The new governing council of Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron has set itself two simultaneous targets. The first is to become the best such school in Africa within two years while the second target is to become one of the leading maritime schools in the world in five year’s time. As if working on cue, things are looking up financially for the 30-year old institution. All told, N1.7 billion has recently come into its coffers and strengthened the hand of the governing council to determine to take the school to the next level, by force, if necessary. When DDH visited the Oron campus of MAN recently, the entire campus was like one huge construction site; almost every conceivable space was being taken up by construction projects…new roads, new offices, a four-storey new academic block that will have a large hall capable of seating 3000 persons. So many new things are happening now at MAN with more than 20 individual projects springing up simultaneously. With so much activity in one fell swoop, DDH raised the question of monitoring and quality control but governing board chairman, Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs allayed such fears. He said the school’s management was complying with a federal government policy on such multiple projects which mandates the use of a retained project consultant for all the projects who must account for the engineering and structural compliance of all the projects to the specifications of the contracts (see interview in box).
For once all the stops are being pulled here. MAN Rector, Nseyeng Ebong, informed DDH that the state government has just allocated more land to the school, 45 hectares, that should aid its qualification for a planned upgrade to university status which he said is in the works. This new year also, if all goes according to plan, the school will take delivery of an oceangoing ship which is being acquired by the federal government to meet the sea-time experience needs of OND graduating nautical and marine engineering cadets of the institution. As at press time, N3 billion has been set aside to meet the purchase cost of the vessel and an inspection team was being put together to tour some European and Asian countries for first-hand look at vessels already shortlisted for a closer inspection. The ship acquisition programme is being coordinated with the needs of two other maritime academies in the West African sub region: Tema (Ghana) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast). DDH gathered that students from these schools would be trained on the new vessel at a fee. The vessel herself will be run by a private-sector shipping line in pure conformity as a commercial profit-making venture. We reproduce below interviews from Chief Lulu-Dumo Briggs and Mr Nseyeng Ebong on the high tempo of activities at the institution and the plans ahead. Excerpts:
“Nigeria LNG comes here every year to recruit about 25 cadets for their operations…” – Ebong.
Mr Nseyeng Ebong has worked for 26 years in various capacities as a staff of Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron. In one year’s time, he would have served the last eight of those years as the chief executive officer of the institution. Just before his elevation to the rectorship, he was the director in charge of education and planning and had attended many local and overseas training courses. He graduated with a masters degree from the World Maritime University. In this exclusive interview, Mr Ebong bared his mind on the achievements and challenges of his 8-year tenure as rector and his future vision for the school. Excerpts:
DDH: The frenzy of the projects now we gather is affecting the academic calendar. Is this true?
Mr Ebong: It’s true, yes. You see, the hostels, you know we operate this on-campus system because the system of training here which is regimentation does not permit the cadets to live off campus. So these hostels that you are seeing were built several years back. And all those buildings having been used for several years and you know the behavior of youths… All those buildings are in advanced stages of dilapidation. If you go inside, electrical sockets ripped off, fan blades torn off and the design of these buildings doesn’t suit this environment. You know they are all flat tops, so the top floors in all the buildings are leaking terribly. So you see we are completely rehabilitating and renovating the buildings, including putting roofs. So, by the time we finish and the cadets resume, they would be living like kings and queens. So, it’s the rehabilitation of the academic complex and the hostels that has informed the delay in re-opening, nothing else.
DDH: What will the old female hostel be used for?
Mr Ebong: We will still use it but now we have removed the congestion. We are going to redesign it, made more comfortable, more beautiful , more spacious and then we will still put some female cadets there, maybe the senior students.
DDH: What is the capacity we have now in the new one?
Mr Ebong: It can take up to 100 cadets.
DDH: You have been Rector now for the last six and half years, in which you completed the first term of your appointment and continued into a renewed second term. How has it been running the institution, challenges and accomplishments, etc?
Mr Ebong: Well, I want to thank God for His grace because as a Christian you cannot remove God from whatever happens to you. I want to put it on record that God has been very faithful to me. He has proved Himself to be a covenant-keeping God. So, it has not been easy. The challenges have been many. The challenges of inadequacy of funding, lack of facilities, etc. But over the years, the increased desire for cadetship in this Academy was not matched by the corresponding expansion of facilities. You can see what we are doing now. We are building more class rooms and bigger class rooms. We are building more laboratories and bigger laboratories. We are building staff quarters, sports complex all over the place. So, this is to accommodate the increased desire for studentship so that we can take more Nigerians. Now, the situation was if 7,000 Nigerians applied, we could only take less than a thousand. But with what we are doing now, if it gets up to October 2010, we should be able to double the students’ capacity in this campus. We are looking at 3,000. Right now, it is 1,200. If we take 3,000 students, that would tremendously serve the Nigerian maritime industry.
DDH: You spoke of a mismatch before now between the work load and the injection of funds. Definitely now there is an improvement in the funding situation…
Mr Ebong: Definitely yes, and the credit goes to the new Minister (of Transport, Alh. Ibrahim Bio). This Minister has been very supportive. I want to put it on record and highlighted that Ibrahim Bio has been very supportive of this Academy. Of course, you cannot expect less from a man like Bio. He does not tolerate fools. He does not tolerate delays in meeting of targets. When he started, we started the meeting of chief executive officers and the first thing that we did in the first retreat that we had was to bring out action plan: short term, medium term, long term. Now all of us in the Ministry of Transport are implementing those plans that we designed during the first retreat of Minister with CEOs of parastatals and directors in the Federal Ministry of Transport. That is what you are seeing now.
DDH: On main achievements of your tenure so far…
Mr Ebong: The only way I can do is to say as follows: When I started, those (tarred) roads through which you passed were not there; the jetty was not there; all the equipment installed on that jetty were not there; the wooden jetty supporting the new one had collapsed; the new one that you see there; the jetty road was not there; the IT centre was not there; the 48-cadet hostel; the auditorium was not there; the new library and resource centre were not there; the 4-storey academic complex was not there; the sports complex was not there; the survival pool was abandoned; the search-and-rescue that is standing there was not there. About only 2 to 3 programmes were accredited, now we have all our programmes accredited or approved.
DDH: What do you attribute this high toll of achievements to; the Academy is now heading towards upgrade to a university status?
Mr Ebong: I don’t remove God from my affairs. Number one, divine support. Dedication, because if you are not dedicated to what you are doing, you can come here and be embezzling funds…funds that should be used in development. Like the CBT centre that we built with internally generated revenue. Somebody could have pocketed that. Some of the things that you see on this campus are built with internally generated revenue. So, I will say commitment, dedication, vision. And the second thing is that by the singular grace of God I had the opportunity to do my maritime education and training outside this country. And I had the opportunity to visit so many countries, more than 20; and more than 50 maritime establishments. So I had the basis to see what is happening elsewhere. I told myself that we could duplicate this in our own country. It’s not only in Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, France, UK, Canada, Australia or USA that these things could be. Now, when I returned to the Academy to my own country, these were the things that propelled me, that I saw these somewhere and I can duplicate it here.
DDH: What challenges have you faced so far in realizing the programmes of the Academy?
Mr Ebong: Inadequacy of funding. Some people we have started to have money now. But the money that have come is just like a drop in the ocean. So we need funding, good funding and I keep telling people, if the kind of funding that started coming into the Academy last year was made available to me at the beginning of my tenure, as you are sitting down here, you would be having people from other parts of the world arriving to see the Academy. I tell you with all sincerity to God. But that funding is coming on the eve of my departure. Don’t forget that I have approximately one year to take my portmanteau and find myself somewhere else.
DDH: But you have made a mark, you reckon?
Mr Ebong: I leave that to Nigerians, to you, the media people and to posterity to judge. Am just doing my work as an honest, loyal patriotic Nigerian. I will make sure I serve my country and people because in my church, The Winners Chapel, we place emphasis on service. Service is critical even in kingdom operations. But there are people who think that positions of service should become a position for self-aggrandizement, to line your pockets, to go to Dubai and buy houses all over the place, go to UK and buy houses, go to South Africa. That’s what some Nigerians believe and that’s part of the problem we are having. But as a true Christian such things don’t interest me. I mean that at the level I am, God has blessed me. I know that in this country some people can’t afford a square meal. I eat three times a day. That’s enough blessing for me. Even the position that God has moved me to as a chief executive officer of a parastatal is more blessing for me. So there is no way from the pit of hell any devil can convince me to go and lay my hands to steal. It’s not possible.
DDH: Last time the Minister came here to commission some fast rescue boats donated by NLNG. Do you have so many of those donors who made your work less tedious?
Mr Ebong: NLNG is number one with what they have done for the Academy. I don’t know the kind of managers or Nigerians who are working in Nigerian LNG. Because they have a different orientation. An orientation that is different from the general Nigerian set up. You know in the normal Nigerian set up, they will not have any business with this school. They can take their people to go and train in Houston (Texas), in Philippines, in India, etc. But they are now working closely with the Academy. They ask us MAN (Maritime Academy of Nigeria) what do you need? What are your shortcomings? What are your critical needs? Where can we subscribe? They will come, take 3 or 4 of our staff to Wasatch Academy, train them and bring them back at their own cost. They see any piece of equipment that they should add, they go and bring it. We didn’t have any single input in that equipment that you saw (the fast rescue boats at the new MAN Jetty). If you go to our basic safety course centre, most of the items of equipment that you see in that place were donated to us by Nigerian LNG. So, the equipment commissioned two weeks ago was not the first. It’s the latest, we can go back into history what they have been doing. And don’t forget that Nigerian LNG comes here every year to recruit about 25 cadets for their operations. And I have not heard that there is any company or organization in this country that is greater than Nigerian LNG, whether in terms of human capacity development, effectiveness or efficiency in using the cadets. But you see there are others who are sitting down, busy talking about the graduates of MAN are not well trained. Nigerian LNG comes to us to say MAN Oron how can we make your graduates better? The same graduates others are saying are not good, they come here to pick them and transform them. They are not using Philippinos, they are using Nigerians. As I am speaking to you Nigerian LNG has not less than 100 ex-cadets in its employment. That is the kind of organization that the federal government of Nigeria should support and work with. An organization like that looks at the local content, the development of indigenous capacity. There are others, many others who are not interested. So, government should, instead of driving them, should bring such organizations closer. That’s why I was not happy when they were having issues with NIMASA over unpaid dues or something like that. In fact, such dues should be waived because of what they are doing (for MAN).
DDH: You spoke of the battery of simulators you are installing in the Academy. Right now which ones have you got?
Mr Ebong: We are working on some fantastic things and as you have seen everyday you come in you see new things. I promise you something: you are going to return very shortly and am taking you into our simulator centre where you will ask whether you are at sea or in a room. That summarizes what we are doing with simulators. The simulator centre they were writing all over Nigeria that will never be built, we have finished building it. And the cost that we used to build this complex, there is nowhere in this country that they will build this complex for the amount of money that the Academy has built it. You will not believe that this complex has been built for less than N60 million, including everything, the external walls and the first building. You know the first time they built it, they put asbestos ceiling. We removed all the asbestos and put PVC in all the rooms. The first time you saw it, the floors were terrazzo. We removed the terrazzo and put tiles. All within N60 million. Show me one parastatal in this country, show me one state government or one local government that will say they did these things for less than N60 million as we have done. I am the first chief executive that the EFCC interrogated and, at the end of the day they said, just go.
DDH: The Academy is also putting in place new language laboratories. Tell us about that?
Mr Ebong: Right now we are going to advertise recruitment. Language lecturers will be part of the advert. The critical languages for the MOWCA (West and Central Africa sub region) of which Nigeria is one, we want to position ourselves as the training hub. And eventually as the years go by, why can’t we become the training hub for Africa?
DDH: What is the capacity of the language laboratory?
Mr Ebong: Right now it is for 50, and we think that could suffice.
DDH: For the sports complex a lot of work and constructions are taking place there. What is the plan?
Mr Ebong: We call it survival training pool. We can conduct a number of exercises in that pool simultaneously. You know the proficiency and personal survival technique exercises: launching a life raft in water, righting it if it has capsized. Those are the kind of exercises that are conducted in a survival training pool. We are not allowed to conduct such exercises in the open water because it’s not a controlled environment, you may not know when someone has been carried by water to somewhere. This one is controlled, you know the number of people who are in and there are monitors all over to see what is going on. One of the reasons it’s that big is that we can conduct a number of exercises simultaneously. We can launch three life rafts in that pool, so three groups of trainees are training at the same time. The second reason is that there are other specialized courses like what they call helicopter dunking operations that we can conduct in that pool. Subsequent, we are going to build a house over that pool so that we can put rails where we can simulate the helicopter dunking operation and other kinds of things. And in fact, we could bring those small boats and do some exercises in there. The other thing is that you see that pool is Olympic size. It can be used for swimming competitions. Now we are going to build a stadium around. That stadium is to be designed properly so that it could be used to host things like NUGA Games.
DDH: From the totality of what you are doing, you need a lot of competent staff to man the system. This also raises the question, is this heading towards the university status we have heard about?
Mr Ebong: Yes. In fact, I need to give you the position paper which I gave to government about this Academy. As I told the last group of media people that just finished interviewing me, the position paper written by somebody who has been in this Academy for 26 years should be taken very seriously by policy makers and those implementing policy. The position paper written by somebody who has been rector for about seven years in this institution and during the seven years so many cadets have passed out under him, should not be taken with levity. In that position paper, I have touched on every aspect of what is to be done: the position on the ground, the position that we met, and what we think should be done. And I was saying that the position of the maritime industry in this country should be given top priority, because if fully developed, Nigerian maritime industry can generate foreign exchange earnings for this country four times what we are getting from oil. What we are getting from oil is peanuts. Look at a country like Singapore doesn’t have oil. It’s an economic power, a maritime power. Yes, that’s what we should be doing and you can’t compare the size of Singapore with that of Nigeria or even Philippines.
DDH: What is the progress on the training ship for the Academy?
Mr Ebong: (Showing some brochures of ships…) These are all the proposals we have received. The Minister has told me that we must look for a training ship that will not just come and sit idle. He said I want you to bring in the experts: master mariners, shipping companies to do a study for us and then come out with the type of ship that if we buy could be going on trading runs to Angola, South Africa, Accra, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, etc and be generating revenue when it is not being used expressly for training. And then when at the beginning of an academic year, the institution that will use it, MAN Oron, will give the company that will manage it a schedule and say, as from August, September, October, November, we need the ship. So they will programme those four months out of their trading programme. That will enable that ship to generate revenue to sustain itself in terms of bunkers, crew, maintenance and victuals. Otherwise the onus will be on the Academy to provide those funds to maintain that ship, which can cripple us. So, you can take a general cargo vessel, for example, that can carry iron rods from Delta Steel company to Abidjan or Accra or Brazil because we are going for a very big vessel. We have voted some good money for it.
DDH: You did say the last time we met that a company will run it for the Academy?
Mr Ebong: Yes, because the last time we met, the three rectors, the other Academies were looking up to Nigeria as the richer brother to buy a ship and they will participate in the usage because this problem (training ship) is not restricted to MAN Oron. What we are thinking is that at the beginning of the new academic, they will collect their training schedule for the year and merge with ours. So the shipping company managing it will know that for this period the ship will be used for training purposes.
DDH: How do you score the parent Ministry of Transport and the parastatals in the affairs of MAN Oron?
Mr Ebong: Under the present Minister, 80-plus, that is A+. NIMASA under the present management, I score them, 70+ (general laughter). That is in terms of assistance to MAN Oron and not general management or achievement or efficiency. The next is Shippers Council. I score them 65% in terms of responding to the needs of MAN Oron.
DDH: On a light-hearted mood, you have been in the Academy for 26 years, the last eight as chief executive. What have you learnt?
Mr Ebong: I have learnt a lot of things. I have learnt about this country, how the country works. And I am beginning to get to grips with the things that have kept this country down from being a giant. I don’t want to put these things in the pages of papers but that’s one of the things I have learnt. I have learnt about the budgeting process, what it takes to get what one kobo from government to run an establishment. I have learnt a lot about working with human beings, their aspirations, their fears, etc. I have also learnt about God, that if you decide to work with God He will not disappoint you, He will not fail you. These are some of the things I have learnt. The relationship with human beings: sometimes you don’t get support from where you expect it. Sometimes you get support from where you least expect it.
DDH: Do you feel actualized?
Mr Ebong: I feel that I have achieved. That is why I will not stay here in this Academy one day later than my tenure. I have done enough to satisfy my conscience that I have served my country and my people.
DDH: Do you think the Academy will be able to attain university status during your tenure?
Mr Ebong: Definitely yes. Watch out (soon).