• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Bridging manpower gap in Nigeria’s shipping sector

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The Nigerian maritime sector has over the last decade been faced with a huge gap in manpower supply needed to drive the nation’s growing shipping business. The few available master mariners in the country are ageing, with an average age limit of 65 years as against the global average of 35 years, according to industry sources. It is estimated that Nigeria loses over N960 billion annually in the form of remunerations paid to foreign seafarers who dominate the nation’s shipping and other logistics supply chain.

This does not bode well for a country that boasts of a coastline of over 800km; depends largely on importation of finished and semi-finished products and raw materials for the growing industrial sector as well as exportation of its crude oil; and has the potential for creating employment and wealth for a good number of its population.

BusinessDay findings show that Nigeria’s maritime sector started experiencing gap in manpower supply after the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), a foremost national carrier that helped the nation in training the present crop of master mariners who have now reached the peak of their career.

It was in a bid to help in bridging this manpower gap that in 2008, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the nation’s apex maritime regulatory agency saddled with the responsibility of building manpower for the shipping sector, created a scholarship programme known as the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).

The programme aims at encouraging Nigerian youths to take to seafaring careers, but also to address the dearth of manpower in the maritime industry, create employment and alleviate poverty in the country. At inception, NSDP set out to train about 5,000 Nigerian seafarers by 2015, and 10,000 by 2020 so as to help the economy to earn the much-needed foreign exchange from seaborne trade.

Initially, the programme was planned to be funded by the NIMASA in collaboration with state governments on a 60:40 arrangement, where the state governments would provide 60 percent of the funding while the remaining 40 percent would be borne by the agency. However, due to the poor response of the state governments, NIMASA created another window that enabled it to fund 100 percent of the scholarship programme while retaining the 60:40 funding with the state governments.

So far, over 2,500 cadets have been trained, and many more are undergoing training in maritime universities in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Egypt, Malaysia, the Philippines, and so on in the areas of Nautical Science, Marine Engineering and Marine Transportation as well as Naval Architecture, amongst others, with the seatime training component.

We commend NIMASA for the achievements so far. However, we believe that more could be done. NIMASA should, for instance, consider expanding the scope of the programme to accommodate more Nigerians who need to be integrated into the programme, given its potentials to create wealth and boost employment in the country.

Furthermore, we are pained that only about 16 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja have so far keyed into the NSDP initiative. While we urge other states that are yet to embrace the programme to do so immediately for the benefit of their indigenes, we also call on NIMASA to consider enlightenment programmes across the states to sensitise governments on the benefits of their participation in the programme.

Beyond training, we also urge the agency to make it possible for the graduating cadets from the programme to be quickly absorbed in the industry which direly needs their services. We agree with Patrick Akpobolokemi, the NIMASA director-general, that “when the youths are hungry, there will be trouble. But investing in the youths is the best assurance for a peaceful nation”.

More importantly, we wonder why the country cannot develop maritime institutions of international standards when the Philippines, a nation faced with incessant natural disasters, boasts of about 66 universities, all of international standard, handling marine engineering, marine transportation and other maritime courses and receiving students from different countries of the world.