Sylvester Idowu in Warri

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on Thursday paid a surprise visit to the site of the contentious Maritime University at Okerenkoko, Gbaramatu kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.

The minister was said to have been directed by President Muhammadu Buhari to embark on the trip.
The visit to Kurutie, the site of the institution, came barely four days after both Kachikwu and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, openly disagreed over the propriety or otherwise of the institution.

“We can’t take further chances anymore, president directed the minister to embark on the trip to have an on-the-spot assessment of things,” a source disclosed.

The source further disclosed that the minister was considering a bill to the National Assembly for the conversion of the school to the Nigerian National Petroleum Academy. But the bill will come in form of an executive bill to be presented by President Buhari.

Although those on the minister’s delegation were sketchy as at press time, a prominent Gbaramatu leader, Chief Daniel Ekpebide, led the team to the temporary site of the university in Kurutie as well as the ongoing permanent site at Okerenkoko.

Both Kachikwu and Amaechi had disagreed at a town hall meeting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital on Monday over the sustenability of the university.

The transportation minister had said: “I am not against the university. I hope you people appreciate that. My argument about Okerenkoko is that the land alone is N13 billion. If you give me N13 billion I will buy half of Lagos. That N13 billion has built the university already so there is no need to spend more money.

“Let Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) retrieve the money from them and then release them and we would build the university. I believe the federal government has no money to continue. When we have money we would continue.

“The Minister of State for Petroleum has whispered to me that he would look for the money to continue…Minister, bring it to me and I will continue,” he said

However, responding to Amaechi, Kachikwu did not only oppose the transport minister’s position but was emphatic that the university, which has been embroiled in controversy, would be developed.

According to him, much has gone into the property, therefore, he will ensure that the university will be developed, as it doesn’t make sense to “throw away the baby with the bath water.

“First let me say on Maritime University, I disagree with the Minister of Transportation. Any facility that is placed in the South-south, we should work towards developing it. I don’t care the circumstances under which we are placed.

“It is not my position to determine whether land was valued at N19 billion or N10 billion or N3 billion. The appropriate institutions which are the court systems will determine that.

“That has nothing to do with the development of the infrastructure. As far as I know, so much has gone into that property. So much fiscal assets are being developed. We are not going to throw away the baby with the bath water. We will deal with the issues but the university will be developed.

“If he doesn’t want it in maritime, I will take it to petroleum,” he said.
According to the source, the minister had a conversation with the president on the raging issue of the university and he was directed to visit the site for an on-the-spot assessment.
The presidential directive was obtained after the junior minister conferred with relevant security chiefs, including the National Security Adviser (NSA).

The source said: “we should de-emphasise the disagreement of the ministers and focus more on the need to forge ahead in spite of all we are going through. If the petroleum minister proposed to the president to visit the site and see to the possibility of a national petroleum academy, what is wrong in that?

“It is still at the level of proposal but something urgent needs to be done and it will be done sooner than later because such move to establish it such that requires the National Assembly and we are sure the president will present an executive bill to that effect,” he said.

Also last night, Kachikwu held a closed door meeting with the monarch and traditional chiefs of Gbaramatu kingdom.
THISDAY learnt that similar meetings were also held in Asaba, the state capital, where he met with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his deputy, Kingsley Otuaro, and prominent Ijaw leaders on Wednesday night.

Government sources disclosed that the Wednesday meeting prompted the minister’s unscheduled visit to Oporoza, traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu kingdom and the site for the take-off of the controversial Federal Maritime University, Kurutie.

It was gathered that the Wednesday’s meeting with the governor also included the members of the recently inaugurated Delta State Advocacy Committee Against Vandalism, where the report of the committee was also presented to him.

Kachikwu’s visit was part of moves by the federal government, sources said, to pacify members of the Niger Delta Avengers, whom claimed responsibility for series of attacks on oil facilities across the Niger Delta in recent times.

The minister was said to have been presented with an album containing photo gallery of the temporal site of the university by Oboro-Gbaraun II, Aketekpe, Agadagba, the Pere of Gbaramatu kingdom.

THISDAY further learnt that Kachikwu who flew to Gbaramatu with on a chopper from the Osubi Airstrip in Okpe Council Area of the state, also inspected Oporoza Guest House and Chief Government Ekpemupolo’s (aka Tompolo) house alleged to have been vandalised by military operatives.