Mr. Joshua Okpo is the Rector of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, in this interview he tells all on how the academy is presently seeking to promote two new industry bills in the National Assembly and more…
What was it like to get a second tenure?
The turbulence of getting a second term came along with all kinds of campaign which is still
being facilitated by few politicians, I am a civil servant, I am not a Politian. The academy is an educational institution and not a political platform, therefore, if we can separate scholarships from politics, we will get the goals we are targeting at the academy.
That is, to fulfill the vision of the school, which is only to train seafarers and engineers, which is why the school was called a technical college. It is not in the interest of Oron alone, it is also not in the interest of Akwa Ibom state alone, it is in the interest of all Nigerians because it is established andcoordinated under United Nations to train seafarers and all manners of manpower to fit into maritime industry.
What is your take on the idea of making the academy a degree issuing institution?
It is not a grammar school and anything that must be done in that place, must follow international conventions. If you look at it from this background, that is, the vision of the academy, you now discover that it is not for the Oron nation or the Akwa Ibom state, it is not even Nigeria alone that is a stakeholder, the highest stakeholder in MAN Oron, is the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it has world control over the affairs of the academy.
The Certificate Of Competency (COC) that a cadet is carrying in Nigeria, in Singapore and the other places around the world is recognized by the IMO.The product you get from National Universities Commission (NUC) will not step outside this country until you have additional requirements to add up,maybe other diploma course s and when you put it side by side, the degrees awarded by NUC and the COC awarded by IMO, you will discover that while the NUC is localize the COC from the IMO is internationalized to the intent that you can use it in anywhere IMO recognized maritime institution ororganization.
If we were given the opportunity to put our cadets on the program of the group training scheme, where we were signing agreement with Turkey, Philippines and Nigeria, we were supposed to have multiple stimulation, those cadets could be certified to Georgia to Philippines or anywhere and by the time they are stable they become an international product and it makes their market value higher.
If we are thinking that this certificate which is a degree will help the academy, we would have turned the academy to a grammar school. This certificate will be used only when you want to get a job, after which you put it in your briefcase and it stays there until you get another job. But the COC is renewable over a period, sometimes six months sometimes one year or two years to ascertain the competence of the value of the cadet to book a vessel for one month or
Aside from that the COC is all about the safety standards in sea training, therefore the NUC degree cannot qualify you to book for a vessel including engine boats. That is why the academy must make the world know that the intention to follow the doctrine to the letter will not help the academy.
But certain groups have been calling for this change?
At a workshop the international body advised that we should not rush into making the academy a degree awarding institution but rather we should make it a triple, we should start with the basic certificates as the foundation, before we go into the national diploma, higher national diploma and higher degrees. IMO maintained that if we abandon this two, we would lose focus because the IMO will not recognize the certificate and IMO will remove Nigeria from the white list and of course, we all know the implication of being pulled out of the white list.
Can you throw more light on the bill you are planning for the government?
We are going to initiate the proposed bill in the next few weeks, it will form the triple, comprising of certificate courses, diploma and degree courses together. The IMO said that we can liken the formerly proposed action of our nation to the case of a captain on a vessel with his own crew members and his pilot has his own or the case of making all the occupants of a vessel captains.
IMO advised that the essence of the academy is to make sure that at every point in time there is adequate man power capacity for every aspect of the industry to fill the industry need for man power, but if we discard certificate courses which are recognized by the British Coast Guards and replace them with diploma courses certified by the international board of education, we will be restricted.
The academy is a technical school, it is not a grammar school, so those that are aiming to use it as a political tool to whatever advantage it represents to them should play safe with the academy to preserve the purpose for which it was founded and maintain the laudable achievements of the international maritime domain.
We are planning to articulate two bills, the first one is the domestication of all IMO relevant regulations, namely the Standard of Training, Certification and watch keeping for Seafarers (STCW), as amended in 2010, we are also going to domesticate Safety of Lives At Sea (SOLAS), those two conventions and their amendments will be domesticated into our local laws through a bill that will scale through the ministry of transport to the presidency.
What are the benefits to be derived from these new bills?
This will enable us to migrate from what we are using now, which is since 1995 to the current thing that is in vogue, which every maritime institution elsewhere, whether in Ukraine, Russia or Australia are using, so we are going to now adopt the syllabus, to be in tandem with international standards.
For instance, the old one we have been using has oil and gas as a sub head under safety studies but the new amendment to this, includes minerals because it is assumed that in the sea bed, you not only have oil and gas, you can also have minerals like, gold, silver, etc. If you go to your ecological zone it outlines your major resources with regard to those that are internationally acceptable definitions or what should constitute the sea bed.
Similarly, in the past, a rig was not seen as a vessel, today, through the involvement of the former Minister for Transport, we took it to the IMO and it was resolved that a rig should be identified as a vessel and that is for the development in the maritime dictionary of global maritime vocabulary.
What is your take on the claim that cadets have difficulties passing their COC exams?
The function of the scholarship is so critical that we should not allow our own academy to be dragged backwards because while others are done with the single hull vessels we are still thinking about how to cope with the single hull vessels and while others are navigating into the Arctic enclaves, we are thinking about how to navigate the Arctic ocean. The IMO amendment, as in other climes must be domesticated, to enable our cadets to go for their exam with the right syllabus that they can use to read and prepare for their exams like their international counterparts.
This explains why severally, our cadets hardly pass their COC exams because from the simulation body to the receiving body there is no truth. The truth is that they are still dancing around the simulation of 1995, it is the bitter truth to say it the way it is.
We need to make the academy good, not for the country alone but also for the younger generation. We are going to do a second bill, which like I said before, is a culmination, that will have three components; certificates, diplomas and degrees/ higher degrees. Currently, we are having a post graduate diploma in maritime engineering, post graduate diploma in maritime studies and we also have a post graduate diploma in oceanography, naval architecture, maritime law and policies, etc.
What do you have to say about the allegations leveled on the leadership of the academy?
Today, as many members of the public that can come to the academy to have an individual assessment of the level of development there, the better for this country because it is wrong to slander and blackmail on facebook, people with good intentions have volunteered themselves, not because of the office, some of us are steadfast for the progress of the nation and we will not be found wanting, we are sent to represent the country for a purpose and that is exactly what we are doing. When we got here we brokered peace and we are repositioning MAN, Oron for growth.
Let me say this clearly, the budget of the academy is managed by a management committee of marine task force, therefore the money that comes to the academy from the 5% of sundry of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety (NIMASA), is not only committed to projects, which takes the bulk of the money, but is appropriated for insurance, overhead and personnel compensation, security, etc.
Even now there is need for appropriation for the local content to address youth restiveness and violence caused by idleness and poverty, so that when the youths approach the academy for assistance we can empower them by giving them motorbikes to use and earn a living.
We urge the politicians to leave the academy alone, so that MAN Oron can transform for the better, we will chart the way forward by ensuring that we start getting places on board ships for cadets, but I want to say that, if we can convince the present regime to carry one major policy clause, which is to compel all ships loading at our terminals, especially those carrying dry cargo, to ensure that they put one or two cadets on their vessels, we will go a long way to reduce the backlog of cadets waiting for sea time. Presently, we have more than`6000 cadets waiting for sea time and if you train cadets without sending them to sea, it is as though you have done nothing.