Last Tuesday's facility tour of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria by a fact-finding team from the Federal Ministry of Transportation must have taken the Rector of the Academy, Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua (Rtd.), by surprise considering that he got notice of the visit in less than 24 hours to the team's arrival.
Expediently perhaps, the facility tour came at a time critics and mischief-makers are at the peak of their campaign to blackmail the Rector, misinform the public on the current repositioning undertaken by the present Management, and smear the image of the Academy through various means of propaganda in the media and social network platforms. The facility tour therefore was timely and necessary to authenticate matters and properly inform the government and the general public based on verifiable evidence.
Expectedly, at the end of the facility tour that took approximately four hours, the evidence on ground was too strong and numerous to be contested for any reason, except the spurious. Right from the road leading to the Academy and the main gate, the therapeutic ambience, cleanliness and serenity of the environment and the soothing breeze sweeping across the length and breadth of the academy were obvious that something new has been caused to happen. But it was actually the facility tour that vindicated this initial impression. It was sooner discovered that the transformation in the Academy goes beyond the neatly-cutting of grasses and painting of structures to that of infrastructural renaissance as seen in the renovation, refurbishing or remodelling of projects to meet expedient needs, completion of projects abandoned for decades, construction of new ones as necessity demands, and general facelift that creates an infectious conducive atmosphere for work and academic activities.
The first point of call was the Administrative Block that also houses the Rector's office. Apart from giving it a general facelift, more office spaces have been created within the structure by reducing the over-bloated size of the old ones. In addition, a state-of–the-art Reception Office has also been built by redesigning the frontage of the Administrative Block that once lay empty and served no specific beneficial function. According to the Rector, this became necessary because it was inexplicable that an Academy of over forty years old had no Reception Office; hence the newly-designed Reception will enhance proper documentation and security checks on visitors as well as give whoever shall man the office a sense of responsibility, concentration and comfort to handle his or her duties. Again, with new offices created within the Administrative Block, staff were observed to be freer and more dedicated to their responsibilities.
Next was the Academy's Auditorium. It would be recalled that this was one of the flashpoints during the National Assembly's last visit, where it was observed that materials used for the building were sub-standard, the design primitive, and the whole job poorly executed, hence a call for remodelling of the gigantic project. Just as was recommended, work on the remodelling of the auditorium is commendable, with the replacement of the inferior tiles with quality ones, replacement of wooden ceiling with POP, and reinforcement of the windows and doors. According to Commodore Effedua, there are plans to properly landscape the undulating grounds around the auditorium and create a car park as soon as major renovations on it were completed.
The facility tour also took the team to the Academic Block within which are four lecture theatres. It was observed that the lecture theatres that once were shadows of realities have been renovated to modern standard with the fixing of quality doors, tiling of the floor, provision of two exit doors and adequate ventilation through extension of the windows. The Rector assured that as soon as the renovation was completed, smart white boards and comfortable seats shall be provided to create conducive learning condition for both the Cadets and lecturers. From our interaction with some principal staff in the Works Department of the Academy, it was gathered that the lecture theatres had been abandoned for years even when there had been pressing need for them. The Academic Block building also contained a relaxation room for Cadets, which is also undergoing speedy renovation.
Another strategic project site visited was the on-going twin state-of-the-arts Survival Pool where serious construction work was on-going. Giving a brief background and projections on the project, the Rector said the original concept was that of an Olympic size Swimming Pool. But again, like other projects, it had been abandoned for decades, a situation that has deprived generations of Cadets of one the basic trainings they ought to have had before graduating from the Academy. To meet this fundamental need within available resources however, the Rector therefore re-awarded the contract but on the conditions that two new pools of quality material and standard be created out of the former one, since the main aim was for the training of Cadets and other professionals who may need such services.
The one-storey building formerly conceived to be the Rector's Residence on the premises of the Academy has also been affected by the transforming wind of change. Because the Rector lives in his own rented property outside the Academy and had considered the apartment to be too big for one individual, he decided to make some structural adjustments on the former Rector's building to meet part of the Academy's Staff accommodation needs. Following this act of discretion, the happy news today is that accommodation has been provided for 15 Staff within the building. The next time you visit the Academy and you hear of ''White House'', just know that it is the new name Staff have given to the former Rector's building out of appreciation and joy. Besides, construction work on other Staff accommodation projects was ongoing.
Also visited was a completed one-storey building which the Rector said serves as a model for what all classrooms in the Academy will look like, with all teaching aids and comfort, which will gradually face off the old culture of congestion and inconvenience. Already, work on a one-storey classroom which was abandoned at foundation level years ago has now reached lintel level, just two weeks after commencement of work. It was also observed that two abandoned structures have been renovated and converted into a Security Quarters and a Mosque, while work on a Church is on rapid progress.
Another distinctively commendable achievement of the Rector is his ability to recall to site or renegotiated with contractors who for some reasons have abandoned projects contracted to them by previous Management of the Academy. The Rector said he has been able to achieve this courtesy of his accountability, robust diplomacy and provable goodwill to members of the host communities. "Indeed, this intervention has saved us money and the usual rigours of initiating new contracts and related processes. As you can see, the contractors are happy and serious over their work and meeting deadlines. I do this because government's investment in this Academy must be judiciously used, protected and accounted for'', Commodore Effedua assured.
The Rector's realistic blueprint for the over 33 abandoned projects including the Staff Quarters scattered around the Phase Three section of the Academy's land holds great promise of relief especially for the Staff. Here also are four 200-capacity hostel blocks which the Rector promised will soon be completed and a section of it possibly used as guest rooms as sources of internally generated revenue from outsiders who may come to the Academy for short-term courses.
To facilitate and ensure the cleanliness of the Academy's environment, the Rector has also purchased two brand new mower-propelled tractors, with the labour sourced locally as part of the Academy's CSR and empowerment for the host communities. It was quite humbling to hear that, to make the purchase of the tractors possible, the Rector had to reject money that was approved by the National Assembly for his official vehicle and requested that the money rather be used to buy the tractors.
It is no exaggeration to say that, in addition to the new spirit of seriousness and compliance to rules among staff and Cadets, the Academy is a beehive of activities particularly with regards to renovation, remodelling and construction of new structures to meet pressing needs. The ingenuity and efforts put in to achieve all of these became even more obvious when pictures of the old structures were shown to the team. The Rector mentioned that the renovation and remodelling exercise are on phases since everything cannot be taken at once. He further announced the abolition of charges for Advanced Short Mandatory Courses for Cadets and advocated the abolition of tuition fees.
It was noteworthy to see these positive changes in the Academy since the Rector formally took over the management of the institution. His proactive approach and dedicated response to recommendations made to him by the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration and the Governing Council during their last inspection visit to the Academy this year are commendable. For sure, those who have not been to the Academy in the last eight months are bound to ask many questions if they do so today. This is Commodore Effedua's typical style of telling his story. "I like to convince people with action and what can be seen than with words. This has always been my approach'', he stated while fielding questions to pressmen.
All seen, the last two questions to Commodore Duja Effedua were – What is the secret to these great strides? Where do you wish to see the Academy in the next five years? "Without any intention to sound immodest, I have been transparent and prudent in the management of funds. The era of sharing money that cannot be accounted for in the Academy just to gratify few persons is over. I am here to work not to meddle with local politics. I am determined to do all within my capacity and wealth of experience to partner with relevant stakeholders to ensure the products of this Academy are the most sought after in the world. That's my dream".