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 our youths 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.
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 or marine engineering colleges. Sadly, they deceive Nigerians by claiming to 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, 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.
NIMASA initiated the National Seafarers Development Programme 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.
There are about 2, 500 beneficiaries of NSDP in academic institutions in Egypt, India, Philippines, Romania and the United Kingdom. Some of them have since graduated. It is in some of the maritime institutions in Philippines that Nigerian cadets are distributed under the National Seafarers Development Programme. Hundreds of Nigerian youths are currently schooling at: University of Perpetual Help System, Lyceum of the Philippines University, (Lyceum International Maritime Academy (LIMA) in Batangas Province and University of Cebu. The good thing is that these foreign institutions are equipped with state- of- the- art facilities for maritime education.
Apparently realizing the need to improve on the level of maritime training in Nigeria, NIMASA ill-advisedly also established maritime faculties in some Universities; this is in addition to the National Seafarers Development Programme.
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 offers management courses. There is none that offers nautical or marine engineering studies sufficient to offer top rate job. With the type of curriculum these academies offer, their products can certainly not pass for seafarers.
What Nigeria needs at this period is a deliberate policy on maritime education that is tailored towards churning out qualified seafarers, who can advance from such nautical schools to commence sea time and from there, become qualified professionals. This is the only was to secure an enviable future for these budding 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.
It is known fact that the Nigerian Navy has been sealing-up some of these schools, located in Lagos, and some parts of the Niger Delta.
In one of such arrests last year, the Navy invaded an illegal Nigerian Merchant Navy Coastal Defence Force training camp at Ijanikin area off the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, arresting four of its staff and 12 trainees. In yet another raid, an illegal naval training school, bearing the same name as the one in Lagos; the Nigerian Merchant Navy Coastal Defence Force was uncovered in Rivers state. According to the Navy it is being used by suspected criminals to defraud members of the public.
The Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship Jubilee, Calabar, Commodore SaiduGarba told journalists that the school operated from an illegal school in Wiiyaakara community, Khana local government area of Rivers State. “This illegal organisation specialises in recruitment and training after collecting huge sums of money from unsuspecting members of the public through sale of forms and registration. “They conduct training for youths and at the end of the training send them out in the name of industrial attachment to so called naval organisations”.
The above words from the navy commander underscore the level of abuse that seafarers’ training has gone. There are many questionable schools that masquerade as nautical school and maritime colleges. Painfully, they gave bad names to genuine maritime training institutions, most of which are certificated by appropriate government agencies. There is need for NIMASA to work more closely with appropriate agencies at the Federal Ministry of Education and the Navy to harmonise all requirements for qualification as maritime training institutions. A situation where Ministry of Education certifies nautical and maritime training schools that will still need NIMASA to legitimise its existence is to say the least, confusing.
Finally, we agree that the Navy cannot determine where and how prospective students can pursue their ambition. It is wrong on the part of the Navy to direct students to either the Nigerian Defence Academy or the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, as they once advised. This is absolutely incorrect, it is as unacceptable as it is illegal.