BasseyUbong

Naming Structures to Honour People: A Call for Caution

A storm is rocking the boat named the Nigerian Press Organization (NPO). The former Chair of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) passed on and four days after, the NPO announced that the NIJ House must be used to immortalize the veteran journalist. Nothing wrong with the concept but of certainty, something is wrong with the process. Given the time span for the decision (except if the NPO was only flying a kite), the accusation of hastiness cannot be faulted. And here is where the major lesson lies for the future: for group icons and structures,”festina lente” (hasten slowly).

It is pertinent to provide a brief of NPO before going further. NPO is a professional body established by the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), and the Nigerian Guild of Editors. It appears to hasten in some acts but not in others, for instance, there is very little Internet presence for such an important body.  There is no website to access. The Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) on which the current controversy is based was established in 1963 by the International Press Institute (IPI)headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. NIJ is a private institution operated by professional bodies including Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); News Agency of Nigeria (NAN); Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON); Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR); and Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

Some Controversial Naming of Buildings:

Once upon a time the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) unceremoniously announced the naming of Police Headquarters at Lagos after IGP Kam Salem after he passed on. There was a storm but the government had a card and played it: the new Force Headquarters at the emerging national capital of Abuja would be named after Nigeria’s pioneer IGP Louis Edet from Akwa Ibom State. Everybody kept quiet and it came to pass. NPO it appears has no card to play except to believe that because Nigerians are like children that have a short attention span and forget quickly, life will go on blissfully in a short while (who is talking about NNDC again?). How many Nigerians remember that President Goodluck Jonathan expecting Yorubas to roll out drums for him for naming the University of Lagos after Bashorun MKO Abiola received a resounding rebuff rather!? One can speculate that again like children that are incredibly unpredictable in their reactions to new developments, Yorubas kicked against a good public policy. Again the problem was not the concept but the process.

The critical issue is that physical structures are few; once one has been named it stays so. Therefore it is wise to be cautious and be armed with tons of reasons to justify a decision, then follow an acceptable process and very importantly carry as many people as is possible along. I cannot recall any protest when the Lagos Airport was named after General Murtala Muhammad; same for Abuja Airport named after Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. But I am aware that when it was mooted that the University of Nigeria be named after Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe there were negative reactions and the Anambra State Government pre-empted FGN by naming the state university at Awka after Zik, Nigeria’s first President.

My suggestion, in summary, is first, there must be strong justification; second, the person should be well known and liked by a sizeable proportion of the direct and possibly indirect stakeholders (I came by the name Mallam Ismaila Funtua for the first time because of this furore just as I heard of Ignatius Ajuru for the first time after the new Rivers State University of Education in Port Harcourt was named after him by his brother, Governor Rotimi Amaechi  – my apologies for not knowing them before). Third, the item or honour should be commensurate with the demonstrated or proven contributions of the honoree. It would not be appropriate for instance for the Federal Government to name a side street or a Federal Government College after President Muhammadu Buhari instead of a major link road or an institution of higher learning.

The fourth is that even after a decision has been made, the announcement should be more of testing public reaction. This would avoid embarrassment arising from a later change. A classic case is that of reverting to Imo State University after it was changed to Dr Evans Ewerem University.

In the case of NPO versus its floor members (that belong to the three professional groups), actualization of the plan should be paused for wider consultations more so tribal sentiments are already at play (one Northern journalist Mr Abdul Rafiu of the Guardian has strongly opposed it though). Suppose one or two of the three affiliates threaten(s)to leave the group? Suppose it blows out of control given the tribal dimension? There are so many possibilities along with the bad blood that could be generated. Where there is the dangerous controversy it is better to pull back and re-strategize. That is what FGN did in the case of Unilag rather than wield the big stick. Maybe consultation is on-going.

In all cases of this kind, wisdom demands caution. While the intra-family storm rages, I beg to rest my case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.