In 2015, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) charged maritime states to embrace quality education and training for safety and security on board ships as well as the sustenance of the maritime sector. The sector is technical and is run by a lot of international regulations and conventions, so this IMO initiative was crucial.
In Nigeria, about the same time, the story had gone sour. Quality of education at the once prestigious Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) had plummeted and industry operators, particularly the end users of the school’s products had become very disturbed by the falling standards. It soon became the thing to find seafarers and artisans from Ghana, Niger, Ivory Coast, other African and European countries on vessels in Nigeria.
Earlier in 2003, the Cabotage Act which strictly reserves crewing rights on vessels within Nigerian waters to Nigerians was passed. Not too long after, the Local Content Act followed. Companies who did not want/use Nigerians on board their vessels while on Nigerian waters had to apply for waivers which did not come cheap. It became unlawful not to have Nigerians employed in certain operations and erring organisations were sanctioned. Amidst all these was that call by IMO for quality education and training. And with the weight of sanctions and the cost of waivers, owners/operators of vessels and industry players began to speak up. Standards of training had fallen so much that it was huge risk to employ many persons who paraded certificates of competence especially from Nigeria’s premier maritime training institution, MAN Oron.
Established in 1979, Maritime Academy of Nigeria located in Oron, Akwa Ibom State became famous for producing some of the best brains the nation has as Master Mariners, Marine Engineers, and Seafarers. The school had in the past shown capacity for excellence and so, with the new report, there was concern for what may have gone wrong and how best to contain the situation. Government was willing to take a second chance on the institution.
A few months after assuming office during his first term, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Rt Hon. Rotimi Amaechi as the Minister of Transportation and in one of his earliest interaction with the Maritime sector, discourse and complaints of stakeholders centred on the deplorable state of the Academy. This led to the establishment of an Interim Ministerial Committee (IMC) which was chaired by the doyen of the maritime sector and former Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Chief Adebayo Sarumi. The IMC had six months to find out the challenges of the school and proffer solutions. Suffice it to say that the findings of the committee did not negate the worries of stakeholders. In fact, the school was in a more deplorable state than had been imagined.
The debate on a way forward intensified and as more stakeholders recounted their ordeals, the Nigerian government, through the Ministry of Transportation and regulatory maritime agencies like Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) swung into action. And even though pockets of private training institutions began to also spring up to address the dearth of quality education, it was not coming easy given the heavy cost of equipment, resource persons, and facilities that are globally competitive for such training. To this end, as much as new training enterprises were welcome, the focus was to overhaul, restructure and revamp Maritime Academy of Nigeria and quality of training it offered.
Aside the fallen standard in training which the industry contended with, the school had inadequate demoralised manpower- 15% academic staff and 85% non-academic staff. Personnel was poorly constituted and persons with irrelevant certification flooded the school. It was largely a case of the square pegs in round holes. Cadets were enrolled in thousands outweighing the capacity of the school and its facilities. Sea time training -the mandatory global practical requirement for seafarers was also a key challenge. NIMASA’s efforts through its Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) although commendable was not enough so, many locally trained seafarers remained unemployed.
The school’s management was also plagued by external interferences from powerful persons whose demand for favours they could not resist. The committee also found a huge debt profile and hundreds of abandoned projects littered in the school. A case in mind is a training swimming pool project which remained unfinished for 19 years. The story goes that every year, the same contract was re-awarded at the peril of students and the industry. There was tension between the Academy and its host community. The decay was huge and the Minister of Transportation in an attempt to salvage the school, appointed Commodore Emmanuel Duja Effedua (Rtd) rector of the Academy on September 5, 2017.
Effedua had trained and worked with the Nigerian Navy. He had also been a trainer at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji. His appointment coincided with the IMC’s establishment and so, he also served as a member of the committee, following closely the audit process that threw up challenges and constraints of the school at the time.
The maritime industry had also always clamoured for the appointment of experts as heads of agencies. The argument is that an understanding of the technical nature of the maritime sphere is an added advantage and would speedily facilitate the desired growth. But considering the level of decadence the IMC found, many speculated that repositioning of the Academy would be gradual and may take more than a decade.
Two years down the line, the industry seem to have woken to a shocker. The Academy’s curriculum has been reviewed with inputs from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Association of Marine Engineers and Surveyors (AMES), Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM) as well as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Cadets are now all registered members of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMAREST). The number of newly admitted cadets have also been drastically reduced from 1,800 to 256 to ensure quality is churned out. For the very first time, cadets of the Academy have also been placed on vessels owned by members of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) for practical training. The school’s Directorate and Departments have been restructured and the Academy now brags of the quality of experts it has attracted as lecturers across maritime fields. Over 80% of “genuine debt” inherited from previous administrations in the school were paid on the recommendation of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Stakeholders who have visited the Academy never fail to talk of the improved learning environment. The School now has a functional ICT centre, library, and at last, two swimming pools. Residential facilities have been upgraded. Rooms that previously had 18 cadets stuffed in them now house two cadets. Upon admission, cadets receive books that make quality maritime learning and a laptop each. Lecture rooms and Classrooms are interactive, equipped with modern technology. Welfare of Academic staff is continuously reviewed and the school now enjoys patronage from International Oil Companies (IOCs).
The host community have also been supported by the Academy through the renovation of classrooms in local schools, donation of ICT centres, purchase of JAMB forms, weekly supply of diesel to the health centre, training programmes amongst others.
During a tour of the facility last Friday, the Rector, Commodore Effedua briefed the media on simulators expected to arrive the school from India in 15 weeks.
Simulators are one of the most important training components for cadets and the arrival of the same with softwares for the multi-functional classroom at MAN will be the first of its kind in Africa, the Rector disclosed. The softwares can be upgraded for high voltage training which will allow cadets with 100KW practical experience to train and acquire advanced practical experiences which in turn qualifies cadets to also work higher vessels. On funding for the simulators, the school had saved money and would self-fund the project without aids from any organisation.
Future plans by the management include the acquisition of more training aids, invitation of International Quality Assurance Companies to audit its facility, Admission of Foreign Cadets, upgrading of infrastructure and collaboration with existing schools especially the Nigerian Maritime Univerisity , Okerenkoko, and stakeholders are optimistic that MAN would bequeath the maritime sector much value in the next four years.