To say that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) in Oron, Akwa Ibom state is jinxed may be an understatement.
For the almost 40 years of its existence, the Academy has been battling to stay afloat.
For all its years, 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, 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 to 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 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 in Akwa Ibom State and the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology, Lagos. These are the two that are owned by the Federal Government and recognised and as maritime training institutions in Nigeria. Outside of these, there are scores of maritime training institutions, many of which have been tagged ‘mushroom’ by some stakeholders. But some are actually accredited by both NIMASA and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
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- may be! With no simulators, no survival pool, no training ship, no qualified lecturers (because hands-on professionals refuse to be co-opted as faculties).
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!
It is in the midst of all these that the incumbent Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi empanelled a committee to look into the problems of the institutions. It is headed by a respected technocrat and former MD of NPA; Chief Adebayo Sarumi.
It is no longer news that the minister has taken a further step by transmuting the committee into an interim management one for the embattled Academy. He has also announced the appointment of Rector; Cdr. Duja Effedua.
To underscore the fact that the Academy has failed, the Minister told the committee at their inauguration and unveiling of the new Rector, he stated that: “To achieve the vision and objectives of establishing the institution, members of the committee now transformed into an Interim Management Committee.
“We approach the Federal Government since May to give us the go ahead to implement your reports and we got the approval of the President for the committee to implement that report, “ he had said.
Amaechi urged the newly appointed Rector of the Academy, Cdr. Duja Effedua to work with the committee, saying he could also act in that capacity after the assignment of the committee was over.
Sadly and characteristically of Oron indigenes, they have taken to the streets of Oron, 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 time Oron people are reminded that, if the institution were to be for Oron 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 Maritime Academy of Nigeria located in Oron, Akwa Ibom state.
If their agitation is for the actualisation of the recent upgrade of academy’s status of the institution into a University, it would have been more reasonable. But because Oron indigenes know that their son (the incumbent acting Rector) is not qualified to head the emerging University.
The reaction of Senator Nelson Efiong from Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District (where the academy is located) gives an insight into how Oron and indeed Akwa Ibom people perceive the academy’’ status.
He said: “It is a thing of pride to announce to you my constituents that, 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”.
If seen this way, the University may be run like the Academy which was seen as an asset meant only for Oron people and Akwa Ibom indigenes alone. This is certainly not the way to go.
All said, perhaps one should ask: Is there really need for the upgrade to a Maritime University. We don’t think there is any compelling need.
The MAN Oron was established to train seafarers. Yes it did, but there was no plan for post-qualification advancement for the cadets. It is sad that as soon as its first set of cadets started graduating, they moved to academies in other parts of Africa, United Kingdom and Europe for post-sea time training.
The academy’s handlers did not prioritize the needs of the academy. Is it by transmuting into a University that the problems of MAN Oron will be solved? No. The academy does not have single simulator, it lacks top rate faculties. The buildings (including the cadet hostels, lecture halls and laboratories are inadequate. Are all these facilities to be provided after its upgrade?
We support all those who have said that the Oron Academy should not be upgraded, but should be equipped. A seafarer is not particularly expected to attend a University, but a Nautical College where practical knowledge is impacted.
We see the craze for the upgrade of MAN Oron to a University as an ego trip.