By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THE Lion of the tribe of Ubima community in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi, currently Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, had fought several battles in his action-packed political career with very big support from the people.
From the “little guy” position after his tenure as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, he bulldozed the strongholds against him in 2007 to emerge as the Governor of Rivers State and served two terms. This was after he dethroned his brother, Sir Celestine Omehia.
Amaechi became a man to watch when he led other governors and top Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stakeholders to defect from the party after former President Goodluck Jonathan and others curiously attempted to deny him of his victory as Chair, Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, in 2013.
Jonathan could not manage the crisis, which later saw Amaechi playing a noteworthy role as the Director General of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organization. His effort contributed to the crushing of Jonathan by Buhari in the 2015 presidential election.
Late last year, he dismantled the hurdles put before him by his political enemies when Buhari nominated him as Minister to stop his clearance by the National Assembly, last year. He support base grew massively in the Niger Delta and the country thereafter.
Fishing for trouble
However, Amaechi appears to have thrown spanner in the works when recently he announced that the Federal Government had scrapped the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Delta State, which groundbreaking ex-President Jonathan performed May 10, 2014. The problem is that some of the indices he relied on in making the pronouncement were faulty.
The university is located at Okerenkoko, an Ijaw community in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State and is one of the biggest things the former General Officer Commanding, GOC, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, who hails from the area, was able to attract to his people.
NMU is a Federal Government project sponsored by the Nigeria Maritime and Safety Administration Agency, NIMASA, one of the parasatals under Amaechi’s portfolio as Minister of Aviation.
The story is that, on January 19, when Amaechi appeared before the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, headed by Senator Ahmed Sani, to brief the Senate panel on the activities of the agencies under his supervision, he guillotined the university.
He words: “We are not going ahead with the university project (referring to 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.
“Who will attend the university? How many parents will allow their children to go to such a place where it proposes to site the university? I do not think we are proceeding with the university proposed by NIMASA because it is a waste of resources, and, unfortunately, a lot of money has already been released for the university project, hence there is no structure on ground but just the feasibility study.
“Whoever that is holding on to the money should better return it. The Chinese company contracted, confirmed that only the feasibility study was in place.”
It looked as if that it was until Amaechi amplified his stance before the Senate panel that people took notice of his stand, if not, he had, in December, last year, while on familiarization tour of Lagos ports and maritime agencies, ordered suspension of construction works at the university.
He stated then: “On the issue of misplacement of priority, I have already addressed it. When they came to me about the university at Okerenkoko, I said they should hold on because we need to build the Oron school to the standard that we need in order to be able to compete with global institutions.
“When we get there (MAN, Oron) and there is not enough space for the students, then you can go ahead with Okerenkoko. We are not saying that the school will not go ahead but we want to place priority on Oron first to see what is doable, there is no money so we must be careful before taking on new projects.”
Minister is telling lies – Clark
It seemed that that Amaechi did not out rightly mean to say that NMU, Okerenkoko, had been scrapped, but wanted to say that it was not of utmost priority now. Meanwhile, he had hardly left the Senate panel when attacks started pouring in against him.
A former Federal Commissioner for Information and Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who adopted Amaechi as one of his sons when the latter visited him at his Kigabodo country home in Delta State to thank him for his support, some years ago, was so flabbergasted that he accused the Minister of telling lies.
In an open letter to President Buhari, the elder statesman said: “It is unfortunate that the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi , has come to lie and deceive the Federal Government and indeed, Nigerians. In the statement credited by the media where he said, ‘…it is a waste of resources, and unfortunately, a lot of money had already been released for the university project, hence there is no structure on ground… The Chinese company contracted, confirmed that only the feasibility study was in place.’ Mr. President, this is a blatant lie.
“Mr. Amaechi carefully avoided mentioning the take-off campus of the University at Kurutie, which boasts of competitive and acceptable standard facilities that meet NUC standard for university campus, as part of the property of NMU, Okerenkoko and for which NIMASA paid the sum of about N13 billion.”
Sunday Vanguard learned that the Kurutie take-off site of the university is the Mieka Dive Training Institute, covering an expanse of 6,597 hectares, built by Tompolo, which the government acquired. The money paid to the ex-militant leader for the acquisition is part of the charges against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Clark described Amaechi’s statement that government would not go ahead with the university, which the Federal Government had approved and licensed based on the recommendation of the Nigeria Universities Commission, NUC, as insulting.
He said government had appointed a Governing Council, headed by a former Minister and renowned educationist, Prof (Mrs.) Viola Onwuliri, as Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council and Prof (Mrs.) Ongoebi Otebu as Vice Chancellor and it was set to commence academic activities in the 2015/2016 academic session from its take-off campus at Kurutie.
Amaechi doesn’t‘ve final say – Hon Reyenieju
Member, House of Representatives, representing Warri, Hon Daniel Reyenieju, an Itsekiri, told Ijaw and Itsekiri youths, who besieged him in Warri, that the statement credited to Amaechi regarding the cancellation of the university was “provocative, vexing, insensitive and, consequently, unacceptable.”
He, however, explained that the Minister’s outburst does not possess the forced of finality, saying that the House of Representatives would not allow such “brazen arbitrariness without subjecting it to parliamentary scrutiny.”
The lawmaker wondered why the university, one of those established by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, “is being singled out for cancellation.”
Fallacy of judgment – Aginighan
A former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Power Ziakede Aginighan, who added his voice to those calling on Amaechi to retrace his step, described his statement as an error of judgment.
He said: “Setting the records straight, the idea of siting a tertiary educational institution in the crude oil and gas-rich Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State was first proposed and adopted under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo as a critical component in the roadmap to peace and sustainable development of the Niger Delta.
“Gbaramatu Kingdom and other communities in the coastal belt of Nigeria, springing from Eastern Obolo/Ibeno in Akwa-Ibom through Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo to Ilaje and Ese-Odo in Ondo State account for over 70 per cent of the crude oil and gas output of Nigeria with concomitant devastation of the environment and threats on their means of livelihood. Paradoxically, this territory has been largely alienated from the mainstream of national development without any development.
“This explains the boundless joy that greeted the decision of the Federal Government to establish the Nigeria Maritime University at Okerenkoko, facilitated by the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) with a temporary site at Kurutie, having satisfied the requirements of the National Universities Commission (NUC). With Governing Council inaugurated, Vice Chancellor and other Principal Officers of the University appointed and take-off fund in NIMASA 2015 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly; it is clearly an error of judgment to contemplate scrapping the Nigeria Maritime University.
“I will rather appeal to the Minister to review his position on this matter in favour of the immediate take-off of the University by directing NIMASA to release the already appropriated take-off fund to the Nigeria Maritime University.
“For the Niger Delta and the Nation in general, the advantages of having the University far outweigh every argument to the contrary. Apart from capacity building for Nigerians in the maritime industry, bringing in direct foreign investment and arresting capital flight, the Nigeria Maritime University will play a key role in the re-integration phase of the Amnesty Programme.”
Deceptive, offensive – IYC
The Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, umbrella body of Ijaw youths in the Niger Delta, in a letter to Buhari protesting the Minister’s decision, said: “Mr. President, the reasons advanced by your Minister of Transportation are not only weak, mischievous and misleading, but also highly provocative and inciting. If there is any statement or action that has painted your administration in negative light in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta region, it is this statement.”
IYC, in the letter jointly signed by its President and spokesperson, Messrs. Udengs Eradiri and Eric Omare, said, “The Maritime University, Okerenkoko is part of the post amnesty development plan of the Niger Delta. The reasons advanced by the Minister for wishing to cancel the university are not tenable. The fact that there are maritime institutes in Zaria and Oron should not be excuse to cancel the university at Okerenkoko.
“The existing institutes in Zaria and Oron and the university in Okerenkoko have their different roles to play in the development of the very rich but underdeveloped maritime sector in Nigeria. The institutes in Oron and Zaria are meant to train medium class labor in the maritime sector while the Maritime University, Okerenkoko would train world-class technical and managerial manpower.”
Ijaw monarch, others react
The Ama-Okosu of Ogbe Ijoh, Warri Kingdom, HRM Couple Oromoni, Monbene II, national coordinator of the Host Communities Producing Oil and Gas, Prince Maikpobi Okareme, Ijaw leader, Chief Godspower Gbenekame, Okerenkoko community leader, Chief Michael Johnny and a host of others, also attacked Amaechi for the decision.
Protests rock Asaba, Warri, Ogulagha
On Tuesday, indigenes of Okerenkoko Federated Community, Delta State, stormed Government House, Asaba, protesting the alleged plan to abrogate the university. Before then, other groups had staged peaceful protests in Warri.
At the weekend, villagers carried out a peaceful protest in the riverine community of Ogulagha Kingdom in Burutu local government area of the state, over the issue.
Arewa endorses Amaechi
In the meantime, support for Amaechi on the plan to srap the university came from the influential northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, which commended the Minister for the move.
The group, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim, said, “Honorable Minister for Transport, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi, we are really pleased with your continuous exceptional kind gestures towards the North, in spite of the attacks on your person and ideology from some sections of the country as a result of that.
“We first took cognizance of your extreme love for the North when you courageously supported the then Jega-led INEC creation of additional 30,000 polling units, at a time southern leaders, led by former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, Chief Edwin Clark, Senator Femi Okuronmu and Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, were strongly against it for favouring the North against the South. You boldly and openly criticised the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for halting it because it favoured the North.
“Honorable Minister sir, we also appreciate the pivotal role you played in the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as the APC presidential candidate as well as his victory at the polls. Even though it was totally against the will of your people, you shunned ethnic sentiments and placed the interest of the country first before that of your people. We salute such unprecedented patriotic gesture.”
N-Delta group slams Arewa
However, the Save Niger Delta Group, SNDG, led by Jacob Abai, mocked the Minister for the off-putting endorsement of the ACF, saying, “It is becoming glaring that the Arewas are very happy because the Minister is obeying their instructions to cancel the proposed Maritime University to upgrade their own Aviation University, Zaria.”
Abai said the plan to cancel the university was not in the interest of the entire country but for selfish aggrandizement and urged Buhari to “resist any sycophant idea or advice concerning the cancellation of the Maritime University in order for us to have absolute peace in the Niger-Delta and Nigeria at large.”