By Sunny Ikhioya
THE way this government has gone about the business of governance since inception suggests that it is on a vengeance mission. It is as though there is an axe to grind with the previous government and this will not help its course. Government: whether good or bad is a continuum. It is on going, it never stops. It is like a relay race, where one segment of the race is handed over to another through a baton but governance goes much further, it never stops. That is why all the bickerings by the present regime against the previous are uncalled for. There are laws in the land to take care of infractions and no reasonable person will complain against its use on offenders but when you act as if there is nothing good to pick or continue from where the previous regime stopped, then there is something wrong.
The statement by the Minister of transport to the effect that the federal government intends to shut down the Maritime university, Okerenkoko, Delta state is one of such misguided decisions. We should consider the advantages the nation stands to benefit from it rather than the unnecessary witch hunting. No matter the misgivings about it, a project that aims to educate and empower our youths must be applauded, no matter its location. There is no federal project established in Nigeria that has been without sentiments. There is the Kaduna refinery, Nigeria Defence Academy, Obafemi Awolowo University and so on, to mention but a few. What matters is the contribution of these institutions to progress and national development. If government shuts down the maritime university, it stands to lose. The plan and scope of the marine university is done in such a way to cover all the gaps in our marine and acquatic cultures; administration, engineering, transport/shipping, oceanography, meteorology, and many more.
The Minister was talking about Oron, this has been more on cadet training, the scope of the university goes much further. In any case both of them can co exist because of their relevance to the system. We cannot stop one for the other. The opportunities available to this nation as a result of this project are too numerous to mention. It will serve as a recruitment bank for highly technical marine based professionals, which presently is dominated by foreign interests. It will contribute to great peace in a region that is so much in need of it. We have not touched on the physical and infrastructure benefits that will accrue from this development. There is the popular saying that; “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, a properly engaged youth will not dabble into any form of militancy, he will weigh the consequences of his actions before getting involved in such acts. The siting of a university opens up the community. University communities are well endowed with vast land, tax free campuses and these attract the best of qualified skilled men. It is also boosted by housing developments of contemporary standards. The establishment of a university immediately raises the status of the environment in which it is sited. The Okenrenkoko project is already established, it should not be allowed to die.
Some years ago, the late Professor Ambrose Alli, against vehement protest, choose to locate the Bendel state university in his home town Ekpoma. Today, Alli is no more but the university is still serving the needs of so many Nigerians beyond the Bendel state boundaries. That is the point been made here. The overall importance of the project must take precedence. The country, especially Niger Deltans need such kind of project which emphasises on practical and theoretical skills building. Courses of this nature outside our shores, cost a fortune. The universities already in existence in the country do not offer core marine professional courses. For a country that still cannot offer half the number of university applicants’ admission, the Okerenkoko project is imperative.
We must be able to separate the purpose and advantages the project serves the country from the process under which it was brought to be. If laws have been flouted, culprits should be brought to book without infringing on the interests of people living in the environment.
Alternatively, since the school project has reached advance stage and such cannot be abandoned, and the federal government is handicapped with funding; the federal government should immediately set up a committee to look at the public private partnership option, not a few individuals and bodies will be interested in such a programme as it centres on highly skilled and professionalised training. It could be nurtured with the aim of running it as a profitable and self sustaining institution. The infrastructures are in place and the aquatic terrain perfectly suited for practical marine training. Investors can be brought in from within and without to keep the project afloat. I am sure that not a few of the top notch businessmen from the Niger Delta will be interested in the project, if it is properly sold to them. Even if that option fails, the state government can take it over with a view of running it as a self sustaining institution. The school of aviation in Zaria, a highly professionalised institution has managed to survive all these years despite the challenges posed by federal government funding.
What am I saying? The country is still seriously deficient in the man power area of marine and related studies and so any plan to establish one irrespective of where it is sited is commendable because the advantages are too numerous to let it go. The federal government must therefore find an appropriate channel to keep alive the Okerenkoko University project, closing it down is not an option.
*Mr. Ikhioya, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.