By Edet Okpo
The all-inclusive press conference organized by the Management of Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Akwa Ibom State, on Friday, September 20, 2019 offered media professionals a one-on-one opportunity and broader pedestal to hear and see things by themselves, in sharp contrast to what may have been peddled by wrong sources and a mischievous band of credulous critics.
The press chat which was held in the ultra-modern 1000-seat capacity auditorium constructed by the present administration, with a wall-to-wall giant LCD where slide and motion pictures were shown to the audience, had as special guests renowned journalists from general and maritime-oriented interests, as well as the Management team and other staff of the Academy.
Welcoming the media experts to the interface, the Rector of the Academy, Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua (rtd.), thanked them for honouring the invitation even on the shortest notice. He however stated categorically that the reason for the meet was not as a response to useless criticisms by those who know little or nothing about his strides, but to update members of the press on the current status, goings-on and his pragmatic efforts at restructuring and repositioning since resumption of approximately two years ago on 5th September, 2017. It is expedient to note that there have in recent times been relentless campaigns of calumny, blackmail, falsehood, insinuations and wild allegations championed in the section of the media by those who cannot cope with the sweeping fresh wind of change of the Commodore Duja Emanuel Effedua’s administration. The press conference was rounded off with a facility tour of all the places earlier shown on the screen.
It can be stated without fear of contraction that, not until the phenomenal breakthroughs that have characterized the administration of Commodore Duja Effedua in the last two years, the cumulative and consensus verdict by relevant stakeholders, lovers of progress and keen observers of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) had been that the institution has not grown according to the vision and pace that originally inspired the lofty idea. The core of the problem had been traced to associated challenges that were made worse by poor management in successive eras.
Expert advisory and superior logic therefore were that if the ugly situation was not tackled decisively with all it may take, the Academy was on track of becoming a monument and the hope of actualizing the vision and dreams of founding fathers may as well be a fluke. The situation was so worrisome that the Federal Government in 2017, through the Honourable Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, set up a fact-finding Ministerial Committee to properly diagnose the situation in the Academy. Thereafter, an Interim Management Committee was mandated to develop sustainable modalities towards restructuring and repositioning the Academy for global competitiveness.
The resultant appointment of a seasoned but retired Naval officer, Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua, as Rector of the Academy based on unanimous and strong recommendations, was widely celebrated by industry watchers who already knew his pedigree and pro-marine experience. His appointment was lauded as one of the best decisions and pragmatic steps by the Federal Government towards the envisaged transformation of the Academy after decades of stunted growth.
Two years down the line, the good news is that neither the decision nor appointment is regretted. Commodore Duja Effedua’s great strides have not only won the hearts of stakeholders and observers in the maritime industry, but have come with a revelation that things can work in this country and its critical subsectors with the right persons in the right places. Conversely, Effedua’s administration has brought overwhelming changes in composite aspects of the Academy’s contemporary existence and futuristic targets.
Right from resumption of duties, Commodore Effedua, who had been part of the Interim Management Committee (IMC), the strategic platform that offered him firsthand opportunity and a broad window into the intrinsic problems of the 42 year-old institution, clearly demonstrated that he fully understood what the government meant by holistic restructuring and repositioning of the Academy. The evidence on ground convincingly justifies this position.
Effedua disclosed to the journalists that, prior to his assumption of duty, a special audit of the Academy had discovered some of the challenges facing the Academy to include – fallen standard of training which, amongst other things, resulted in brain-drain; over bloated population and random admission of Cadets without attention of merit; demoralized manpower and infrastructural decay. Others include poor maintenance of facility; interference from external persons and unnecessary employment.
One of the first traits identical with Commodore Duja Effedua was that he is a man of few words but of action and that he abhors sentiments and parochialism in administering the Academy; always insisting that things be done strictly according to laid-down policy, guidelines and expectations of International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Standard of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).
The Rector could be remembered as having said in one of his introductory speeches that “As a critical member of the IMC and my personal previous knowledge about the Academy, I am here to prove that things can work if the right atmosphere and conducive environment were provided. I owe this Academy, the Nigerian government and posterity a duty to make things work”. Everything today in the Academy stands as a testimony to that inaugural declarative assurances.
With a blueprint anchored on a-5 point agenda of – infrastructure, capacity-building of Staff, aggressive retooling of technical departments, academic excellence through effective teaching and exposure of Cadets to basic training according to International best Practices, and attitudinal reorientation for all to tap into the new philosophy, Effedua launched decisively into action in a way no one doubted his readiness to change things for good. He complemented his drive with effective diplomacy, beneficial partnership with relevant bodies and generous commitment to Corporate Citizenship.
Today’s stock-taking has shown that the action-Rector has not disappointed in any of the aspects he set out to achieve.
EFFORTS AT REPOSITIONING THE ACADEMY:
Before the arrival of Commodore Effedua as Rector, the landscape of the Academy was embarrassingly littered with projects that had been started and abandoned for years and those poorly executed that were short of standard, even though billions budgeted for them had disappeared into the pockets of a visible cabal of racketeers. It may be surprising to hear that before Effedua’s arrival, the Academy did not have a functional reception that befitted its status. Hence, his infrastructural transformation may have begun with structural overhaul of the administrative block which also houses the Rector’s and Registrar’s offices. This was to create more space and comfort to boost Staff productivity. The Administrative Block has been creatively redesigned and fitted with a spacious world-class ICT-compliant Reception Hall.
Perhaps two case-study architectural masterpieces that have become cynosure of all eyes are the 1000-seat capacity state-of-the-art Auditorium (where the press chat was held) and a 21st century-compliant 3-in-1 Library/Resource Centre, both of which had been abandoned for more than 19 years. The Auditorium houses a gallery, cutting-age multi-media facilities like CCTV, cinema, internet, controlled media room, boardroom with immovable Executive Conference Table and Seats, etc. It also has outdoor space for events and relaxation, a perimeter fence, and two well-laid interlocking entrances. The library that is fully ICT-compliant which has been populated with books now serves as a one-stop solution centre. Both projects were commissioned by the Honourable Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi on his maiden visit to the Academy on Monday, May 6 2019.
Impressed and motivated by the commitment of the administration in completing and commissioning the library, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has generously populated the library with assorted books, while others like the Nigeria Port Authorities have promised to do same. Of course, the assurances that the Academy stands to get more donations and goodwill are essentially predicated on the Rector’s vast knowledge and the robust relationship he has with the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) and other Master Mariners Counterparts across the globe.
For physical development of students, sporting facilities in the Academy have also been upgraded. The Academy today has a functional international standard twin survival pool (also abandoned for about 19 years); a stadium complex, and work is speedily ongoing on a multipurpose hall for indoor sports/games. Again, it is of special reference to observe that work on the survival pool was started from the bottom and completed within record time.
FACILITY UPGRADE AND CADETS’ TRAINING:
The Effedua administration has also given practical attention to the Academy in the area of training facility for students. Most importantly, the Academy now has a modern simulator room and plans have been concluded with foreign partners for the latest multi-functional simulator to arrive the country in the next 15 weeks. Having identified the necessity for a simulator, the money for it had come through periodic special savings by the Academy.
Some hostel blocks have also either been given a facelift or redesigned for more space and comfort. Against the former pattern that had 18 students in one room, the new hostels blocks are designed for two per room. Dilapidated classrooms and lecture halls have been remodeled into lecture theatres with smart boards according to current needs and modern trends. It is therefore not surprising that today every Cadet in respective areas now has a laptop to himself or herself during lectures, fundamental textbooks given free of charge,
Others include reviewed curriculum with inputs from International Maritime Organisation ( IMO), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR),Association of Marine Engineers,AMES, NAMM among others, reduction of Cadets intake form 1800 to about 256; and improved wellbeing of cadets through healthy meals. In conscious response to recurrent demands and meeting the Academy’s vision of supplying quality manpower to the Maritime Industry and Allied Services, Cadets of the Academy are now registered members of IMERIT, a nautical institute in the United Kingdom. This is to give them on-campus, off-studies global footing and reckoning where and when it matters. Against the situation in the past, as it stands today, the Academy has been officially accredited and certified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), STCW and UNITAR. Cadets now enjoy free short course training.
These developmental strides have attracted renewed interests from Oil and Gas organizations who are competing for products from the Academy or seeking prospective partnerships. Available record indicates that, between September, 2017 that Commodore Effedua came aboard and now, over 6000 students have been qualitatively trained and passed on to the Maritime World, many of whom are making waves at their various stations.. Currently, the Academy has been on intensive training for staff of Exxon Mobil who are on short courses. It is expedient at this juncture to clarify that the idea of drastic reduction in the population of cadets in the Academy, a circumspect recommendation by the Governing Council, was, among other things, to target quality than quantity in corresponding proportion to available number of competent lecturers, training facility and realistic prospects. The stress could easily be imagined when the Academy had an over-bloated cadet population of over 2000, and cadets were seen huddled up in hostels and made to cluster around the few study aids at their disposal. The proposed reduction in the next session therefore will enforce the international ratio of specific number of Cadets per class and this automatically means admission processes shall be fine-tuned to promote merit and not by any parochial considerations.
Because the Effedua administration recognizes the correlation between quality of staff and academic performance of students, it has also given premium to the development and needs of academic staff. One way to achieve this has been employment of the best hands and exposing them to training and retraining that come in successive batches, courtesy of productive partnership with national and Foreign Maritime Organizations for periodic exchange programmes. It is of interest that by the recommendation of STCW, at least one Master Mariner should man a professional department like Nautical Science, Marine Engineering, etc; but the Effedua administration has gone beyond that recommendation. The Academy today has Six Master Mariners on ground, majority of whose employments he spearheaded as well as thirteen marine engineers and more Maritime Professionals as Lecturers. What’s more? The School of Maritime Transport and Business Studies has been overhauled with the employment of three new lecturers, three of whom are prolific writers and authors of international renown in maritime related disciplines. Lecturers in the Academy have also attended high profile workshops, trainings and conferences at home and abroad. This has generated healthy competition among the teaching staff. Without any compromise, it is now a policy in the Academy that only duly qualified lecturers in related professional areas are recruited. To complement this, both institutional and special allowances that used to be the source of discontent among staff have been paid, including the spillover from years prior to the arrival of the Rector.
In addition, there has been provision of quarters for some Staff within the premises. This has brought about increased productivity. According to the Rector, the long-term target was to ensure that at least 80% of Staff is accommodated on campus. The integrated effects of all these have been noticed in the attitudinal rejuvenation amongst staff and students. Absenteeism and loitering have automatically become a taboo as everybody has been thought the value of time and commitment to duties. Above all, the Rector interfaces with the staff of the Academy monthly in order to feel their pulse, and take necessary action.
PRAGMATIC CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY:
To earn their trust and reassure them of the Academy’s continued concern, the Academy pays undiluted attention to the host communities. For instance, every month drums of diesel are provided for the General Hospital, Iquita in Oron to boost it services of saving lives. In the area of education, last year alone the Academy bought 100 JAMB forms for students in the host communities, and that number is to be increased to 200 this year. Schools in the host communities, like the Mary Hanney Secondary School, Methodist Boys High School, Oron have been provided with seats, desks and complete ICT Laboratory with all -in- One modern world-class ICT equipment.
Other Schools to benefit from the Academy’s goodwill include: Mainland Technical College, Oron within the year. Just about a month ago, the Academy self-sponsored a retreat for female students and teachers from selected schools in the host communities, with renowned resource persons sourced from Lagos, Uyo and Abuja. The Academy also graded five roads and sponsored social events during and beyond Christmas and other festive periods. These lofty community initiatives, coupled with periodic interface with opinion leaders when appropriate, must the secret of the relative peace and harmony between the Academy and host communities.
Consequently, Commodore Effedua has recorded many firsts: For the first time in 42 years, that reasonal number of Cadets are now having their seatime on vessels, through Commodore Effedua’s fruitful collaboration with Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) and other foreign bodies. For the first time in more than six years, he was able to hold the traditional Passing-Out-Parade (POP) for Cadets and also ensured that accumulated batches who had graduated years ago without certificates have all been issued same. For the first time in the history of the Academy and since he became the Honourable Minister of Transportation in 2015, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had convincing reasons to finally visit the academy. The Minister passed a vote of confidence on Commodore Effedua for leaving up to expectations and stated that he is now beginning to be proud of this once endangered Nigeria’s foremost training institution.
For the first time in over 30 years, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Peterside Dakukku came to the Academy based on the narrative of positive changes he has read or heard. Right from the main entrance of the Academy, Maritime Academy of Nigeria today is a different world to those within the Oron Host Communities, also to those who may not have visited the Academy in the last two years, this justifies the rain of commendations from individuals, corporate organizations, maritime observers and government agencies, like special committees in National Assembly, International Maritime Organization (IMO), NIMASA, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), a team of experts from a highly celebrated maritime institution in India, comprising Capt. Gauran Chhagra, Mr. Manish Pundir and Mr. Ese Marcus Idiegbe that visited the Academy two months ago and the generality of observers within and without.
FUTURE PLANS: The Rector listed the future plans of the Academy to include provision of more training aids; invitation of international quality assurance to audit the Academy; overseas training for cadets and staff; admission of foreign students; employment of French teachers; building of language laboratory; redesigning of the main gate;captured larger chunk of training for the International Oil Companies for increased IGR, and stronger collaborations with other renowned maritime institutions.
Established 42 years ago in 1977 under the Federal Executive Council No. EC (77) 172, the grand vision of the founding fathers of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) as Nigeria’s Pioneer Maritime Institution was, among other things, to provide the Merchant Navy and the Maritime and Allied Industries competent mid-level personnel who have undergone qualitative education and training that accord with up-to-date technology and exposure, meet national and international standards, and satisfies end-user expectations. Indeed, because so much on a positive note have happened or are ongoing in the Academy, it presents a great challenge to attempt to capture everything within allotted pages of a newspaper.
That is why the Rector, by his open-door template of unbiased diplomacy, welcomes inquiries or visitations by those curious about knowing what is happening in the Academy. In all fairness and modesty, there can be no doubt that Maritime Academy of Nigeria, under the captainship of Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua, is indeed on the right track of restructuring and repositioning it as a competitive voice in the global maritime industry.
To sustain this, the Rector who reaffirmed his strong belief in press freedom therefore called on the press to me partners in progress and enemies who seek to tear down progress recorded in the institution. He said he will always work with progressive press and true media professionals. He cautioned journalists against falsehood and blackmail.
It can be recalled with fondness the profound promise the Rector made in his inaugural remarks on assumption of office: “I am in this Academy not to intermeddle with what does not concern me but with a vision and determination to make the Academy a competitive global brand and thereby leave a legacy that all Cadets and Nigerians will be proud of”. With the unfolding evidence on ground, full actualization of this goal is a matter of time. Objective commentators who say the future is brighter today like never before cannot be wrong!