Minister of Transport, Idris Umar
By Ovie Edomi
Many People who have a stake in the Nigeria project, especially the nation’s maritime sector, must be amazed at the recent call by Captain Solomon Omotesho for the closure of the only nation’s premier maritime academy.
Omotesho, one of the country’s foremost master mariners is known in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). He occupies a place of honour in this country. Remarkably too, Nigeria, Omotesho’s fatherland is well-respected among top world-maritime nations. And several factors are responsible for the pride of place Nigeria occupies. One of which is the nation’s training standards, Nigeria’s membership of the IMO’s white list which Omotesho many years ago, joined a ministerial task force during the tenure of former Transport Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe to ensure that Nigeria surmounts the problems to achieve a successful enlistment in the IMO’s white List.
To say the least, the admittance of Nigeria into the IMO’s white list was made possible after the task force successfully restructured the Government’s Inspection of Shipping (GIS) office. The restructuring also included ensuring a good maritime safety administration, and the formulation of a syllabus for the training of merchant navy cadets both on deck and engine, based on the STWC 95 convention now STWC 2012 convention, of course in order to remain in the IMO white list, work was also carried out on the nation’s maritime legislature.
Imperatively the IMO, prior to the 1978 STWC convention, emphasis was on sea knowledge alone, but with the amendment in 1995 the STWC emphasised not only on knowledge, but also on competency of seafarers. Before the recent 2012 STWC convention, all countries are expected to come forward on how to comply with the new convention stipulation.
The convention is specific in its requirements. First, there must be a legal backing to all documentations, which was why the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), was formed. The government ensured that it was gazetted in order to give it legal backing. Besides, countries which are signatory to the STWC convention must show their syllabus or what they intend to teach in their maritime academies/universities in compliance with the STWC convention.
In all, Nigeria’s documentation and presentation of what it intends to teach and the syllabus it intends to use was drawn from the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Akwa Ibom State. In fact, when Nigeria was working on its enlistment in the IMO white List, members of the committee were camped in a guesthouse from for five days to put their documentation together and one of the principal participants was from MAN. This was during the tenure of Mr. Ferdinnard Agu, former Director General, National Maritime Authority (NMA) now NIMASA and now Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation.
Indeed, Nigeria’s election into IMO council and its listing on the White List are as a result of many factors. But training standard, syllabus and maritime legislature are keys. To therefore call for the closure of the same MAN, Oron that has remained the barometer of measurement of our maritime training standards/ curriculum, is to many not a patriotic demand. And contrary to Omotesho’s demand, in 1999, he got a vessel for the academy for their sea experience, but was later rejected in 2001 by the committee set up by the school management to examine the vessel and was subsequently abandoned in Calabar Port until former Governor Donald Duke got it pulled out of the port.
At this time in our nation’s history when President Jonathan is calling for a maritime retreat to address the myriads of problems facing the maritime industry, everyone needs to be patriotic and passionate about the nation’s maritime potential. In 33 years that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria has existed, first as a Nautical College then an academy for the training of merchant navy, Nigeria and the West-Africa sub-region have benefited tremendously, and Omotesho knows this. Agreed, Greece, Japan, Singapore and United States have flag vessels just like Great Britain, Norway, France and so on that engage in coastal operations as well as ocean-going vessels that can cross the deep ocean into other countries, Nigeria has no national carrier. Whereas, Greece has over 1045 vessels (national carriers) competing with other 1821 foreign flagged vessels.
Similarly, Japan has over 1077 national carriers to compete with at least 1824 vessels of other countries. The Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL), of which Omotesho was a pioneer mastermariner, has long been liquidated with Nigeria not having a national carrier. Does Omotesho want the only recognised maritime academy in Nigeria by the IMO and other world-maritime institutions to suffer the same fate?
This is certainly not a criticism of Omotesho, but a call for collaboration.
This is because most disputes in Nigeria simply end up with both parties withdrawing their fingers from each others’ face. I believe that if Omotesho has been to MAN, Oron in the last nine months, he will rather call for the up-grading of the academy to a university instead of calling for its closure. Even the Senator Zainab Kure-led Senator Committee on Marine Transport which include former Governors Joshua Diariye and George Akume, as well as Pius Ewerhido among others were amazed at the infrastructural development currently ongoing at the academy in line with the President’s reform agenda, with a view to turning the school into one of the best in Africa and among the top 10 in the world.
If the school is closed and another established in Omotesho’s homeland, how many years will it take for IMO to recognise it? This is the time to support MAN, Oron. To do otherwise would amount to sycophancy. This time the master mariner got it wrong.
Edomi, Publisher/Editor in Chief, The South South International Magazine writes from Lagos