S/W: Welcome to this interview with his Excellency Timipre Sylva, the former governor of Bayelsa state, 2007-2012 and by the special grace of God, the chairman of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s Premier Maritime University.
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Thank you
S/W: There was this myth about the Maritime University of Nigeria that it will never take off.How were you able to break this jinx?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Well Asu, I won’t call it a myth, but rather a confusion at the beginning of this administration, as the question would be: Who caused the confusion? When you hurriedly set up a university, but I believe that the maritime university took long in coming as far as the Niger Delta is concerned, and the delay in establishing that university was what caused a little bit of the confusion because it appeared as if everything was rushed at the tail end of the last administration. You know, when things are rushed like that, it gives room for confusion and I think that is the only thing that affected the quick take-off of the university. But that has been resolved because the federal government discussed with the Niger Delta leaders and agreed that the maritime university was necessary and decided to carry on with it. And that was how I got appointed as the pioneer chairman of the Governing Council and the first Pro Chancellor of the Maritime University.
S/W: I see… So what did you meet on ground when you went on your first visit to the institution?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Well, I met the vestiges of confusion on ground… We went to the permanent site and work had stopped, because of all that confusion… and then of cause we had to take off from the temporary campus at which had been purchased by the government, at Kurutie which is close to Okerenkoko; the facilities on the temporary site were adequate to take off so we promptly took off, and today the Nigerian Maritime University is growing very strong.
S/W: As chairman of the governing council and Chancellor of the Nigerian Maritime University, what effort has the council made to consolidate on the structure that you met on ground ?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Yeah …you know, as soon as we were appointed in March 2018, we were one of the first boards to meet, because we saw the urgency, so we went immediately to site. We visited the site and then we had our governing council meeting and I must tell you, we had to drive for hours by boat to Okerenkoko. But then, this council makes it a point duty to always hold our meetings at the campus.
S/W: How many hours does it take between the Warri jetty and Okerenkoko?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: It takes one and a half to two hours by a fast boat … and we have met at the campus, all the time and since then, we decided as a council to give all the approval that were necessary.
S/W: When did the
university take off?
TIMIPRE SLYVA: The University took off April 2018 after our appointment in March 2018.
TIMIPRE SYLVA: And right about now the students are on second semester, and in a week or so they will begin second semester examinations.
S/W: Oh that is interesting
TIMIPRE SILVA: If you ask what we have done as a council, we’ve also gone ahead to assure that the university is properly funded because when we came in, the law for the university has not been passed up till now but we have to first change the law and then of cause made sure that the university is also properly funded. Even today, I’ve had a meeting with the Minister of Education on the funding of the university because our hope and one of our goals as a council is to be one of the best maritime universities in the World. Because we know that maritime business is not a local business,
It’s an international business and unless we have a Maritime university that meets with international standards.
S/W: So looking at this, I seem to understand your worries considering the council. I remember a few years ago, we went to the Maritime Academy, Oron, in Akwa-ibom State. There was this understanding of parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Shippers Council, the NPA, NIMASA, etc to launch one project or another that would be named after them. I don’t know what effort you are making to get these very big parastatals to bring them on board so that they can help?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Already we are working very closely with NIMASA and NIMASA has been quite forthcoming as well. When I came in, we had received about ₦500 million support from NIMASA and just about a few weeks ago, we received another ₦500 million from NIMASA. The law that is yet to be passed required funding from NIMASA for the Maritime University. There is no way a maritime university will not work together with the maritime agencies. NIMASA is the major umbrella for the Maritime University and they have been very helpful.
S/W: So let’s go back to the university. You said the university took off in April, how many courses did you start with, I mean courses accredited by the National University Commission?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Well, we started the university with four faculties, but when you talk about accreditation, you don’t get accredited before you start, you start and then, the NUC comes to accredit.As we speak we have not been accredited yet since we are still young and of cause it takes a while before accreditation comes and we want to be ready for the accreditation and I believe that all these four faculties will be accredited when the time comes for NUC to visit they will know that we’ve actually put on ground world class facilities in all the facilities.
S/W: So let’s go back to the M.O.U. Recently, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo led the federal government delegation to sign an MoU with the Caribbean Maritime University. Can you please tell us in details what the M.O.U intends to achieve?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: The Caribbean Maritime University is a world class university accredited by the International Maritime Organization. We have not yet been accredited by the IMO because we are just starting as you know, so the Caribbean Maritime University reached out to us to see if we can work together and of cause you know that the maritime business is an international business and we sure need collaborations like that , and we saw that it was a good idea. I visited the Caribbean Maritime University about a month ago and then they came here as well to sign a co-operation agreement, they even gave two scholarship to our students to study in the Caribbean Maritime University and what the M.O.U entails is exchanges. We will exchange students and lecturers and also benefit as a university from the accreditation. They helped us with the curriculum and also to become a better university in Nigeria. Maritime university is not a normal university that is why we needed to collaborate with an existing maritime university that is really respected in the world.
S/W: We also know how terrible it is to get in and out of Okerenkoko, there are no means of transportation on land, that’s why you have to go by boat in a journey that takes two hours. But not every student will be able to afford it.
Are you looking at the possibility of a road network connecting Warri and Okerenkoko?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: I would say that is a very good option but not yet until after we are done establishing the university but the options we are looking at now is to see if we can get a road to Okerenkoko. The location of the University should be seen as a disadvantage because that terrain is also an advantage to the nation and people must realize that the Niger Delta university ,Amassoma was established in Bayelsa State we had a similar challenge and which eventually necessitated the construction of a road . So we are equally hoping that this university will necessitate the construction of a road to Okerenkoko.
S/W: Still on the terrain, does the Council not care about the safety and security of the students and lecturers?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Well, that is what we have to suffer as Niger Deltan’s, everybody expects that we start construction immediately now that there is a university at Okerenkoko but then we have to finish with the university first, before we think of constructing the road because we are already talking to the state government, the federal government and NDDC so I believe that with this three pronged approach, something will definitely be done and thank God we haven’t had any incidents yet.
S/W: I don’t know if this question is right, since you’ve just been appointed as the chairman of the governing council and Pro Chancellor of the university and barely nine months old in office.What legacy would you like to leave behind?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: I want to leave a world- class maritime university behind because this is the foundation and the foundation matters a lot, because if we lay a proper foundation for this university, it will be a world class maritime university. We are not just going to collaborate with the Caribbean Maritime University but as well as other maritime universities around the world.
S/W: There are a lot of people who work behind the scene for the take off of this university and of cause we can’t talk about any other person other than Mr President. So what role do you think the President other persons played to make this dream become a reality.
TIMIPRE SYLVA: We are very thankful that the President reason and need for this university and why it should be situated where it is now but personally, in my opinion, I felt that the terrain cannot be seen as a disadvantage for Nigeria so therefore, I am very happy and grateful to the President who at the end saw reason why the maritime university should be established and so far the president has been very supportive
S/W: So I am sure that a lot of students are looking forward to the day they will celebrate their first matriculation
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Yes actually we delayed it because the management made the suggestion since the maritime university is not a conventional university but a specialized university and we wanted to really understand how matriculations are conducted in maritime universities around the world before we have our own matriculation so that we don’t just go out of the norms when it comes to maritime university.
S/W: So, what final words do you have for the students and staff of the university?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: For the students and staff, i will say pioneering as a whole is not easy at all so as a pioneer it comes with challenges so each and every one of them should be able to accept these challenges that pioneering would bring and I also want to thank God because we have the best staff and students, I have seen them in action and they keep putting effort because I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
S/W: Your Excellency sir, how many students did the University start with?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Ok we started with about 320 students with four faculties.
S/W: So where were you able to get capable , competent and quality foundation Academic and non Academic staff?
TIMIPRE SYLVA: We got most of our staff from other universities and as you know it, this is our first year and first years are usually basic courses ,we have not gone into the specialized courses yet since most of the courses are mechanical engineering etc. what we did was to get from those universities so therefore when it gets to the time where we have to specialize, we will get specialized lecturers and staff, and that’s why we are also having these collaborations
S/W: Thank you for granting us this interview on such a short notice. We would love to see you next time on campus, for the celebration of the first annual matriculation of the Nigeria Maritime University and lastly we wish you success on your new appointment.
TIMIPRE SYLVA: Thank you