Hometruths By Adeola Akinremi, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As yet another turbulent political year draws to a close, I find myself thinking back about the happenings of 2016.
Naturally, a lot of good and bad news happened, but for me, I like to recall one important encounter I had.
It was the encounter I had with the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
It happened in Houston, Texas, where Peterside was speaking to corporate leaders in the maritime sector during the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) early in the year.
Coincidentally, tomorrow, when it all comes to an end for the year 2016, Peterside will be starting his own new year according to his date of birth.
Hailed as wunderkind since his elementary school days, Peterside truly set forth at dawn in politics. He will be 46 tomorrow.
Pleasingly, tomorrow is that day that comes with the ritual of praying to usher in the New Year and I have one plea.
If you are one of those given to the ritual of performing religious prayers to welcome the New Year, and I think almost everyone does, I’ll say add to your prayer points for Nigeria to have leaders like Peterside.
In May, just two months after he was appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), I sat with Peterside with only a small table in between us.
I’m a skeptic when it comes to speaking with politicians. Their prolonged exposure to toxic politics and manipulations makes it difficult for them to reason the way we do.
It may be the reason Nigerians often ask every president to appoint technocrats as ministers and heads of parastatals at the turn of a new government.
But Peterside who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the fierce 2015 gubernatorial election in Rivers State is not your everyday politician.
He’s a clueful person with first-class mind who sees himself as petals of grace.
Those who followed the 2015 electoral campaigns in Rivers State would agree that he shone during the campaigns, making some of the punchiest and most intellectually thoughtful speeches.
Though he lost the election to the blizzard of rigging that continues to be the headlines months after the votes, Peterside won the hearts and minds of the people of Rivers State and by extension, Nigerians.
Understanding Peterside begins by identifying his deeply pragmatic perspective on governance.
When I prompted him about his new role in government, he pulled out the work of Barbara Tuchman from under the table that was separating us.
It was a 1979 speech by Mrs. Tuchman, a Pulitzer Prize winner and historian.
In October 1979, Tuchman during a lecture at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, used instances of several poor judgments by leaders and governments to make case for reform.
She titled the speech “An Inquiry into the Persistence of Unwisdom in Government.” I wholly recommend it for all levels of leaders from president to councilor.
Peterside had been looking into the inquiry made by Tuchman and he pressed his hands over one area of the texts to show me that he agreed with Tuchman.
“Wooden-headedness is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government.” Tuchman said. “Wooden-headedness consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.”
Peterside explained to me that part of Tuchman’s texts speaks to his decision early in life not to be close-minded when treating an issue or relating with people.
To set an example, he shared a few of his plans to reform NIMASA wanting serious inputs that could elevate the governance of the agency.
Some of his ambitious plans show Peterside as one right peg in a right hole.
For instance, Peterside agenda focuses on making the maritime industry a driver of change in the economy. He wants a maritime industry, where local content is the king.
This is his thinking: Nigeria can get out of the wood fast enough, if all areas of the economy open up.
To him, a lot of investments in infrastructure will be needed and the maritime sector needs so much of such investments to create wealth.
So in the maritime sector, Peterside wants to remove the restricted opportunity from investment.
He wants the promotion of investment in vessel construction, repairs and maintenance capability, explosion of expatriate crew on vessels working in Nigeria and maritime trainings, sea-time and certification for Nigerians.
With this initiative, Peterside strongly believes that in-country capacity and indigenous capabilities of high international standards will happen paripassu with significant employment and wealth creation.
This is a new thinking since NIMASA was born. It is a clear departure from what makes the agency to be very laid-back and Peterside who has commenced the implementation of strategies to achieve it definitely deserves a pat on the back.
And for a man who chose to study Hematology for his degree, it is clear that Peterside had prepared himself to lead early.
This is the correlation. Hematology has to do with the study of the blood disease and to do that there is a particular set of personal qualities: ability to keep a cool head in an emergency, a willingness to accept new ideas as disease management regimens change rapidly, an empathic approach towards patients with chronic and terminal disorders, and an ability to work with other multidisciplinary team members.
So as we see NIMASA turned the corner in just eight months under Peterside, we can locate it in his pedigree.
With trainings at Harvard University and several highly-rated schools, Peterside capped it with a doctorate degree from the University of Port Harcourt.
He once said: “when opportunity comes to lead your people to prosperity, you cannot think of another day, how well-prepared you are at the time makes the difference.”
Interestingly, at a relatively young age of 23 Peterside had been involved in governance working on policy and social justice issues as government navigator among young people in Rivers State.
In 2011, when he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent the Opobo/Nkoro/Andoni federal constituency, Peterside did everything right in his position to support many life-changing bills. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been one of those.
Perhaps he had a clairvoyance eyes into the challenges confronting Nigeria today over the tumbling oil price. He had been a strong advocate for the passage of the PIB over the years.
To be clear: When opposition mounted against the bill during the time he was at the National Assembly, he had said, “It is a legislation that should be supported by all sections of the country.”
And within just four years that he served in the parliament, Peterside’s who superintended the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) was seen as focused, forthright, studious, urbane and a superb communicator.
In a time of reviled politicians, people actually like listening to Peterside, making him a man whose views are respected. He’s one man who has successfully combined professionalism with politics.
When he was visited by the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education, and Administration on a recent week, Peterside’s strength in good governance was seen by the congressmen who resolved to support his rebuilding efforts at the maritime agency.
Unlike those who preceded him, Peterside does not have a winner-takes -all approach to leadership and accountability is not an ambiguous word in his dictionary.
“When you are given an assignment, you are expected to be accountable and to conduct the assignment in a transparent manner. The oversight function today is part of the accountability responsibility on our side. The National Assembly appropriates for us so we are expected to be accountable; so we have given an account of our stewardship.
“The beauty of democracy is collaboration, synergy between the executive and the legislative arms of government. It is not we versus them; we are all working for a single purpose to help Nigerians. We are working to help the Nigerian people to ensure that life is better for all our people. No single arm of government can do it alone; we must work in a collaborative manner,” he said.
And this, Peterside has a secret act of extraordinary generosity and passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
During one of my visits to London, United Kingdom, in 2014, I saw an army of Peterside scholars. These are the people who have been on his scholarship in foreign institutions. Of course, it will be difficult to tell of the statistics of those who are on his bills in Nigeria.
As Peterside picks another year tomorrow, it is befitting to wish him long life and prosperity as common with those celebrating birthdays.
Follow me on Twitter: @adeolaakinremi1