In September 2012, a freelance commentator, Marcus Hobley, in an article in The Guardian of London, while trying to sift through the sometimes troubled relationship between public opinion and its various effects on how policy is made or viewed, noted that views on the use and role of public opinion in forming policy can often be as diverse as the opinions themselves.
According to him, Winston Churchill took the view that there was “no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.” While Abraham Lincoln’s take was simple: “Public opinion in this country is everything.” In Nigeria’s very complex scenario today, public opinion is indeed everything, especially with the latter-day buzz of the social media.
Apart from being a highly heterogeneous and somewhat Byzantine society with manifestly skewed ethnic and regional biases on almost every issue, the Nigerian entity can politicise the most serious of issues and policies, sometimes without recourse to the facts backing their arguments for or against such new ideas or policies.
This was the case last week when Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, at the burial of the former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, at Oko, Aguata, Anambra State, conveyed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to rename the Federal University, Ndufu-like, Ikwo (FUNAI), in Ebonyi State, the new federal university in the South East, among the 12 others created by the past administration.
Archetypal of our complex polity as a nation and pretty peculiar to the Igbo race, analysts and critics went viral with debates on whether such was merited and deserving or, in the words of others, “Is this another attempt by the FG to score a cheap political point?” For some, the decision was viewed as an extension of the desperation by President Buhari’s APC-led government to ‘woo’ the Igbo to support it beyond its current tenure in office.
Drawing an analogy from the renaming of UNILAG by the Goodluck Jonthan administration in commemoration of MKO Abiola, which never saw the light of day, some pundits insist that procedures for the exercise may have been breached, maintaining that the institution’s governing council was not duly and formally informed by the Presidency.
Nevertheless, the facts must be put straight that the character persona of the late Dr. Ekwueme, apart from being a distinguished architect with various degrees in other fields whose professional career started as an assistant architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly & Assocciates, and also with the London-based firm, Nickson & Partners, was reputed for overseeing the construction and maintenance of many construction works under ESSO West Africa, Lagos.
Apart from his architectural designs and giant strides in town planning in many states, owning the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria, Dr. Ekwueme played key roles in advancing the cause of not only the Igbo race but showed himself vehemently as a pan-Nigerian-cum-African nationalist who, though being a national hero as a second republic Vice President, was also actively involved in the socio-economic development of his Aguata community. Little wonder he was found worthy to be honoured with the title of Ide Aguata by his people.
At the continent level, he was the leader of the ECOWAS Elders Council for the pre-election monitoring of the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000 under the National Democratic Institute. He also played other key roles in dispute resolution in the ECOWAS region.
Whereas, it is expedient that the Federal Government should, without delay, formally convey the decision to the university’s governing council, in line with the relevant laws of the land, there’s no doubt that the bold decision of President Buhari is commendable and therefore should not be viewed through political prisms. The institution, which is in dire need of the attention of government at all levels and development partners to put it on the global map, can leverage on this impeccably landmark decision to intimate the Federal Government of its needs so as to upgrade further to the Ekwueme-standard. This is notwithstanding the fact that, just like in every change, it would take time for the staff and students to adapt to the new acronym of AE-FUNAI.
Those arguing or wondering if the late statesman deserves such honour may need to revisit history. Even the political consistency of the late icon in sticking firmly to his original political ideology of the PDP on the G-34 platform, even though he had severally decried the hijack of the G-34 vision by some political rabble-rousers in the then ruling party, is worthy of celebration and emulation. It is in itself a huge honour in our political system where politicians stick to no ideology but are obsessed with only power.
It is conclusively evident the institution would yet continue to outshine its contemporaries with the favours it is likely to attract from this bold and magnificent decision of the government at the centre. It, therefore, calls for applause, not cynical criticisms and baseless politicisation!