“We are not going ahead with the university project (referring to Nigeria Maritme University (NMU), Okerenkoko), proposed by NIMASA because we have an institution in Oron, we have Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology, Zaria and we have the Nigerian College of Aviation in Zaria, which we could upgrade to a university status and NIMASA is proposing to build a new one.”
With the above words, Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi announced the stoppage of the Nigeria Maritime University, the first maritime university in Nigeria, which was conveniently cited in the Niger Delta, the region with the largest coast line in Nigeria.
The Niger Delta people who comprise many ethnic groups, including the Ijaw, Igbo, Ibibio, Efik and many others, has for centuries felt a great sense that their resources are being taken away from them by outsiders. They’ve have had such feeling, sometimes rightfully, and sometimes wrongfully that something that belongs to them is being taken away from them.
During the time of Jubo Juboha also known as King Jaja of Opobo, the Niger Delta had a serious quarrel with the British over access to the palm oil trade which the foreigners wanted to take away from them. The quarrel led to the death of King Jaja, and ultimately the Niger Delta lost that access. We may all be familiar with the story of Isaac Adaka Boro, who fought the Federal Government in the 1960’s because the Niger Delta felt they were losing out.
During the time of General Abacha, the Niger Delta, in this particular case the Ogoni People, felt rightfully that the fertility of their lands were being taken from them through uncontrolled and unpunished oil spillage. The struggle then, led to the death of Ken Saro Wiwa, a great Ogoni activist.
It is the same way a large section of the Niger Delta feels today about the jettisoning of the Nigeria Maritime University by the Federal Government. They feel a morale-draining sense of loss, but it is not late for the Federal Government through Amaechi to reverse an order that is currently sinking the spirits of a people.
Why is it sinking the spirits of the people? For one thing, the maritime university is the first of its kind in Nigeria. It is the first specialized university in Nigeria.
According to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State who is a staunch supporter of the establishment of more specialized universities in Nigeria, NMU will give the right tools and practical learning that will make graduates employers of labour, rather than job seekers.”
A former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Power Ziakede Aginighan listed the advantages of the NMU to include capacity building for Nigerians in the maritime industry, bringing in of direct foreign investment and the arrest of capital flight from the country, and you will agree with him that such will go a long way not only to improve the economy of the Niger Delta, but also that of Nigeria in general.
Chief Amaechi argued that NMU is not needed because there were other maritime education institutions in Nigeria, but the truth is that the other institutions are there to provide world class technical maritime education, but not the world class maritime managerial education NMU is there to provide. Both are two different aspects of maritime education which if Nigeria can train its citizens adequately in within Nigerian educational institutions, would arrest capital flight, and improve the economy in many facets, bringin peace and stability.
NMU’s establishment in the Niger Delta would go a long way over time to give Niger Deltans a greater sense of inclusion in the Nigerian project instead of the perennial sense of loss they have always felt.
The people of Niger Delta feel they have lost the headquarters of the oil companies like Shell, Chevron and Mobil to Lagos, a city that is not in their region when their region is the epicenter of oil production in Nigeria. For years there have been calls for oil companies to be mandated to set up their headquarters in the Niger Delta, where most of their operations are based. Those calling for this say that is the only just thing to do, and point to various economic benefits the Niger Delta has lost because those multinationals are not based there.
The people of the Niger Delta feel that they have lost their arable land and their fishing opportunities. Before the commercial exploitation of crude oil deposits started in their region, there was no pollution contaminating Niger Delta waters and killing their fishes. The lands were arable and they could easily cultivate them. But gone are those days, as oil pollution has caused serious economic devastation.
The people of the Niger Delta have an uncanny feeling that they may have lost the chance to benefit from their oil, because when oil was at a very high price, they agitated for 50% percent derivation, but got only 13%. Now the price of oil is in the downlows and no one knows when or if it will ever come up again.
The people of the Niger Delta feel that they have lost the presidency for now, with Goodluck Jonathan serving only one term as president before being defeated by Muhammadu Buhari. Yes, Buhari won fair and square,but some still feel that the fact that Jonathan who is from their area was beaten means that the Niger Delta lost.
They also feel they may have lost the amnesty programme, due to all the current uncertainty surrounding its future. In the heydays of the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants, many Niger Delta youths, albeit predominantly those of Ijaw stock benefited immensely, and were able to travel abroad for maritime studies and return with enviable academic and technical qualifications and greatly improved economic prospects.
In fact, there is a widespread feeling among the people of the Niger Delta feel that the stopping of the Nigeria Maritime University project is a deliberate move to punish Niger Deltans for voting predominantly against Buhari in the last general elections. The Niger Delta people feel so down now, and having lost all the things I have mentioned above, they would have like to at least hold on to the maritime university – at least they would gain economically from it far into the future, as their youth gain revenue-enhancing academic qualifications from it. But they are now being told instead that they may also have lost the university.
One of the greatest victors in world history, Winston Churchill said that in victory, there should be magnanimity, as in mercy. Let there be mercy.
It is alleged that the land on which the university was built was sold to the Federal Government in fraudulent circumstances. Let the fraud be uncovered, and let the perpetrators be punished. In fact, if absolutely necessary, let the university be relocated, but not outside the Niger Delta. They need to hold on to that university to make them feel a sense of inclusion in the Nigerian project.