Not too long ago, the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Dr Dakuku Peterside acknowledged the preponderance of unemployed seafarers is because they lack the specialized training required before they can man some vessels.
He also said that there are vacancies on board specialized vessels that are capital intensive, and that it will take up to 5 to 10 years for someone to acquire the required training to be able to work on some of these vessels.
His position is not quite different from that of the President of Nigerian Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association; Engr Mathew Alalade who also said recently that there is a high level of unemployed seafarers because they don’t have the needed certification and that many of those they are qualified are often too choosy about which ship they want to work on.
There is actually no argument about the poor rating that they currently enjoy, but respective of this rating within the nation’s maritime sector, Nigerian seafarers remain an important stakeholder. One can hardly forget how respectable it was to be a seafarer up till the mid- 1990s, that was before the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
The average age of the youngest qualified and certified master mariner and marine engineer in the country today is about 59 years. Of course, there are thousands of lower cadre seafarers, few of whom are gainfully employed.
There are about 1.2 million seafarers in the world, and good enough, Nigerian seafarers make up a sizeable number of the lot.
From available statistics, more than 5,000 Cadets have graduated from the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), in Oron, Akwa Ibom state.
Apart from MAN Oron, there are thousands of cadets who have also graduated from institutions such as the College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos. All these cadets contribute to the large pool of unemployed and unemployable graduates of nautical academies that Nigeria now parades.
The reality is that Nigeria is a country where thousands of seafarers are either unemployed or under employed, owing largely to the fact that the nation’s ship registry is depleting by the day.
A lot of people have blamed the current travails of unemployment of the Nigerian seafarers on government and by extension, NIMASA, which is the implementing agency for maritime labour.
Without mincing words, NIMASA has not done well enough to boost the employability of emerging seafarers, this it would have done by ensuring that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom state is well-funded. A robust programme of sea time for graduating seafarers would have helped too. This would also have been easy if the nation has a robust ship registry which ships flying the nation’s flags. Of course, the issue of training and certification would have been taken care of if MAN Oron had been made to function adequately as a nautical school.
But rather than adequately fund MAN Oron, NIMASA funded maritime institutes in universities and also senT young Nigerians to foreign maritime academies for training in nautical sciences, marine engineering and other courses.
When it was conceived by the then- Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Dr Ade Dosunmu, the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) was designed as an interventionist programme for youths to take interest in shipping and also to provide a pool of seafarers that will fill emerging vacuum.
It was designed to be funded partly by the state governments of the prospective seafarer and NIMASA. Sadfly, the NSDP story is not a pleasant one. There are stories of cadets being abandoned without funding and upkeep. Even those who have graduated are yet to either secure sea time, while those who have managed to secure sea time could not find a job.
The NSDP initiative was conceived in 2008 to bridge the gap observed in the dearth of seafarers in the country and as at 2017, about 2,259 young Nigerians have been trained in various fields of maritime studies in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Romania, India and the Philippines.
At a recent forum in Lagos, Dakuku Peterside, the DG of NIMASA also confirmed that the NSDP is an interventionist programme designed for human capacity development.
He said that the offshore seafarers training programme was meant to assist indigent Nigerian youths in terms of job opportunity and to contribute to the development of the nation’s maritime sector.
Peterside said so far, 2,000 officers have been trained abroad by the agency under the programme.
Sadly, in a direct inference that the programme has failed to achieve its primary objective, the DG added that “most of them are university graduates without jobs”. Also inadvertently admitting the incompetence of the graduates, he added that, it will be difficult for the maritime industry to employ persons without the requisite skills! He advised industry players to assist the government in making the NSDP a worthwhile venture by absorbing the cadets.
The question is: How do these graduates get employment without the mandatory sea time? There is no doubt that there is glaring lack of sea time opportunities for the cadets and seamen trained under NSDP.
Also, a master mariner and managing director of Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited; Capt Mohammed Bashir had some time ago said of the NSDP: “Those boys who are coming back are not earning any money, they are frustrated, I have met quite a number of them, I have so many CVs in my office now, they are looking for job and they don’t even have any experience. The two years is nothing, it is equivalent to ND.
You need to get your practical experience and then go and do your HND and then you start doing your certification. It is totally wasting of government fund”.
Capt Bashir put it more succinctly when he said, “Cadetship is a long term project, just two years in classroom to learn the terminologies and theories, it is not enough for an officer to be onboard a ship, you need a vessel to actually do the practical and if you don’t have that, then, you are in a major mess”.
If the ultimate objective of the NSDP is to make Nigeria an ‘exporter’ of sea farers, then, it is not being met. The reason is that they can not be employable until they undergo theoretical training and pass sea time training. They must be qualified to be employed. And when they are qualified, there must be jobs for them.
The Federal Government has given approval for the Nigerian Maritime University in Delta state to take-off. Together with MAN Oron, these two institutions can provide the needed training for our youths.
Even though NIMASA will beat its chest for the Nigerian Maritime University and the Science and Technical College that it is funding, the question to ask is: Will it translate to jobs for would-be seafarers. Will the training not end in the classrooms of these institutions; hence make them half-baked and unemployable?