By Edet Okpo
FROM whichever perspectives the matter is approached and whoever handles the historical cum developmental narratives, the story of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, MAN, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, is that of enduring vision, generational successes and greater prospects in the face of mounting challenges and condonable deficiencies. There is therefore a fair measure of sense of accomplishment and contentment, struggle and resilience, disappointment and expectations in the evolution of this premier maritime training institution in Nigeria.
Considering the age of the Academy in relation to its growth and transitional paradigm, the ironic analogy by objective commentators and maritime stakeholders has been that, in spite of the great strides it has recorded over the years, MAN, Oron still has many rungs of the ladder to climb to reach its contemporaries in places like Ghana, Egypt, the Philippine, Sweden, etc.
The apparent conclusion is that institutions of its kind established either in the same era or later time had since outgrown expectations to become active players in the competitive global market; hence leaving MAN, Oron behind in the quagmire of policy inconsistency, diverted attention, lukewarm attitude and response to modalities aimed at rapid progression, and truncation of promises. These, in a nutshell, have tentatively culminated in what can be termed the aggregate challenges facing the Academy since its establishment four decades ago.
In saying this, it would be an act of unforgivable ingratitude should anyone for whatever reason fail to acknowledge and commend the genuine intentions and pragmatic efforts of successive Presidents and administrations of the Federal Government at redeeming the grand vision and objectives of the founding fathers of MAN, Oron. Available records have shown that every administration since the establishment of the Academy has in their peculiar ways always identified with the essence and critical importance of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron to the country’s economy, especially with regards to revenue generation and man-power training to explore and optimally utilise the abundant endowments in the Nigerian maritime sector.
For instance, as part of his strategic plans to boost the Nigerian economy in consonance with President Muhammadu Buhari’s Change Mantra, the present administration had set up a 7- man Ministerial Committee made up of seasoned maritime experts to reposition the Academy for regional and international competitiveness. Worthy of commendations too is the progressive and aggressive involvement of the National Assembly, with special reference to the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, spearheaded by Mr. Mohammed Umar Bago, that by virtue of their supervisory obligations has had to visit the Academy more than once since December 2016. Also on line for commendations and appreciation are the Federal Ministry of Transportation presently led by Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Multinational oil companies and other corporate bodies for the little or much they have contributed to the sustenance, growth and development of MAN, Oron.
As result of these concerted efforts, today, the Academy is globally recognised by international bodies like the International Maritime Organization, IMO, the only one in the country to be so recognised, Standard of Training Certification and Watch Keeping, STCW, and the Federal Ministry of Transport. Yet, in view of these genuine efforts and achievements, the Academy is bedeviled with endemic and recurrent challenges that have adversely affected its growth and collective expectations.
The cardinal concern here is that, over the years, there have always been policies and promises of transformation of the Academy. These have brought about committees and committees being set up and special intervention teams being constituted; yet nothing tangible or satisfactory was done in the long-run. Most concisely, the Academy is in constant contention with challenges. As necessity might demand, the Acting Rector of MAN, Dr. Mkpandiok Ante Mkpandiok, who so far has brought his wealth of experience and integrity to the transformation and stabilisation of the Academy, has in many fora made references to these challenges. A highlight of some of them is of absolute necessity in this context.
Funding: MAN,Oron, subsists in the Federal Ministry of Transportation, presently headed by a result-oriented Minister of Transportation, Mr. Amaechi. In 2007, an Act was passed that required that 5% of funds from regulatory agencies like NIMASA be remitted to the Academy. However, from our findings, it has been discovered that such donations hardly ever come or are unduly belated such that when or if they eventually come, the purpose may have been defeated.
At a point, the Academy was solely funded by the federal government and the funds were quite paltry compared to the pressing and ever increasing financial demands for education, modern training facilities and related programmes in a highly specialised institution. It must be noted that, the Academy is regimented and lecturers are automatically denied the right and freedom to sell handouts. This is why any attempt to stifle funds due the Academy can become a chain of problems. This is to say that, timely releases of designated funds either as subventions or statutory remain a great challenge to the proper and effective running of the programmes and other strategic obligations of the Academy.
Nonavailability of berths: As a highly professional institution with much to do in the global space, there are basic professional trainings and levels Cadets of the Academy are expected to be exposed to. This is in accordance to the professional stipulations of the STWC. MAN, Oron has been found to be ill-equipped and therefore guilty in this respect. Indeed, the inability of most of the seafaring Cadets of the Academy to proceed to the Second Phase of their Training on board ships after due academic certification has been a tall hurdle.
This had been worsened by the lack of nationally owned ships (National Fleet); absence of well-designed policies to effectively engage foreign ships in this connection; training berths on some of coastal vessels operating within the cabotage regime; and inability of the Academy to own and operate its own ship to cater for the needs of cadets.
As such, mandatory sea-time training for seafarers in the Academy remains constant source of worry.
Difficulty in attracting and retaining quality and professional lecturers and other technical staff: Needless to emphasise that the Academy is largely professional in nature and scope. This means that those to handle training at the Academy most equally be tested professionals who can stand the test at anytime and anywhere opportunity beckons. To achieve this, professional training is a great cost. It costs even much more to train and develop a qualified maritime instructor.
Imagine therefore what can happen when opportunities open for such staff here in Nigeria and in foreign places where remuneration is not only attractive but satisfactory. There is also the global trappings of the Oil and Gas sector that are equally in high demands for trained personnel to man their vessels. Hence, Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, for reasons of its inability to attract competitive hands to train its students, continues to suffer insufficient teaching staff or outright rejection in the open market. Most worrisome perhaps is the common practice where the few qualified professionals trained by the Academy become victims of brain-drain and restless labour mobility. The panacea to this unfortunate situation is for the Federal Government to make teaching at the Academy as attractive as it is elsewhere.
Policy Needs: Considering the dynamics of an institution like the MAN, Oron, there is need for government to develop a strategic policy on maritime education and training where the peculiar and unique roles of strategic arms are clearly spelt out. On this note, it is advised that the legislative arm of government enacts laws to enable it be of immense assistance to a premier institution like MAN, Oron, established 40 years ago. With such clear-cut duties, the government will be able to squarely address and give practical and prompt attention to critical technical and professional needs in the sector. This, again, should be done in close collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Transportation and other relevant agencies.
Technology-based training/power: There can be no arguments that technology has changed the landscape and complexion of every human endeavour under the sun. Today, there is the option of remaining in the stone-age or joining the ever innovative train of contemporary realities made possible by science and technology. Those still in their past for whatever reasons therefore have themselves to blame. But that appears to be the experience at MAN in the moment. It implies that, in order to reposition maritime education and training in Nigeria for proper transfer of knowledge, technology remains a sinequanon, highly indispensable in the interpretation of the dreams of becoming a global competitor.
A functional technology is largely driven by adequate and constant electricity. Modern equipment like simulators and other engineering apparatuses become useless in the absence of functional power. This therefore brings to the fore what it takes to deliver and maintain 24 hour electric power to the Academy campus of phases 1, 2 and 3, without the slightest support from public power supply.
Critical facilities: As a professional institution with an eye in the global market, the Academy must be upbeat with what is needed to compete effectively. It is therefore so sad that presently, MAN, Oron does not have a training ship. The Academy is also in dire need of more simulators to cater for the rising number of Cadets and students, GMDSS, Engine and Radar Arpa Simulators. Also in need are Survival Training Pool for students of short courses, functional e-library for research, etc. The absence or inadequacy of these facilities can be the bane of incompetence and complex among graduates of the Academy when they step into the world market.
In view of these inadequacies, there is the instructive need to remind ourselves of the mandate of the Academy when it was established in 1977, under Decree No. 16 of 1988, as Nigeria’s premier maritime institution: “To provide the merchant Navy and the maritime industry and allied industries qualitative education and training that accords with up-to-date technology, meets national and international standards, and satisfies end-user expectations.” Forty years later, the Academy does not seem to have fully realised its objectives. The delay in doing so has been traced to a number of factors highlighted in this piece.