The National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) launched by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in 2009 with a view to bridging the projected employment gap in the seafaring profession is so far adjudged by its sponsors, promoters and beneficiaries as Nigeria’s most successful outing in her long and chequered history of Seafarer education. According to one report, over 2500 out of the projected 5000 Seafarers have so far been trained at both degree levels and high professional standards in various countries like Romania, The Philippines, United Kingdom, United States of America, India, Egypt, and other countries, under the NSDP. The funding is a 60:40 ratio where the state governments are to provide 60 percent of the tuition fees and NIMASA is to provide the balance of 40 percent. Other financial obligations like air fares, monthly allowance and other sundry expenses are borne solely by NIMASA. And for this, NIMASA is reported to have budgeted the sum of 30 billion Naira. Plausible as these details may sound, NIMASA failed to explain why Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN); the nation’s 35-year old pilot Seafarers development centre along with her cadets are not included in the plan. But the implied message is that Seafarer education could succeed anywhere but Nigeria.
Yet that impression is deceptive. One undercurrent that has triggered the discontent among ship owners for the quality of training offered by MAN and which discontent is eroding the foundations of the academy is the knowledge that the academy does not have access to a training vessel on which cadets can gain sea time training. Reliable records from NIMASA show that the last time the academy enrolled cadets for mandatory sea time training was some 20 years ago – about the same time the Nigerian National shipping Line (NNSL) collapsed. Since then, series of proposals for the procurement of a training vessel for the academy has been swept under the carpet by NIMASA. According to Joshua Okpo; the Rector of the Academy in a recent interview with Daily Independent, while NIMASA is making a huge budget for the aspect of sea time training for Nigerian cadets abroad under NSDP, MAN is cap-in-hand begging for a training vessel for her cadets.
According to maritimesales.com, a new cargo ship could sell for between 5 million and 10 million dollars, which approximates to between 750 million and 1.5 billion naira. Evidently, with the 30 billion Naira budgeted as cost of training for the 5000 Seafarers abroad, NIMASA could procure at least 20 new cargo vessels which could also serve as training vessels. Yet what MAN is requesting for is just one vessel. It is pertinent to note here that the training of a Seafarer is incomplete without the mandatory hours at sea which qualifies him for the Seaman’s Certificate of Competence (COC). The Certificate of Competence is issued to Masters, Officers, Radio Operators and Ratings forming part of a watch, who meet the standards of competence relevant to their particular functions and level of responsibility on board. Considering the international and dynamic nature of the business of shipping, the absence of a training vessel for a training institution like MAN and consequently the lack of sea time training for her cadets is a serious defecton her reputation and integrity and which defect has rubbed off on the National Diploma certificate it offers to hundreds of graduates each year.
Contempt for MAN has spread beyond the ship owners as government; the owner of the academy, through the agency of NIMASA has continued to declare her products as unemployable. In fact, the sad news making the rounds is that most of the graduates of MAN end up as Commercial Motorcycle (Okada) Riders while Nigerian vessels engaged in cabotage, which practically should have been an avenue for their sea service as deck or engineer cadets, are manned by Philippinos and other foreign crew. The reason for this is not far-fetched. Beside the absence of a training vessel and other besetting infrastructural problems of the academy, the government would rather politicise issues of Seafarer developmentfor the interest of their cronies than doing the needful. Otherwise, why is NIMASA spending so much in foreign universities training green horns selected by politicians at the states when thousands of graduates from MAN are roaming the streets simply because they could not access a sea-going vessel where they would complete their training and qualify for NIMASA’s certification as Officers?
The broad unhappiness on the part of MAN cadets and graduates stems from the fact that the government though very much aware of the huge financial losses accruing from the nation’s inability to face stiff international competition as it marches towards achieving full potential as a maritime nation, chooses to waste financial resources overseas which ordinarily would have been used to provide adequate training facilities for MAN. It is ironical and at the same time disheartening to know that even the MOU, which Nigeria signed with Turkish Shipping Concerns, Piri Reis University in Istanbul, Turkey, and World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, co-ordinated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to take on board vessels Deck and Engineering Cadets of MAN for sea training as slated for April 2014 was postponed by government with the recurring flimsy excuse for lack of funds. Little wonder whystudents seeking proper training now attend the South African Maritime Training Academy in Cape Town, Regional Maritime University in Accra, Ghana and others outside the shores of Africa.
While Regional Maritime University, Accra may not own a dedicated training vessel because Ghana as a country has a thriving national shipping line – the Black Star Line, which offers sea time opportunities to cadets of the university, the SA Agulhas 1 is a Dedicated Training Vessel – a pioneering initiative and South Africa’s first fully operational dedicated training vessel. The vessel is an educationally equipped and on-the-job learning set-up that enables South Africa to join the ranks of elite maritime countries. The dedication of SA Agulhas 1 as a training vessel is a great milestone in the history of South Africa’s maritime industry and has gone a long way to unlock South Africa’s maritime training potential to the end of entrenching the faith of the global maritime companies in South African Seafarers. With this development, South Africa of recent times is fast becoming a destination for quality seafarer training with cadets enrolling from within South Africa and beyond.
Seafarers across the country want the government to stop paying lip service to the affairs of MAN. Anyone who has been to the academy and has seen the level of uncompleted and seemingly abandoned projects on ground would wonder why NIMASA is even embarking on proliferation of maritime training centres all over the country. For what would it profit this country if the academy alongside the newly commissioned Maritime University of Nigeria (MUN) and others continue to roll out cadets and incompetent maritime manpower every year without a glimmer of hope for gainful employment? It is on record now that MAN has over 5000 cadets that have not had access to sea time and pointers abound that some of them have resorted to piracy and illegal oil bunkering, which on its own is a fast growing security and economic challenge in our territorial waters. The government should do all within its power to actualise the vision and mission of the academy in training the youths if they still believe the youths are the future leaders of this country and as such need to be groomed and drilled into seasoned professionals.
The National Seafarers Development Programme of government by NIMASA needs to be reviewed to give priority attention to completing the training for the thousands of cadets from MAN who summarily are abandoned. The issue of facilitating sea time experience for cadets should no longer be a concern of just the Rector and the Alumni of MAN. Government should take it for what it is; as a mandatory aspect of the curriculum which must be covered. Rather than the economic drain pipe which the NSDP has proved to be in reality, NIMASA should consider a more justifiable and equitable use of its resources to better the lot of a greater number by acquiring a training vessel for the academy and by extension for all maritime training institutions in Nigeria. If it works for Ghana, South Africa, Egypt and the rest, it should be made to work for Nigeria. The Maritime Academy of Nigeria must be assisted through proper funding to live up to expectation as the pioneer institution charged with the responsibility of driving the process of training seafarers and port workers and also to help develop our cabotage regime and contribute to coastal trade as well as help to man our vast expanse of the Gulf of Guinea.
Member, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT), Nigeria.
Rector, Emdee Shipping & Maritime College, Apapa.