MAN Oron: Towards actualizing the Federal University of Maritime Studies Bill

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Senator Nelson Effiong

Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron is 40 years old. For now, it remains the only maritime institution in the country. It has trained thousands of seafarers and maritime personnel since its inception. By virtue of its long years of existence, it is one institution that should be cherished and guarded jealously by the government of Nigeria. The monotechnic deserves serious attention in the areas of provision of basic tools and instruments for practical based training. It should be held dearly by Nigeria’s policy makers as the only certified, long standing and productive organ, as far as the maritime sector is taken into consideration.

As a federally owned educational institute in Oron, Akwa Ibom
State, Nigeria which was originally called the Nautical College of Nigeria, its main purpose of establishment was to educate and train shipboard officers, ratings and
shore-based management personnel. Available historical records show that the school graduated its first batch of cadets in 1983. It is on record that the college, in 1988, had its mandate expanded to training all levels and categories of personnel for all facets of Nigerian maritime industry.

Efforts have been made at different times to upgrade the academy to a university status. There have been various attempts to improve the quality of man power and graduands of the institution. For instance, April 2008 witnessed a delegation from the Norwegian ship owners’ association who visited the academy and discussed a collaborative training programme with it. Later in October the same year, the Minister of State for
Transport, Prince John Okechkwu Emeka, said the academy would soon be upgraded to become
a degree-awarding institution. He also called for increased funding from the Federal government. This was during the administration of Mr Nseyen Ebong who was then the institution’s helsmam. This advocacy was first intended to attract the federal governments prioritization of the academy in terms of massively equipping it to meet the required international standards from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

From then, multiple attempts have been made towards making the academy become a specialized maritime university in the country. Aside the recent committee constituted by the Hon. Minitster of Transportation, HE Rotimi Amaechi for the restructuring and repositioning of the academic citadel, which started its work on January 2017 and had long completed same with the presentation of its report which as well resulted to mass promotion of all cadres of more than 300 workers, findings show that two previous committees had been set in the past for the purpose of seeing to the upgrade of the school. The last of such was very active and down to earth towards making its very useful contributions to the growth of the institution. It was a committee of 20 to 23 members towards the tail end of the late Joshua Okpo’s first term in office. But, politics of interest among those in high places scattered and shattered the very painstaking hard work of the great bureaucrats. The committee was silently killed.

Meanwhile, the then member, Oron Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Robinson Uwak made huge legislative attempt by moving a motion at the green chambers for the upgrade of the institution to a university status. This effort practically received support from the legislature and was just awaiting the presidential pronouncement by the then President Goodluck Jonathan. But politics was also very paramount in that consideration as Jonathan was interested in the establishment of a maritime university in Delta State. Of course, the then president had performed the ground breaking for the new maritime university in Delta State in 2014, while still playing politics with that of Oron in Akwa Ibom State.

Deep findings reveal that the then Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State may have had a hand in the delay of that great feat. He may not have wished that the young lawmaker be well commended for having the boldness to raise the bar in representation. So, he may have joined forces with the then Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Renewal, Dr Akon Eyakenyi so as to receive glory as being the ones behind the fortune of the school’s upgrade, based on their connections with the then number one citizen.

Unfortunately, Goodluck Jonathan who appeared to have been ‘remote controlled’ by some categories of the country’s citizens inadvertently pronounced the institution a university. This was on the eve of his departure from the Aso Rock. It is unfortunate because he did not work hand in hand with the then permanent secretary of the Ministry of Transport. He did not communicate with his Transportation Ministry. Files may not have been appropriately dispatched. This writer believes that all Nigerians, including former President Jonathan would now be wondering why the institution is yet to be called a university even after his pronouncement. This is partly worrisome when one considers the fact that the current minister of Transportation, HE Rotimi Amaechi who disapproved the citing of a new maritime university in Delta State was fully in support of that which was proposed for Akwa Ibom State.

Presently, the Senate has passed into law, the bill for the establishment of a Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Warri south-West local government area of Delta State. That came to fruition on Thursday, May 4, 2017 after the Senate received the report of the committee on tertiary education and TETFUND chaired by Barau Jibrin, APC-Kano. The Bill which was sponsored by James Manager, PDP- Delta, had its first reading at the red chambers in June 2016. Concrete data show that the motion attracted heated debate with most of the senators asking for an upgrade of the Maritime Academy in Oron, Akwa Ibom State, rather than investing in another institution. Senator Manager had asked for time to consult with his colleagues on the matter. He went back, met his people and worked on the Bill which sailed through second reading in November 2016.

One basic thing to note is that James Manager had done exhaustive consultation and lobbying with appropriate authorities and his constituents. This reflected in what appeared like a political rally during the public hearing on January 31, 2017 when he massively mobilized all home based interest groups, together with proper consultation of the Ministry of Transportation and maritime experts to make appearances and presentations at the event.

The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki while speaking at the gathering noted that the Federal Government was desirous of exploiting the nation’s maritime potentials to optimize her seafaring capacity. He explained that NASS was very concerned about a study done by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which indicated that Nigeria needed about 29,000 seafarers to fill her quota in the global maritime industry. Opining that the 8th Senate was sensitive to the social and economic plights of the Niger Delta and its people whose domain the nation’s maritime wealth was located, Saraki declared NASS determination to erase these challenges through meaningful developmental projects, through the passage of the Bill for the establishment of the Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerenkoko and the Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron.

Responding to the fears by the Minister of Education, Prof. Adamu Abubakar who is also the Executive Secretary of Nigerian University Commission (NUC) that the two universities may become a case of a duplicated function, Senator Nelson Effoing who is the sponsor of the Bill for the Maritime University in Akwa Ibom State and Senator Anietie Okon who represented the Akwa Ibom State government, corrected the misconception saying that what was contained in the proposal was the Federal University of Maritime Studies, Oron (FUMSO), which was erronoesly captured in the Senate Committee brief as Nigerian Maritime University Oron. Both of them argued that two maritime universities was not out of place considering Nigeria’s huge maritime potentials, citing examples of smaller countries like Korea, Philippines, Singapore as having more maritime universities than Nigeria.

But, what seems quite a matter of concern is that, while the Maritime University Bill sponsored by James Manager was passed as early as the first week of May this year, that of FUMSO became a silent bird, lying flat on the bare floor as a worthless venture. The Bill was eventually passed into law by the Nigerian Senate on July 6. This delay in its passage becomes a matter of curiosity which compels one to dig deep into the surrounding situation. The ultimate question is, why was this Bill not passed the same time with that of the Delta State?

Following the delay in its passage, deep thinking people had refused to believe in the ordinariness of its suspension. People became inquisitive and learnt many things including the stories that Senator Nelson Effiong was not the original sponsor of the Bill. They even gave the credit to the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio as being principally instrumental to its foundation and passage.

Available records also show that Senator Nelson Effiong was asked by the Nigerian Senate to draft an attachment to Manager’s Bill so as to protect the interest of the MAN, Oron-turned-FUMSO since the two institutions were relative. This position finds bearing in the long foundation of Manager’s Bill which is traced to have commenced as far back as June 2016. It is also feasible owing to the latter’s blank historical background, in terms of progression at the red chambers, except for the fact that such postulations have been made by government not less than a decade past. No wonder the FUMSO Bill had suffaced only during the second reading of Manager’s Bill in November last year.

This is further strengthened by the fact that, while Senator Manager was very aggressive at mobilizing his people who stormed the Senate chambers with different cultural attires and other uniforms, our own Nelson Effiong, a former Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, thought differently and took no one with him. No wonder it has been confirmed that the Academy did not and has not received its formal invitation letter to make appearance and presentation at that public hearing even till date. The office of the Transport Ministry was not informed that the public hearing was going to feature a debate on a bill for the establishment of FUMSO. The Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport was not informed. Members of the host community were not alerted. Then what should anyone expect from such a ‘failed’ arrangement? Many people believe that the gallant Senator Nelson Effiong would have mobilized the vast pool of intellectual resource embedded in Oro blood by at least mobilizing representatives from Oron Union, Council of Oro Traditional Rulers (COTR) Essu Nlap Oro who are the deposits of Oro Think Tank.

This scenario flashes into the minds of people why the number one political figure of Oro Nation did not make appearance during the visit of the ministerial committee for the restructuring and repositioning of the Academy. The Senator had been fully aware of the event. Although some personal engagements may have brought him home on the last day of the event before the departure of the committee members, Senator Nelson Effiong refused to make his influential appearance. This is why this writer weeps. He weeps because he can still recall the everlasting imprints of late Senator Victor Akan, a proud son of Oro who would have used the occasion to showcase to the Chairman of the committee, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, and his members the rich cultural heritage and extreme hospitality of the people of Oro Nation. But no, our dear Senator didn’t do so; he lost the opportunity, losing a serious sense of patriotism in the process.

Now that the Bill will have to be considered by the House of Representatives, much work needs to be done. The Senator whose name appears as the official sponsor of the Bill must make adequate attempt at reaching out to all quarters and authorities that have what it takes to fast track the process of getting it affirmed, thereby making it, as soon as possible, available for the presidential assent. Of course, the Chairman, House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Honourable Umaru Bago and his team, who have visited the Academy thrice in very recent times and made very sensitive remarks concerning the welfare of the institution, would be very supportive at that level. Unfortunately, the Member Oron Federal Constituency, Hon. Nse Ekpenyong has about a year now been battling with his case of certificate forgery as being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Even if he would be present at the House, the doubt connected to his intellectualism which has been the tears of Oro people whom he had been imposed on by the powers of the past, still reflect apparent scepticism on what he could possibly contribute in that regard. This is more confirmed when one understands that the lawmaker has nothing to his credit as far as his adventure at the green chambers is concerned.

Hopefully, other vibrant lawmakers of Akwa Ibom extraction would be expected to lend their voices in support of the Bill. For instance, the member, Etinan Federal Constituency, Rt Hon. Samuel Ikon, himself the former Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Henry Archibong who represents Itu and Ibiono Ibom, and seven others from Akwa Ibom State would be expected to rise in support of the Bill. Their unanimity will speak volume against what happened at the public hearing of the Bill where stakeholders from the core host community appeared to be having diverged opinions on its the ingredients. This will go a long way to persuade other lawmakers to align with this lofty dreams thereby ensuring the prompt passage, presidential assent and the implementation of the law.

The Mkpandiok Mkpandiok led Maritime Academy has really performed beyong every beat of human expectations. The long list of abandoned project which made visiting government officials to shed tears in each occasion has drastically reduced. In spite of the very lean resources at its disposal, the Academy’s Acting Rector whose score card in just 12 months is truly incredible, has proven to all, that although very hard working and truly dedicated men who would not be anxious of misappropriation and siphoning of funds are hard to find, there are still a handful of Nigerians who fear the Lord with whatever is entrusted into their hands. And so, it would not be incorrect to presume that the Academy’s management team and staffers are also very patiently anticipating that long awaited time, when the institution would be ascribed a university status.

On this note, it would be useful to call on the Senator to engage stakeholders from appropriate quarters, mobilize very effectively, partners and professionals, especially the members of the House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom State to rise in one accord and make their voices heard in support of the Bill at the green chambers. As noted here, this is very important because, all interest groups, especially the Academy’s management are eagerly awaiting the prompt consent by the House of Representatives and subsequent endorsement by the president so that the fortunes of the 40 year old institution and its host community can change for the better.

Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Writes from Ubodung village in Urue Offong Oruko local government area of Akwa Ibom State. Gsm: 07036964637

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