Tuesday, January 31, 2017 8:01 am
By Owei Lakemfa
Never have I come across an institution that has fought so hard to be born, like the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) 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.
Its conception was in 2012 when its main driver, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) an arm of the Transport Ministry acquired over 100 hectares in Okerenkoko, Delta State as the permanent site, with a temporary site in Kurutie. On May 19, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan formally opened the temporary site and performed the ground breaking ceremony of the permanent site. Having met the conditions of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Government approved the NMU. The NUC in approving the take-off for the 2015/16 Session, also announced the appointment of key officers including a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Ongoebi Maureen Otebu as Vice Chancellor and Anho Nathaniel Esoghene as Registrar.
Then came the 2015 general elections which swept the Jonathan administration out of power, and a new Minister of Transport Hon Rotimi Amechi ‘who knew no Joseph’ appoited. He decided that the NMU foetus must be aborted. The Minister argued that with the Maritime Academy in Oron, the Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology in Zaria and the Nigerian College of Aviation, also in Zaria – all of which can be upgraded to university status – Nigeria does not need the NMU. He added “Who will attend the university (NMU)? How many parents will allow their children to go to such a place where it is proposed? I do not think we (Government) are proceeding with the university proposed by NIMASA because it is a waste of resources”
Minister Amechi informed that a lot of money had been released for the university with ‘no structure on ground but just the feasibility study” The Honourable 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, does not necessarily mean aborting the NMU. As to who will attend the university; he should leave that to individual candidates. Also, his claim that the NMU is “proposed” is faulty because it had already been approved by the Federal Government which also released the necessary funds and its take-off at its temporary site. There is nothing odd in such an arrangement; the University of Ife (now OAU) in fact had a temporary site in Ibadan, a different city. Yet ‘Great Ife’ turned out to be the university to beat.
Perhaps the greatest disservice done to the Minister by his aides was to make him believe and
pronounce quite incorrectly, that there is ‘no structure on ground…” In reality, there were, and are structures on ground including on the temporary site whose structures were adjudged standard enough for the NMU to have taken off in 2015. Also on the permanent site are twelve completed structures and two others nearing completion. When Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo visited the permanent site on January 16, 2017, the structures which the Minister claimed were in the air, were actually on ground.
Perhaps the most important issue the Minister and those who may be opposed to the NMU failed to grasp is its necessity and urgency. Water covers 70.1 percent of the earth’s surface with the oceans hold 96.5 percent of those waters; Nigeria occupies 850 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean and 3,000 kilometres of inland waterways with a long navigational history. Over 500 years ago, some Nigerians like the Benin and Ijaw were known to be ocean-going. Despite these cold facts, 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.
This cannot but be so because in contrast to Nigeria’s single Maritime Academy, the Philippines, a fellow Third world country with forty percent of Nigeria’s population, has 44 Maritime universities and academies. In fact, that country dominates the aviation 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 academics, while in that belt, India has 26 and Pakistan 11. 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. So what we need is not just a solitary Maritime university, but the upgrading of the Academy in Oron and establishment of more Maritime universities across the Niger Delta.
On campaigns that Okerenkoko is the wrong site, the Feasibility Study explains it is the right choice because “It is accessible by several waterways which have served as local and international navigation routes for centuries. 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 … Okerenkoko is about 15 minutes’ navigation to the Escravos”
With President Muhammadu Buhari directing that the NMU takes off this year, it appears, at last, the university will be born. But there might be birth complications; there are those claiming that its site belongs to a different nationality in the Niger Delta from that which Government recognizes. This is more a distraction; the fact is that the land has been acquired by the Federal Government with a Certificate of Occupancy signed by former Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Oduaghan. It will be illusory for such people to hope that such ownership claims will abort the birth of the NMU in Okerenkoko, and the university moved to their preferred site.
It does not matter who claims ancestral ownership of the NMU land, what matters is its birth which will be beneficial to the whole Niger Delta, the country and Africa. All the Niger Delta people are in the same boat, they have to learn how to paddle together.
All hands seem on deck; the Senate which with uncommon speed some months ago, threw out the bill for the birth of the NMU, is now poised for its speedy passage. The NMU is an idea whose time has come. Like Agostinho Neto wrote from the Luanda Prison in July 1960: “ I patiently wait, For the clouds to gather, Blown by the wind of history, No one, Can stop the rain”