Lessons from Kwara
Dear Rt. Hon. Yakubu Salihu
This epistle is directed at you because you are the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly that recently passed into law the Kwara State University (KWASU) (Amendment) bill, 2020. Amongst other things, the bill in question also reverted the name of the university from Abubakar Sola Saraki University to Kwara State University.
The passage of this your bill has so far elicited feelings and reactions within and beyond Kwara state, such feelings and reactions range from “again?” to “the Governor is behind it”, to “this is just to fight Saraki” to poor Saraki” to “thank goodness” and to my own hurray to printers.
Feelings aside, there are some key considerations that we all need to do about naming our collective assets, be they buildings, institutions, roads or street; with your recent bill, Kwara state now willingly or unwillingly offers a good case to study.
Let us start from the simplest of all lessons: Finance for rebranding.
Before going in the merit of the name change, Iet us ask you some simple questions: In your decision to change the name of that University, did you consider the cost of doing so? Did you and your fellow honourable members of the house calculate how much it will cost to change signposts, signage, letterheads, stamps, logos and even repaint cars and buildings into the new name? Did you consider what else could be done with such an amount to meet existing need of student, staff and the university generally? Did you and your colleagues in the house check to see if the required amount is available in the coffers of the university or where you intend to get it from? A law is called a bill also because most times it requires financing, so please when we talk about bills, let us remember to talk about money.
From all indications, when in 2017 the then Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed decided to rename a university he did not build nor had dramatically funded, he did so without consulting anybody at least not formally. A proper consultation and debate wherein reasons are brought forward and options weighed would have left us with documented, justified and articulated positions from proponents of the change of name and eventual opponents of such change. An immediate consequence of such process would have been the ethical and symbolical recognition of the supremacy of reason over whim as well as showing the world that the Governor understands that the state University like every state building, institution, road or street belong to the commonwealth and cannot just be changed without justification and consent of all or, at least, a majority.
There is also a functional lesson here from Kwara for all: A detailed, robust consultation and debate would have laid in stone reasons for naming the university Saraki University instead of something else or after someone else and removing such name today would have become at least more difficult if not impossible.
The new name changers under your speakership have not done awfully better, just like those before them, those at the helm of affairs in Kwara today have not taken their time to explain what is wrong with the current name of the university; they, like their predecessors, have not shown us what other alternatives they considered before choosing the name they choose.
Changing the name of a University twice within two years should certainly tell all right-thinking people that there is something wrong with the way we manage the naming of our buildings, institutions, roads or street.
From this back and forth in Kwara, it seems rather clear to me that we need to put in place rules and processes aimed at guiding how we name our public spaces and institutions.
Many do not consider it as so grave, but I have news for you: Naming of public spaces is their nearest thing to deification or sanctification in modern secular societies. A big lesson from Kwara is that we should not leave things like these to the whims or even wisdom of politicians.
It is my personal view that amongst truly civil free citizens, the honour of being immortalised with resources of the common wealth should be reserved to martyrs of the republic, innovators, inventors, and people of outstanding talents like artists, artistes and athletes. We can even use dates of significant events. Everyone should be able to aspire to such immortality based purely on measurable merits. Elected and nominated public office holders should be excluded from such honours because regardless of their performance, they will always have a place in history. If we exclude the influence of greed and an extortionate ego, a place in history is enough for any human being.
Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.
Prof Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.