•Claims, counter-claims on Okerenkoko; status retention bid on Oron
Following the Senate Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFUND second reading of the bills to establish the Nigerian Maritime University Okerenkoko, and upgrade of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron into a maritime university, the Ijaw and Itshekiri have both laid claim to ownership of Okerenkoko; as they deposed to provisional and traditional statutes, legal and quasi-legal instruments to persuade the Senate to award each of them host community status.
Both sides made voluminous documentary submissions to the Senate Committee, which they followed up with bursts of emotional claims and counter-claims, as each side advanced reasons to be regarded as the bona-fide ancestral people during the public hearing on the bill for the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko.
•Maritime Academy, Oron
Reacting to the claim of ownership of Okerenkoko by the Itshekiri counsel to the Gbaramatu Kingdom (Ijaw), Fedode Zinugha, dismissed it as act of ingratitude. He said, “I have never known or heard that settlers give names to communities in which they are accommodated. The history is clear about the fact that the Itshekiri migrated to Okerenkoko and we (Ijaw) gave them shelter. This arrogance must stop, we can no longer tolerate a situation where visitors we gave shelter now turn around and begin to twist history…and want to be the one to re-name our communities”.
Meanwhile, stakeholders are divided on the proposed upgrade of MAN Oron into a maritime university, which has produced two positions, for and against. While the alumni of MAN and some interest groups in Oro nation want the institution to be degree awarding without altering its polytechnic status, other stakeholders, particularly the elite, are rooting for a full fledged maritime university.
The Senate Committee members present at the public hearing include the Chairman, Senator Barau Jibrin; Senator Tijani Daura, Vice Chairman; Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, and Senator Binta Masi Garba, members.
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, represented by the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, declaring the public hearing open, said the 8th Senate is committed to ensuring speedy passage of the bills pursuant to ensuring that both bills scale the third reading and eventual passage into law. He said the Federal Government is desirous of exploiting the nation’s maritime potentials to optimize her seafaring capacity. He explained that NASS is very concerned about a study done by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which indicated that Nigeria needs about 29,000 seafarers to fill her quota in the global maritime industry; and noted that as a maritime nation, it is only proper that Nigeria does not lose its rights, hence efforts will not be spared in the drive to enhance local capacity in the sector. Saraki also said the 8th is sensitive to the social and economic plights of the Niger Delta and its people whose domain the nation’s maritime wealth is located, and declared NASS determination to erase these challenges through meaningful developmental projects, through the passage of the bills for the establishment of the Maritime University of Nigeria Okerenkoko and Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron.
Senator Barau Jibrin, in his opening remarks, echoed the position of the Senate President as he assured that the committee would fast track the third reading and eventual passage of both bills into law.
During oral presentations, the representative of the Minister of Education, who doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian University Commission (NUC), Prof. Adamu Abubakar Rasheed, said both the ministry and NUC were happy with any purposeful initiative for the establishment of universities, and announced government commitment to ensuring that the bills under consideration are eventually passed into law.
However, the NUC boss was the first to express misgiving about the establishment of two maritime universities, as he urged the Senate Committee to harmonise the academic framework to avoid duplication of roles. But Senator Nelson Effoing and Aniette Okon corrected that what was contained in the proposal is the Federal University of Maritime Studies, Oron, which was erronoesly captured in the Senate Committee brief as Nigerian Maritime University Oron. Both senators from Akwa Ibom State argued that two maritime universities was not out of place considering Nigeria’s huge maritime potentials, citing examples of smaller countries like Korea, Philippines, Singapore having more maritime universities than Nigeria. Effiong and Okon stated the Oron university, when established, will be a valve for the release of tension in the region, in addition to creating wealth and jobs for Nigerians.
Okon noted that while the Oron university would concentrate on maritime courses such as marine insurance, maritime law, naval architecture etc, the Okerenkoko institution can concentrate on petroleum engineering and oil and gas related courses.
President of the MAN Oron Alumni Association, Mr. Austin Ume Zeurike, and a member, Engr. Edubio Ekinrinyi, were present at the hearing. While they supported the idea, they insisted that the core professional training offered by MAN in line with regulations of the International Maritime Organization IMO, should be retained. They said the school should be upgraded into a degree awarding institution instead of the proposal to convert into a conventional university in order not to lose its fundamental mandate.
Itshekiri Omadino community, represented by its legal adviser, Mr. Edward Ekpoko, said it was in support of the establishment of the NMU Okerenkoko. The community however sought to claim ownership of the land in which the maritime university is sited, as it explained that the real name is Okerenwhigho as against Okerenkoko. Itsekiri Omadino claimed that Okerenkoko is Itsekiri land, saying it was forcefully acquired by the Ijaw. They asked to be restored as landlords and host community of the uUniversity. They also prayed the Senate to ensure that the rule of law was followed in establishing the university.
Responding, Committee Chairman assured both the Ijaw and Itshekiri that the committee will look into their submissions and do the needful. The bill for the establishment of Maritime University of Nigeria Okerenkoko was sponsored by Senator James Manager, representing Delta South while Senator Nelson Effiong, representing Eket District of Akwa Ibom State sponsored the bill for the establishment of the Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron.