The decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to rename University of Lagos (Unilag) Moshood Abiola University has naturally elicited a lot of controversy, condemnation and plaudits, just as any decision that pitches certain stakeholders against others would. Immediately I got a feeler of the development via my BB contacts updates, my initial reaction was 'I hope it's not true'. The most poignant of the updates read: "Unilag peeps abeg make we hear word joor, shey na Unilag name dem go first change?". This looked to me like the kind of narrow minded attitude which our leaders often times prey on to divide us and get away with their self-serving agenda (Divide and Rule).
At the same time it made me question if it was the 'ex-Akokite' in me that was beclouding my judgement. I then started to reflect, 'Is Abiola really deserving of this?', 'Is it right to change the name of an Iconic and prestigious Institution to any other thing?', 'Does the President have the right to tamper with the pride and emotions of many and diverse stakeholders?', 'How would this affect the image of the school itself?' - This final question is what I want to explore. I want to look at it from a branding, corporate identity and corporate image point of view.
As I was pondering, I received a BB broadcast from my Aunt, a Professor at the University of Lagos Medical School (Medilag) urging that we should sign a petition against the President's decision. This made me begin to see this decision in its true sense, selfish - a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, It occurred to me that any University especially historical ones have many stakeholders with interests ranging from job prospects, emotional attachment, business relations, pride, educational aspirations to simply being a citizen who should be carried along in issue of public concern. Hence, any decision that would harm all these people should be treated with a lot of deliberation, respect and sanctity.
After writing and signing my petition, I forwarded the broadcast to a few other people on my BB. Immediately, a friend of my mine who ironically finished from Unilag rang me up saying 'the decision is in order, Abiola is deserving of any measure of honour, are you sure you like many others is not just opposing it because Unilag is your Alma mater?'.
I gave him a number of reasons why the decision was against the interest of every Nigerian. I pointed out that Nigerian leaders have a history of playing politics with issues of public interest. For example, the fuel subsidy issue. I also reminded him of the culture of impunity and flagrant disregard for meritocracy that has characterized this present regime underlined by the award of a national award to Patricia Etteh who was forced to resign as the Speaker of the House of Reps.
It is not the purpose of this article to enumerate the many reasons why the decision may be legally, morally, socially, psychologically and culturally faulty. I believe that the criticism of the decision by the likes Prof. Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana and Bola Tinubu who have hitherto championed the cause of Democracy or at least the proper honouring of Chief Abiola has done justice to that. Paradoxically, my friend agreed that he felt that the image of Unilag had been scarred for life as he could not imagine being referred to as a graduate of MOU'. He however concluded that image was trivial and a matter of sentiment compared to the need to immortalize the great man. I disagreed, telling him that the biggest damage done to Unilag was that of PR and image.
I want to examine how the image of companies and organizations is becoming increasingly vital to their survival and progress in an increasingly competitive world; and then establish the vital link between Corporate Image and identity (name).
We live in a global village. A world that continues to be made smaller by the power of communication. The emergence of the new and social media means that PR and branding efforts have become even more ubiquitous. At the centre of this revolution is language. By language, I mean language of communication, name, brand and corporate message. Given that the internet brings people from all over the world together, it is important that even if certain people cannot read English for example, they can at least recognize certain word or symbols associated with a brand. For example, If a Kuwaiti cannot read and understand the new features of the latest Apple phone written in English, he can at least recognize how the A-P-P-L-E in I-phone is spelled. But if Apple placed an advert on the internet without the brand name 'Apple' and also decided to name it Turbo 4, the advert will not work and the phone will not sell, because the brand name Apple has become the byword for all that Apple stands for -Innovation, style, durability, functionality.
The Brand David Beckham is one of the most coveted in the world. David Beckham alongside Prince Williams and David Cameron represented England at the 2018 World Cup Bid. He was also the one "who used the Olympic flame to light up a cauldron after the Plane carrying Princess Anne arrived at a Cornish Air base from Greece" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18093410). A lot of people especially non-football followers may not know what Beckham looks like physically, but they recognize the name and associate it with excellence, prestige, influence and style. If Beckham decides to change his name tomorrow, it will come as a huge loss to not just England but many of the world's leading company like Adidas and even MLS. I am sure he cannot even change it until the expiration of the various endorsement contracts he has signed.
I want to juxtapose the names Moshood Abiola University and University of Lagos and measure them against these basic qualities of brand names: Communicability, Pronounceability and Neutrality/Positivity.
James Dettore, president of the Brand Institute in Boston had this to say about the importance of brand names; " First, it should be able to communicate on its own without a lot of advertising. It has to be easy to pronounce and have neutral to positive associations around the world, or at least in various languages".
Communicability - The name University of Lagos sells itself; the first reason being that it is already a globally recognized name by Nigerian and African standards at least. Secondly, Lagos is is a very popular place all around the world. It is one of the foremost business capitals of the world. It may not be as developed as New York or London, but it is also popular for either being the former capital or for entertainment reasons. Like Rio De Janeiro, New York and Jo'burg, many assume it is Nigeria's capital especially because Abuja is not nearlyf as popular. From my personal experience as a student here in London, I have come across many white people who do not even know Lagos is in Nigeria but know Lagos very well. Some of them recalled hearing stars like Snoop Dogg and Beyonce saying they were visiting Lagos. The point here is that Lagos being part of Unilag's name makes it even more popular and Universal.
This singular reason is why it is even easier to change the name of the equally prestigious and historical UI (University of Ibadan), and even that would take some doing.
Pronounceability - If Nigeria must be as developed as Japan or Australia, our Universities must be amongst the best in the world... and if they must be universally recognized and patronized, it is important that they are globally marketable. It appears that the name University of Lagos is easier to pronounce and thereby more globally appealing and marketable than Moshood Abiola University, Jonathan Goodluck University or Seyi Ogunsola University.
In a related development, Politecnico di Milano one of the oldest Universities in Milan and a flagship institution for science, engineering and architecture in the world recently decided that they will be teaching and assessing most of their courses in English. Why would a proud and reputable Institution decide to jettison their language, culture, and tradition and start teaching in English, you may wonder? The simple reason according to the BBC is because "the waters of globalization are rising around higher education - and the University believes that if it remains Italian-speaking it risks isolation and will be unable to compete as an international institution".
"We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language." says the University's rector Giovanni Azzone (/www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17958520)Therefore, if a world-class university in a developed non-English speaking country can take this decisive step for the sake of global competitiveness, then we should not be doing the opposite in Nigeria. There is no denying the fact that English is the language of globalization; hence, an English brand-name where necessary and significant should not be jettisoned on the alter of politics or indigenization.
The last consideration in choosing brand-names and the most crucial in the case of Unilag is Neutrality.
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the re-naming of Unilag as MOU is that it reflects on the Institution as a regional one. The argument is that University of Lagos like Lagos City is cosmopolitan and open to people from all over the world and especially Nigeria, hence, any attempt to give it a local name especially one without a logical or emotional connection projects it as a local University.
I end with this quote from a cousin: " Unilag is an Institution, Abiola is an Institution, you do not kill one for the other".