Recently, President Mohammed Buhari ordered for the reopening of the Nigeria Maritime University before the end of this year. This Presidential directive by implication ends the unnecessary politicking, name calling and doomsday theorizing that have dogged the establishment of the university in Okerenkoko, Delta State.
The President said the decision to reopen the school is in line with the demands championed by major stakeholders in the region.
A statement by the Presidency said the implementation would be coordinated by a five-man inter-agency Committee headed by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu.
The Committee, which is to collaborate with the current principal officers and the governing council of the institution, will finalise processes towards the opening of the university in the 2017/2018 academic session.
The re-opening of the university was one of the 16-point-agenda presented before President Muhammadu Buhari by leaders from Niger Delta as one of the requirements for peace in the region.
When Vice President Yemi Osibanjo visited the region on a fact-finding mission early in the year, he promised that the university would be opened soon.
The President’s directive came a day after the Senate passed the bill for the establishment of the University, propelling the proposed institution on the road to gaining statutory status, three years after its foundation was laid.
The groundbreaking of the proposed school at Okerenkoko in Warri south-West local government area was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 and, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, physical assets were on site.
Inspite of these however, there was no law backing the establishment of the university. The bill for its establishment was passed by the Senate following the report of the committee on tertiary education and TETFUND chaired by Barau Jibrin.
The bill was sponsored by James Manager, from Delta. The passage came well over one year after the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, alerted about the scrapping of the school whose founding he described as a “misplacement of priority” and “waste of resources”.
Amaechi also cited insecurity as basis for his argument against the school. He also expressed concerns with the payment of a huge N13 billion for the procurement of land for the school, allegedly, to wanted militant leader, Tompolo.
“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,” said Amaechi during a town hall meeting in Uyo on June 14, 2016.
But the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu disagreed with Amaechi, saying he was in support of the project.
“Any facility that is located in the South-South we should work close to developing it,” said Kachikwu. “I don’t care the circumstances under which you are placed.”
“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.”
The Senate referred the bill for consideration of the education committee in November 2016, when it scaled second reading. Manager, the sponsor, argued that the maritime sector had huge potentials and that Nigeria should have a university for the purpose of producing capable manpower for the sector which, as he said, is currently dominated by foreign interests.
On suitability of Okerenkoko for the project, he said the area was close to the sea and surrounded by oil wells. The bill will now be transmitted to the House of Representatives for concurrence and the later for President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent, before it becomes law, which would allow the school access to funding from the annual budget.
Analysts believe that with the reopening of the school, the huge money that goes to the Constanta Maritime University in Romania from the Nigerian government may stop any time soon.
According to them, the Constanta Maritime University in Romania currently makes about €1.5 million (over N500 million at current rate) per year from Nigeria through scholarship granted by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, to over 300 Nigerian students a few years ago.
To show how expectant, the people of Niger Delta are about the reopening of the university, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) said the Presidential directive was a welcome development and an opportunity to make education accessible to the people of the area.
President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, said the re-opening of the university will give opportunity to the riverine people to attend university without much stress. “It is good they have realised their mistake and they have decided to do the needful. It is heartwarming and we commend the president for that.
“We commend him for accepting the error and now decided to correct it. We also demand that beyond rhetoric, we want action. “Let the academic work start in earnest so that our people will go to university with ease. By the statement of the president, the university is to resume by the end of 2017,” Omare said.
Following the near bitter politicking that have trailed the reopening of the university, the alleged siphoning of money under that auspices by the former Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, the stoppage of the school by the government and subsequent reversal; many stakeholders have asked whether the establishment of such a university is really expedient.
Also some have argued that rather than waste money on a maritime university, the government should focus on upgrading the Maritime Academy Oron.
Commenting on the circumstances surrounding the birthing of the university, activist, writer and public commentator, Owei Lakemfa said “I have never come across an institution that has fought so hard to be born, like the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko. It was conceived by the Jonathan administration along with eight other universities. But while others like the Federal Universities in Oye Ekiti, Dutse, Otuoke, Lokoja, Wukari, Dutsin-Ma, Kasere and Ndufu-Alike were born, learnt how to crawl, stand and run, the NMU’s delivery has been delayed.
On the aborting of the school by the Transport Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, he said “The Minister did not appear properly briefed on the issue and perhaps did not understand the import of such a university. His argument that the three other transport institutions can be upgraded is not faulty, except that in itself, that does not necessarily mean NMU should be aborted. As to who will attend the university, he should leave that to individual candidates.
“Malaysia, whose population of 23 million is less than those of Lagos and Ogun States, has five.
Developing Maritime manpower will increase the country’s security, provide mass employment, save and earn foreign exchange, boost our economy, trade and national sovereignty,” he asserted.
Some stakeholders believe Nigeria does not just need a solitary Maritime university, but the upgrading of the Academy in Oron and establishment of more Maritime universities across the Niger Delta.
They argue that over 500 years ago, some Nigerians like the Benin and Ijaw were known to be oceangoing but that despite that, Nigeria does not appear on the radar screen of world maritime.
While the country needs 150,000 personnel in the Maritime industry, it has less than 1,000; so it depends on foreign nationals and operators like the Filipinos.
In contrast to Nigeria’s single Maritime Academy, the Philippines, a fellow Third world country, with 40 per cent of Nigeria’s population, has 44 Maritime universities and academies.
The country dominates the maritime industry with 18.74 percent of the world’s seafarers. Bangladesh despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, has 14 Maritime universities and academies, while in that belt, India has 26 and Pakistan 11.
From available indices, Okerenkoko sits on the left bank of the Escravos River, which opens into the Atlantic Ocean and it is a preferred route for ocean-going vessels engaged in the oil and gas industry.
Franklyn Nlerum, a public analysts had all questions to ask. ‘Does Nigeria need the new Maritime University? Can Nigeria afford to establish a properly resourced institution at this time? Is there no existing educational institution in Nigeria that can fulfill the purpose of the university with a fraction of the funding deployed to open the new university?
Is it possible that the protestation that has attended the subject matter of the Maritime University is informed by considerations that may not be altogether noble? Are there perhaps personal and pecuniary interests that may be exposed or injured by the proposed suspension of action on the Maritime University?
Is it possible that the administration of President Buhari found compelling grounds for revisiting the commencement of the Maritime University, he queried?
Former Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Shippers Council, Dr Kingsley Usoh said that place of Education in developing human capacity and lifting the country out of poverty cannot be over-emphasised.
According to him, the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI) report, shows that Nigeria is ranked 152 out of 187 countries showing how backward the country is despite its huge natural resource.
He noted that by calculation Nigeria will be 39 billion by the year 2050. “If such population of people are not educated where are you going to keep them? But when you train them and they become productive it will be to the benefit of the country because they will not be security risk,” he affirmed.
He said while the Maritime Academy Oron, produces seafarers, the country needs universities that will produce scholars, intellectuals that can help train such people to be more productive which will ultimately lead to the transformation of the country.
“But if you follow the narrow way, you will create problems for by producing angry unemployed people who become security risks for the country,” he noted.
Former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Eugene Nweke said the country needs such technical institutions for the growth of intellectual capacity.
“The maritime university is ideal because it will complement what we have already. After all we call ourselves big maritime nation in Africa, but yet Ghana is having a regional maritime university but we can allow Ghana to be regional but let’s have more maritime universities; over time the efficiency will be achieved and we will find out that other African nations instead of going to Ghana will come to Nigeria,” he declared.
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