MAN: Why We Are Not Excited About University Status – Okpo, Rector

MAN: Why We Are Not Excited About University Status – Okpo, Rector
Joshua Okpo, rector Oron

With about three years in office, would you say that he has been a good ambassador of the journalism community? He worked as a feature Editor with the Chronicle Newspapers in Cross River State, and now the Rector of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, the flagship academy of manpower development in the nation’s maritime industry. Read this story in MAN and please make a verdict on whether he has done well or not.

He spoke with Kingsley Anaroke and Sunny Edemenang, our South-South correspondent. He is Mr. Joshua Okpo, the Chief Executive Officer / Rector MAN, Oron. Excerpt.
The last time I was here, about two or three years ago, a lot of buildings were uncompleted .But now I have seen many of them painted and roofed. My only surprise is that much of the noise about MAN becoming a university I have not seen. The minister and the DG NIMASA have talked about it. What is the problem?
There is no problem about that, we are upgrading to a degree awarding institution. I am not so excited about the university rather we are working to level up with other world class maritime universities that have affiliation with The International Maritime Organization IMO, with over 112 member nations. If our certificates could align with these universities in Georgia, Turkey, the Philipine and Cape Town, University of South Africa, then the problem is solved. When that is done, we have gone past the conventional university where the certificate is worthwhile within the shores of Nigeria.
As I said earlier, the academic environment called Maritime Academy of Nigeria is a technical out-fit, its management is different from commercial university or polytechnic. Therefore our curriculum cannot be the same with others. What we are doing is to align with those people who can enable us to actually sharpen the skills of our sea pilots, the deck officers, engineers and the mariners who should be given thorough grading so that by the time they are out as professionals they should be able to secure jobs and be able to break poverty circle in Nigeria. Really, we are not resting on our oars about the upgrading to a degree awarding status. We have been trying to bring about charges. We have to create new courses to upgrade our curriculum. Before it was oil and gas, but now it is oil, gas and minerals. We have to develop to meet with current challenges.
This year, we are supposed to collate the evaluation reports in preparation for relevant authorities abroad to come and do the grading but for security reason the complaint is that their home countries are not going to release them to come to Nigeria instead, they opted that we should come. I have just come back from Abuja where we have to go for our VISA to leave on the 28th of September this year and to be back on 8th or 10th October, 2014. The intention is to enable us go out and carry out one week full evaluation of the nature of valuation we carried out here. Parts of our document have been sent to Sweden, they are evaluating and we are having interactive session to know the level of collaboration.
In ernest, we are talking about maritime education in its entirety with particular emphasis on Maritime Engineering,
Nautical Sciences, Maritime Law and Policy, Hydrography, Naval Architecture and the likes. These are the areas of our collaboration. If you look at Nigerian situation critically, there are no universities offering Nautical Sciences. We should be able to have graduates here to teach nautical science and other courses. We should have exchange of resource persons that should come here and give lectures or take practicals and teach or impart knowledge to the extent that we have exchange programmes with our cadets, and by so doing, the MOU will ensure that our syllabus comes in tandem with their own. As long as the World Maritime University in association with IMO recognizes our syllabus, it would be seen that we have added value to our certificate and therefore being.
We are doing the same thing with Cape University of South Africa and we are encouraged by the Ministry that said we should bring the application for the Crew Services needed to prepare them for sea experience. While we are working on that we are partnering with Turkey, Georgia and the Philipine to extend platform for our 250 cadets for 12 months on board to ply the pacific routes for their training. The-flag off ceremony is expected to be in Lagos but we need government assistance on this.
One thing is very critical, while we opted to go for the MOU with Turkey and Georgia is to follow the Master Plan of Liberia where the Crew on Board Training Scheme COBTS is being implemented ordinarily for developing country like Nigeria.
The essence then is that, apart from NIMASA as the Nigeria Maritime Administration, the maritime administration of Turkey, Georgia and Philipine will have to also give us provision for our cadets to help us clear the backlog of our cadets that have been here whiling away without certificates of competence.
We have heard so many stories about sea time and vessels. We are aware that a good number of our cadets are now in universities and schools abroad Under NIMASA sponsorship. I remember last time you told us about the same intention to acquire vessel. What is the problem? Is it the same funding?
We have approached the ministry. We have also approached NIMASA being our senior partner in terms of funding, they have opted to fund our cadets and have given us 50 slots but I do not know which programme they have
Every time we hear about money given to MAN, has NIMASA formalized the financial assistance to the Academy or are you still struggling to get?
The 2 billion naira fund was given to develop projects and programmes critical to our upgrading. We are very grateful to NIMASA. The one billion naira I have seen has been used in awarding contracts based on the Millennium Development Goal MDG as a mile stone. We are expecting, by the grace of God that those contracts that are on-going the balance would be released to complete the jobs.
Talk about peace within the Academy and its host community, we have heard lately, of community crisis. How have you been able to maintain the peace?
We have brought peace to bear on the basis of studying the main reason for the bad blood between the two brothers and village heads. We discovered that everything centered on fair play, equity and justice. If everything was put in place in the past, all those dominations from whatever places they came, whether from the royal fathers, the youths or anywhere, could not have made progress. The people are human beings that are willing to listen to the voice of reasons. But while they listen to the voice of reason, they should be able to be sincere in ensuring that peace reigns, rather than trade blames without tackling all those things that bring about the bad blood.
The politics of having to fight for rights that oil wells have been discovered here was not true. The truth of the matter is that there were some structural deficiency in the way and manner they were supposed to be made so that the eagle and the hawk would perch on the same tree. But a situation where the hawk perches and the eagle scare away simply makes the eagle to gang up with other birds to fight the hawk. That is the story. I had to look at the situation and studied the environment up to what went wrong and tried to build consensus and confidence among them because where there is deceit and insincerity of purpose, you can not have peace. I simply balanced the interests.               
There is something of interest, between MAN Oron and the new maritime university cited in Bayelsa State and various other universities offering maritime courses, do you see that as a threat to MAN?
No. It is not. We are all in Nigeria and are all for the country’s development. You know all those institutions are aimed at contributing to the development of man power. So, we are not at all threatened.
At what stage did you come to meet the Academy? Were all the projects and development currently executed started by you?
When I came in, there was no survey and site plans of the Academy. I had to survey the entire Academy and constructed the perimeter fence round. I have succeeded in carving0 out an area called an academic environment or community. Some of the structures in the academy have to be moved to new locations. The shopping mall has to be relocated. We have decided to build our own 200 capacity hostels for both male and female cadets and a new market for the Academy. Right now the surveyors are working on soil test and all that. Really, we are trying to ensure that the land of the Academy is not wasted but put to economic use, by always following the plans so that value of the land is realized.
We are grateful to NIMASA for the intervention fund, which have been put to effective use. By the time we are through we will invite you and your team to come for the inauguration.

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