By Dr. Bolaji G. Coker
I am not an Igbo man neither am I from the eastern part of Nigeria. But as an intellectual from the southwest, which is the cradle of civilization and education in Nigeria, I develop interest in academic matters. I have watched with keen interest, howbeit mixed feelings, the ongoing battle between the Imo State government and the former governor of the State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, over the ownership of the K.O Mbadiwe University.
K.O Mbadiwe University, formerly, Eastern Palm University established by Imo State Law No.13 of 2016, is located in the serene and thriving business community of Ogboko in Ideato North Local Government Area. The University was licensed by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) the same year. The initial impression was that the University is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between Rochas Foundation, owned by the former governor, and the Imo State government. However a cursory look at the NUC website shows that the institution is wholy owned by Imo State government.
This apparently false notion continued until the administration of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha in 2019, when the government discovered during investigations, that the University may have been built with State funds. Okorocha on his own part had kicked against the findings, stressing that the arrangement was a PPP, stating that his Foundation invested counterpart funds in the establishment of the University. Nevertheless, Ihedioha’s administration set machineries in motion to recover the institution for the State. The process was still ongoing when that administration was truncated by a judgment of the Supreme Court, ushering in Senator Hope Uzodinma’s administration.
Senator Uzodinma whom I understand hails from the same senatorial district with Okorocha, continued with the move to recover the University. This led to litigious clashes between Okorocha and Uzodinma’s administration. Although I learnt that the State government had taken over the University by replacing the Principal Officers employed by Okorocha, yet it is sad to note that academic activities are yet to commence at the institution. Students and workers are left stranded doing virtually nothing. In addition, the billions of naira invested in developing the University infrastructure is also being wasted.
This is counterproductive and negates the visions, aims and objectives for establishing the University. It is said that when two elephants fight, the grasses usually suffer. In my opinion the current battle between Okorocha and the State government is quite unnecessary. The provision of quality education is a fundamental obligation of every government. Therefore the State government may be justified for the efforts made to recover the institution which was allegedly built with State funds.
On his own part, Okorocha may not be outrightly condemned for fighting for what he believes in, which is investing in educational services. Based on the foregoing, it appears that both the government and Okorocha are obviously fighting for the common interest of the ordinary citizens of the State, howbeit from different perspectives. If both parties truly have such patriotic dispositions, then they must make some necessary concessions in the best interest of the State.
Both parties can arrive at a win-win solution. Since Okorocha claims the arrangement was a PPP and his Foundation invested in the University, he can withdraw from the partnership which appears to have naturally become unworkable. The State government may take a step further to demonstrate it’s magnanimity by refunding Rochas Foundation’s investment in the University. Unless it has been established that the University was built entirely with State funds, the State government is bound morally and legally to refund the Foundation’s stake in the PPP, for peace to reign.
Okorocha on his part should bear in mind that in all these, he is the winner and has nothing much to lose should the State government take over the University. The incontrovertible fact is that the establishment of the University will always be credited to him. This is in addition to the fact that the institution is also situated in his home town, providing both economic and ancillary benefits to his people. The list of benefits accruable to the people with respect to the presence of the University in their area is inexhaustible. Therefore, it is in the best interest of Okorocha to allow the University commence activities, because doing otherwise could be tantamount to him fighting against his own legacy. And such a huge legacy may be lost if it is rendered moribund for no just cause.