The prestigious award of “Best Maritime Training Institution of the Year 2019” given to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria could not have come at a more fitting and historic time than now. Above all logic, it clearly points to the sweeping composite transformation that the Rector, Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua (Rtd.), has brought to this premier institution of its kind in the country in the last two years, which accordingly has made stakeholders and maritime commentators home and abroad unanimously celebrate the unfolding narrative as a momentous new dawn.

The institution received the momentous award during the Annual Dinner and Stakeholders Merit Award of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), held at Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos, on Saturday, January 18, 2020. Re-echoing the reason and choice of the institution for the award, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babjide Sanwo-olu, who presented the award plaque on behalf of NIMASA to the representative of the Rector, stated that "Maritime Academy of Nigeria has demonstrated continuous improvement in the provision of quality training facilities and qualified personnel, following approved international and study curricular in line with STWC ’78 and other requisite training regulations in 2019”.

The NIMASA Annual Dinner and Stakeholders Merit Award was introduced three years ago by the current management of the body led by the Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, as part of his innovative incentive towards boosting professionalism, recognising excellence and challenging subsisting and affiliate organizations to play by international best practices. It is pertinent to note that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria is one of the institutions under the supervision of NIMASA as a regulatory entity.

The well memorable event had the distinguished presence of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who chaired the historic event; Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo- Olu, Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and other five Serving and past Governors, Honourable Minister of Transportation,Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who served as Chief Host, House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration, Hon. Lynda Ipeazu; Past DGs of NIMASA, affiliate organizations, captaiwhons of industries, international partners and other critical stakeholders in the maritime sub-sector.

It was no surprise that Maritime Academy of Nigeria stole the show at the award night. At the mention and introduction of the Rector of the Academy to step forward for the award, the ovation was salutarily so high that the compere on the occasion nearly lost his voice trying to contend the infectious excitement, as every discussion immediately and thereafter centred on the magical fingers and fresh narratives Commodore Duja Effedua -led Management has brought to the institution in a matter of time. It was observed that since the establishment of the institution 42 years ago in 1977, this is the first time the Academy would receive any award of that pedigree. Unavoidably absent due to higher official engagements outside the country, the Rector was represented by a Senior lecturer/Coordinator of Academic Affairs, Dr. John Remi Adeyanju, who led other management staff to the epochal event.

As many within the host communities and beyond the country rightly observed, by the time Comdr. Duja Effedua officially took over the reins of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, located in Oron, Akwa Ibom State, on September 6, 2017, it had become a constant object of mockery and was on the verge of possible abandonment as stakeholders were losing interest and hope in its survival. Worst still perhaps, there were constant signals of imminent possibility of delisting the Academy by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other affiliate international regulatory bodies on account of its stunted growth and waning status. Indeed, the Academy’s existence hinged on shared pessimism, despondency and prevalence of complaints across board.

In specific terms, some of the challenges he inherited, amongst others, include poor leadership philosophy, absence of critical infrastructure; abandoned and substandard projects that littered the landscape of the Academy; gross lack of training equipment for Cadets; poor quality and insufficient number of teaching staff; over-bloated staff strength; huge debt profile and poor academic performance by Cadets. Others were poor staff welfare; poor attitude to work; undue interference by mischievous elements within and outside the host communities, and contract racketeers as well as frequent protests by some members of the host communities. The aggregate consequences of these lapses were the low rating of the Academy and its products as well as dwindling lack of support from stakeholders and affiliate organizations.

As such, Effedua’s mandate as Rector of the Academy was not only dynamic but also herculean in view of the deficiencies that have accumulated there for years. Personally diagnosing the situation and aware of the enormous task before him, the new Rector stepped into action without looking at faces; without minding the waves of old and fresh challenges before him; and without compromising standards in any way as he vowed to regain the lost glory of the Academy within the shortest possible time. Understandably, because of the discouraging past, many who did not know him as a change-agent took his promises of new dawn with a pinch of salt.

However, contrary to fears, it was not long when signs of a new beginning began to manifest with Comdr. Effedua’s magic wand. By way of brief introduction, Commodore Effedua is a retired naval officer who had served the Nigerian Navy for over three decades, a seasoned maritime professional with many years of cognate experience, a renowned administrator whose track record and impeccable leadership credentials could be counted upon in moments of critical needs, and above all, a pragmatist and rare patriotic Nigerian who strongly believes that this country has a future if everybody diligently does his part when called to duty.

We pause at this juncture to commend the foresightedness and unshaken commitment of the Honourable Minister of Transportation,Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was circumspect to notice the frightening rot that characterised the institution and was proactive about changing the ugly situation with quick and discreet steps that ultimately heralded the emergence of Commodore Duja Effedua as Rector. Recall that the Honourable Minister had first constituted a 6-man Ministerial Committee as a stop-gap mechanism to diagnose the ugly situation in the Academy and devise holistic modalities for its restructuring and repositioning. The Ministerial Committee subsequently metamorphosed into a 7-man Interim Management Committee, which Commodore Effedua, incidentally, was an integral active member.

Before now the Academy was fixated in multi-dimensional crisis. But with the coming of Effedua, the story rapidly changed. The Rector folded his sleeves, defied all odds and took some practical reform measures. These include renovation, remodelling and completion of abandoned projects like offices, classroom blocks, lecture theatres, survival pool, hostels and opening up of new intra-campus roads for ease of accessibility.

Standing imposingly and in full use in the academy today is a 1000-capacity auditorium which boasts of the best cutting-cut age technology and sophistications anywhere in the world and already has hosted several high profile events; an ultra-modern library equipped with latest internet facilities, populated with books from the IMO, while bodies like Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Nigerian Ports Authority (NBA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) are all on line to follow suit; and an international standard twin-survival pool. All these projects were abandoned 19 years ago.

There has also been a review of curriculum to keep Cadets abreast with time and unfolding necessities; training and retraining of staff through conferences/workshops/seminars at home and abroad; emplacement of conducive learning environment for optimum performance; recruitment of more qualified staff, and improved welfare across board. Other reforms include establishment of directorates and restructuring of departments; rebranding of certificates to checkmate forgery and release of backlog of certificates since 2006; downsizing of admission intake from 1800 to only 256 in line with IMO standard, whereby the subsequent sessions will have the standard ratio of less than 30 students in a class and only two in each hostel room, against the previous 18 in a given room space; and provision of improved healthcare services and feeding for Cadets, etc.

Again, the Academy has given free laptops and books to every student of the Academy. The icing on the cake is the registration of Cadets of the Academy with the Nautical Institute in the United Kingdom as well as having them on vessels for the mandatory seatime requirement. Security in the school has also been improved upon drastically and commendably. Imagine that the Academy was able to revived the glorious custom of Passing-Out-Parade for graduates of the school in October, 2018, six years later it had been stooped due to poor management.

Another area of distinction by the Effedua management is in connection with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The administration has donated seats, desks and ICT centres to secondary schools, engaged more than 100 indigenes of host communities in direct labour and other areas, bought 100 JAMB forms for indigenes and also sponsored seminars for students. It also runs a weekly programme which drums of diesel to the General Hospital Iquita, Oron; sponsor sporting and cultural festivals for host communities and above all, operates an open-door policy that promotes diplomacy within and outside.

The recent award to Academy as “Best Maritime Training Institution of the Year 2019” is an eloquent testimony to the many commendations the Academy has received from IMO, National Assembly,(House of Representatives),other international bodies, individuals and the host community. It brings to mind what the Rector said on resumption of office in 2017: “I have observed that nothing works here. But I know what to do. It is a matter of time. And I cannot fail the Cadets and Nigerians”. The award will certainly motivate Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua to do more!