The news that President Goodluck Jonathan will, on May 10, flag-off Nigeria’s first specialized University for the maritime sector, established by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Management (NIMASA) has come as a welcome effort to further develop the knowledge economy for the benefit of the sector.
While it is relieving to note that NIMASA has also proposed to build a Dockyard and Shipyard, which will possibly encourage the design and construction of ships locally, the project should be seen to its physical completion and not just on paper.
Although the need for improved human capacity development has over time, led to the establishment of maritime institutions across the nation, much was still to be done to get a totality for the needs demand.
It remains a known fact that the practical training, which the seafarers have not been getting in these institutions, cannot be separated from the requirements for them to measure up to international standards.
Foremost among the existing maritime institutions is the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) located in Oron, Akwa Ibom State. There is also the Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, Lagos, which offers training to meet domestic need areas for the sector.
However, while the MAN, Oron served as a flagship; it lacked the facility to offer complete training because its students could not get sea-time experience within its provision.
Some years after the institution was established, the cadets still enjoyed sea-time training because the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was still operational. And besides the national carrier, international shipping operators gave the cadets the training opportunities on board their ships, but all those soon stopped.
As the sector suffered a dearth of seafarers to fill the available spaces to manage our growing maritime activities, several institutes for shipping and maritime studies got established.
It is, however, public knowledge that all of these schools end up training their students based on only theories read from the books, rather than equip the students with practical knowledge that are needed for the job demand.
As a measure to develop human capacity, NIMASA had been managing its initiative of the Nigerian Seafarers’ Development Programme(NSDP) , which had offered training in foreign maritime institutions to more than 2500 seafarers.
While industry stakeholders agreed that the NSDP by NIMASA was a measure to enable the cadets get sea-time experience, some have expressed reservations for the fact that huge amounts of foreign exchange was being spent on it.
The different stakeholders had argued that rather than sponsor foreign training of seafarers, such amounts of money should have been used to upgrade facilities at the existing institutions to give a larger number of seafarers the opportunities to get sea-time training. Although NIMASA kept insisting that it always supported MAN, Oron with special funding, the overall interest that the concerned public looked at was the ability to meet standards as demanded internationally.
While it is hoped that the new maritime university will be equipped with the needed infrastructure for sea-time training, it is also necessary to have an integrated plan to enable students at other maritime institutes benefit from the practical training as well.
As much as it is encouraged to have a number of maritime training institutions, it is also important that they are well equipped to train seafarers, not just at a pedestal level, but to meet international standards.
It is only when this is done that the nation can achieve its plan of exporting manpower for maritime across the world