In 1974 the Rivers State Government acquired 156 acres of arable land from Onne community in Eleme Local Government Area for the establishment of a School of Agriculture and Fisheries (SAF), Onne, to train general agriculturists and create employment opportunities for the ever growing number of young Nigerians – a welcome development.
Under the superintendent of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the students who were admitted into the School of Agriculture and Fisheries, Onne, successfully completed their full time course of study and passed the prescribed examinations were awarded National Diploma (ND) Certificates. Many of these students on graduation proceeded to Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umunike, Abia State and other tertiary institutions were they furthered their studies and obtained higher qualifications. Indeed, the School of Agriculture and Fisheries, Onne turned out qualified men and women from all over Nigeria with specialty in agriculture. Most of them are now holders of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in various aspects of agriculture and are working in various capacities and contributing positively to national development.
To formalize the school and further give legal backing to its activities, in 1980, the Rivers State House of Assembly passed the Rivers Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Onne Act, 1980, which did not only change the name of the School to “Rivers Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (RIART), Onne” but, also mandated it to carryout research, training and award of National Diploma Certificates in Agricultural Technology and related disciplines.
But, rather than pursue these goals and expand on them with a view of transforming the Institute into a fully- fledge University of Agriculture, the current management of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology under the leadership of Professor Barineme Fakae is bent on scrapping it. Besides, it is unfortunate that the Rivers State University of Science and Technology cannot maintain the only off campus extension of the University charged with the obligation of conducting research and training of students in both theories and practice of agriculture. What is the responsibility of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University if it cannot sustain and promote the goals of RIART? Is the University already infected by the Nigeria-Fever known as corruption and/or the Nigeria-Cancer called brain-drain?
Since assumption of office as the Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology in 2009 up to the closure of RIART, Onne and the transfer of RIART staff to the main campus in Port Harcourt in October 2012, Professor Barineme Fakae did not visit RIART, Onne campus. Even when the staff demanded to have audience with him, he turned down the request. Decrying the deplorable condition of RIART, Onne the management said they have envisaged the closure stressing that, “It was long expected because of the long neglect of the Campus”.
The idea of scrapping Rivers Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (RIART) Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Onne Campus will not be unconnected with the dwindling finances of the University, despite huge investments in the University by the Rivers State Government. Over the years, the votes met to run RIART, Onne have persistently been diverted thus killing the dreams of making it a viable research and training institution. Where are RIART votes? Who are those responsible for blurring the future of RIART, Onne? Why does Professor Barineme Fakae want to scrap or move RIART from Onne Eleme without recourse to its enabling legislation and what the institute sets out to achieve? Is the closure of RIART, Onne intended to hide something? Otherwise there is no explanation to justify why someone should want RIART, Onne shut. Is Rivers State financially unable to keep the Institute, at Onne? Must Eleme men and women travel to Ogoni or Ikwerre in search of education in this 21st century that education is moving closer and closer to people at the grassroots? Must Eleme be deprived of every good thing including educational establishment? RIART, Onne, is an entity enacted by law therefore it should not be destroyed for trivial reasons.
The rash decision by the RSUST authority to close down RIART, Onne because rainstorm de- roofed the buildings in 2012 was not only to dodge its responsibilities as the parent body and superintendent university, but was also intended to sabotage the efforts of the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi to decongest Port Harcourt. Besides, Eleme is in Greater Port Harcourt, which also questions the rationale behind such decision.
The people of Eleme are predominately farmers and fishermen and women. Apart from depriving the people of Eleme and its environs access to higher education in our vicinity, the cost of the closure of RUST RIART, Onne campus include the abandonment of ongoing research projects on the field on plantain and cassava. What becomes the fate of casual workers who have rendered long service years ranging from 15 to 19 to the University on meager salary to be displaced by the closure? What happen to RIART, Onne Staff School, staff and the pupils who are mostly from the environment where RIART is situated? Is the purported transfer of the vast areas of farmland, 156 acres, to RSSDA by RSUST with the consent of Onne clan, the owners of the land? What is the content or terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between RSUST and RSSDA that allows RSSDA to take over and improve the facilities at RIART, Onne? Is Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) going to use the land or develop the facilities at RIART, Onne, for the same purposes it was originally donated? We demand some explanations; we asked to be carried along, to be told the use for which our land is being put.
That Eleme, christened the “Heart of Nigeria’s Economy” cannot boost of a single tertiary institution is very shameful; yet her lands and waters are forcefully acquired daily for national and multinational industrial developments; and her crude oil, the black gold, taken daily at gunpoint to keep Nigeria going, without minding the wellbeing of the Eleme ecosystem or employment of her youths.
We are appealing to the authorities concern to reconsider and rescind the decision. We therefore call on the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Professor Barineme Fakae, to let RIART, Onne be! Considering Eleme’s contributions to the economic mainstay of Nigeria, it is not out of place to ask for special treatment for Eleme. Let us think of upgrading RIART, Onne to a fully-fledge University of Agriculture. Education is the ladder to the top. We deserve to have tertiary institutions in Eleme. Nigeria, do not take from Eleme always; at times, add to Eleme! Do not pull down Eleme, prop up Eleme! If RIART, Onne is not performing maximally there are many options open to the University management to make it to work better and serve the people rather than scrapping it or pulling it out of Eleme.