Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Since one of the nation’s legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola made a case for the renaming of the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) after the former Late President Shehu Shagari; the call is generating ripples as many stakeholders of the institution have kicked against the suggestion by Babalola.
However, some individuals are in support of the suggestion by Chief Babalola and they pulled their weight behind renaming the university after the late president, claiming that Shagari deserves the honour since his administration established the university.
Babalola who himself is a university founder had in his tribute to Shagari described the former president as patriotic, humble, and a lover of education. The erudite lawyer recalled how through Shagari’s instrumentality, FUTA was established in 1980 in Ado-Ekiti, formerly part of Ondo State but was eventually relocated to Akure.
The legal icon said “Shagari’s humanitarian services and the many lives he touched while on earth will surely stand him in good stead before the Almighty, the maker of all things. May I, therefore, humbly suggest that the Federal Government should consider renaming the Federal University of Technology Akure after this illustrious son of Nigeria.”
But the Alumni Association of FUTA was the first to oppose the suggestion, stating that the move would result in identity crisis for the 39 year old institution.
Corroborating the alumni’s position, the Students’ Union Government (SUG) of FUTA and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) FUTA chapter also rejected the idea.
However, the university management said it is losing no sleep over the matter since what the alumni, students union and others were reacting to was just an opinion of an individual and not official statement by the government.
While the students insist on retaining FUTA as a brand name, ASUU called for caution, warning that Babalola’s suggestion might stir the hornet’s nest rather than a show of appreciation that the pronouncement was meant to achieve.
The Alumni association said it would resist any move to change the name of the institution by mobilizing the students, Akure community where the university is located and other stakeholders against the federal government.
President of the Alumni Association, Adesomoju Olaitan said the identity change would affect the fortune of the university if allowed.
He said “after extensive consultation and discussions with alumni members globally, we wish to state clearly that the overwhelming majority vehemently oppose any name change to our alma mater. It is of note that FUTA was not the only university established by the act of parliament during Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s regime. At least six other federal university of technology were established,” he added.
He advised the federal government to consider any of the federal institutions in the North instead in the South, adding the federal government renamed the University of Ife after Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a university in the South West instead of a university in the North.
“FUTA is an established professional brand that is globally respected for technological innovations. FUTA has also developed several domestic and international collaborations with other leading institutions. These advances and relationship would be marred in an identity crisis by changing its established brand name on the whim of an individual.
“Evidence abounds that previous name changes for purposes of immortalization have done damage to institutions of higher learning than good and there is nowhere in the world that institutions of higher learning over five years old are abruptly renamed after the demise of a leader.
“For example, Harvard and Oxford universities have kept the same name since their creation and establishment, these brands are globally respected and identifiable,” he added.
In his view, chairman, ASUU-FUTA branch, Dr Bola Oniya said his members were not at home with Babalola’s position, adding universities, once named, hold their nomenclature till eternity and are not known to change identity along the way.
He said several universities abroad today are older than Nigeria and still have their names intact, since it is very synonymous with the certificate as well an identification toga for generations to come.
Oniya added: ‘’It is becoming an ‘alien’ practice to rename universities in the country, I think this should stop. For me, once a university has been named by law, it should retain that identity.”
Interestingly, the Students Union noted that while they saw the need to appreciate the former late president for establishing FUTA during his administration, immortalising Shagari with a name changed might be a step in the wrong direction.
The SUG President, Ibrahim Olusegun said “FUTA is a brand, a worldwide brand with a vision of being a world class university. Renaming such university would demean the brand, disrupt the vision and discourage the students.”
His words: “the university embraces immortalisation and this is visible with several structures in the university named after people who had contributed to FUTA in several manners. Examples of such are the Albert Ilemobade library which is the university library, the Akindeko hall of residence, which is a male hostel in FUTA, among others.
“These structures were named for the sake of immortalisation; hence we embrace immortalising the deceased by renaming any of the existing structures or perhaps the new structures. However, we plead that FUTA brand should not be tampered with in the name of immortalisation, as it’s a world- wide brand.”
However, FUTA management through the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Adebanjo Adegbenro, said the Alumni association had sufficiently reacted to the suggestion, stressing that since it was just a mere suggestion, nothing has changed.
He emphasized that it was not the duty of the management to speak on the issue, and as such there was no official reaction, noting “the alumni who are the owners of the institution and other stakeholders have spoken their mind. As far as we are concerned, we will only keep our fingers crossed and watch development,” he stated
A member of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Mrs Felicia Iyanda said the suggestion to rename FUTA would not scale through. She alluded to a similar scenario by the immediate past administration to rename University of Lagos, adding that FUTA might also experience similar backlash that followed the UNILAG rechristening to Moshood Abiola University.
But in his reaction, Ondo State born legal practitioner, Kayode Ajulo said Shagari deserves the name of any institution including FUTA because the university was birthed by his signature.
Responding to fear of a name change by stakeholders, Ajulo said good branding efforts by FUTA management with support from government would help address any lacuna that may arise.
“Shehu Shagari is a leader Nigerians loved. He is a national hero for whom nothing can be too big to immortalise him’’ he said.