By Kenneth Jukpor
Not less than N45 billion has been spent by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in the training of seafarers under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) without provision of the requisite seatime experience since 2008.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside while commemorating this year’s Day of the Seafarers with the theme; “Seafarers’ Matter” revealed that NIMASA has sponsored the training of 2,259 young Nigerians while MMS Plus findings revealed that the agency spent N20 million on each of the beneficiaries; amounting to N45,180,000,000.
NIMASA had given the impression that it also caters for seatime experience for these cadets and the money-consuming programme continues to run despite the obvious lack of seatime opportunities for the cadets and seamen trained under NSDP.
Foreign seafarers have continued to dominate Nigerian territorial waters, leaving many Nigerian seafarers jobless and the unemployment rate of seafarers in Nigeria has forced seafarers to receive and accept ridiculous contract agreements from ship owners.
Many NSDP graduates have resorted to picking up jobs as security men, tailors, motorcyclists, etc., as a result of the lack of seatime opportunities which deprived them of the privilege to get gainfully employed or avenues to further their studies. Hence, they blame NIMASA for wasting their years and the nation’s resources under the NSDP training.
The NSDP initiative was conceived in 2008 to bridge the gap observed in the dearth of seafarers in the country and as at 2017, a total of 2,259 young Nigerians have been trained in various fields of maritime studies in Maritime Institutions in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Romania, India and the Philippines.
However, the initiative has turned out to be a fraud as the students and the economy are constantly fleeced. Students claim they are short-paid, despite the over-inflated bills said to be paid to the schools abroad.
Speaking with MMS Plus recently, one of the NSDP gradaunds, Engr. Adebamipe Olwadamilola who graduated from the Arab Academy of Science and Technology in Egypt said that the NSDP was a failure as those who concluded the programme hardly got opportunities for seatime and NIMASA didn’t show concern.
“The NSDP has been a failure. Most of the cadets are working as mechanics or security men while the females have gone into tailoring or catering. Nobody told us that these were the challenges we would have to face. I didn’t know anything about marine engineering. I was just told that there was a scholarship for me. My ticket was demanded and the next thing I was studying the course. There was supposed to be seminars or trainings to create certain level of awareness about the discipline and the challenges prior to the schooling.”
Adebamipe said that many of the cadets (including her) wouldn’t have gone ahead with the profession if they had been informed about the challenges. She also blamed NIMASA for not developing a post mortem to analyze the success of the programme and the development of the gradaunds.
“We didn’t have a clear picture of what we’d become after the programme. Since we graduated, NIMASA hasn’t bothered to do a feedback mechanism to study the growth of the people they trained. We just come back and collect certificates from NIMASA and the deal is over. NIMASA should tell us: Why did they train us? What is the objective of training seafarers? Isn’t this an effort in futility? I learnt that more than N20million was spent on each of us. Imagine the amount wasted on tickets, tuition and other allowance. We were supposed to get $1000 monthly allowance as stipulated in the proposal but we only got $200. There are so many issues”, she lamented.
Meanwhile another NSDP product, Engr. Mariam Hassan stressed that female cadets have found seatime opportunities more difficult to obtain. She wondered why NIMASA hasn’t taken steps to ensure that certain number of cadets are placed on all ships that do business in Nigeria to expedite the training process of cadets.
“Those of us that are girls have suffered the most because when there are opportunities for seatime, we have cases where companies say that they don’t want ladies. They say there is no availability for females onboard because we don’t have the power to do tedious work. You can’t spend millions to train a female cadet and a company says it doesn’t take females. It’s a different issue if one doesn’t meet their required standards but to dismiss cadets on the basis of their gender is a shame”, Mariam said.
Engr. Mariam also lamented that the government was doing nothing to ensure that NSDP gradaunds get seatime. “Can’t NIMASA come up with a policy to demand that foreign ships that do business in Nigeria take onboard 8-10 cadets with 3-4 slots left for female cadets? Foreigners are taking our jobs and we have qualified graduates who just need the opportunity of seatime but the government is doing nothing to assist. The government should insist that these foreign vessels take Nigerian qualified cadets onboard before they grant them certain certification”, she queried.
When contacted to react to these allegations, the Head of Corporate Communications, NIMASA, Mr. Isichei Osamgbi said he didn’t have details on the amount spent by the agency on each NSDP student.
However, he maintained that NSDP programme was advertised and candidates choose their desired courses. “The NSDP courses were advertized and people chose their desired courses. Even in the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) exercise, people see certain courses and opt to study them without having full knowledge about the discipline but the onus lies on the student and not JAMB or NIMASA in this case.” Isichei said.
However, the convener of the Nigerian seafarers event to mark the Seafarers day, Capt Segun Enitan, also expressed grief as he stressed that Nigerian seafarers have been relegated to the background by heads of maritime agencies when it comes to decision-making in the sector.
At the event which took place at Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology (FCFMT) Victoria Island, Lagos with hundreds of seafarers and Master Mariners in attendance, Capt. Segun stated that the challenges facing seafarers ranges from lack of health insurance policy, to discrimination on board, lack of proper identification, poor numeration, huge problem of unemployment, no adequate uniform scheme, etc.
He also complained that foreign seafarers have dominated the Nigerian territorial waters, leaving many Nigerian seafarers jobless.
“You see a white man with the same certificate with a Nigerian being paid over a 100% increase in wages compared to what is given to a Nigerian seafarer in Nigeria territorial waters. Ship owners are interested in the state of your health before you board their ship, but nobody is interested in what happens to you afterwards. Many seafarers have been jailed for crimes committed by the ship owners. Some have been killed onboard and nobody cares.
“Since the domination of white seafarers on Nigerian waters has made our seafarers jobless, they must leave our waters for us. Our associations and unions have also not lived up to expectation especially on issues of welfare. They are only interested in the dues we pay and nothing more. A seafarer cannot wear his or her uniform outside the shores for fear of being beaten or harassed by the Nigerian Navy”, he added.
One of the dignitaries at the summit, Rear Admiral Godswill Ombo (Rtd) also highlighted the challenges of the seafarers in the maritime sector to include poor maritime security from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Ombo posited that NIMASA has failed because 70% of their staff weren’t maritime professionals and so they cannot handle the job effectively due to the lack of coherent maritime and strategic policies.
“NIMASA cannot fulfill her responsibilities by remaining at shore. They must go to the sea, patrol the harbors, buy boats and provide ship for seafarers to train with. There is a ship (MV Horten) wasting at the Marina while seafarers are crying for ship. I don’t care who owns the ship but it is on our territorial waters and it should be used. The whole world will laugh at us if that ship sinks”, Ombo stated.
However, in a separate event also in celebration of the ‘Day of the Seafarers’ in Onne, Rivers state, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside said the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC) comprising tripartite stakeholders, have reconvened to fashion out a decent wage and improved working and living conditions for the seafarers in line with the provisions of the convention and comparable to what is obtainable internationally.
“It is therefore expected that once the collective bargaining agreement is signed, ship-owners will commence its full implementation”, the Director General assured.
Realizing the futility of the exercise without seatime, Dakuku has said that a total number of 943 cadets of the NSDP will soon be placed onboard ocean going vessels for their mandatory sea time, as facilitated by NIMASA with institutions in Egypt, United Kingdom and Turkey, without stating the cost.
Nevertheless, eminent Nigerian ship-owners like the President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, have called on NIMASA to send cadets to them for training ‘free of charge’ but the agency declined as it is bent on sponsoring cadets abroad for seatime.