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Nigerian Maritime University: The outrage, controversies

June 28, 2016

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EBENEZER ADUROKIYA reviews issues around the controversial Nigerian
Maritime University (NMU), Okerenkoko and the need for all stakeholders to
objectively re-evaluate the essence of the institution and make a final
informed decision.

On May 10, 2014 when former President Goodluck Jonathan performed the
ground-breaking of the now controversial Nigerian Maritime University at
Okerenkoko, in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, little
did the people of Gbaramatu kingdom know that their joy of having a tertiary
institution in their domain would go through the eye of the storm.

To underscore the seriousness the previous government attached to the
project, Jonathan, 12 days after the much-publicised ground-breaking,
appointed for the institution, Professor (Mrs) Ongoebi Maureen Etebu and Mr
Anho Nathaniel Esoghene Lucky as vice chancellor and registrar respectively.

The university is 41 on the list of approved universities released by the
National Universities Commission (NUC) in May 2015.

Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), opened an account for the university
to be domiciled with its Asaba branch.

It will be recalled that the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, and the
Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibeh Kachikwu, disagreed at a government
town meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on the establishment of the
university, proposed for Okerenkoko.

Amaechi defended the decision of the Buhari administration to scrap the
project. He argued that the previous administration had paid too much to
acquire a site for the university.

The minister said the new government lacked the funds to continue with the
university project.

“Okerenkoko (Maritime University), I am not against,” he said. “My argument
about Okerenkoko is that land alone is 13 billion(naira). If you give me 13
billion, I will buy the half of Lagos. That 13 billion has built the university
already.”
But Mr. Kachikwu disagreed with Mr. Amaechi, arguing that he was in support
of the project.

“First, let me say on Okerenkoko University, I disagree with the Minister of
Transport,” he said.

“Any facility that is located in the South-South we should work close to
developing it. I don’t care the circumstances under which you are placed. It’s
not in my position to determine whether land was valued at 3 billion or 10
billion. The appropriate institution which is at the cost system will determine
that. That has nothing to do with development of infrastructure. And as far as
I know, so much has already gone into the university. So much physical of
assets are being developed. We are not going to throw away the baby with
bath water. We deal with the issues but the university will be developed. If he
(Amaechi) does not want it in Maritime, I will take it in petroleum,” he said.

The uproar

A former Federal Commissioner for Information and Ijaw national leader, Chief
Edwin Clark, was the first to throw the salvo.

“It is unfortunate that the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, has come
to lie and deceive the Federal Government and indeed, Nigerians.

“Mr. Amaechi carefully avoided mentioning the take-off campus of the
university at Kurutie, which boasts of competitive and acceptable standard
facilities that meet NUC’s standard for university campus, as part of the
property of NMU, Okerenkoko and for which NIMASA paid the sum of about
N13 billion,” Clark disclosed.

In a similar fashion, former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta
Development Commission (NDDC), Power Ziakede Aginighan, described
Amaechi’s statement as an error of judgment.

“Setting the records straight, the idea of siting a tertiary educational
institution in the crude oil and gas-rich Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South
West Local Government Area of Delta State was first proposed and adopted
under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo as a critical
component in the roadmap to peace and sustainable development of the
Niger Delta.

“For the Niger Delta and the nation in general, the advantages of having the
university far outweigh every argument to the contrary. Apart from capacity
building for Nigerians in the maritime industry, bringing in direct foreign
investment and arresting capital flight, NMU will play a key role in the re-
integration phase of the Amnesty Programme,” he said.

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), umbrella body of Ijaw youths in the Niger Delta,
in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari jointly signed by its President and
spokesperson, Messrs. Udengs Eradiri and Eric Omare, said, “Mr. President,
the reasons advanced by your Minister of Transportation are not only weak,
mischievous and misleading, but also highly provocative and inciting.”

While addressing Ijaw and Itsekiri youths in Warri, Mr Daniel Reyenieju,
member of the House of Representatives representing Warri Federal
Constituency, said the statement credited to Amaechi regarding the
cancellation of the university was “provocative, vexing, insensitive and,
consequently, unacceptable.”

Another Itsekiri scholar, Professor Tosan Harriman, said, “The only way out of
the present looming violence is for the Maritime University to take off. It will
reduce criminality, stem agitation and create jobs for the people of the
region,” the don averred.

A visit to the sites

But a trip to both the temporary and permanent sites at Kurutie and
Okerenkoko communities, both in Gbaramatu Kingdom, creates an alluring
elixir. At Okerenkoko, where construction work had already commenced, the
area, which is about 15 minutes ride to Esravos on speedboat, covers about
100 hectares of land. It was donated by the community.

At one of the sites, foundations of about 12 buildings were seen to have been
done, while construction work at the main gate and two other structures were
already at an advanced stage.

About 20 make-shift buildings, which used to house site workers, are not
unoccupied with heavy duty construction equipment all over the vicinity of
the permanent site.

Speaking on the development, Secretary-General of the Federated
Okerenkoko Community, Comrade Ernest Bebenimibo, said, “Our position has
already been stated and made known to the world. As a community, we
wrote several letters to Mr Amaechi on the need for the university to take off.
As far as we are concerned, there is no fraud on the issue of land as is widely
speculated.

“Sometime in 2012, NIMASA approached the community on the need for land
for the institution. The land, which is more than 100 hectares, was acquired
through due process and the community was issued a certificate of
occupancy by the then governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan.

“What we need is the reversal of the cancellation because our children are
ready to be educated and are prepared to acquire technical knowledge
concerning the maritime industry. This is a clarion call and the government
has a duty to show that it has the people of the Niger Delta at heart. Again,
we are prepared to protect the workers of the university against any form of
criminality.”

At the Mieka International Diving Institute, Kurutie, which serves as the
temporary site of the Maritime University, the architect, who designed the
project, Mr Piniki Azaiye, who conducted reporters round the site, said he
conceptualised the project and built it to its present status.

According to him, the institute, which was originally owned by Chief
Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, before it was taken over by the
Federal Government, had planned to train divers of international standard.

“At the inception, Mieka Dives Limited, had a plan to train world class divers
who will be useful to both the maritime and oil sectors. But when the idea of
the Maritime University came up, and the Federal Government approached us
to take over the school, we entered into all necessary deeds and we handed
over to the FG.

“You have seen the structures on ground and it is left for you to judge
whether the N13 billion the transportation minister is talking about is just for
land. How possible is it for anybody to build these high-rise structures on this
swampy area without first reclaiming the land?” Azaiye disclosed.

Managing director of Mieka Dives Limited, Mr Keston Pondi, while also
speaking on the fate of the university, said the company had a partnership
with the Nigerian Navy to set up an international diving outfit.

According to him, “But NIMASA had approached us for the use of the place
and in the process, NIMASA, Ministry of Transport and Mieka Dives all did their
valuations separately and the Federal Government sent us a letter that it will
pay the sum of N13 billion. So, why should I be called a criminal for selling my
own property?”

The structures in the expansive yard include a storey building that houses the
VC’s office and its supporting staff.

Other structures include classrooms, ceremonial pavilion, a nine-bed medical
centre with a digital laboratory, a workshop block and a lecture auditorium for
200 students are fully furnished.

Also at the site are two well-furnished hostel blocks, and library buildings.
There is a furnished guest house, and accommodation for the university’s
senior staff, and a separate three bedroom duplex for the VC. Apart from an
olympic size swimming pool, there are two separate diving tanks ready for
use.

Bait for terrorism?

The intrigues threw up some ethnic coloration when former Delta Waterways
Security chairman and Niger Delta activist, Chief Ayiri Emami, chided people
calling for the immediate take-off of the university.

Obviously toeing the path of Mr Amaechi, Emami said: “How do you expect
parents and guardians to send their wards to a school in an environment that
has, over the years, been associated with violent attacks, illegal oil bunkering
and pipeline vandalism, traits that are associated with people who are
terrorists?

“I am not against the Nigerian Maritime University coming on stream, but I
can’t imagine innocent Nigerian citizens across the country and beyond,
becoming endangered species, surrounded by people who easily take up
arms without provocation.”

“I am tempted to ask, the day these militants do not get access to vandalised
pipelines, won’t they resort to kidnapping of staff and students of the NMU?
After all, the kidnap of 14 media practitioners and six Ugborodo indigenes by
these militants several months ago is still fresh in our minds.”

Battle at the Senate

The proposal for the establishment of the Maritime University suffered a
setback as the bill supporting it which was brought by Senator James
Manager (PDP), Delta Central Senatorial District, failed on the floor of the
Senate.

James Manager explained that the establishment of the Maritime University
would produce manpower in the maritime industry, a situation that past
administration cashed on in order to come up with the said proposal.

After his presentation, Senator Dino Melaye representing Kogi West Senatorial
District was the first to shoot down the proposal by maintaining that it would
have been proper for the existing Nigeria Maritime Academy, Oron in Akwa
Ibom to be upgraded instead establishing new one so as to save cost.

In the same vein, Binta Mashi posited that the terrain of the proposed
university was unsuitable, noting that it was improper to take a boat and
travel on water for 30 minutes before reaching the place.

However, Nelson Effiong, Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District in his
contribution, reminded the Senate that the Maritime Academy at Oron which
is situated in his Senatorial District that has trained seafarers in the last 30
years of its existence, was approved to assume a university status by former
President Goodluck Jonathan and it has since been with the National
Universities Commission (NUC)

Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Shehu Sani, on his
part, also envisaged security challenges because of isolation of the
environment, stressing that Oron should be upgraded.

Former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Minority Leader of the Senate,
Godswill Akpabio revealed that his administration did relocate land owners
with compensation following government’s willingness to upgrade Maritime
Academy at Oron.

When it became obvious that the bill had suffered a setback, James Manager,
withdrew the bill, promising that it will be represented at the appropriate
time.

While the arguments go back and forth, what should be paramount is the
overall interest of the public. Perhaps soon the pendulum would oscillate to a
favourable point for all.