By Isaac Anumihe
For several months now, the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, has been in the news for the wrong reasons – from leadership crisis to students’ protests and the eventual closure of the academy by the management of the school. While its challenges persist, industry watchers have taken positions in their search for solutions to the problems of the institute.
But for the President of Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Staff Association, Matthew Alalade, the committee set up by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, lacks the necessary competence required by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Besides, he also noted that the Oron community has been very hostile to non-indigenes sent to work as teachers in the school. As far as Alalade is concerned, the academy is a federal institute and not the property of Oron indigenes.
Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, is a federal institution. It is not the only federal institution because the first maritime institution is the Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research. But it was purely on fishery but later upgraded to marine technology. It is a federal institution too. There is nowhere in the history of Nigeria that all the universities and colleges that are federal in nature, should be headed by the indigenes of the area. So, in the appointment of a rector, the Oron indigenes should not take it as their right. As far as you are a Nigerian and you have what it takes to become a rector or a Vice Chancellor (VC), you should be allowed to occupy that position.
Then when you talk about the protest by the youths, what is the rationale behind the protest? Are they saying that in other federal universities the youths in that area should continue to protest? But it’s not out of place that when somebody from Oron is qualified to get it, he should not get the rectorship. Therefore, a qualified Oron indigene can be a rector. A non-Oron indigene that is qualified should equally be. It should not be their birthright. Then, the protest. What is the rationale? Why are they protesting? Are they protesting about the setting up of the committee; that their indigene is not part of it or are they protesting that the terms of reference do not suit their purpose?
One thing we know in Nigeria is that protests these days are sponsored. What is the rationale for their protest? Is it the composition of the committee or the terms of reference? As I speak with you now, when you are a student of Oron, you rent their house. You don’t rent a Lagosian’s house. You don’t rent an Edo man’s house. Oron indigenes have some benefits.
You talk about the training vessel. There was a training vessel for seafarers. They sold it. Then there was another one that was donated to School of Oceanography – Barka Seriki. It was a training vessel. That one, as I speak with you now, is at CMS Jetty. As I speak with you now, they still budget money for the maintenance of that vessel.
From the association’s point of view, we have written and we have made our stand known to even the president and the Transportation Minister. What we want as a union is that it will be good for Nigerian seafarers to have a national carrier – not fleet. Fleet is the one you register. Immediately you register it, you don’t tell me what to do. It is my business. But when it is the nation’s carrier, like the National Shipping Line, it is our own. Let nobody tell you that it will not be managed well. Does it mean that if those managers fail, we must fail? We must look at what made them to fail, then we adjust.
We have been telling the government and we keep telling them that we have a training vessel. A training vessel is not meant for the school per se. It is meant for Nigerian seafarers. Look at our population and compare it to India or Philippine. Their institutions are more than 500. When we want to speak today we talk of Oron. There are other private schools like Geo-Marine, Star Maritime, Ekis. These schools are basic. They don’t run HND. They don’t run OND. Geo-Marine has started running degree courses. The same thing with Star Maritime at Ogun State.
The union has been requesting for the training vessel because it is good for Nigerians. You are talking about Oron cadets, what about the ones trained by National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). Those people were trained in Greece, Philippine and Australia. As I speak with you, they are still looking for sea times. These guys are trained in dollars – hard currency. The union said that enough is enough for this capital flight. Instead of you taking our guys to Philippine where they don’t have automatic sea times, use part of this money to get a training vessel in Nigeria to help the private institutions here, which you said are below standard so that the capital which is used to train them will remain here in Nigeria to improve the standard of an average Nigerian. This has been our position. But for this Oron, every Nigerian knows that the last rector died in the hotel. The truth of the matter is that MAN, Oron, is a federal university and it should be treated as such.
They did not allow the first rector of that institute, Olu Akinsoji, to stay. They pursued him out of that place. That man is eminently qualified to run that institution. But the indigenes did not allow him because he is not an Oron man. He is a Yoruba man. They brought their own son, Ebong, who wanted to stay indefinitely but he had one or two skirmishes with his own community. The issue of sea time is not for only Oron. It is for all the cadets that come from maritime institutions. Let me also add here that if the indigenes of Oron are protesting, it is their land.
What have you done?
We have continually held NIMASA to ransom because that institution is under its supervision. Before now, shipping was very ok in Calabar. Because of the attitude of the people, 80 per cent of the ship-owners are out of Calabar Port. At times, a community needs to play a role. If they are not hospitable, nobody, even you, no matter how qualified, will be able to stay. We made reference to a Yoruba person. The man did not leave there because he wanted to. The man left because the environment was not friendly. If you are sent to that place, no matter how qualified you are, you will not like to go there because they are bent on managing that place. If I am a PhD holder and the man assessing me has masters, how do you think the man will allow me to work there? For you to become a rector in the maritime institution, it is not only grammar you need, you need the practical experience. We are talking about efficiency. We are talking about auditing.
NIMASA was funding them with the two per cent derivation. But when they failed to install the simulator, NIMASA withdrew its funding.
The Merchant Navy Senior Staff Association’s position is that the committee set up by the Minister of Transportation is a welcome development. But we want to advise that the committee should consult widely before the final report.
The stakeholders should have been part of the committee – the unions. Again, we want them to make provisions for training vessels. There is nowhere in the world a cadet is recognised except he has his or her sea times. And without the sea times, a cadet remains a cadet and he will move nowhere. Already, there is a yawning gap between the junior cadre and the senior cadre. Except training vessels are provided for them to enable them go for their sea time, the money spent on the cadet – both within and outside Nigeria – is in vain.
Simulators were provided some time ago but were not put into use. We still request that the government should make it a point of urgent need that simulators be provided so that these people will have a good face and a new face before other maritime communities.
As a maritime university, we want them to make sure that all the infrastructure, including buildings and other electrical facilities, should be upgraded to meet the IMO standard because a university is not only meant for Nigerian standard, it is expected to meet world standard. A university is only meant for Nigeria’s seafarers. It cuts across. As we go to Australia, Philippines, America, Britain for our school, we expect others from other parts of the world to come to Nigeria for their certification. Therefore, all the infrastructure, including electricity, water, good road network within and outside should be provided to make that school what a university should be.
The composition of the committee runs contrary to the tripartite International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation, which makes it mandatory for any business in the maritime industry to be tripartite in nature. The workers should be represented as well as government and the employers. But this committee negates this. No workers’ representation. That is, no union representation. Therefore, we appeal to the sons and daughters of Oron to remain calm while the committee does its job to make the school meet international standard that will be beneficial to both the indigenes and Nigeria as a whole.