On May 30th, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote back to the National Assembly that he would not assent to a bill transmitted to him establishing the Nigeria Maritime University in Okorenkoko, Delta State.
This was a bill that was given an accelerated hearing and passage by the law makers due to its sensitive and controversial nature.
It was also the bill many had thought would receive an express approval of Mr President given his genuine efforts to develop and placate the agitating Niger Delta region.
We are therefore surprised that the bill could suffer a setback, which we hope will be temporary, when President Muhammadu Buhari said he would not assent to it because “the funding provisions are grossly excessive and will disrupt the operations of a number of government agencies and institutions”.
In as much as the President may have his right to decline assent to the bill, we consider the reason given as belated and not strong enough to take such a decision.
We need not remind Mr President and his government of the sensitive nature of the university which was part of the peace charter the administration signed with the Niger-Delta region.
Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko is rich in controversy.
It was conceived by the former administration of Goodluck Jonathan who performed its ground-breaking in 2014.
Sited at the marshy and difficult terrain of Okerenkoko, Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State, the University was considered as part of their resource control by the Niger Deltans.
So, funds were generously released by the then government through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) under the headship of Patrick Akpobolokemi, who incidentally is from the Niger-Delta as former President Jonathan.
However, when the incumbent administration came in, the university project was halted by Rotimi Amaechi, the erstwhile minister of transportation who regarded the university as a ‘misplaced priority’ used as a conduit pipe to siphon money.
Why justifying the need to stop the project, Amaechi declared that the sum of N13 Billion purportedly used to purchase a land was enough to build the whole university.
He therefore said government had no money to pursue the project unless the money he said was misappropriated was recovered.
He also declared that similar maritime institutions in Nigeria, especially Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, made the proposed one at Okerenkoko irrelevant.
Amaechi stance infuriated the Niger Delta region which was then up in arms with the Federal government.
It was a time the militants in the region was blowing up oil installations which threatened to imperil the Nigerian economy.
However, Ibe Kachikwu, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, disagreed with Amaechi, saying if his (Amaechi) ministry would not pursue the university project, his (Kachikwu) would take it over.
In the long run, the militants in the region signed a peace pact for the cessation of hostilities, giving the revival of the abandoned university project as one of the conditions.
President Muhammadu Buhari showed his commitment towards restoration of peace in the region when he initially approved the release of N2 Billion for the take-off of the university after which he increased the grant to N5 Billion.
This was what gave the National Assembly the impetus to give the bill legalising the university an accelerated passage.
We are then disturbed by the present attitude of Mr President towards this controversial university project when he declined his assent to its bill.
For us at nigeriamaritime360.com, the university was sited more for political expediency than for its viability.
We believe that MAN, Oron should have been more funded and upgraded into a university that will cater for the capacity building needs of the maritime industry.
Presently, the pioneer maritime institution at Oron has suffered much neglect and bedevilled by long years of infrastructural decay that adding another institution with the same objective may worsen the situation.
The only source of statutory funding for MAN, Oron which is NIMASA, is not living to its statutory responsibilities and adding another burden to fund the university at Okerenkoko will be an overkill.
Probably that was why the President withheld his assent.
However, despite our reservation on the propriety of Okerenkoko University, we dare say that government should honour the agreement of the peace pact it had with the region by allowing the institution to have legal backing and make provision for its continued funding.
The government cannot afford to do anything that will give wrong signal to the people of the region which may disrupt the fragile peace in the area.
For us, the government has committed itself to supporting the institution when the President initially agreed to release N5 Billion take off grant.
Also, the government has reached a point of no return on this matter since the institution has already taken-off.
Incidentally, the relevant government institutions such as the National University Commission (NUC) in January 2018, has granted approval for the university to take off while the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) listed the institution in its Central Admission Processing System.
Following these approvals, the university commenced its 2017/2018 academy session in March, 2018 with 196 students.
Given this elaborate arrangement and the euphoria of joy elicited in the region by the commencement of academic programme in the university, any attempt to truncate the smooth running of the institution may jeopardise the fragile peace in the region.
By declining his assent to the bill, the President has made continuous funding of the university hazy and dicey.
What then becomes of the future of the 196 pioneering students of the university?
What will become of the relative calm the country enjoys in the region?
In as much as the President is desirous of maintaining peace in the region which is crucial to the economic well-being of the country, we implore Mr President to ensure that nothing imperils the sustenance of the university which, understandably, is jealously guarded by the Niger Deltans.
It will be a recipe for disaster if the university in Okerenkoko is starved of funds and then the Transport University being proposed for the hometown of Mr President is given access to limitless funds.
In as much as Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko was politically motivated, we consider it a child of necessity that should be nurtured to maintain peace in the Niger Delta region.
We appreciate the genuine concerns of Mr President on how to find a sustainable funding pattern for the university.
We urge the President and the National Assembly to address the area of concern in the bill in a bid to quickly set the Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko on a part of sustainable growth
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