Is Sarumi’s IMC restructuring or killing Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron? (1)
With the scrapping of courses without changing the enabling Act of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron; the suspension of admissions, the rumoured sack of about 250 staffers; and the purported ethnic cleansing going on in the Nigeria’s premiere Maritime institution, can MAN survive? In the face of these, one wonders whether the Interim Management Committee (IMC) is a medic or a pall bearer! With these issues hanging on the neck of the IMC, the hope for MAN’s survival gets slimmer. Joseph Atainyang, a journalist based in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State examines the pattern adopted by the IMC in restructuring Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.
On Wednesday 6 September, 2017, the Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi inaugurated a seven-man Interim Management Committee, IMC to restructure and reposition the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron. This was after the committee had concluded its mission of ‘working out modalities’ for the repositioning and restructuring of MAN, having first been inaugurated in January, 2017 for that purpose. The least expectation of an average Nigerian was the re-inauguration of the same committee as interim management to oversee the task, when it’s initial report cum recommendations, as was reportedly submitted to the President, had not been made public. The internal management structure of the Academy was ‘disdainfully’ discarded.
The seven-man committee led by Chief Adebayo Sarumi, a former MD, Nigerian Ports Authority, has Captain Isa Biu, former, ES, NSC; Engr Olu Akinsoji, former Administrator, MAN, Oron; Engr Greg Ogbeifun, Chairman Starz Shipyard; a representative from the Ministry of Transportation and Dr Kelvin Okonna, Director MANCONSULT at the Academy as members. The new Rector, Cdr Duja Effedua (rtd) was asked to work hand-in-hand with the committee until it concludes its work in six months. Added to represent the host community, was Arc Otu Ita Otoyo, a former State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State currently a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
It is established that MAN has existed for 40 years and people of different ranks and ethnic enclaves, all Nigerians, have been in charge as helmsman since 1977. Each of these administrators at their time worked at their paces based on available resources for the ‘interests’ of the Academy. The last three years has been a moment of long trial with manifest battles for supremacy among the authorities directly relating therewith.
Those leaders included: Capt Ime N. Ntiaidem, Director of Studies from 1978 to 1983; Capt. A. F. Assad, 1983 to 1984 and then Commandore Ibrahim Hussein, 1984 to 1986. Capt Ime N. Ntiaidem returned in 1986 and stayed through 1990. He was succeeded by Capt. D. A. Anoja who was appointed a Commandant between 1990 and 1992, followed by the Administrator, Engr Olu Akinsoji who served between 1992 and 2000 and then Engr. Okon Bassey who piloted the Academy’s affairs for just 12 calendar months to pave the way for Mr Nseyen Ebong who stayed for 10 years between 2001 and 2011. Ebong was succeeded by late Mr Joshua Okpo who after exhausting his first tenure from 2011 to 2015 was reappointed same year for a second term before he died.
One thing stands out during all these years, the institution appeared to have remained docile, unable to meet its objectives. Accusations of incompetence on the part of her leadership should necessarily be far detached from the present, especially the restrictions-loaded leadership of Mkpandiok Mkpandiok, then Acting Rector. It could be recalled that Mkpandiok, the substantive Registrar of the school was directed by the Federal Ministry of Transportation to act as a Rector after Joshua Okpo’s successor, Engr. Anthony Ishiodu died in July 2016.
On 8 December, 2015 when the late Rector Joshua Okpo died in mysterious circumstance the fortunes of the institution diminished drastically. The new Rector, Engr Anthony Ishiodu who was appointed by the current Minister, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, to man the institution also died eight months after his appointment. It was however, very conspicuous that the Late Ishiodu was unfit for the job. He was sick even before the appointment.
Ishiodu’s death left the supervisory ministry of MAN led by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi with no option than to direct the then eight months old Registrar of the Academy, Pastor Mkpandiok Ante Mkpandiok to hold fort. Mkpandiok’s administration was restricted from executing any project. That was the situation until the Chairman, House of Reps Committee on Maritime Safety, Education, and Administration, Rt. Hon Muhammed Umaru Bago intervened in 2016. Mkpandiok would have been the light of development in the institution judging from the commendations of the nine-man committee of the national assembly on improved level of development just within a short while under his administration.
After a year, Mkpandiok’s administration was changed as the IMC was inaugurated. With the most depraved posture of existence and the appointment of the Acting Rector in waiting, speculations were rife that the IMC will certainly upturn the course of leadership in the Academy. The Transport Minister however, after much outcry from the public, saw the dangers of asking the newly appointed Rector to wait till six months, when the IMC would have finished its ‘repositioning mission’ before he can fully resume duty. He then issued a statement directing the Rector, Cdr Duja Efedua (rtd) to resume full duties simultaneously with the IMC.
Investigations into the IMC operations show that the Rector is not in anyway doing anything on his own, the IMC is fully in control and dictates virtually everything that must happen. After five full ‘moons’ of the six months tenure, the IMC has, rather worsened the course of practice, under the guise of repositioning and restructuring the school. Many have continued to wonder whether the ‘destructive schemings’ as perpetrated by the IMC was the content of her findings and recommendations when it concluded its mission of researching the best repositioning strategy early last year.
While one becomes curious at the apparently negative practice of the IMC, it has become a thing of interest to delve into the series of their maneuvers, which in all assessments, present the committee as consciously embarking on ‘ethnic cleansing’ as well as ‘killing’ the potentials of the school to the ‘selfish’ interests of the perpetrators.
After landing in Akwa Ibom State, the seven-man committee whose permanent office is the Le ‘Meridien Hotels and Golf Resort, got set to displace the indigenous principal officers of the institution, especially those from the host community (Oron). Within a very short while, the IMC compelled five management staff of the Academy to go on compulsory annual leave. These people included the substantive Registrar, Pastor Mkpandiok Mkpandiok; the Bursar, Mr F. A. Kayode; the Director of Works, Engr. Jide Kupoloyi; former Acting Dir, School of Nautical Studies, Capt. Gabriel Oku; and the former Dir. School of Marine Engineering, Engr. Innocent Eziala. The said leave ended on December 5, 2017. Some of the staff have resumed duties, the Registrar has been suspended indefinitely by the IMC. Findings show the Bursar, F. A. Kayode has exceeded his years of service.
Unfortunately, Mkpandiok Mkpandiok is a victim of the ‘claws’ of IMC. He has not been tried of any misdeed in line with civil service procedures. A source told this reporter that the suspension was predicated on accusations that the former Acting Rector has been involved in series of employment and financial irregularities. Independent investigations have shown otherwise.
About 10 teams of auditors from the Offices of the Accountant General of the Federation, Auditor General of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Transportation have looked into the accounts of the institution and none came up with anything that could incriminate the Mkpandiok’s regime.
MAN was wobbling with over 64 cases in different courts, instituted against the academy by project contractors. It would be recalled that the Mkpandiok’s regime paid backlog of debts given the approval of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the House Committee on MAN. Those interventions saw to the completion of some abandoned projects that littered the campus. Although the IMC Chairman could not be contacted, Olu Akinsoji, a member of the IMC, when phoned to speak on these developments said he was not in position to speak for the committee.
The IMC has reviewed the salary structure of workers in the academy. MAN’s staff salary structure approved by the National Income and Wages Commission and is funded by five percent (5%) of income of Nigeria Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA). This peculiar salary structure came to force in March, 2015. A member of the IMC, Olu Akinsoji says the abrogation of the salary structure is in line with the restructuring process of the school. He insisted that it was ‘in the best interest’ of the institution.
Meanwhile, one of the agenda of the IMC had long been confirmed to be massive dismissal of staff. The committee is presently at the verge of terminating the appointments of no fewer than 250 staffers of the institution. This is the last of the moves by the IMC and sources confirm it is billed for execution this month, being their last moment of existence. This reporter can confirm that 80 percent of those targeted would be indigenes of Akwa Ibom State from the host community. Akinsoji refused comments on this. He said only the IMC Chairman can speak on this. Akinsoji said every action taken by the IMC is in the best interest of the Academy and Nigerians.
He stressed, “Everything the IMC is doing is in the best interest, not only of the Academy, but of all Nigerians. At the end of the whole thing, we will have shown direction. We will right the wrongs. We are not doing this alone; International Maritime Organisation (IMO) consultants are joining us. Private companies, organisations and multinationals are joining us. Regional institutions are also assisting us. We have deeply experienced people who are working with us to put the place into shape.”
This confirms the readiness of the IMC to commence a cleansing at MAN. At present, MAN, has a total of 849 staff, comprising of 110 teaching staff and 739 non teaching staff – 504 senior and 345 junior staff.
Nepotism has taken a height in the Academy. Major appointments have been dominated by Yorubas. The Director, Special Duties, Alhaji Egbebi Adesola Rasaq, a Yoruba. The Chief Lecturer, Dr John Remi Adeyanju, is a Yoruba; same as Director of Works, Pastor Wale Ogunsola. Management staff from the host community have been displaced. Apart from the Registrar, Mkpandiok Mkpandiok who had been given indefinite suspension by the IMC, others have faced degrading treatments. For instance, the Head Legal Unit, Barr Mercy Ating was posted out of the department and asked to go lecturing. Ating, a Senior Assistant Registrar grade level 11 has been replaced with a level 9 Admin Officer who has no court experience. The question is, does the Academy have a faculty of law or any law related discipline where a lawyer should teach?
The Director, Public Affairs, Mr Siddi Mkpandiok has also been posted to a liaison office in Abuja. This, people see as a height of ‘strangeness’ and wanton impunity by the IMC. Siddi has been replaced by a junior officer. It could be recalled that Siddi was just one of the 378 workers of the Academy who got mass promotion in April 2017. Their promotion was approved by the Federal Ministry of Transport after an interview conducted by it for junior, senior and management staff in December 2016. The interview panel had been headed by the permanent secretary of the ministry. The promoted staffers included 157 junior staff and 221 senior staff, drawn from both the academic and administrative arms. Questions still hover in the air, “which model of Maritime Academy is the IMC taking after?” Many have told this reporter that the IMC is doing everything to avert questions from experienced members of staff of the institution.
Also, the IMC has scrapped HND, PGD programmes of the school, scrapped MAN Consult, the revenue generating arm of the academy, stopped short courses the school was offering as well as scrapped the Electrical/Electronics Departments.
Against the provisions of MAN’s Act Cap M3 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2010, the IMC, which tenure is for only six months, has merged General Studies Department with Maritime Dept; Special Seafarers Training Centre with Nautical Dept. Most of the courses shut down were said to be well impacting and handled by good hands in the Academy. The merged disciplines are said to be non-relative and would constitute complications in terms of curriculum development. This, apart from constituting insecurity on the jobs of lecturers, it reduces the potential capacity of the school. But Olu Akinsoji who again denied advancing reasons for this, subsisted that it was still in the interest of the Academy and all Nigerians in general.
Further inquiries on these revealed that principal members of the IMC, including the Chairman, Adebayo Sarumi is out to short-change the school. It was uncovered that Sarumi is running a similar private institution like MAN Oron in Cross River State. Another member of the committee, Greg Obgeifun is said to be a Co-Director at the Charkin Maritime University, located at Km4, East West Road, (after Jephtah College) Ozuoba, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. These are where the IMC members have diverted the admissions of MAN Oron to, having suspended academic sessions for two years.
Most lecturers in MAN Oron are said to have made haste to drop their applications at both the Maritime University in Delta State and the Charkin Maritime University, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Of course, Charkin had advertised for employment of competent Maritime lecturers, very late last year. This, many observe is posing serious threat to the survival of MAN Oron. On the ‘illegal deal’ being perpetrated by IMC between these two hidden institutions owned by its members, against the fortunes of MAN Oron, and by extension Nigerians, this reporter has in-depth load to unmask in another series.
Similarly, as admissions are suspended, adverts for admissions for the commencement of academic sessions at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State had long been issued. Akinsoji who sees nothing wrong in the over 40 years old Academy having to remain without cadets, sees everything good in the admission process and full commencement of academic activities at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State. He said “even without equipment, it is better to commence academic activities in Delta State than MAN Oron.”
In all these, a visit to the Academy by the Chairman, National Assembly Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Rt. Hon. Muhammed Umaru Bago became a thing of hope that the excesses of IMC could be confronted. The Chairman, who landed the Academy on the instance of a petition sent to his committee by a human rights fighter, Mr Francis Otioro declared that the Sarumi led IMC was illegal as it was not known by law. He chased the IMC out of Academy while acknowledging the appointment of the Rector, Duja Effedua. On this, Akinsoji had said that he was disappointed at the declaration by Bago. He said, “Nigeria is drifting into a situation where anybody will just wake up and say anything.”
The Chairman who expressed displeasure at their inauguration by the Transport Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and their subsequent activities, had also faulted the suspension of the substantive Registrar, Mkpandiok Mkpandiok, asking why there should be Ag. Registrar in an institution where there was a live and active Registrar. He had since directed that they should call back the man to resume duties. But till the present time, the IMC still flies.
Regrettably, when the IMC rides on the back of “lack of facilities” for training of competent seafarers in MAN Oron, the Chairman, Adebayo Sarumi has a lot of questions to answer. He is said to have been the MD, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA when a ship was made available for practical sea-time experience of MAN’s cadets. But he had frustrated that candid offer by policy makers of that time. Of course, findings have also shown that Olu Akinsoji who is presently offering himself as a ‘saviour’ to rescue the Academy was still on the throne as MAN Oron’s Administrator when two vessels were sold out between 1994 and 1995.
It was on this that the former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, while addressing participants during the 2016 World Maritime Day in Victoria Island, Lagos, told Nigerians that he had, during his tenure as president, directed that a vessel be made available for Maritime cadets. In that meeting, Obasanjo lamented that he was then told the vessel had a problem and needed to be fixed. “The next thing I heard was that the vessel was then carrying a flag of another country”, he lamented. The many sins of Akinsoji in MAN Oron when he held sway as Administrator, as this reporter gathers, together with those of the principal members of the IMC, is collectively, an ‘awry big book’ which may not be successfully compressed, in summary, into a full page of a newspaper. I shall try my hands on these in subsequent series of this long episode.
As for the loaded allegations leveled against the Rector, Duja Effedua, this reporter hopes to get to see clearly from how he would pilot the affairs of the Academy after the exit of the committee before such consideration is weighed and then presented for public judgement. This allegations are unrelated to the legal suits which have challenged his qualifications for the job. Of course the IMC, apart from being challenged as illegal in court, in line with the declaration by the Chairman, House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, is also brought before the court for human rights infringement.
It could be recalled that the inauguration of the IMC in September last year was greeted by mass protest and rejection. The host community have staged long days and weeks of protest, barricading the road to the Academy. Youths of the state and the host community, Oron had daily been on the road registering disapproval. This reporter confirmed that it gave the security agents, made of men of the Nigerian Army, the Customs and the Police a tough time to be able to disperse them. The Oron Union, Oron Think Tank and other sociocultural organizations (in the host community) had queried the development (the imposition OF the IMC on MAN). Just last November, these bodies led delegations to the national assembly during a public hearing on a bill for an act to establish the Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron. They spoke in one voice saying the IMC should pack their loads and leave.
Just last month a governing council was inaugurated for the institution. People have observed that the governing council is what is known by law and not the IMC.
Whereas Ghana, Egypt, Liberia and Kenya are on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council, Nigeria is not, because Maritime Academy, in spite of its length of life – nearly 41years now – has not met the technical requirements of IMO. How then could one be convinced that in all these strangeness in policies and programmes, MAN can survive beyond the IMC? How could principal staffers of the institution be unduly demoted and treated with disdain without recourse to civil service rules? Why should people who were duly employed risk their jobs, when there is no declaration on retrenchment?
Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Gsm: 07036964637