Many Nigerians know Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) in Oron, Akwa Ibom State to be one of Nigeria's oldest maritime training institutions, having been established in 1979.
That presupposes that the academy has come a long way and, therefore, should have a pedigree. But in the estimation of some operators in the maritime industry, and even government agencies, the academy cannot provide adequate maritime training for Nigerians.
This apparently explains why the Regional Maritime University (RMU) in Accra, Ghana's capital, has become the toast of many operators and government agencies, even the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), whose responsibility it is to develop training in the country.
At a recent interactive session on safety of navigation on Nigerian waters, the managing director of Lagos Channel Management (LCM), Danny Fuchs, said that there is no maritime training institution in Nigeria that meets international standards.
According to him, the absence of standard maritime institution compelled his company, which has not been able to give a good account of itself in the dredging of Lagos channels, had to send over 30 cadets to the Regional Maritime University in Ghana for training.
"I was searching in this country for schools and unfortunately, I was not impressed by the levels of schools here in Nigeria. So I have decided to go and invest on those Nigerian people to go to RMU in Ghana to get education there."
That was indeed a damning verdict on maritime training institution oprating in the country.
NIMASA on its own, does not consider MAN, Oron as capable of offering standard training for the maritime industry.
Incidentally, the responsibility to fund the academy falls on its doorstep. Section 16, subsection 2 (B) of the NIMASA Act 2007 stipulates that the agency shall provide not less than five percent of its revenue for the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in its plans.
But MAN has been deprived of the funds, which is responsible for the inability of the academy to provide adequate training for the maritime industry.
However, constructions of new maritime academies are being planned for Badagry and Lokoja where the existing one is being starved of funds.
NIMASA prefers sending cadets abroad to investing the funds for the upgrade of the MAN.
The Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) is supposedly a strategic intervention designed by NIMASA to address the
short to medium term manpower requirements of the maritime sector.
Other objectives of the programme include: To develop a pool of seafarers to service the demands of domestic and international shipping, improve the nation's overall skill base and to engage Nigeria teeming youths constructively and deploy them into productive ventures.
Career opportunities offered by the programme include: deck officers; master mariner (ship captain), chief mate and officer on watch (oow), engineering; chief engineer, second engineer, officer on watch (oow), marine electricians
There is also the rating career prospect, which encompasses, boatswain, motormen, nautical caterers, able seamen, welder, greaser
Other career opportunities are: naval architecture/ship building; naval architect, ship building technologist and marine surveyors; nautical, engineering, naval architects
The programme has been structured into the following schemes: graduate scheme, bridging programme, technicians scheme and vocational/ratings scheme.
Although the training has not commenced, the NSDP has allegedly gulped more than N200 million in staging awareness campaign in the six geo-political zones of the country.
Contrary to claims that MAN is deficient in maritime training, management of the academy argued that the institution could cater to the training needs of Nigeria maritime industry.
This may seem a tall dream to many, but as far as the rector of MAN, Nseyen Ebong, is concerned, the dream is realisable. "If they say that MAN, Oron cannot do this and that, why don't we as Nigerians gather ourselves and confront the problem. It is a shameful thing for a small country like Ghana with 14 million people to now become the destination for maritime training," Ebong said in an interview.
He said further that "Our people should ask, what is it that MAN, Oron needs, let us give them so that our people can get what they are getting from Ghana. Nigerians are destroying their country for parochial and sentimental reasons, there is nothing else."
Daily Independent learnt that the challenges Ebong faced since he took over as rector of the academy are many. There has been a chronic inadequacy of funding and inadequate facilities.
The increased demand for studentship in the academy over the years had not been matched by the corresponding expansion of facilities.
According to Ebong, when he joined the academy in 1985 as lecturer, an average classroom size was for 35 cadets but has now gone up to 150.
"So, there is a critical need for expansion of facilities in the academy, the academy alone can satisfy the manpower needs of the Nigerian maritime industry if that expansion of facilities had been taken into consideration over the years."
Another challenge is the non-availability of ships on which cadets can undertake the second phase of their training when they finish diploma from MAN, Oron. By international law to which Nigeria subscribes, the cadets who aspire to pursue seafaring career are supposed to serve a mandatory one year sea term on board sea going vessel when they finish two years national diploma (ND).
There was the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in the 80s, which had about 20 ships in its fleet as at 1985. But the company has been liquidated and the number of ships reduced from 20 to zero.
When the NNSL had 20 ships in the national fleet, the second phases of training the cadets was simple because they could easily finish from MAN, Oron and go onboard the national vessels.
Then, two of the vessels in the NNSL fleet were dedicated for training and called training ships. Adequate provision were made onboard the ships for the training of cadets and that was how the core officers in Nigeria now, including the masters, the captains, chief engineers and others, were trained.
However, because of the problem of inadequate facilities and inadequate funding, the second phase of the training is not going well. Now, when the cadets finish, they have to look for Malaysian, Iranian, Singaporean, British, Ukrainian, American Russian and Turkish ships on which to serve out the mandatory one-year's intern.