Former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Lagos, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) yesterday said the renaming of the institution after the late Chief Moshood Abiola was “noble” but illegal.
He said before the decision to change the name was taken, no amendment was made to the provisions of the University of Lagos Act.
President Goodluck Jonathan usurped the powers of the National Assembly by not seeking its backing, he said.
According to him, even though the motive was noble, the Federal Government followed an unconstitutional procedure.
He said such a decision would have been better effected if proper attention had been given to the provisions of the Constitution and the University of Lagos Act.
Babalola, who was Abiola’s lawyer, added that President Jonathan’s powers as visitor to the university did not include changing its name without recourse to the National Assembly.
In a statement, the senior advocate said many notable Nigerians who championed the call for the immortalisation of Abiola’s contribution to the current democratic dispensation were appalled at the manner with which the government about its decision.
“It is my view that things could have been better handled,” he said.
To him, 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,” Babalola said, and called for a review of the decision.
“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.”
Describing the renaming process as faulty, Babalola said: “It is pertinent to state that I do not entirely agree with the manner in which the government has gone about its decision.
“To my mind, a decision to honour the sacrifice of a man such as the Late Bashorun MKO Abiola required much more thoughtfulness and thoroughness than that which the current decision seems to display.
“I take this view in the light of the obvious illegality and unconstitutionality of the decision to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.
“The University is a creation of statute.
“Everything relating to the University including its name, administration and control is provided and regulated by statute therefore necessitating that any action taken in respect of the University must comply with the provisions of the Law.
“Therefore, the most important yardstick against which the decision must be measured is the provisions of 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 as follows: •’Incorporation and objectives of the University:
• 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.’
“The above reproduced section of the Law without equivocation states that the name of the University is ‘University of Lagos’.
“This amply demonstrates that the name ‘University of Lagos’ is derived from an Act of the National Assembly.
“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 President Jonathan is unknown to the University of Lagos Act.
“This is so for the following reasons: 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 consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
Besides, Babalola said the powers vested in the President as visitor had their limits.
“They do not empower him to unilaterally direct or effect a change in the name of the University.
“I state this for the following reasons: 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…
“The powers vested in President Jonathan under Section 16 of the University of Lagos Act are not wide enough to support the decision of the Federal Government to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.”