The recent graduation of 11 Nigerian Marine Engineers at the South Shields Marine School, New Castle, United Kingdom under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), marks a turning point in Nigeria’s efforts at building a pool of seafarers both for export and local industry. FRANCIS EZEM, who witnessed the graduation ceremony, reports.
When the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency conceived the idea of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) in 2008, many believed it was one of such ‘Nigerian’ policies or programmes. But five years down the line, though not without the usual ups and downs for such novel schemes, even the worst the skeptics have been left with no doubts that the aims and objectives of the programme are being achieved, This is more so following the graduation of 11 Nigerian young men and women from the South Shields Marine School, New Castle, United Kingdom, less than two months after a total of 21 Nigerians also graduated in Nautical Sciences from the school and are currently undergoing the International Maritime Organisation sea time training.
Statistics released by the school shows that a total of 21 students that graduated in Marine Engineering, seven were given awards for their outstanding performances, and three of them were Nigerians under the NSDP. The award winners include Jiya Mohammed from Niger State, Zizoh Anto and Ibrahim Anas, both from Kaduna State.
Currently, records show that there are over 2, 500 Nigeria cadets undergoing seafarer training not only in the UK but also in India, Sweden, India and the Philippines, among several others. The agency also projects to train 5,000 Nigerian seafarers by 2015 and 10,000 by 2020.
The NSDP to a large extent could be described as a child of circumstance and Nigeria’s response to the dwindling supply of seafarers both in the local and global maritime arena.
The IMO, the global maritime regulatory body in 2008 observed that there has been a global decline in seafarers’ supply, especially the officer cadre, a development that threatens international shipping since world trade and commerce depend on it.
It was also reported that as at 2008, world officers requirement was estimated at over 498,000 while the supply was 464,000, representing a shortfall of 34, 000.
The report also said that if nothing was done to address this trend, this shortfall might worsen and in response, the IMO in 2008 launched the ‘Go to Sea’ campaign.
The situation was even more precarious in Nigeria as the youngest master mariner is 50 years old, thus raising fears that by the time all of them are out of circulation, the Nigerian maritime industry might head for the rocks.
It was against this backdrop that NIMASA, Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory agency came up with the NSDP to build capacity, bridge the wide generational gap and shortfall in the supply of seafarers especially the cadets.
NSDP is therefore, a strategic intervention scheme aimed primarily at addressing this short to medium term manpower need first for the Nigerian maritime industry and also makes an inroad into the global seafarers market like Republic of Philippines, which supplies about 30 percent of the world seafarers by exporting over 300,000 seafarers to the international shipping labour market annually from which the country earns about $5.0 billion.
Other aims and objectives of the programme include; improving Nigeria’s overall skill base and encouraging development of capacity in the shipping industry; develop a pool of surveyors to facilitate the discharge of NIMASA’s function under flag and port state control.
It is also expected to reduce unemployment by engaging the nation’s increasing number of youths and make them more productive and useful to the nation and help the country achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by facilitating wealth creation and generation of employment opportunities with a view to reducing poverty and crime.
The NSDP is made up of two components in terms of funding. The first is the 60-40 percent counterpart funding arrangement under which participating state government provide 60 percent cost of the training while the agency provides the remaining 40percent. Available records show that a total of 16 states are currently participating in the programme. They include Kaduna 36 students, Niger 25, Kogi 25, Lagos 25 Benue 16 students, Ebonyi 15, Ondo 11 and Ekiti four students. Others include the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Jigawa, Borno, Yobe, Akwa Ibom, Katsina and Gombe states.
However, the current management of the agency, which is not satisfied with this seeming low participation of the states introduced a second window of the programme in which it undertakes the full sponsorship of some cadets. The agency had in December last year sent the first batch of cadets under its full sponsorship programme numbering 1,000, who are currently undertaking courses in Marine Engineering, Nautical Sciences and Naval Architecture etc abroad. Only recently, NIMASA also sent additional 625 cadets, which represents the second batch of the agency’s fully sponsored scheme.
While speaking at the graduation ceremony in New Castle, penultimate week, the Director General of the Agency, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, who spoke at a reception organised in honour of the students, noted that the Federal Government under President Goodluck is committed to transforming the nation’s economy from dependence to a more diversified economy.
According to him, part of the strategy is to develop the nation’s maritime industry through capacity building, especially training of seafarers both for local industry and also for export though which the country will earn foreign exchange. He assured that given the current tempo of the NSDP, Nigeria will soon compete with the Republic of Philippines in seafarers export through which over $6bn will be repatriated to the local economy annually.
The DG, who was represented by the Deputy Director in charge of Public Relations, Mr. Isichei Osamgbi, charged the graduating students who are about to commence sea time training also arranged by the agency to be good ambassadors of Nigeria.
“NIMASA under the present leadership is fully committed to capacity building in line with its mandate. Nothing is too much to spend on developing our youths. This is also in line with the transformation agenda of His Excellency, President Goodluck Jonathan,” Akpobolokemi also said.
Chief Executive of the college, Mrs. Lindsey Whiterod, who spoke in an interview shortly after the graduation ceremony, commended the Nigerian cadets for their brilliant performance. While praising the award winning students, she noted that the school is economical in giving such awards and therefore anyone that receives it will also excel in any other part of the world.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Anas, one of the three outstanding students, who spoke in an interview, expressed his appreciation to the Nigerian government through NIMASA for finding him worthy to enjoy the scholarship. He therefore pledged to return to Nigeria after his sea time training and Certificate of Competence to contribute his quota to the growth and development of the industry.
Immediate past president of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, umbrella body for retired indigenous ship captains, chief engineers and engineers, Captain Adejimi Adu, who commented the progress made so far under the NSDP, expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the scheme.
“The NSDP as a seafarer training initiative is commendable, especially with what we can see in terms of its implementation. Fears expressed before now was the issue of sea time training but since NIMASA has also factored this all-important training into the NSDP is fantastic and commendable”, the former president had also said.
With the progress so far made, stakeholders are optimistic that the current tempo be sustained so as to meet the projection on seafarers’ export from Nigeria with the attendant huge economic benefits.