Now attention is shifting to the Oron; Akwa Ibom state –based Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN). Those who have been to the Federla Government-owned nautical school say that things are looking up and its Rector; Mr Joshua Okpo is a happy man.
Established about 32 years ago, MAN; Oron as it is fondly called has been struggling to train would-be marine engineers and master mariners, apart from thousands of other professionals for the maritime industry.
Apart from the Oron academy, there are pockets of institutions that are rendering almost the same service, but only MAN, Oron is recognized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). We are aware of the existence of College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos,. There are some private maritime training institutions as well.
Even though created at about the same time, the Nigerian academy cannot match its counterparts elsewhere in Africa, such as the one in South Africa, Egypt and the neighbouring; Regional Maritime Academy in Ghana.
The sad news is that Nigerian cadets prefer to go to the Regional Maritime Academy in Ghana for their mandatory post or pre- sea going training. The naked reason is that the Oron academy is not fully equipped to offer such training opportunities.
The neglect that the Academy has suffered is partly responsible for the high rate of unemployment and employment of fake and half-baked seafarers. The worst effect is that better qualified professionals are often engaged bay ship owners instead of Nigerian half baked professionals.
We are sure that if MAN, Oron had been equipped adequately to offer mandatory training leading to certification to the academy’s cadets, perhaps many of them whose only certificate is the Higher National Diploma in Nautical Sciences or in Marine Engineering will not be roaming the streets instead of being on board.
It would also have helped the cause of Cabotage; especially the aspect that deals with crewing of Cabotage vessels by Nigerians.
Some stakeholders have advocated that establishing more academies is what is required to re-awaken MAN, Oron. Such people have suggested that rival academies should be created in each of the country’s geo-political zones. As a matter of fact, were it not for political intrigues, the academy that was proposed for Badagry in Lagos state was to have come up since 2008.
Another school of thought had also argued that all that the Oron Academy required was adequate funding and subsequent upgrading to a University to boost its status. Top among the group is the institution’s former rector, Mr Nsenyen Ebong who once disclosed that the host community had even provided additional acres of land to meet the requirements of the National Universities Commission (NUC).
As much as we agree that the academy has not done very well, its challenges are partly as a result of government’s neglect and wrong decisions.
The incumbent rector; Mr Joshau Okpo, may arguably, not the most qualified, but one of the most decisive criteria that got him the job was the fact that he is a ‘son of the soil’; an indigene.
And since taking over the reins, the incumbent has tried to rekindle hope, especially in the area of provision of infrastructures and super structures.
No doubt, the academy is struggling to meet its objectives, but it probably would have been a different story today if it had not been starved of funds and also neglected by agencies that are supposed to support it.
There was a time in the past when agencies under the transport ministry were regularly made to contribute funds to infrastructural development of the academy; that accounted for the number of buildings that currently bear the names of agencies like NPA, NMA, Nigerian Shippers Council and others. But that was achieved under the military when the minister only needed to direct the agencies to do it.
All that have stopped now as MAN, Oron is now left at the mercy of its sole benefactor; the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which painfully often starves it (MAN, Oron) of its statutory allocation as enshrined in the NIMASA Act.
But judging by what was recently credited to the academy’s rector, the era when NIMASA used to starve it of funds was over, as the academy now gets its funds as at when due.
The neglect that the academy had suffered is partly responsible for the high rate of unemployment within the maritime sector. We are sure that if MAN, Oron had been equipped adequately to offer mandatory training leading to certification to the academy’s cadets, perhaps many of them whose only certificate is the Higher National Diploma in Nautical Sciences or in Marine Engineering will not be roaming the streets instead of being on board.
Another sign that things are looking up is the recent visit to the academy by the President of World Maritime University; Björn Kjerfve, who promised to assist with MAN, Oron’s curricula. We also heard that the academy has signed an agreement with its counterpart in South Africa.
All these are signs that the academy is on the right part and that the academy needs the support of all, now than even before.
The solution to the perceived inadequacies of MAN, Oron is not in the establishment of new schools to rival the academy. While commending the currents of efforts of NIMASA in funding the establishment of maritime institutes in some universities, such initiatives should not overshadow the statutory responsibilities of the agency to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria.