If you haven’t been to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom state in the last couple of months, I urge you to take a trip down there. As we say in this part of the world, “seeing is believing” and that is exactly what I did about three weeks ago; albeit on the invitation of the Rector, Mr Nsenyen Ebong. Even though I have been to the school many times in the past, I must confess that the latest experience was more revealing than the previous ones. The fact that the academy is located at an extreme end of the South- South makes any visit a tedious and energy- sapping one, even by air; since you may have to complete the second lap on the bumpy road from Calabar through Uyo and other villages and towns to Oron. But, if you are as daring and adventurous as I am, then be ready for the approximately 25minutes speed boat pleasure on the ‘expansive’ Calabar-Oron waters. By the way, this water serves different types of crafts; from the wooden canoe to the motorized speed boats of different carrying capacities and to the West coast boats and then to conventional ocean liners. Enjoy the first part of my chat with the rector.
As I was coming in, I noticed quite a lot of new things springing up and I must confess that I am very impressed
Thank you. I must confess to you that there has been a trial been a drastic transformation. There has to be because we don’t have an option, there has to be a transformation of the only maritime academy that we have for now so as to serve the needs, the manpower, capacity and development needs of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is a question of and commitment and vision. The Bible says where there is no vision, the people perish, so what have been brought to bare are commitments on the part of the management and on the part of everybody; including the staff and of course supported by vision of what we want to do and where we want to do it.
The Academy once had a not-quite- rosy relationship with NIMASA, how is the relationship now?
Let me say that there has never been a time that the relationship between NIMASA and MAN, Oron was not cordial; you can ask the Director General either the current or previous ones, there has never been a time. But we are talking of issues,and when you are talking of issues, it does not translate into deterioration of relationship. Somebody may have one perspective on an issue and another may say let’s do it this way, that does not mean that there is bad blood, that has never been, and of course those who know me, know me as somebody who will never get into a bad relationship with anybody, but in the prosecution of the business of government, you have different ways, different approaches and in trying to implement policies you can have different approaches, but people who may not understand may begin to se it as bad relationship. The relationship between the academy and NIMASA and indeed other agencies of government under the federal ministry of transportation has been nothing but cordial. I am sure you have the phone numbers of the CEO’s; you can phone them and ask. At our last Passing out Parade, the parade review officer was Captain Adamu Biu of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council; so we in the academy have never had bad relationship with any of our sister agencies. So, the issue of NIMASA- you see that the academy needs money and provision was made in the NIMASA Act for the money to be provided, so when you hear us say that they should give us the money, is that a bad relationship? It is not, and NIMASA says Rector, “bring your projects, let’s look at it this way and let’s do it this way”.
May be the bad relationship is solely on the pages of newspapers, because I have come to realize now that newspapers thrive on bad stories, if they say Ebong and Dosunmu are working in an atmosphere of cordiality, it will not sell newspapers, but when they say Ebong and Dosunmu were about to exchange blows after a meeting, it will be on the front page. So, I have come to learn how avoid these media people; especially those that I know as being sensational. I don’t talk to them. I remember something that happened when Dr Abiye Sekibo was the minister of transport, I had gone to Port Harcourt about a year earlier to present a paper at the Port Harcourt boat show where I said that the maritime industry in Nigeria at that point has not grown enough to accommodate a mass turn out of trainees and that we should do it in a graduated and controlled form so that we don’t have what is happening in the universities where every year, they turn out about 200,000 unemployable graduates into the labour market, where are the jobs?. I told them that if you begin to do that in the maritime industry, you will get into serious trouble, already they are saying that those MAN Oron is training are roaming the streets of Apapa looking for placement, employment and so on and so forth.
Now you are talking of maybe turning out 2,000 to 3,000 every year, so I said that could be a drastic recipe for trouble. Dr Sekibo came here in 2006 during our passing out parade and on the podium, he directed the management of he academy to double the cadets intake by the following year. A journalist got what I said at the Port Harcourt show, put it side by side Dr Sekibo’s directive and said: “Rector of MAN, Oron and the Minister are at logger heads. Because I said that a dramatic increase in the number of cadets trained in the academy at that point in time when the maritime industry in Nigeria appears to be constrictive and at this time, the minister is saying double the intake so we are at logger heads. So, I came to understand that the media people thrive on sensationalism and negative stories. If the man had gone to do analyses that minister directs MAN, Oron to double the intake and then go on to do the analyses of how we should be supported to carry out that directive, it would have been a different case.
Why has MAN, Oron not become a university?
What did Ghana do to become a university, was it not just a government pronouncement. In our own case, we have been writing letters all over Nigeria for many years. That is how things are done here, what did Captain Tukson do to make the Regional Maritime Academy to turn it into a university, was it not just a government pronouncement? And today, it is called Regional Maritime University and they have accepted it, why can’t we do the same in Nigeria, putting the support and funding to turn this place into a university, what do we lose if MAN, Oron becomes a university, combining what it is doing now with upgraded programs and awarding degrees in areas like Naval Architecture, marine insurance, maritime law, and other areas where we are now training people outside Nigeria. The maritime academy should be teaching other things like hydrography, marine insurance and so on. As we are now we can’t do that because we are restricted to cadets training; now we are beginning to ask the question, what is the vision of the giant of Africa, a potential maritime power, with a coastline in excess of 840 kilometer stretching from Lagos to the creeks of Calabar, with 3,000 kilometers of inland water ways with a population of 140Million human beings, the potentials are intimidating, there are smaller countries that are maritime powers in the world, look at Singapore, what is the population of Singapore? It’s a population of less than a million people; creating wealth in the maritime industry and here we are, talking and fighting over having a maritime university. I should have thought that somebody outside would say turn MAN, Oron into a university immediately, and that is just one aspect of it, as am speaking to you now, to achieve comparative advantage, to achieve competitive advantage, there is no maritime training institution on the surface of the earth outside MAN Oron that is not awarding degrees today, but we believe in living in the past. When I presented this thing to a group of people the other day, you need to see their reaction and I really wept for this country. Between you and I, when I finish this job, I just want to go and rest, I am too young to have stress and hypertension, because there are so many things in my head that I thought that this entity Nigeria should be doing and others will be watching and say what kind of people are this created by God. Now, this is a people so blessed going outside to beg for crumbs, going outside to copy when they should be copying us. When I was in the World Maritime University, we had students from other parts of Africa, so one day I was in a discussion with a colleague from another country in Africa and this man said something that entered into my blood and bones that I will never forget. As we were talking, the man now made a statement that if Nigeria goes down, if we Nigerians made a mistake and Nigeria goes down, Africa will go down, this statement was made by an African colleague, a fellow student in the World Maritime University. I was the president of the students’ council and they all rallied round and voted for me, because I was from Nigeria, we are expected to lead Africa, the African students rallied round, it was like politics in Nigeria. I defeated my opponent by lands slide- 97 votes to 22 to become the president of the students’ council. So this statement has never left me, I beg my Nigerian brothers and sisters, let us begin to think deep, somebody talks of a university and another begins to bring parochial interests; that why should a University be in Oron, and come to think of it, Oron has only one federal presence, this one institution is the only federal presence in this town. There are towns in this country that have up to 12, so you see all kinds of sentiments being brought into it.
There are too many projects coming up at the academy, we didn’t see things lie this some three, four years ago, why at this time?
Consistency. The bible says that to them that believe, they shall be a performer, that means if you have faith and you believe, there will be a manifestation. I believe that this country is great, it can be greater, that this academy is great in a great country and it can be greater; that revolves into the physical manifestations that you are seeing. If we believe and we have faith in ourselves, there will be a manifestation and performance.
The simulator complex is quite imposing, it has been abandoned for a long time, but now that it is coming up, what will it achieve for the academy?
Well you have seen the stimulators complex finally taking shape and people are now saying Waoh! The first contractor on this job abandoned the job although he started very well. I am a scientist and I like to look at issues analytically, the original contract for this thing was N22Million, but there are places in this country where they can build this complex for N200Million. So, during the past administration when they started the dramatic increase in the price of fuel, he started asking for revaluation and his argument was that the dramatic increases in the price of fuel over time are having a multiplier effect on the cost of building materials. So he could not go ahead with the project. But, I think that the problem of funding, the quotation at that time and subsequent events contributed to stalling that project, but eventually I had to recommend to the honourable minister that the contract be terminated, that contract was terminated and the contractor was sidelined, so it is not that the project was abandoned. You can see that the project will be commissioned in the next two to three weeks, there is nothing left. I want to believe that you as a Nigerian should be very happy with the way you are seeing that simulator complex the way it is now, you will actually say that despite the length of time that it has taken for this project to be completed, we actually commend the management for their efforts. Now we are in the next stage of installing the simulator, when we do, it will catapult us into a level of training ability which we did not have before and in fact it will make us one of the best equipped maritime training institution in the whole of Africa and I want to assure you that when that happens, MAN Oron will become the destination academy for maritime education and training.
Nigerians have been traveling to Ghana for training programmes, aren’t you worried?
When they talk of people going here and going there, I don’t have head ache and I don’t lose sleep over it, because I know what we are doing over here and I know the standards and foundations that we are laying down here and I am also conscious of the fact that if you take a Nigerian working in Lagos and you say that there is a special training they are offering in MAN, Oron and that the standard of training offered in these courses is higher than that offered in Accra Ghana, so go there for one week, that Nigerian will prefer to go to Accra because of the estacode. I have seen these things before, unless the federal government comes out and begins to put its foot down and says that any training that can be offered in MAN, Oron, you can’t go to Ghana, Hamburg, or Southampton or South Africa, we will continue to belittle ourselves and make ourselves a laughing stock in the community of nations. What is Ghana offering in respect of basic safety courses prescribed by STCW that any Nigerian should leave shores of the country for Ghana? You have been to the Regional Maritime Academy in Ghana, is their basic safety courses center better than what we are seeing here? We have just had delivered to us four brand new life wraps, an expatriate came here two weeks ago and we took him round to see this and he said you have all this? He saw four brand new life rafts when in some maritime training institutions, they have only one that they continue to patch, MAN, Oron has four brand new, you saw the level of the delivery of the instruction in that basic safety course center a short while ago, where can you say that the standards can be higher, but you find somebody sitting down and saying when I go to Ghana, they will give me $305 a day for five days, he will begin to work out what he will collect, that is why they are going there. It is not because of standards. The Maritime and Coast Guard Agency of United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland (that is the equivalence of our own NIMASA) has delegated the responsibility to MAN, Oron to train in respect of the four basic safety courses, coming all the way from United Kingdom to see that MAN, Oron is a star and our own people don’t recognize us, that is why when I see some of the nonsense written in the papers I don’t respond. Somebody is sitting down somewhere and running this place down.
How come you didn’t go to town about the Maritime Coast Guard recognition?
Don’t they know? They know, is this the first time I am saying this to them
But Nigerians don’t seem to acknowledge this
For the British government to have come to Oron to say what you are doing meets our standard. The certificate that we are issuing here, the British government says they endorse it. The Regional Maritime Academy in Ghana can not issue this certificate, it doesn’t have the accreditation. People are going to Ghana because they don’t have shame.