Nigerian students protest university name change

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Students at one of Nigeria's oldest universities protested a presidential announcement renaming the school Tuesday, saying that while the institution has been neglected, its name is still a famous brand they want to hang on to.

President Goodluck Jonathan announced on state-run television that the University of Lagos — popularly known as UNILAG — would be renamed Moshood Abiola University in honor of a political prisoner who died in jail over a decade ago.

Abiola was a businessman widely believed to be the winner of a 1993 presidential poll annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida's military successor, Gen. Sani Abacha, then jailed Abiola, who died in detention in 1998.

The name change is meant to honor Abiola's "martyrdom," Jonathan said, on a public holiday marking the West African nation's 13th year of uninterrupted democracy.

Within a couple of hours of the announcement, however, hundreds of students had flocked to the university's main gates, some in flip flops, hair nets, and even pajamas.

"Today is Democracy Day," said English student Oyewole Odunola, 22. "What is democratic about what has just happened?"

The decision comes as the university mourns its vice chancellor, who died just over two weeks ago. The acting vice chancellor declined to immediately comment, juggling two cell phones that kept ringing while students waited for him to address them.

"If the (vice chancellor) was not already dead, this news would have killed him," said Karo Ogbinaka, chairman of the UNILAG chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, "We will fight this with everything we have."

On a nearby thoroughfare, students lamented the state of the university, once lauded as one of the region's best.

"Our libraries aren't stocked, we don't have electricity," said Odunola, "the name UNILAG is the only thing we have to hold on to, and now, they are even taking that name."

Over the years, as successive governments created more universities across Nigeria, the budget for each of them dwindled, so much so that administrators sometimes couldn't afford to pay lecturers.

Today, university strikes are frequent and a student enrolled in a four-year program may take up to seven years to complete it.

The University of Lagos was founded in 1962, about two years after Nigeria gained its independence from the U.K.