Recently, arguments about the quality of the curricula and trainings that Nigerian cadets and those who attend maritime institutions are exposed to have been reverberating.
These arguments point to the fact that upcoming Nigerian seafarers are not well-equipped, hence not competitive and employable.
We recall that when it shouted recently about the predominance of mushroom maritime schools, it sounded like an attack on the nation’s maritime education system. But, the Nigerian Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association was stating the obvious about the state of the so-called maritime training institutions that prospective seafarers attend, all in the name of wanting to become mariners.
In the alarm, it charged the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy to take drastic action and close down such illegal outfits.
According to the association, such illegal training institutions cannot be described as an academy or a maritime institution, because they are equipping young men with military drills, all in the name of 'impersonating' the Nigerian Navy.
Similarly, sometime last year, the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Dr. DAkuku Peterside said that even though the Cabotage Act has ensured that substantial number of Nigerian seafarers have been placed on board vessels, some are still unemployed because they lack the specialized training required before they can work on some vessels.
He also said that the spaces that have not been filled are on board specialized vessels that are capital intensive assets that will take about five to 10 years for someone to acquire the required training to be able to work on them.
Explaining further, he had said, “if you talk about manning, there are specialized skills that will take up to 5 to 10 years to acquire for you to go on board and operate in those specialized vessels. Now if you look at the remaining 30%, there cases where we have specialized cases where you need specialized training to go on board those vessels”.
Officially, there are only three government–owned maritime training institutions in Nigeria, namely: Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron in Akwa Ibom State and the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos. They have been joined by the newly-inaugurated Nigerian Maritime University in Delta State. These are the three that are owned by the Federal Government and recognised and as maritime training institutions in Nigeria.
Outside of these, there are scores of accredited maritime training institutions, many of which have been tagged ‘mushroom’ by some stakeholders. In all honesty, some of these schools enjoy the backing of National Board for Technical Education to issue ‘Innovative’ Diploma; they are not by any stroke of qualification nautical colleges.
In fairness to these institutions, many of them don’t claim to be nautical schools, but some of them deceive Nigerians by claiming to offer what they were not accredited for.
However, in contrast to what is obtainable in Nigeria, Philippines has not less than 66 functional maritime training institutions, all of them of international standard, churning out world-recognised professionals in nautical sciences, marine engineering, marine transportation and a lot of other maritime courses.
With their population, Philippines is the largest supplier of ship crews in the world as the country’s cadets work on board ships all over the world.
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, 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.
NIMASA initiated the National Seafarers Development Programme in 2008, with the aim of producing qualified Nigerian merchant Navy officers, by sponsoring their training programmes abroad for courses in nautical science, marine engineering and marine transportation as well as naval architecture, amongst others.
The NSDP has offered opportunity to about 2,500 beneficiaries who were or who are still in academic institutions in Egypt, India, Philippines, Romania and the United Kingdom. Some of them have since graduated.
While we agree that government cannot meet the need of the nation in the area of maritime education, we are not in support of the predominance of dignified secondary schools that are currently bestriding our landscape in the name of offering maritime education.
Certainly, even the few that have been accredited by the National Board for Technical Education only offer management courses. There is none that offers nautical or marine engineering studies sufficient trainng for top rate job. With the type of curriculum these academies offer, their products can certainly not pass for seafarers.
We commend the determination of some privately-run maritime institutions that are offering opportunities for Nigerian youths to acquire maritime education, we put it on record that some of them are actually up to the standard prescribed for them by the NBTE, which is the accrediting authority.
But, without denigrating some of the very few maritime schools that have been accredited by NBTE, products of these schools are not what will fill the vacuum that currently exists in the seafaring profession. What Nigeria needs is a crop of young cadets being groomed in well-structured and equipped nautical colleges, and who after graduation will acquire sea time experience and from there, commence seafaring all over the world.
Sadly, in a direct inference that the NSDP has failed to achieve its primary objective, it is fact that most of the beneficiaries are university graduates without jobs!
The DG of NIMASA also once admitted 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. This is in addition to those who graduate from MAN Oron and others.
We support the position that, rather than send our youths outside the country for training under the NSDP, Nigeria should first work on its Registry, and also equip its nautical schools to be able to offer Mandatory Courses leading to issuance of Certificate of Competence.
Finally, the NSDP should be scrapped, the resources being used to fund it should be channelled into funding the nation’s nautical schools.