle Square after Abiola.
“Since the name of Ogun State Polytechnic had been changed to Moshood Abiola Polytechnic by the Ogun State government, there is no justification for naming another institution after the leading hero of liberal democracy in the country.”
He said, however, that the best way to honour Chief Abiola “is to release the result of the 1993 presidential election and declare him the winner instead of continuing to refer to him as ‘the presumed winner’ of the fair and free election.
“Thereafter, the Federal Government should proceed to implement the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led electoral reform panel in toto,” he said.
Falana noted that the University of Lagos Act has not been amended by the National Assembly; therefore, the name has not been changed.
“After all, the presidential announcement is at best a declaration of intent as the name of the university has not been changed in accordance with the law,” he said.
Falanaurgedthe students and other stakeholders to engage members of the National Assembly in a lobby and persuade them not to approve the amendment of the law setting up the institution to effect the name change.
For Agbaje, it is yet another shocker from the president as a Democracy Day present to rename UNILAG without sending a bill to the National Assembly for the amendment of the establishment law of the institution.
“Did the President not see the National Stadium or any other monument to honour Chief Abiola with?
“Look at the protests his pronouncement has generated?Abiola deserves to be honoured and it should be done in the proper way,” he said.
Aturu said UNILAG was christened as such by law and can only be rechristened by law, even as he maintained that a government that is unwilling to respect the decision of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to re-instate President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami may have shot itself in the foot.
On account of this alone, UNILAG students will be justified to resist the name change coming from a government that is perceived as lawless, the lawyer said.
He said: “Democracy is all about consultation and consensus. The government has clearly and manifestly failed to carry the people along. The lesson for it is that no matter how lofty its aims may be it must win the support of the people on critical issues.
“I sincerely hope that it will take this lesson to heart in its proposal to jerk up electricity bills and fully deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry, whatever that really means.”
The former CLO boss Oroh noted that Abiola contributed financially to support many Nigerian universities in their trying times, adding that he died in the struggle for democracy.
“MKO was denied an election that was acclaimed the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria. In his struggle for democracy, he was imprisoned after which he died the eve of reclaiming his mandate.
“So, there is nothing wrong with the president honouring him by renaming UNILAG after him. Even abroad, Havard was formerly called New College but later renamed after John Harvard.”