On May 5, 2017, the 8th Senate passed the controversial bill for establishment of Nigerian Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Delta State.
The bill was passed months after the then-Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi announced scrapping of the University project.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the school was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
We recall quite vividly that Amaechi and the then- minister of state for petroleum, Ibeh Kachikwu had also disagreed on the establishment of the University.
At a town hall meeting in Uyo, AkwaI bom State, Mr. Amaechi defended the decision of the Buhari administration to scrap the project. Mr. Amaechi said the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan had paid too much to acquire a site for the university.
Also, while addressing the senate committee on maritime on January 19, 2018, Mr. Amaechi announced the scrapping of the project, which was to be financed by the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration Agency, a parastatal under his ministry.
He cited insecurity in the area, and said the project was a “misplacement of priority” because there are transport institutes in Zaria (Kaduna), and Oron (AkwaI bom ), already.
After the back and fore by the various functionaries of government, the specialized university started operations and of course, its first matriculation had already taken place. It has also been granted approval by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
But, in a letter to the last Senate, President Buhari informed the lawmakers of his decision to withhold assent to the Bill that will legalise the existence of the University. He cited “excessive funding provisions for the institution” as the major reason for his action.
“I am declining my assent to the bill because the funding provisions are grossly excessive and will disrupt the operation of a number of government agencies and institutions,” the letter read.
He noted also that, “Section 11 ‘’a’ and ‘g’ and sections 12 and 13 (1, 2 and 3) are in conflict with mandate and functions of the National Universities’ Commission.”
Whatever is happening to the University is a function of its creation. One fact is certain: the Nigeria Maritime University is perceived by most Nigerians as an institution created to assuage a tribe for perceived neglect. Little wonder, the name of one man was prominent in the conception of the university.
No doubt, its promoters were not altruistic or nationalistic. They just wanted a University in that part of the Niger Delta to assuage the war lord and ‘his boys’.
We recall that the then-Transportation Minister had also cited insecurity as basis for his argument against the school. Mr. Amaechi also expressed concerns with the payment of a huge N13 billion for the procurement of land for the school, allegedly, to a wanted militant leader, Tompolo.
In an apparent reference to how so much had already been committed, the former minister said: “My argument about Okerenkoko is that, land alone is N13 billion. If you give me N13 billion, I will buy the half of Lagos. That N13 billion has built the university already”. The Minister was right!
The above clearly shows the position of government on the university. Except perhaps the then-Minister of state for Petroleum, no top government functionary actually wanted the university. It was like (given the circumstances of threat from the militants whose kinsman had just lost the Presidential election), there was really no choice than to allow the university to start.
But, since the government of Muhammadu Buhari had agreed that the Maritime University should kick-off, and haven also provide additional funding through NIMASA, it is improper to stop it through any means.
There is no justifiable reason for the President’s action, unless if it is just because the university’s sources of funding is questionable or suspicious.
If the above is the case, then its drafters should pick the Bill with the 9th National Assembly, dot the “i” and cross the “t”.
Since it already has the approval of the National University Commission, and since it already has students, then its promoters should do the needful by removing the ‘offensive parts’ clean up the Bill and make it attractive to Mr President.
We think that one of the reasons the President refused assent is because the Bill makes provision for the University to be drawing funds from unconventional sources. The only source of funding opened to Federal Universities is through the Ministry of Finance.
We disagree with the likes of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) which alleged that the President must have been ill-advised not to assent to the Bill.
The fact is that the Nigerian Maritime University can not and must not be treated differently from other universities in the country; they all draw their strength from the Federal Ministry of Education and the NUC. The Maritime University was already clinging to the Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
Apart from that, it had also started enjoying patronage from the International Oil Companies. We recall that one of them; Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) had already pledged about $5 million (N1.8 billion) to finance some projects in the University.
As much as we have nothing against such supports, including such funding as a statutory part of the University’s enabling Act is tantamount to creating an institution that may become a ‘terror’ to corporate citizens of the Niger Delta, by taking them to court if they fail to offer the ‘statutory’ support.
All said, it is the responsibility of the promoters of the Bill to engage the National Assembly to rework the ‘offensive’ clauses.