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”.
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 had also said 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 Nigerian seafarers currently enjoy, but irrespective of the bad 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.
From available statistics, more than 5,000 Cadets have graduated from the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), in Oron, AkwaI bom state.
Apart from MAN Oron, there are thousands of cadets who have also graduated from the College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos.
All these cadets contribute to the large pool of unemployed 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 and the poor academic content of the nautical colleges.
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 equivocation, 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 in Akwa Ibom state is well-funded and its curriculum well-structured for competition and with a robust programme of sea time for graduating seafarers. 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 effectively as a nautical school.
But rather than adequately fund MAN Oron, NIMASA funded maritime institutes in universities and created the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), under which it 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 NIMASA; Dr Ade Dosunmu, the NSDP was designed as an interventionist programme for youths to develop 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. Sadly, 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 secure sea time, while those who have managed to secure sea time could not find a job!
At a 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. He didn’t say how many of them have secured sea time or even employment.
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. This is in addition to those who graduate from MAN Oron and others.
The Nigerian Maritime University in Delta state is already running academic programmes. Together with MAN Oron, these two institutions can provide the needed training for our youths. But can they guarantee their employability? No.
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 these would-be seafarers. Will the training not end in the classrooms of these institutions; hence make them half-baked and unemployable?
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.