It is very instructive and gratifying to mention that Nigeria’s premier maritime university, the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, being facilitated by the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, is in Gbar amatu Kingdom on the Escravos River, Delta State. This is an area noted for its shipping, oil and gas and inland water-borne transportation since the 15th century. Okerenkoko is about five nautical miles or 15 minutes by speedboat drive to EscravosTankfarm and Terminal, and the Atlantic Ocean. Escravos which opens into the Atlantic Ocean is a route for ocean going vessels engaged in the oil and gas industry that is the bulwark of the Nigerian economy.
This is the stable of the Chevron-operated EscravosTankfarm and Terminal, Escravos Gas to Liquid (EGTL) project, and several integrated and adjoining crude oil fields, including Abiteye, Utonana, Makaraba, Dibi, and other catchment/kindred fields including Olero, Opuekeba, etc. The first offshore production platform in Nigeria ‘OKAN’ is on the Escravos estuary. The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) also operated several crude oil fields in this area which has just recently been taken over by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC). These include: Jones Creek, Odidi I & II, Egwa I & II. Therefore, the Okerenkoko-Escravos area has been a global business centre for several decades.
The navigational relevance of the Escravos River towered very high such that the Tafawa Balewa government of the First Republic (1960-1966) spent about N2.47 billion to procure a foreign firm named Costain, to dredge the estuary. The scope included the construction of a nine-kilometre long mole from the mainland and another island mole of a kilometre in length. The purpose was to keep the entrance of the river perpetually navigable in order to expand the trade in the western Delta. Granite for the civil works was said to have been obtained from a quarry in Ore area of Ondo State, through rocks blasted and transported by a temporary 25-kilometre railway to the nearest creek port at Igbokodo, from where they were conveyed, in barges through creeks to the Escravos bar, a distance of approximately 230 kilometres, and with total workforce of 2,300, out of which 150 were expatriates. Perhaps, the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa envisioned a day like this when an Institution would be domiciled in this area to dispense maritime knowledge. After all, to whom much is expected, much is given!
This is the environment the Federal Government, under the leadership of former President GoodluckEbele Jonathan, GCFR decided to site the nation’s pioneer maritime university, the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko. The University was licensed by the Federal Executive Council on May 9, 2015. Thereafter, Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor, Prof. (Mrs) Viola Onwuliri, a former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, duly appointed together with the relevant principal officers, led by the Vice Chancellor, MrsOngoebi Maureen Etebu, a world-class Professor of Mechanical Engineering. The other officers include: Messrs. Anho Nathaniel Eseoghene, Hassan Bakari and Baba ShaibAduku as Registrar, Bursar and Librarian, respectively, with the University billed to resume academic activities in the 2015/2016 session on its take-off campus at Kurutie, a neighbouring Community of about 1.5 nautical miles or five (5) minutes away from Okerenkoko. But this has not been possible. Why? So many questions are being asked by well-meaning Nigerians including enthusiastic parents, community leaders, opinion leaders and stakeholders in the education industry.
All the relevant authorities approved the University: The National Universities Commission (NUC), the Federal Ministry of Education, and the Federal Executive Council that gave the final approval. Now, against all these legitimate authorities, one individual, Mr. ChibuikeRotimiAmaechi, Nigeria’s Minister of Transport, out of prejudice and inadequate information, says the University project is improper. Haba! Amaechi was quoted to have told the Senate Committee on Marine Transport that it was a waste of resources on the part of NIMASA to have embarked on the establishment of the Nigeria Maritime University at Okerenkoko, and that it was a wrong decision in the first place, when such resources should have been channeled to other existing institutions. He puts it thus:
“we are not going ahead with the University Project proposed by NIMASA because we have an Institution in Oron, we have the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology, Zaria, and we have the Nigerian College of Aviation which we could upgrade to a University status and NIMASA is proposing to build a new one”.
Amaechi did not end there. He went further to drop the bombshell sarcastically:
“who will attend the University? How many parents will send their Children to go to such a place where it proposes to site the University”.
Let me add: Where then is good for siting of a University? And what then is good for this place? Why is it not fit for a University?
I do not know the yardstick Mr. Amaechi used in discrediting the siting of this University at Okerenkoko. I wish to say categorically that if there must be any region or area qualified for siting of a Maritime University, it should be the Gbaramatu-Escravos area.
Escravos, the home place of the Ijaws and their neighbours, the Itsekiris have been so prominent and strategic for world commerce since the early centuries AD. The establishment and choice of location for siting of the Maritime University, I am aware, followed a thorough and rigorous process in accordance with extant regulations. Mr. Amaechi even alluded to the existence of a Feasibility Study, which of course, is a vital document, precedent to the implementation of major projects of this nature. The Feasibility Study report would have addressed all the fears and concerns that the Honourable Minister is now bothering himself with, hence, I am at a loss now on where to draw the line between investment on critical national need midwifed by the subject matter specialist agency – NIMASA, and other exogenous variables.
NIMASA, in the execution of its mandate, proposes to establish the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, Nigeria. NIMASA empanelled a team of world class academics and professionals in the Industry led by the very resourceful Prof. G. G. Darah, a Delta State delegate to the 2014 National Conference. Others include Professors Christopher Ikporukpo, former VC of Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Amassoma; Christopher Orubu, Emperor Kpangban, TemiAkporunor, Davies Ekwenna (of blessed memory), Capt. Joe Ihediwa, Drs. Amy Emerhi, Sunny Awhefeada, Alfred Mulade, Martin Tugbokorowei, EnajiteOjaruega, Peter Omoko, and a host of others, to develop the Academic Brief and Curriculum for the University. This assignment which was completed within record time, gave rise to the formal ground-breaking ceremony performed by former President GoodluckEbele Jonathan, GCFR on May 10, 2014, and eventual approval by the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) on May 9, 2015.
The University is a response to the chronic shortage of professional human capital and globally competitive technical knowhow in the maritime industry and economy. The disadvantage of Nigeria in the world’s maritime economy is alarmingly demonstrated by the fact that the country presently has no more than 1,000 personnel of about 150,000 needed to service the national industry. This situation has compounded Nigeria’s embarrassing dependency on foreign nationals and operators whose overwhelming dominance poses a serious security crisis for Nigeria and the entire Gulf of Guinea and the West African sub-region. No less troubling is the massive capital flight arising from the engagement of foreign shipping facilities, agencies, and personnel. The establishment of the University is an appropriate and timely remedy for this multi-faceted crisis.
Furthermore, the global maritime economy has become increasingly knowledge-driven, necessitating the production of local high-level professionals imbued with requisite dosage of nationalism and patriotism. There are about 140 Universities in Nigeria, yet none of them offers degree courses in maritime studies and engineering relevant for the globally competitive maritime industry. The Nigerian situation should be contrasted with that of other countries. The Philippines has 44 maritime Universities, India 26, United Kingdom 16, and Bangladesh 14. Nigeria has only the Nigerian Maritime Academy at Oron, AkwaIbom State which is not even a degree awarding institution.
Another imperative for the University establishment is that Nigeria has abundant endowment in maritime resources and waterways. Nigeria has over 850-km coastline on the Atlantic Ocean that connects some of the world’s richest economies and democracies. There are also over 3,000 km of inland waterways which have hosted navigational enterprise for centuries. These combined assets make Nigeria one of the most blessed in maritime and aquatic abundance. The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, will be the citadel of the technical and engineering knowledge that will transform these natural resources into renewable and inexhaustible wealth, to create jobs and enterprises and to fortify Nigeria’s international trade and national sovereignty.
By virtue of its location in the epicentre of the country’s economic heartbeat of the Niger Delta, the University will cater for the needs of Nigerians, the Gulf of Guinea region, African countries on the Atlantic and Indian seaboards, and the world at large. The Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, will be a viable academic centre of excellence whose products will drive Nigeria’s decisive entry into the global maritime and knowledge economies. It will bring honour, pride, and national prestige to the entire country, Africa, and peoples of African descent the world over.
The prospects of academic development and expansion of the University are hallmarked by the uniqueness of the institution as the first and premier citadel of learning in the globally competitive and economically buoyant maritime industry cannot be over emphasized. As has already been pointed out, the maritime sector of the Nigerian economy is grossly underdeveloped and under-resourced. There is a shortfall of nearly 150,000 trained national personnel in the industry. Accordingly, the products of the University have a huge market and employment opportunities awaiting them. This is a major incentive that will attract students and staff.
The immediate past Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel EwetaUduaghan (CON), could not hide his feelings and appreciation on behalf of the government and good people of Delta State, to the Federal Government during the ground-breaking ceremony on May 10, 2015 by former President GoodluckEbele Jonathan, GCFR. It was a feeling of gratitude to the Federal Government of Nigeria for remembering the riverine and difficult terrain in its programme of establishment of higher institution of learning which was long overdue. It was a sigh of relief that finally, the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs will eventually have the privilege of being dressed in gold.
Dr. Alfred Mulade,
A Petroleum Economist and Rural Development Policy Analyst wrote in from Warri, Delta State.