Dr. Dakuku Adolphus Peterside ranks among the most blessed politicians ever to emerge from Rivers State.
A former special assistant to the governor, local government chairman, commissioner, member, House of Representatives and until recently, Director General of NIMASA, he has indeed done well politically. And academically too.
50, on December 31, 2020, and joyfully married to Elima, a lawyer with whom he has three children, the turnaround and development expert, public commentator and analyst, syndicated columnist and author opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/ Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE.
This was on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 and together, they took a critical look at his life – past, present and future. But above all, how the Lord has brought him so far as well as where He’s still taking him. Excerpts…
You will 50 on Thursday, December 31, 2021. What feelings and emotions and memories have you been juggling in your mind as you look forward to joining the golden club?
Let me start by saying that I thank the Almighty God for His numerous blessings. You have reeled out some of our accomplishments. It’s not because we are smarter than any other person, it’s not because we are more talented, it is simply because of the grace of God that brought us thus far. Now, looking back, it’s been a long, fairly rough, tedious or challenging journey. But at every turn, we have gotten the support of the Almighty God and the support of men. Looking back, all we can say is thank you to Almighty God and all those that have supported us in the journey of life. Some of the greatest memories we have, especially in the light of COVID-19, is that we are alive to celebrate this day. Without being immodest, if we look back, it’s been 50 years of impact, 50 years of fulfillment. I thank the Almighty God that I discovered my own calling early enough. At age 11, I discovered that God called me to do leadership and help people realize their vision, accomplish their mission and succeed; and as people succeed, I feel fulfilled and my own joy is full and that, for me, is fulfilling, and satisfying. When I see other people happy, when I see other people accomplished, when I see other people fulfilled, that way, I’m fulfilled myself.
50 is a landmark. As a matter of fact, it’s called the golden age. How do you plan to celebrate your 50th birthday?
Well, for my 50th birthday, my family is holding a thanksgiving service on the 31st. After the thanksgiving service, there will be a reception and on the 28th of January, three organizations are collaborating to organize a public lecture in my honour – Leadership newspaper, where I write and I’m a columnist; BusinessDay, where I also write and Development and Leadership Institute, DLI, where I’m the founder. These three organisations are collaborating to organize a public lecture in my honour. And the guest lecturer is none other than the executive governor of Borno State, Prof. Zulum (Babagana), who has been at the forefront of the struggle against insurgency or insecurity. He would be speaking on security and economic growth, leadership in challenging times and we will have five persons who will be panelists to discuss his paper – Governor El-Rufai (Nasir), Governor Kayode Fayemi, ex-governor Donald Duke, my friend, Hamzat Lawal and Toyosi Akerele. These five persons will be discussing the paper presented by Governor Zulum of Borno State. After the public lecture, we would be presenting the book, Strategic Turnaround.
Strategic Turnaround is actually not a book about management, it’s also not a chronicle of the things we did in NIMASA, it is simply what it is – it is an explicit, simple, easy-to-understand narrative of the principles, processes, patterns, thought processes that we put in to reform the agency from what was virtually a mediocre, lethal agency to a top-flight world class respected agency that has earned global respect today as the foremost shipping regulatory and promotion agency in the continent of Africa. How did that happen within a space of four years? It is not the usual reform, it is indeed what is termed a turnaround and the difference between a reform and turnaround is that a reform takes a very short process. So, it’s a shock therapy to an organization that was faulty, an organization that was losing momentum, an organization that had lost its bearing and under four years, we were able to take it back on course, got it to gain traction and momentum and today, it is the toast of the nation. So, this book captures the major reform initiatives and it captures the key actors; what it was that we did, what were the management principles, the leadership principles; what are the strategies, what is it that we indeed do, what is it that we put in place to transform that agency and make it earn global respect? So, that’s what we’ll be doing. And finally, I’m sure that a few of my friends will be putting together a small in-house party if COVID allows us. So, that’s how we plan to celebrate our 50 years. It’s a time for sober reflection, it’s a time to reconnect, it’s a time to think about life again. Life is not just about what you gain, it’s about what you give. What matters in life is impact, not what you benefit. Nobody remembers those who benefitted from the society, they remember who made impact, those who gave to society. That’s what matters. It’s about giving, it’s not about receiving.
Tell us more about your last place of work, NIMASA. What would you describe as your greatest achievement at NIMASA?
If you recall, by 2015/2016, the reputation of NIMASA was not anything for anybody to be proud of. NIMASA was then a pariah organization, NIMASA was caricatured, NIMASA was an organization that nobody wanted to associate with. The reputation was dented, and today the reverse is the case. If we didn’t accomplish any other thing, we turned around the reputation of NIMASA. Today, that agency is respected, that agency has a good reputation. Beyond reputation, the other thing that we did is that the regulatory process of the agency, we clearly turned it around. We changed the focus from activities to outcome and the result is that we became No. 1 in Africa in port-state control. And that’s the core of our mandate. Our mandate is regulation and in that regulation, we were able to come out tops as No. 1 in West and Central Africa. That’s another accomplishment we made that nobody can deny. Now, in terms of pursuit of economic growth, for the first time, since the foundation of the agency, we were able to put 7,000 Nigerians onboard cabbotage vessels. The other important accomplishment is that for the first time, we increased revenue that we contribute to national purse by 1000 percent. Nobody has done that before under a space of four years. We increased revenue by 1000 percent. Revenue is not the focus of the agency, but at least, it’s a major accomplishment that we did. We changed the work ethic in NIMASA. That’s an important thing. When people became more aware of what they are called to do in NIMASA, their mission at NIMASA; we made it a knowledge-driven organization. And the way it works is that when you build capacity of people, that means you are building their capacity to solve problems, it means you are building capacity for efficiency and effectiveness.
We built capacity of the people, and it showed in their effectiveness, it showed in their efficiency, and when an organization is more effective and efficient, it shows in productivity, it means they will deliver results and when they deliver more results, stakeholders are happy. It impacts on the business of stakeholders. Then, we regulate people. When we regulate people, the stakeholders, when their businesses are running in efficient and effective manner, of course, they add to the economic benefit of the country. It enhances their business. So, those are some of the few things we accomplished in the agency for which posterity will be kind to us.
There is no arguing the fact that you revolutionized the maritime sector and even became the No. 1 maritime administrator in Africa. How did you do that?
If you ask me, three things are clearly very important. One is that we got every stakeholder in the agency and outside the agency to buy into the vision. And our vision was very clear – we wanted to make the agency the foremost maritime administration agency in Africa and in advancing Nigeria’s maritime goal. We got everybody to understand the vision, to buy into the vision. The next important step was to help them understand that to do that, there were a number of critical steps that we must take, and that meant that we did not only define our mission, we came out with a strategic plan and got everybody to understand their role in the plan, got everybody to understand how their work, including the sweeper, how his work contributes to making us No. 1 and helping us advance Nigeria’s maritime goal.
So, we got everybody to understand that the little things they do daily contribute to our success story and so everybody became a part of the success story. We enhanced team work, we enhanced collaboration, and so whether internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, they all understood. They were all aware that their work, the little things they did, contributed to our success story or the dream we wanted to accomplish. The dream was very clear, crystal clear, everybody understood the dream – we wanted to be No. 1, we wanted to advance Nigeria’s maritime goals, we wanted indeed to contribute to the economic growth of our country and to do that, we wanted safe shipping, we wanted environmental stewardship, we wanted to be effective in search and rescue and so that’s what we did. Just for the sake of emphasis, we made sure that the vision was clear, people understood the vision, people understood how their work contributed to the realization of the vision. We made people understand how the work is integrated, how the little thing, the cleaner who does his work well, contributes to achieving that common shared goal or shared vision, how the man who goes onboard a vessel to do inspection, how his work contributes and how the man who is in the PR department, how his work contributes to making us No. 1 and the one who is in cabbotage, how his work contributes. So, we built a formidable team, an integrated team that synergized with external stakeholders. Now, the other thing is that we had a strategic plan, a detailed plan. It was documented, circulated. People understood their roles. We had a clear plan and we now got everybody to play their best roles. So, it’s not about I love your face, I don’t love your face. We did a competency profile. So, we could get the right persons in the right places.
Everybody had a role to play and everybody understood the importance of their role. Then, the other thing is that we built their capacity, we gave them the knowledge, we gave them the tool and the tool is the knowledge. And you know, one thing with knowledge is that when you have knowledge, it gives you confidence in yourself, it enhances your capacity to deliver the result. So, we gave people knowledge and now, with knowledge, they were armed. We gave people knowledge, we gave them skill to deliver on the job. We also broke down the job into measurable entities, measurable parts. So, at every point in time, we could measure what we were doing, we will review it, we will sit down, and so we were doing regular reviews – at the agency level, departmental level, unit level, initiative level. We were doing regular reviews. At every review, we modified what ought to be modified; what we needed to enhance, we enhanced; what we needed to do differently, we did differently; what we needed to shut down, we shut down. Then, from the outcome, we will look at the agency again. Are we truly making progress? Are we going towards the goal we all agreed on or the objectives we agreed on? These were the little steps we took to accomplish results. We focused on the units, we focused on the departments, we focused on the initiatives, then we also focused on the agency. We were not unmindful of the fact that the external environment had influence on the agency. Now, to do that is that we also cared for the welfare of the workers – we increased the contribution to their insurance, we increased contribution to their pension. Of course, we exposed them to trainings outside the country. In three years, consistently, 81 percent of top management staff of NIMASA had opportunities of traveling abroad, had foreign exposure and foreign trainings. We did that consistently, because we understand that it’s human beings that will drive change, it’s human beings that will achieve change.
So, what would you have loved to accomplish at NIMASA that you were not able to before you left?
Oh! Indeed, there are several of them and there’s no denial about that. There are indeed several of them that we could not accomplish and I will just read out a few of the things we could not accomplish. Now, we set out to do digital reforms. We were not able to complete digital reforms for the agency. We wanted everything to be accomplished on the touch of a button. We were very ambitious, but the public process was slightly tedious and so, we were not able to accomplish all we set out to do in the digital reforms. That’s one of the things we were not able to accomplish. The second thing I will like to talk about is our maritime security architecture. Now, if we have any challenge in Nigerian waters or in the maritime space, it’s insecurity or piracy and maritime crime. We designed what is called the deep blue project – the strategy was very clear, the vision was very clear, the mission was very clear, where we wanted to go, the road map was also well designed. Now, we had acquired assets, we had trained personnel, but we were not able to deploy before we came to the end of our tenure. That’s another thing that if we had deployed, and secured our waters, then there would have been prosperity. A lot of prosperity.
The other thing is that there are a number of operational and regulatory issues; we wanted to commence the issuance of class one certificate of competence, which would have made Nigerian seafarers competitive, which would have placed them onboard a lot of ocean-going vessels worldwide. And that would have created a lot of employment opportunities, that would have enhanced the standing of Nigerian seafarers. That, we were not able to accomplish, because a number of things were not in place. We tried to put those things in place, but some of those things require time. Then, we had a number of unfinished human resource issues – we wanted to do a competency model, but we were not able to accomplish the competency model. There were a number missteps and I agree there were missteps. First is that we brought together a number of professionals to help us design the competency model, competency profile. That, we were not able to accomplish because we realized that we could not hold anybody responsible. We brought six professionals and each working independently. They weren’t working as a team. We eventually hired a consulting firm late in the day and they couldn’t finish that task before we left.
The other thing is that we wanted to review the agency’s condition of service. Because we understand the impact of the condition of service on the morale of the staff and the welfare of staff; we were also not able to accomplish that before we left. We had reviewed it; it was awaiting board approval, but we couldn’t turn the hand of the board. Then, we were pursuing a lot of fiscal policy changes which we did not achieve. One of the things we wanted to do was to change the terms of trade from Free on Board (FOB) to cost insurance and freight. That could have revolutionized shipping in Nigeria. What that means is that anybody coming to buy crude oil in Nigeria, whether you like it or not, Nigeria will provide you shipping services. So, we are not just going to supply you crude, it is Nigerian vessels that will carry your crude, Nigerian seafarers that will be onboard the vessels and of course, all the other ancillary services – insurance, and every other service that comes with it. Just changing the terms of trade from FOB to CIF. It would have revolutionized shipping in the country and we were single-minded about the pursuit of that objective. But you know, you involve multiple stakeholders. We were not able to accomplish that before we came to the end of our term. Now, the other thing we wanted to do was to get Central Bank to get a dedicated funding for shipping – a single-digit interest rate funding for shipping.
They did that for agriculture, they did that for aviation, they did that in other sectors; why can’t they do that for shipping? It’s just because people didn’t understand the full dimensions of shipping. One of the mistakes we made was that we did not start by giving them the numbers. Now, if you provide one-digit interest-free loan, these are the number of persons it can give employment – we needed to start by letting them understand the end in focus. But again, when we started pursuing it, we were not able to accomplish all of that before the end of four years. So, there are things that actually we would have loved to accomplish that we could not, because of the factor of time. You know, whenever you are reforming a system, it usually takes time and unfortunately we were caught up in the web and intrigue of time. But we thank God. Looking back and with the benefit of hindsight, we were able to accomplish so much within such a short period.
You have also done well in politics – from being a special adviser to a local government chairman, a commissioner, a member of House of Representatives and DG, NIMASA. What would you describe as your greatest achievement or legacy in politics?
Well, my greatest achievement is that young people can see a role model they can say, at least, we know one politician who has integrity. My greatest legacy is not the fact that I built six flyover bridges in Rivers State, 1000 kilometres of road as commissioner, because, indeed, I built 1000 kilometres of roads and at the time it was the longest kilometer of road added to the state’s road network in four years. It’s there for everybody to see. We built six flyovers within those four years, we did so much. But that’s not my legacy! As a local government chairman, I built the local government secretariat which is a testament till date. That local government secretariat is still standing there. I completed a market that was initiated by a government before mine. That, for me, is not a legacy. We built what was called out post offices, we built health centres. That, for me, is not my greatest legacy. My greatest legacy is not that we came to NIMASA, we turned around NIMASA, we changed NIMASA. My greatest legacy is that there is somebody that will encourage young people, that you can be in politics and be a man of integrity. For me, I can pride myself all the time and say that I challenge anybody – I have never collected bribe from anybody all my life. I challenge anybody! And so, you can be in politics and be a man of character, a man of integrity. For me, that is my greatest legacy.
You ran one of the most effective campaigns in Rivers State as the APC governorship candidate or standard bearer in 2015. I remember reading one copy entitled – ‘Better Together’. Sadly, you lost the election. What exactly went wrong?
Well, if you ask me, what went wrong is our electoral system. There was nothing wrong with our campaign. We ran the most effective campaign. The Rivers people accepted our message, but Rivers people were not given the opportunity to cast their votes. The electoral conduct was marred by violence. It’s the first and only election in Nigeria where we lost 1000 souls. It has never happened before. I don’t think that it has ever happened before, and we are documenting it in a book called ‘The ‘Heart of the Brave’, which we hope to present next year; it is among the three books we plan to present next year. Well, by first quarter 2022, we are presenting three books by the special grace of God. So, what went wrong was our electoral system.
There was nothing wrong with the campaign, a message that Rivers people accepted and supported; they looked forward to a time that they will have a governor who represents their aspiration, a governor who will do their wishes or who will accomplish those things that are dear to them and they believe that we represent that vision, that dream. We represent their hopes and aspirations. But, of course, the electoral process dashed that. It was marred by violence, and they got a governor they didn’t deserve, a governor they didn’t elect, a governor they didn’t vote for. But that’s history now.
Still on that election. What would have done differently if elected and also based on what is currently on ground?
No two persons are the same. I would have done several things differently. In my manifesto, which we called Roadmap to Prosperity, we outlined what we could have done if given the opportunity to serve as governor and we anchored all on three things. Step one is security, law and order. No society can prosper if there’s no law and order, if the people are not safe and secure, and they don’t feel safe and secure; no society can proper. Now, in an atmosphere of insecurity, you cannot talk about economic prosperity, you cannot talk about economic growth. When the people feel insecure, not only are they insecure, productivity will come to all-time low. When productivity comes to all-time low, there will be no employment, because there are no economic activities. In an atmosphere of insecurity, there will be no economic activities, people won’t go to farm, they will feel insecure to go to farm. There will be no production and where there’s no production, of course, we know that poverty will visit the people like a feast. And when the people are poor, of course, you know it will affect the quality of living and it also affects the next generation. They can’t send their children to school. That’s what happens when there’s poverty. They can’t get the best of healthcare, they can’t get the best of nutrition. Is that not what happens when there’s poverty? And so, we said the first thing we will address is the issue of security, law and order. The second one is to create the environment for investment to flow into Rivers State. Create the right environment! And creating the right environment means that we put the right infrastructure in place. We would address social infrastructure and when we say address social infrastructure, one is to address the issue of education. You build capacity of the people. To live a productive life, when you invest in education – whether in primary, secondary and tertiary education, what you are doing is that you are enhancing the capacity of the people to live a productive life, and it affects the generation that will come after them. Now, when they have knowledge, when they have skill, they become employable. They are not going to become open to be used for crime and all of those stuff. They will live a well-guided and productive life. So, when we invest in social infrastructure of education, we invest in social infrastructure of healthcare, we invest in security, etc, things work.
Those platforms will provide them opportunities to embark on meaningful economic activities. The second thing we are saying, creating the right environment for investments to come in and thrive. Now, the other thing, aside from that environment – that environment includes, you make the judiciary to function. If you talk about land title, people should be able to have access to land title. With land title, they can now say they can do businesses. Now, invest in power infrastructure. We had a clear plan of how to give Rivers State 24 hours, seven days power supply. There’s no part of Rivers State that light would have blinked. It’s simple – we are endowed with gas everywhere. Everywhere in Rivers State, there’s no single community where there’s no gas and we would have done a mixture of things to provide them electricity – small power plants, powered by gas. Of course, a mixture of different sources of energy and we deploy it. And we were almost going to achieve that. That’s the second one. The third one is the intervention itself in productive activities. We wanted to target sectors – we target sector of agriculture because agriculture has the capacity to create a lot of employment and so, what we wanted to do was a transition from sustenance farming to mechanized farming – whether in the area of aquaculture or whatever. We wanted to target agriculture, we wanted to target ICT, we wanted to build ICT parks – first, in the three major senatorial districts. We wanted to build ICT parks that can take, the first phase, 1000 young people living at the ICT parks. Only office that is ICT parks, doing their business. If for nothing else, Rivers State would have been a hub for ICT, servicing the whole of this country. We had a clear vision of those we wanted to partner with, get the right partnership, get the right funding, build those ICT parks. Now, at first instance, put 1000 persons in the ICT parks. They will use it as office, they will get the right skill, they will have all the right ICT infrastructure to drive it. After which they will move out, get up on their own, you bring another set. So, in the first four years, you train 3000 young people, second year, 3000. So, in four years, you are training 12,000 young people to go and set up their own businesses. Our idea is that each person who goes through the ICT park will be able to employ ten other persons. So, we are talking about 120,000 young people working in that sector, supported by state government to set up and create employment for the people. The third thing we wanted to target was the creative industry of football, filmmaking and all of that. Those in the creative industry and non-creative industry. I’ve talked about agriculture, I’ve talked about ICT, I’ve talked about the knowledge-driven sector, the creative and then the issue of oil and gas…
At 50, you are still one of the candidates to beat given your sound education, contacts, exposure, experience and goodwill. Are you still interested in governing Rivers State or you are done with that?
I will respond this way, and I will be very honest – I’m interested in the development of Rivers State and time will tell whether I would like to serve as the captain or simply part of the team that will not only turn around NIMASA, but also turn around Rivers State. Time will tell! But I know I’m interested in the development of Rivers State. I’m a keen stakeholder and I believe I have ideas, I believe I have something to contribute that can revolutionize development in Rivers State and I’m willing to do that, either as team leader or as part of a team. But that decision, I will be definite in the next few months about whether I would like to present myself to run for office or simply join and be part of a team that will change the development trajectory of Rivers State.
If you have the opportunity to serve at a higher level, what would you bring to the table?
Now, depending on what you mean – it could mean serving in a party, serving in government…
Serving in government…
Well, serving in government; if I’m given opportunity to serve in government today in this Nigeria, I believe that there are many things that should be done differently, starting from security, which I believe is our major challenge. We need to look at our security architecture. It’s not delivering the kind of outcome we want. Today, we are challenged by insecurity on all fronts. Whether in the north – eastern part of the country, where Boko Haram is terrorizing our people; our people are being killed or in virtually all parts of the country where you have kidnapping for ransom, where you have herdsmen/farmers clashes. Everywhere, we are plagued by insecurity. If we can’t fix any other thing, we should fix security. And to fix security means that we should look at the security architecture again. We should do a diagnostic review – what is wrong with our security architecture, how can we do it differently, how can we bring new actors on board, how can we have a new direction, how can we chart a new direction. No. 2 is economy. In the area of economy, we have depended for too long on oil to fund our government. We are not productive, we are not producing at all and we are a totally consumption economy. That needs to change. What needs to change is the kind of idea we have developed to change Rivers State – get the people to produce more. For the people to produce more means more persons will be employed, more hands will be at work to produce more and for more hands to be at work, it means those persons will earn a living, will earn income. You will put them out of poverty. Now, when you put them out of poverty, you will improve their quality of living. When you improve their quality of living, there will be few persons that are available to be used for crime. It’s a simple, basic understanding of the issues. And so, that’s the second thing. You change the way the economy works, get more persons to work, provide the right environment, provide the right support. That way, you create thousands of jobs. It’s not the business of government to employ everybody. No government in the world can employ all her citizens. Create industries, let’s begin to manufacture; as we manufacture, we export, we earn more money, people live well. China, they were able to lift more than a hundred million persons within a period of ten years, out of poverty. If they can do it, we can do it. We are in a better position than they are and we have models that have worked to lead hundred million persons out of poverty. It’s not rocket science. It can be done! We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Take one of the models, adapt to our local environment, make sure you have the right leadership that will make it work and that’s it.
Now, the other way is social infrastructure for education. No nation can progress beyond the knowledge capacity of its people. So, build the capacity of our people, give them quality education. When you give them quality education, it will improve their quality of living, they will become employable; when you give them quality education they will be more productive. Invest in education. Education has a spiral effect, not just for this generation – for the generation that will come, succeeding generation. Invest in education. Ensure that your people are healthy so that they can work and they can live productive lives. Invest in healthcare. Now, the whole world is moving towards knowledge economy. Let me tell you, it’s clear that oil is not sustainable. In many economies today, knowledge-driven activities earn a hundred times better than physical objects or what they call natural resource and so, invest in knowledge-driven economy. It’s the way to go. India today is feeding a lot of persons. India is literally servicing the ICT needs of the whole world. China is manufacturing, that’s their area of strength, their area of comparative strength. Now, our area of comparative strength is that we have a youthful population, which we are not maximizing.
To have a taste of success in life and in politics, what must one do?
One is that you must have a clear vision. Second, you must have some resilience inside of you. Nothing good comes easy. To accomplish means you must be determined, you must have the courage to meander through resistance. There are very limited opportunities at the top and there are several persons competing for the limited spaces that are available. And so, you don’t expect that it’s going to be a walk in the garden. It requires courage, and it’s only when you are driven by vision and passion that you will be able to meander through the challenges that come with getting to the top. The other one is element of luck. Three important elements – you must have a clear vision, you must be equipped, you must be resilient…You must have a clear vision of where you want to go. Build up your capacity, be determined, be resilient, be courageous, then ask for help wherever you need to ask for; whenever it’s time to ask for help, ask for it. Don’t feel bad asking for help. Ask for help. No single person accomplishes anything great. For you to accomplish anything great, you need the support of others. When you have a vision, that vision must be bigger than you.
Talking about not being able to accomplish things alone. Your relationship with Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi has been such an enviable one and many believe he’s been of great assistance to you and your political career. How exactly did both of you meet?
Well, I met him when I was in the university – my early days in the university and that would have been about 1990 and from that period till date, it’s been a close-knit relationship. He’s one of the mentors to me and he’s been a wonderful mentor. We’ve had a close-knit relationship from 1990 till today and that’s a period of like 20 years.
Your interest in politics, what necessitated it?
Well, I discovered that I have passion for leadership and that was at age eleven. So, throughout secondary school, I saw myself helping people to discover themselves, helping people to accomplish purpose, and in the university, the same thing. So, I didn’t get into politics by accident. I’m not one of those who got into politics by accident. Mine was more of a calling and I think that God equipped me too for that role.
What has been the greatest lesson that politics has taught you?
The greatest lesson is that you don’t get all you want, the time you want them, the way you want them. And that you don’t give up.
What is the commonest mistake that any politician can make?
The commonest mistake any politician can make is to believe that position is the same thing as leadership. And so, every young politician struggles to occupy an important position, and they turn out becoming liabilities. They are not equipped for the vision and they discover that they are not fulfilled even when they attain the position. So, they end up focusing on the other thing, which is money! To steal money and damage their reputation, damage their integrity, damage everything about them and of course, damage their future.
What is the best thing that politics has done for you?
Oh, it has given me the opportunity to impact on the lives of persons than I could ever, ever imagine. I’ve impacted on more lives than I could imagine. That’s the greatest thing politics has done for me. As a member of House of Reps, every year, I was sending ten persons abroad, all expenses paid, and I did that for four years. As a local government chairman, I gave a lot of people opportunities, etc.
At 50, you have done very, very well for yourself. What are the other things you still look up to God for?
Well, I’m trusting God to make more impact and I have specific sectors where I love to make impact. I’m reviving or we are taking to the next level Development and Leadership Institute. We want to train more young persons for leadership, to prepare them for leadership. That’s something we didn’t benefit from. We get to leadership ill-equipped or ill-prepared, if we are ever prepared at all. We want to invest a lot of energy now in Development and Leadership Institute, so we can train more young persons. Equip them for leadership, prepare them for leadership. Because, if we get leadership right, this country will experience development in a new dimension. If we get leadership right, it will tackle most of the challenges we face today. There is nothing wrong with the water of Nigeria, there is nothing wrong with the people of Nigeria, the challenge we have is leadership and Chinua Achebe rightly identified that. The challenge with Nigeria today is leadership. We have a leadership that is mediocre, we have a leadership that is ill-equipped, we have a leadership that is not visionary, leadership that is not progressive in nature. So, we want to invest more in raising young people for leadership, preparing them for leadership. That’s one thing we like to focus on. Once we pass on some of our experiences to young people, use it to prepare them for leadership, the challenges of leadership will be minimized. Build up their capacity to lead. That’s one of the things we want to do. The other thing is that we still think that we have a lot to offer society in the area of development intervention.
We want to bring some of our ideas on board to see how much we can change the development trajectory of the society. We want to do more books so that we can record some of our ideas, and let more persons read and learn. So, we want to do a bit more books. I’ve given myself the task of doing ten books in ten years. And when I say ten books, ten original books in the next ten years. So that by the time I turn 60, by the special grace of God, we would have done ten good books. Then, I want to spend my time serving the Almighty God. You know there’s a spiritual part of man. If you do not develop that part, you will never be fulfilled. I will like to get more involved after 50 in a lot of spiritual growth or helping people get fulfilled in their service to the Lord. That’s something I like to do. I like to do a bit of teaching, I like to get involved with a bit of teaching in the next phase of my life. Those are some of the things I like to do.
Now, of all the things that God has done for you, which one gives you the greatest joy and why?
The one that gives me the greatest joy is my family, surprisingly. I’m blessed with a good wife, wonderful children. My mother is also around, alive, healthy, strong; very strong, very strong… For me, God has blessed me with a good family and several other things. But the family makes you stable. A family makes you stable. With family, you can focus, you can do more. Without a stable family, you will be challenged. There are many things you can’t do. But I’m blessed to have a good family. So, that’s why I’m focused, I can pursue my vision.
What is going to change about you, going forward?
Oh, definitely a number of things will change. A number of things! More mature, more exposed, more experienced. My approach to things will change, my focus will change, but my energy will not go down.
Now, in all of these, do you have any regrets?
There’s nobody who does not have any regrets, including myself. So, I have some regrets…
Would you like to share them with us?
It’s that I would have studied some other course. Because from point one, I discovered the fact that I have passion for another course, but I still wanted to please my parents when I chose to study medicine and the route to study medicine was to go through the medical laboratory sciences. Get a first degree in medical laboratory sciences and go back to study medicine, please your parents, make them happy… Life is not about making your parents happy, it’s about feeling fulfilled yourself. Fulfilling your own purpose. For me, that’s one major step I took that I think was wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that it wasn’t the right step.
What fond memories of your childhood do you still remember and cherish?
Well, I don’t know how it happened, but I had the opportunity of traveling round this country, which at the time, in the early 70s; I don’t think that a lot of young people had that opportunity. Virtually every holiday, I spent it in a different state capital. That way, it gave me a cosmopolitan view of life. I understand different cultures, I understand people, from different places, I can integrate very well, I can accommodate people. So, I have typically a cosmopolitan background. For me, that’s some memory that I cherish a lot. So, I can relate with somebody from the north, somebody from the west, somebody from the east. I can understand somebody from the east. I can understand their pattern of reasoning, I can understand their way of life, I can integrate, I can associate and I can accommodate them. It gave me solid pan-Nigerian view of life and it’s something I’m very grateful for.
Earlier on, you mentioned your family. Do you mind telling us about them? Can we meet your family?
Family means that I have my wife – Elima is a lawyer. She’s a lawyer of over 20 years standing. She’s a very beautiful woman, lovely woman, caring woman. I’m proud of her. I have three beautiful children – two beautiful daughters and a handsome son.
My eldest daughter is Sogba, she’s a law student in England. Following that one is a lady called Gbelema. She’s schooling in the United States. Then, the third is a boy. He’s also schooling in England – Tumunoebi. That’s the nuclear family.
You just spoke glowingly about your wife. Do you mind telling us how you met, and how you swept her off her feet?
Or she swept me off my feet? (laughter). I will start this way – when we were young, we used to have what we called neighbour – neighbour – neighbour! We used to live in the same neighbourhood and somehow I just started observing her, without her knowing that somebody was observing her. I noticed a few qualities that were not very common in those days. I started chatting her up and over time I found out that she had those qualities that I cherish and we got talking, we became friends. And from friendship, it ended up in my asking if she would love to marry me. She gladly accepted. She was very young, she was 21 then. She gladly accepted to marry me and we walked down the aisle. And that’s an abridged version of the love story – exchange of flowers, exchange of novels, exchange of books, talking about world affairs, talking about travels, talking about dreams. All those long nights of talking about dreams, talking about what love life looks like, and we just ended up being man and wife.
Let’s go back a little. Did NIMASA really give you the opportunity to serve Nigeria better than the legislature?
They are two different things. It’s like comparing oranges and apples. Now, legislature is about lawmaking. You can make laws that will have enormous impact all over the country. But it is likely that they are not going to attribute that law to you alone. You are a member of the collective, and whereas you make more impact in legislature, but nobody attributes it to you. You may have initiated a new law, but so many other persons have played a role too. Ultimately, it is the 360 of you, plus 109 that passed that law, that will take the glory. So, it is attributed to the senate. The 7th senate, the 8th senate, the 9th senate. But in NIMASA, you are the chief executive. Whatever changes you make is attributed to you. You are the captain of the vessel. That’s the difference. One is regulatory in nature, in the executive arm of government, the other one is legislature and in legislature, it is collective responsibility. There are very few things that anybody can attribute to you as an individual. So, they are two different things. They are complimentary, but they are two different things. So, national assembly provided a different platform, NIMASA provided a different platform, with different outcomes too.
What plans did you make to ensure that some of your legacies at NIMASA endure and are sustained?
We tried to institutionalize most of the changes we did. But you know, it still rests on leadership. I was simply lucky that my successor was a member of my team till he was appointed, and so shares some of our vision. But we tried to institutionalize most of the things we did. One – I can tell you something – we celebrated our staff annually. I understand that they intend to continue with that tradition. We were pursuing digital transformation of the agency. I also understand that they are going ahead with that vision of digitalizing the operations of the agency. Then, a few other things they’ve continued on the path. So, I’m lucky to have a successor from among members of my team. But before then, we documented a number of our processes, we internalized the processes.
People must write exams to be promoted. We institutionalized regular promotions. Because we needed the morale of the people to be high. For as long as the morale of the people is high, if their morale is not high, then the agency will experience stunted growth. They won’t give their best to the agency, they won’t be motivated to give their best to the agency. That’s also one of the things we institutionalized – regular promotion exercise.