Recent events that are unveiling at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom state have again confirmed that the more-than- 40 years -old institution is probably jinxed.
After the appointment of the Rector; Commodore Emma Effedua (Rtd) and the initial realignment with the Interim Management Committee led by Chief Adebayo Sarumi, there had appeared to be peace at the institution.
But recent revelations have further hinted at another round of unrests that may take the academy back to crisis.
There were two visits recently to the Academy by the newly-constituted governing board and the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration.
At each visit, the duo complained about the institution. While the board complained (among other things)about dilapidated infrastructures, the lawmakers fingered irregularity in appointments of staff and the lopsided staff to students’ ratio. And mid last week, an embattled Rector invited the Police and the EFCC to the institution
What is currently playing out in the school is a repeat of what it has always gone through. To say that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria is jinxed may be an understatement.
For the almost 40 years of its existence, the Academy has been battling to stay afloat, battling inadequate infrastructures, dearth of qualified lecturers, lack of equipment befitting of a nautical college.
It has always had issues with Rectors, while battling the host community which sees the academy as their own share of national cake.
For all its years, MAN, Oron has been struggling to train would-be marine engineers and master mariners, apart from thousands of other professionals, all for the maritime industry.
Over the years, a lot of people have questioned and lamented the neglect that the institution has suffered. Their worry is justified.
It is a fact that, although 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 by 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 of its 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 a ship.
From available statistics, there are more than 5,000 cadets of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria(MAN), Oron who, although completed their National Diploma programme for many years, but who have not been unable to proceed for the Higher National Diploma (HND) programme because they are unable to acquire sea-time experience.
Worse still, most of them are unemployable, because they cannot be issued Certificate of Competency (CoC) - a mandatory requirement for placement on board ships.
Officially, there are only two government–owned maritime training institutions in Nigeria, namely: Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron and the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology, Lagos. And lately, the controversial Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) has joined them.
These are the three that are owned by the Federal Government and recognised and as maritime training institutions in Nigeria.
Despite these travails, NIMASA established the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) in 2008, with the aim of producing qualified Nigerian Merchant Navy officers and ratings, by sponsoring their training programmes abroad for courses in nautical science, marine engineering and marine transportation as well as naval architecture, amongst others. These courses are also offered at Oron!
There are about 2, 500 beneficiaries of the NSDP in academic institutions in Egypt, India, Philippines, Romania and the United Kingdom. It is in some of the maritime institutions in Philippines that Nigerian cadets are distributed under the National NSDP. Some of them have since graduated.
These institutions are equipped with state- of- the- art facilities for maritime education. MAN Oron is not! With no simulators, no survival pool, no training ship, no qualified lecturers (because hands-on professionals refuse to be co-opted as faculties, it can not be attractive, it can not attract the best.
Added to these myriad of issues, the Academy has never had the fortune of an ‘accepted’ Rector. Each Rector has always had an issue, it is either he is not accepted by stakeholders or he is not accepted by Oron indigenes!
At the centre of the current agitation over illegal employment of staff is Oron. There are allegations that more than 80 per cent of these illegally appointed staff were from the church of the acting Rector, who is also an indigene of Oron.
Characteristically, the same Oron people kicked against the appointment of a non-indigene Rector; Cdr Efedua. They had also taken to the streets calling for the sack of the interim management committee and the Rector. Reason- only an indigene of Oron is acceptable to them!
May be it is high time Oron people are reminded that, if the institution were to be for Oron people alone or better still for Akwa Ibom state, it would have been named Maritime Academy of Oron, or Maritime Academy of Akwa Ibom state. But no, it is called Maritime Academy of Nigeria located in Oron, Akwa Ibom state. It is for Nigerians.
The mind set of Oron indigene may be better understood when immediate reaction of the Senator representing Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District (where the academy is located); Senator Nelson Efiong is analysed.
Immediately after the National Assembly approved that the academy be upgraded into a University, the Senator said: “It is a thing of pride to announce to you my constituents that, the persistent desire of our people to have a Maritime University in Oron has received today, the highest legislative endorsement courtesy of my bill on the subject”. The reaction gives an insight into how Oron and indeed Akwa Ibom people perceive the academy.
If seen this way, Oron people and indeed Akwa Ibom indigenes see the Maritime Academy of Nigeria as an asset meant only for Oron people and Akwa Ibom indigenes alone. This is certainly not the way to go.