Onitsha River Port
The Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) in Oron, Akwa Ibom State remains a veritable means of Nigeria meeting her manpower needs in the maritime sector of the economy, its rector, Mr. Joshua Okpo, told John Iwori in an encounter at Onitsha River Port complex
Nigeria’s premier maritime training institution, the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Akwa Ibom has come a long way. From being a mere nautical college over three decades ago, it is now a maritime academy with a difference. With a provision in the 2011 budget and its retention in the 2012 budget for its transformation into Nigeria’s first maritime university, MAN has continued to strive to fulfill the mandate. The Rector of MAN, Mr. Joshua Okpo told THISDAY that the academy remains the first institution outside the European Union (EU) to collaborate with the World Maritime University (WMU), Malmo, Sweden with the imminent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
Okpo, who spoke to THISDAY on the sidelines of the formal commissioning of the multi-billion naira ultra-modern Onitsha River Port Complex by President Goodluck Jonathan last month, said the academy will not rest on its oars until it fulfills the purpose for which it was established by its founding fathers. He expressed delight that the river port, which was started by former President Shehu Shagari in 1983 and later abandoned, is now being delivered by Jonathan.
MAN and Onitsha River Port
Enumerating the gains of the river port, which is situated on the mouth of the main tributary of the Atlantic Ocean, River Niger, Okpo said: “It is a milestone and considering the fact that Onitsha is one of Nigeria’s commercial nerve centres, the location of a port in Onitsha has a lot of economic and social benefits. The location of the Onitsha River Port will trigger a lot of other chains of development.
“When you have three or four of such ports in the hinterland, you will discover that our roads will last longer, the high rate of road accident will be reduced drastically, port congestion will be a thing of the past and there will be creation of job opportunities for our teeming youths.”
He underscored the link between the formal unveiling of the Onitsha River Port complex and the sustainable development of MAN. According to Okpo, whose appointment as the helmsman of the academy was recently confirmed by the president, Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), the agency which handled the construction and rehabilitation of the Onitsha River Port is a sister agency.
“Secondly, most of the people that will drive the process in the Onitsha River Port will require training from MAN. This is because that is what MAN is established to do. That is to help in the development of seafarers. Already, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and NIWA, among others, have given us people to train. I need not tell you that anybody working in the port needs training in safety, ports operations and so on.
“Thirdly, the Onitsha River Port will help to enhance the local content drive. Besides, within the next five years, by the time the port gets to Baro in Niger State, NIWA would have made a giant stride with contributions from other sister agency like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), MAN, NIMASA, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and so on. For us, our training capacity as a maritime institution is being tasked the more and we will always be prepared,” he said.
Academy with a Difference
On the state of facilities at MAN, Okpo, who was prior to his appointment, was a Director in the Federal Ministry of Transport said the academy is a child of circumstance. “First it was a Nautical College and later an academy established by an Act of parliament to train seafarers for the sea trade. “For an academy established over three decades ago, you do not expect the facility to remain the same over the years. Nevertheless, it will interest you to know that there has been a lot of improvement. In fact, if you visit the academy today you will see a lot of infrastructural development.
“It is wrong for anybody to say that the academy is moribund. If you must know MAN is a national asset. Nigeria is on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) White List over the years because of the high quality educational training offered by the academy. Aside from that, from an earlier intake of 500 cadets we have moved on to about 3000 this year. How can somebody be talking of moribund?
“The implication of admitting about 3,000 cadets in one fell swoop in one academic year is that there are improvement in facilities and equipment to accommodate that huge number of cadets. We have structural constraints no doubt in our organogram. However, our challenges have to do with having a ship for our cadets to do their sea experience, security, telecommunications, more funding and so on.
“What is important is for us to look at ways to assist the academy as key stakeholders to address the challenges of training ship, careers progression, provision of water, design an organogram/structure that will encourage large participation and in this context, we have enlarged our size from 5 to 39 management staff. Under the present arrangement, we make sure that everything we do, we first bring it to the table to discuss.
“Nothing is hidden neither is anything done by a cabal. If you must know, whatever is given to us, we announce it for everyone to know and appropriate it transparently to avoid bad press and petitions. In the past, when information was not available to the internal publics of the academy, especially management staff they got involved in rumour mongering but the situation is different today. In my own mind, it is an endearing quality that we must sustain and bequeath to successive leadership in the institution. This is because the academy is bigger than any individual, no matter how the person is highly placed,” the rector said.
Meeting STCW Demands
In a bid to address some of the challenges faced by the cadets, especially in getting employment aboard ships after their graduation, he revealed that the Federal Government in collaboration with the academy have stepped up efforts in this regards. Okpo disclosed that some top government including him, were at WMU, Malmo, Sweden last month to rub minds on the way forward for the academy.
He revealed that the President of WMU, Malmo would in December this year visit the Minister of Transport as well as NIMASA to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a view to upgrading MAN. “Besides, this month, I will be going to IMO because by December this year, the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping (STCW) 1999 presently in use in the school would have been obsolete,” he said.
It is on record that the competence of seafarers is the most critical factor in the safe and efficient operation of ships. It has a direct impact on the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment. The IMO Convention on STCW is a comprehensive set of international regulations intended to ensure that the highest standards of seafarer competence are maintained globally.
New wide-ranging amendments to the STCW rules, agreed by governments in Manila, Philippine in 2010, are intended to ensure that STCW standards stay relevant, so that seafarers can continue to develop and maintain their professional skills. Specifically, numerous changes are now being introduced to take account of technical developments that require new shipboard competence.
It must be noted that the enforcement of the STCW amendments started on January 1, 2012. With the development, companies and crew are required to comply with the new minimum STCW rest hour rules for seafarers.
World Maritime University
Okpo disclosed that the MOU with WMU, Malmo, Sweden would be the first ever to be signed by any maritime training institution outside the European Union (EU). He debunked the claim by some universities in Nigeria and the Regional Maritime Academy, Accra, Ghana that 14 countries from the Commonwealth have signed MOU with WMU, Malmo, Sweden.
“Do not be deceived. The President of WMU, Malmo, Sweden told us this and he said the MOU they are going to sign with the Minister of Transport would be the first and proper affiliation, recognized by it and not those done in collaboration with lecturers. The MOU about to be signed will be on trial for 5 years and thereafter it will be reviewed.
“Once your certificates are accepted globally you can get job anywhere especially when seafarers are in high demand. There is no legislature that empowers us to force our cadets on any company for employment but if the law says so, why not. For now, we appeal only to the shipping companies to absorb our cadets.”
The rector also picked holes in the claims in some quarters that the management of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) brought 400 of its workers to MAN for training with its own syllabus.
According to him, the statement is not true. “Recently a team came from Bayelsa State on Local Content to inspect our facilities and curriculum to see if they are of WMU standard and STCW complaint. After our discussion, they went on a facility tour and they were highly impressed with what they saw. The facilities we have with the support of the president are such that you cannot find in many universities.
“You can come to the academy to verify for yourself. The local content team from Bayelsa State saw it and they said there was no point looking elsewhere for qualitative maritime training to enhance local content. Indeed, you need to come and see the academy and compare what has been achieved in the last one year.
“As we speak, Addax Petroleum has told us that they are increasing the number of those they are sending for training from 40 to 75 because of the high level of improvement in infrastructural, human capital and curriculum development.
“We have a syllabus that is of international standard that we use for all the courses that we run. Besides, the courses we run are accredited by National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). So how can we leave our syllabus to adopt another one as a specialized maritime institution? We have the best simulator in Africa and by the end of September, we are going to the United Kingdom because MRS has come to serve as consultants to us,” he assured.
Case for Training Vessel
The need for a training ship for MAN cannot be over stressed. In fact, the issue has been on the drawing board for long. Okpo hinted that the issue of having a training ship for the academy would soon be addressed as recent events have shown. The rector said the arrangement with MRS would allow cadets of MAN, Oron to serve on board their vessels for sea experience.
“It has also agreed to engage the best 100 to 200 Nautical Science Cadets and Marine Engineers on board EU vessels. This will be done for 5 years. With this, the systemic problem, especially the issue of cadets not getting a place to do their sea experience or lacking job will soon be a thing of the past.
“We have also pleaded with Mr. President to give us a training ship. Interestingly, President of Indigenous Ship Owners Association (ISAN) and Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Marine Local Content on Cabotage Chief Isaac Jolapomo, has also seen the need for MAN to have a training vessel. The Minister of Transport in his action plan also stated the need for a training vessel for MAN, Oron,” he said.
He enjoined the media to be interested in the key issues that would drive MAN to a higher pedestal and ensure its sustainable development rather than engaging in what he described as “baseless speculations.”
Okpo revealed that a committee set up to look into the utilisation of a training vessel headed by Mr. Akinsoji, recommended two models. The first will be to access an interest free loan from the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF), which will be repaid through deductions from MAN’s statutory allocations from NIMASA under an agreed percentage.
Under this model, the ship will be used for training and commercial purposes to enable MAN use the money to defray the loan within a period of 5 to 6 years. This model has been sent to the Shonekan Commission for concurrence. The second model, however, will be purely for the training of the cadets and nothing else.
He commended the present leadership of NIMASA, which has Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi as its director general, for its supportive role to the academy. He stated that unlike in the past, Akpobolokemi has not denied the academy its statutory funds.
He however expressed regret that most of the on-going projects in the school were based on the 2011 budgetary appropriation, pointing out that this was one of the reasons some projects were being delayed.