From a Militants’ Kingdom to a University Community

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The militant enclave of Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State becomes a university community as President Goodluck Jonathan performs the ground breaking ceremonies of the Nigeria Maritime University and a Shipyard/Dockyard facility in the coastal community, writes Akinola Olugbenga
 
This time four, five years ago, Gbaramatu Kingdom, the militant enclave of Delta State, was of forlorn hope, despair, sadness and a battle ground between one of the warlords of the bloody Niger Delta Struggle and the Federal Government Joint (Military) Taskforce.
 
The area did not only witness severe bombardment, it came under heavy shelling and was almost reduced to rubbles on the accusation that it harboured militants, fighting against the economic interest of Nigeria and in the quest to capture dead or alive one of the most dreadful commanders of the region’s militants, ‘General’ Tompolo, a son of the kingdom. Many fled their homes to seek refuge in surrounding bushes and neighbouring communities, some were killed or maimed, homes were damaged, burnt or destroyed, and the people were torn between life and death.
 
But all that had long given way to a new life of promise and hope in the wake of the hand of amnesty extended by the government to the fighting militants. As President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his entourage of the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano , the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris  Umar, the  Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Ziakade Akpobolokemi and a host of others stepped out of their choppers to a rousing reception  in the kingdom on May 10, 2014 for the ground breaking ceremonies of the Nigeria Maritime University (NUM), the NIMASA Shipyard/Dockyard facility both sited in Okerenkoko and the flag off of the temporary site of the NUM in kurutie, also in the kingdom, it was obvious that the days of the long knives are long over. The president was visiting the kingdom for the first time since he assumed office, having been there last in 2007 as vice president.
 
The mood was as warm as the occasion was colourful; celebrations knew no bounds as cultural and other displays took over. In between the unending singing, dancing and display of joy, President Jonathan rose to perform the mission of his visit to a thunderous ovation.
 
He was delightful at his return to the kingdom, recalling that the last time he visited in 2007; he solicited their co-operation to embrace peace in the Niger Delta region convinced that “peace in the region was invariably going to translate to greater economic fortunes for the kingdom and our great country in general.
 
“I am glad you took the advice and today the story of our collective success in entrenching peace in this region is told all over the world and is currently considered a model for the resolution of conflicts in other parts of the World particularly, in Africa. We must admit that the journey to the present state has been challenging but you forged ahead.
 
“”My visit this time, thankfully, is to share “the dividends of democracy” with you and most importantly to emphasize the gains peace can bring to a Nation. Let me therefore use this occasion once again to implore all groups and individuals who may be aggrieved for any reason whatsoever to always embrace dialogue as it is the best alternative in resolving conflicts.”
 
Realising the significance of the maritime sector and its potentials and opportunities which can considerably impact on the country’s GDP, President Jonathan said government to that effect adopted legislative interventions, including the Cabotage Act of 2003 to develop the sector. The Act, according to him, has today ensured that over 3000 vessels of different sizes and functions, operating in the country’s coastal trade have significant Nigerian content just as it has generated no fewer than 21, 000 shipboard personnel jobs and nearly half a million employment for shore personnel to confirm the claims that the sector has the potential to significantly contribute to the nation’s GDP.
 
He commended the present NIMASA management for initiating the NUM and the Shipyard/Dockyard, stating that they were with a view to build capacity for the sector. Government, he assured, will do all in its power to ensure the successful take off of the university given its impact on the realization of Nigeria’s maritime potentials while stating that his presence at the ceremonies underscores government commitment to the projects.
 
“Given our numerical strength we must be able to develop potentials in this sector so that we can create a strategic reserve of knowledge and experience from which the country can always draw either for commercial interests or military imperatives,” the president noted, stressing that government, to encourage the sector, is prepared to engage stakeholders with a view to developing a relevant and comprehensive package of incentives to boost the development of the sector.
 
Aligning himself with the president on the potentials of the maritime sector, the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, explained that the sector in Nigeria is responsible for the carriage of 95 percent of exports and imports of trade in oil and non-oil products just as it accounts for a significant portion of the movement of goods and passengers largely on account of the connectivity of these countries by waterways and its economic efficiency.
 
He gave the reasons for the siting of the projects in the community to include the natural endowments of the areas such as natural affinity proximity to the shipping routes, the volume of shipping activities, the high hydrocarbon reserves in the areas and the president’s desire to spread development to all nooks and crannies of the country.
 
“The Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko will serve as a model institution in the African sub-region and will in not too distant future become a reference centre for maritime institutions globally. Similarly, the shipyard and dockyard facility will not only compliment the training programme of the University but will also assist in ensuring compliance with the dictates of the Cabotage Regime, which requires Cabotage Vessels to be built in Nigeria.  This will be in addition to creating multiplier effects on the Nigerian Economy,” the minister said while commending the NIMASA for initiating the projects.
 
A fulfilled Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Ziakade Akpobolokemi, in his welcome address, said the university was a strategic response to the perennial challenge of dearth of indigenous manpower in the maritime sector, stating that the NMU would produce high level manpower for Nigeria’s maritime/shipping sector on sustainable basis.
 
“It is a tertiary institution for the training of seafarers, master mariners, marine engineers, naval architects, nautical scientists and other specialized maritime/shipping trade skills. The NMU is envisaged to become a Centre for Excellence in innovative research for the maritime sector in the West and Central Africa sub-region when fully developed,” Akpobolokemi explained, pointing out also that the shipyard/dockyard facility was a response to a major infrastructural capacity gap that has negatively affected the sector’s performance.
 
One of the important pillars of our Cabotage regime, the DG continued, is the possession of in-country capacity to build and maintain vessels for the Cabotage trade. He said NIMASA, conceived of the shipyard/dockyard facility on the realisation that having in-country capacity for shipbuilding and maintenance was crucial for the attainment of the Cabotage policy objectives.
 
The shipyard/dockyard facility, he also explained, will support the university with practical training of naval architects, marine, communication and control engineers, pointing out that the physical proximity of the shipyard/dockyard facility to the university is deliberately conceived to facilitate adequate practical training of students in requisite areas.
 
While preliminary activities, according to him, have been concluded for both projects and work commenced on them, he explained that both projects also have future plan for Public Private Partnership (PPP), especially in the operation, management and maintenance of the facilities after construction. He called on the Federal Government to give more strength to the agency’s capacity to carry out its functions, appealing for a good measure of flexibility for NIMASA to effectively function in tandem with international best practices among member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
 
According to him, NIMASA’s core functions do not lend to typical bureaucratic control as it stifles its ability to respond swiftly to marine emergencies as expected of a safety administration. In addition, because of the massive developmental programmes the agency has embarked upon, which require extensive funding, the DG also asked that it was granted at least a five-year moratorium from contributing to the federation account, pleading that rather than being made to remit its annual operating surplus to the Federation account, it was allowed to invest the fund in the projects and other key infrastructure.
 
“We are committed and determined to move Nigeria from a country of great maritime potentials to an active maritime/shipping nation. We are working on an initiative to establish a viable National shipping Line through the PPP framework. Our aspiration here is to ensure that in the next two to five years, Nigerian companies would be active in the affreightment of the country’s huge international seaborne trade, especially crude oil and gas and other wet and dry bulk trades. We need the full support of the Federal Government at the highest level to successfully implement and deliver on this project,” Akpobolokemi further requested, asking that the Federal government also implements the maritime sector specific fiscal incentives contained in the communique of the presidential retreat on maritime as its implementation will not only support indigenous operators to grow their trade but will attract more private investment in the sector.
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