Mr. Felix Ayoo

Benue State Govt is empowering indigenes in maritime to alleviate poverty -Ayoo

Senior Special Assistant to Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam on Maritime and Higher Education, Mr. Felix Ayoo, is a passionate speaker. This she amply demonstrated at the 7th Annual Shipping Career Summit, Makurdi 2012, organised by Ships & Ports Communication Company Limited at the Benue State University, Makurdi, Benue State. Ayoo was no less forthcoming when he granted a snap interview to SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Obiajulu Agu on the sidelines of the summit.

What are the efforts of the Benue State Government in building capacity of the indigenes in maritime?
The state government started a programme in 2008 and, at that time, the State Governor released money for the training of 16 indigenes of Benue State in Navigational Science, Marine Engineering, Shipbuilding Architecture and Underwater Welding. These 16 indigenes of the state went for the programme. They have excelled. They have finished the course and are now on practical sea training. In fact, one of them got a first class in Navigation at the University of Alexandria (Egypt). And when we went for the graduation ceremony, he became the pride of the whole country of Nigeria. Now, the State Governor, upon seeing that the students performed well, sent another 11 candidates to read the same courses, this time in India. And the 11 candidates have already started lectures at the AMET University in India. The State Governor has again, in realisation of the fact that Makurdi River Port will soon become a reality has sent 13 indigenes of Benue State to read degrees in Port Management and Logistics at Alexandria. That is not all, the State Governor wants to record the presence of Benue in the air as well, and so, he has trained three pilots at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria. They have graduated and that saw the emergence of the first female pilot in Benue State. Just like out of the 16 marine engineers in the state, we have seen the first female marine engineer from Benue State.
Meanwhile, the State Governor has approved another six indigenes of the state to take courses in flying at Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, and from there proceed to South Africa and complete the programme. So, at the end of it, nine pilots are going to be trained by the administration. In fact, three have already graduated and are looking for certificate of competence. Then the six will soon commence lectures at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology. Their tuition and everything have been paid. The N45million required for their training have already been paid and they will commence lectures any moment from now. All these are practical youth empowerment programme of this administration and we intend to tell you the journalists to help us tell the world what the Governor of Benue State is doing in terms of capacity building and support.

What were the selection processes for the participants?
The procedures are that we normally advertise. I am the state anchorperson and I usually advertise this programme on the radio, on the television, in newspapers worldwide. And then competent indigenes of the state that have very serious science background are asked to apply, and, when they apply, they come in here, they fill the forms and then we interview them. Sometimes, they write exams. First, we look at their certificates, if they are qualified. You know the usual requirement is that they have five O’level credit in the sciences. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, English, Additional Maths, Technical Drawing, Agric Science, Geography and all that, but emphasis is placed on Physics, Mathematics, English and Geography. So when they get these five credits, we look at them. And then they have an age requirement as well; you must be between the ages of 17 and 22 years. And then you must be medically-fit, because the rigorous training that seafarers go through requires that you are in your normal state of health before you can cope with the demands of that profession. So, we usually do a medical screening to make sure that the people that are going for this programme are people that are not sick. So, we do all these screenings, and, by the time you pass through all these trainings, then you are qualified. At that time, I present you to the Governor of Benue State for consideration in the programme, and when he appends his red biro on your name, that means you have been selected to go for the programme. The Governor usually goes for the best in terms of exam that is why some of the candidates we have sent there have excelled. One of them got first class I told you and that is an indication that the people we select from Benue are people that have very sound mind, people that are academically-oriented, people that understand, people that are brilliant, gifted children. We go from street to street in Benue, and we advertise them and we put them in one place to make sure that excellence is guaranteed in this project.

So, you are saying, with all emphasis, that due process is followed?
Due process is always followed and that explains why you can see the excellence of Benue candidates in the programme. In selecting these candidates, we don’t mind whether somebody is a commissioner, or somebody is a director or a minister or whatever, we go for the best. So, in this connection, most of the children we select for the programme are those children of the poor. They come from poor families. Poor families, because, after all Benue State is not a very rich state and so most of the children that we select are those that have gone through the real school and so they are bright by nature. They are bright because they have really studied, not people that will go to and buy a certificate, come and pose with it and say that they have completed their programme, whereas they have not nothing upstairs to offer. So, we pick the best, even from the poor families. And that explains why in this programme there is no chance for the rich people to dominate with their children. It is a programme that you will be admitted in the programme based on what you have upstairs. That is why Benue State is excelling in all these youths.

What do you see as the gains of this programme for Nigeria generally and then Benue in particular?
You see the chances of this programme are bright, because Benue State Government has entered into an agreement with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the agreement is that we pay our counterpart-funding and NIMASA and NIMASA pay their counterpart-funding. So, by the time they finish this programme, they are employed by the international shipping companies or international oil companies. And so these people are not coming back to Benue to apply for jobs. They are not coming back to Benue to exhibit an unemployment situation. They are people that we believe we have empowered. So, when they are given these employment opportunities, they will be paid according to International Maritime Organisation standards, and, when they are paid that way, it means what they keeping as their salary and what they are repatriating home will help elevate the living conditions of their people, their villages, even the entire communities. The percentage what they keep, sometimes maybe twenty percent, and the eighty percent that they repatriate to their people in the villages in the state is eventually going to create a good ground for the economy of the state to boost. We believe that if we are able to do this for two, three, four, five years and we train like 2,000 candidates for this programme, then the State of Benue will be able to be lifted up economically, and, in that connection, we believe that we will be able to wipe off the tears of poverty and misery on the faces of some people in Benue State.

There is this story going around that the so-called Ghana yam is actually yam shipped there from Nigeria, specifically Benue, the food basket of the nation?
That yam is called Gbongo, and Gbongo is grown in one part of Benue called Zaki Biam. Gbongo is about the most important specie of yam in Benue. It is important, because, by the time you chew Bongo, you will discover that the difference between Bongo and other yam is very wide. So, I don’t know some people have smuggled it to other parts of the world and they are giving it new names. That is unfortunate. We need to investigate and find out.

What is the government doing about it?
We are making investigations to find out if the story is true. If it is true, then we will look at how we are going to handle it. But, for now, it is still at the investigative stage.

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