THE push to give full legal backing to the Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerenkoko, Delta State, got under way in the Senate on Tuesday.
The Senate Committee on Tertiary Education conducted public hearing on a bill for an Act to establish the Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerenkoko and a bill for an Act to establish the Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron, Cross-River State.
While the consideration of the Oron Maritime University passed legislative hurdles seamlessly, not so with deliberations on Okerenkoko Maritime University.
Two Delta State ethnic nationalities, Ijaw and Itsekiri, were at each others’ throat over the rightful name of the location of the institution.
Approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan in the twilight of his administration without formal legal backing, promoters of the university are working to legalise the institution.
For some reasons, controversy has continued to trail the creation of the university.
Some already tagged the institution “Maritime University of Controversy, Okerenkoko.”
First it was two prominent sons of the Niger Delta region ferociously at variance with the resources required to develop the university. Now the issue of whether Okerenkoko or Okerenghigho is the rightful name of the location of the university is threatening to tear the institution apart.
Although the bill promoted by Senator James Manager (Delta South) clearly identified the location of the institution as “Okerenkoko” Gbaramatu community, the Itsekiri people fiercely disagreed and named the location of the institution as Okerenghigho.
It was controversy galore at the public hearing as the Ijaw and Itsekiri delegates at the Senate hearing practically took their battle of wits and supremacy from the creek of Niger Delta to the hallowed chamber of the National Assembly.
Specifically, leaders of Gbaramatu Community, an Ijaw speaking area, acknowledged and called the name of the location of the university Okerenkoko, while leaders of Omadino community, an Itsekiri speaking area, differed and insisted that the name of the location of the university is Okerenghigho.
Trouble started when the Committee chairman, Senator Barau Jibrin, recognised and invited representatives of Ijaw and Itsekiri communities to make their submissions at the public hearing.
In line with the bill, Ijaw leaders had no difficulty in giving their nod to the establishment of institution as named, “Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerenkoko,” a Gbaramatu Community. Itsekiri leaders on the other hand, asked the Senate to change the name of the location of the institution from Okerenkoko to Okerenghigho in Omadino Community, in accordance with “a valid court judgement.”
Chief Fedude Zimughan, who spoke on behalf of Ijaw leaders, accused Itsekiri representatives at the public hearing of obtaining a “black market court judgment.”
For the Ijaw leader, the court judgement was not only “fraudulent” but had long been “set aside by another court.”
“They got a black market judgment and it cannot stand. The judgment has been set aside. We have filed a brief. It will be prejudicial for us to comment. But it is insulting for them to rubbish us when we took the Itsekiris in when they needed help,” Zimughan told the panelists.
On his part, Mr. Edward Ekpoko, who spoke on behalf of Itsekiri leaders of Omadino Community insisted that though they have no issue with the establishment of the university, the current name of the location of institution must be changed in line with a court judgment given in their favour.
“The Itsekiri people are not opposed to the establishment of the Maritime University. There are three issues that brought us here. The first is the issue of the land. The land is owned by Itsekiri people and supervised by the Olu of Warri. A judgement was given in favour of the Itsekiri.
“This issue has been settled by the judiciary. It was first settled in 1951. In 1975, they appealed the case and it was dismissed by the Supreme Court. We must follow the law. We cannot see the law and do the opposite. The name of the place should be changed to Okerenghigho and not Okerenkoko,” Ekpoko said.
Registrar of the University, Mr. Nathaniel Anho, who stood in for the Vice Chancellor, urged the Senate not to change the name of the location of the institution.
The unhealthy rivalry over who owns the land of the Maritime University of Nigeria nearly stalled consideration of the bill.
One thing was clear though, the two groups supported the establishment of the university. The only area of difference was the ownership of land where the university sits.
Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had while inaugurating the public hearing, expressed the support of the Senate for the establishment of the university.
For Saraki, the Maritime University, Okerenkoko and the Maritime University, Oron, will not only be of great importance to the maritime industry in Nigeria, and country’s technological advancement but particularly to people of the Niger Delta region.
The entire business of maritime entailed delivering specialised services in a multinational, multicultural and multifunctional environment while the efficacy and productivity of Nigeria’s shipping industry is therefore heavily reliant on the quality and dexterity of the key players in the maritime business, Saraki said.
On the benefits of establishing the two universities, Saraki said they range from providing massive employment opportunities for our youths to saving billions of dollars in foreign exchange as Nigeria would no longer have need to ferry her citizens abroad for maritime related education.
“The dearth of capable Nigerians to take up strategic positions in this industry has to a large extent denied the country of valuable revenue and stagnated the growth of cabotage in Nigeria. For this reason, it is heart-warming to note that the Federal Government is not relenting in her efforts at strengthening human capacity for the maritime sector in a bid to position the industry for greater global competition,” Saraki said..
Senator Jibrin also highlighted the importance of the two universities. For the Kano north lawmaker, a country yearning for economic diversification needed to develop its human capacity massively, and in a multiplicity of disciplines.
“Federal Government, have seen the need to establish maritime universities in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, while the immediate past government approved the establishment of the Maritime University of Nigeria Okerenkoko, Delta State, the present government, through the Minister of Transport, recently announced the desire to elevate the Maritime Academy, Oron, Akwa lbom State, to the status of a university,” Jibrin explained.
On the disagreement of the name of the location of the university, Jibrin said “We will do the right thing. We will get the best judgment to this issue. No one is against the establishment of this school. The bone of contention is the location of the school and the issue will be adequately addressed by the Senate,” Jibrin assured.
Senator Jibrin may have assured of Senate’s desire to resolve the land ownership dispute, watchers of the unfolding development contended that the issue of the ownership of the land of the maritime school may be finally settled by the court.Source: The Nation