By Ifeanyi Maduako
In the first term of the then Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration between 2011 and 2015, Nigerians, particularly Imo people were told that another campus of the ImoState University had been situated at Ogboko in Ideato-South Local Government Area of the State. Communities and individuals’ lands were forcefully taken by the state through the instrumentality of the Land Use Act for the purpose of building the campus of the Imo State University currently situated at Owerri.
Imo people were told that the new university at Ogboko was solely owned by the state government, and was being built with state government’s funds. Shortly after, the same rhetoric came from the state government led by Okorocha, that the new university would no longer be a minicampus of Imo State University, but now a separate university of its own with a new name and ownership. Imo people were told that the new university which was originally intended to be a varsity solely owned by the state which necessitated the brazen seizure of people’s lands would now be a joint ownership between the state and some ‘ghost private individuals’ in what was called public-private-partnership (PPP).
However, there are some disturbing or nagging questions which need clarification on this contentious issue of joint ownership of the tertiary institution at Ogboko. This university was originally planned and executed as a solely owned state varsity, when did the private sector partnership come into it since the public sector (which is the state government) had sunk a lot of funds into it at the initial stage knowing full well that it was a state university or satellite campus of the Imo State University?
In public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangement, can any of the two partners be incorporated long after one of the partners had gone very far in the execution of a particular project or does PPP arrangement start at the foundation level? Is there any state in Nigeria where the state government and private individuals jointly own a tertiary institution?
Assuming without conceding that such a PPP arrangement exists somewhere else, who are the individuals who make up the private partnership in this case of Eastern Palm University, Ogboko? Did National University Commission (NUC) register Eastern Palm University as a PPP arrangement or was it registered as a state government property? If NUC registered it as a PPP arrangement, what was the share ownership agreement between the public and private joint ownership during the registration?
The truth of the matter is that the then Governor Okorocha ruled Imo State with unmitigated impunity. He had the delusion and concrete belief that he had subdued and pocketed the state and its people without a whimper from any quarter. He did what he did with the erroneous belief that his son-in-law would succeed him as the governor of Imo State in 2019. If he had succeeded in foisting or imposing his son-in-law as his successor, who would have questioned him about the ownership of this Eastern Palm University? How does one also rationalize or explain the brazen takeover of Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) quarters at Orji in Owerri North which now houses Rochas Foundation College?
Recently, there was a little brouhaha about the matriculation of this Eastern Palm University, Ogboko. The state governor was reported to have sealed the place, but another report said that Rochas Okorocha forcefully unsealed the place and the matriculation took place. If those reports were true, then is the state government no longer part of the so-called PPP ownership? Is the university now solely owned by Rochas Okorocha to the extent that he could unseal what the state government sealed without recourse to the state government’s joint ownership of the varsity? If the joint ownership truly exists, it is high time the state government took over the entire ownership of the varsity. Joint ownership of a tertiary institution between the state and private sector is an aberration which only purportedly exists in Eastern Palm University.
Rochas Okorocha should divest his share ownership from the school and surrender the sole ownership of the school to the state. The state can never jointly own any project with him. It is not done anywhere in the world.
The Imo State government led by Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodinma should sweep the entire management and staff of the school, from the Vice Chancellor to the gateman. The state government should be responsible for the recruitment of the staff of the varsity if actually the state has a stake in the so-called joint ownership of the school. Since state funds were sunk in the building of the varsity, the state can only recover its funds by taking charge of the appointment or recruitment of the staff, otherwise the joint ownership is useless to the state if Rochas Okorocha is in charge of everything in the varsity. The state must never hands off its ownership of the varsity, rather it is the private individuals represented by Rochas Okorocha who should hand off from the joint ownership of the school.
There are so many Nigerians who have their privately-owned tertiary institutions, and if Rochas Okorocha wants to own a tertiary institution, he should do so now that he’s no longer a governor and build it with his own funds.
The latest defence or statement about the ownership of the university came from Okorocha who claims to own 90 per cent equity share of the university while the state as a whole owns 10 per cent equity investment. What manner of partnership does an individual own 90 per cent while over five million Imolites own 10 per cent? Why didn’t Okorocha build the varsity before he became the governor of Imo State? Is it not greed writ large for him to have used his exalted position as governor to appropriate a dominant chunk of equity share of the so-called partnership? Didn’t he contravene the constitution of Nigerian and the code of conduct by such action?
•Maduako writes from Owerri