Dakuku Peterside: We Inherited a Primitive NIMASA

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Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a former House of Representatives member and immediate past governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, is currently the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), a job he took up precisely a year ago, when he was appointed  by President Muhammadu Buhari. Although an agency believed to be riddled  with corruption , Peterside has since assuming office, proven to be different with his many out-of-the box initiatives in redirecting the focus of the agency and reclaiming its place in the maritime sector, both as a regulatory and revenue-generating bureau of government. In this interview with Olawale Olaleye, Peterside, who claimed to have inherited a grossly unsophisticated agency with its headship often stifled from taking initiatives as a result of suffocating procedures, even when such is meant to drive the growth of the organisation, reckoned that it has not been easy in the last 12 months repositioning NIMASA. He too has not relented in his effort to not only change the modus operandi at NIMASA, but of course, the way of thinking of its members of staff. He said this much and addressed other ranging issues believed to be inhibiting the effectiveness of the agency. Excerpts:

 As the DG of NIMASA, how have you fared?

It’s been both challenging and interesting. It’s been a very rewarding experience. I have been involved in the executive arm of government as well as in the legislative arm of government. But this is my first involvement in a regulatory agency. An interesting thing is that this place is peculiar. It is a place, where you have no friend because your duty is to force others by the authority of the law to comply and people ordinarily do not like to comply.

Aside the issue of compliance in the course of the enforcement of the law, you will definitely hurt a number of persons. And so, it is a unique area. It is the only place, where nobody tells you ‘thank you’ because you are compelling people to obey the law or rules. It is also one place, where people rarely appreciate what you are because your own function is to reduce the negative impact of some peoples’ activities on the economy, the environment and on the people of Nigeria.

And so, it is not easily tangible for people to pick what you are doing. You are constantly under-appreciated even when you do so much. But on the whole, I have seen that the Nigerian people appreciate what we are doing. I have seen that people are good to understand better the role of the maritime regulator. And so, it is inspiring. It has boosted our confidence that what we are doing is in the right direction and that we are in the pursuit of a greater Nigeria. So, it’s been a wonderful experience.

On assumption of office, what were the initial challenges you had to deal with?

The challenges that confronted us are the same that confront anyone, who takes charge of regulatory agencies. They are under-resourced even when you have a lot of pressures. My observation is that you have a lot of knowledgeable persons at NIMASA but that does not mean we have the right competences to deliver on our mandate. And so, we needed to touch our architecture here and there to get the right competences to deliver on our mandate.

The other challenge we have is the issue of not having enough infrastructure to do our work, especially this issue of maritime platform or what they call fast intervention vessels. At the time we got there, the federal government, through some other regulatory agencies, had rounded the vessels acquired through a PPP arrangement with Global West, so we did not even have a vessel to enforce our mandate. Now, the work force was very demoralised because of the events of a very recent past – they have been accused of corruption; they have been denied of promotion at their place of work.

Many of them have not had training for a very long time, a good number of them stagnated, others not doing jobs that is best fit – that means they could have competences for marine environment but were brought to go and do finance and some have competences for finance but were brought to go and do maritime safety. So, that was an issue. So the workers were highly demoralised. We needed to change their perspective, energize them again and of course give them a boost to do their jobs. Make them believe that we have and are truly adding value to what we are doing.

Those were some of the challenges. We also noticed that virtually all the processes in NIMASA are manually driven in a 21 country world, where the rest of the world does things through the platform of technology. That became a bit of challenge, integrating with others, who work in our sector. Those were some of the challenges. Indeed, there were so many challenges. The most important challenge we face is the expectation of the Nigerian people. Many people do not know that NIMASA is simply a regulatory agency; it is not a contact awarding agency.

At the time we got here, several persons were coming to us: “award a contract to us”. It is distracting! It makes it impossible to concentrate on your core mandate, which is to regulate shipping in Nigeria and promote indigenous shipping. In the recent past, somehow NIMASA reared off its core mandate and went to award contracts, so people thought it is the standard. NIMASA’s functions do not include contract award at all.

We have absolutely no business awarding contracts, and so, it becomes a bit of challenge managing peoples’ expectations. And we are always inundated with all sorts of proposals. The one that relates to us and the one that are not related to what we are doing. Many persons will underrate the impact of that on what we are doing. Most of the time, we are dealing with what has no bearing with what we are doing.

How would you rate your intervention in some of those challenges?

I think we have done excellently well since we joined the NIMASA team. If you ask me to roll out the statistics you will also agree with me.

Look at the issue of piracy, before now, if you look at the statistics from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which is the statistical monitor of maritime agencies around the world, Nigeria was known as the hotbed of piracy and maritime crime. We still have a bit of it with us but in the past twelve months, it has dropped significantly.

What did we do differently? We simply strengthened our collaboration with the Navy of our country, with the Navy of neighboring countries, built regional alliances and enhanced our surveillance of the waterways.  And we enhanced communication too. So, we speak to our neighbours, we speak to our partners and we maintained a regular communication with the shipping firms. We understand them better and all of us are on the same page. You know synergy can unleash energy in a system. And that is all.

The second issue, in terms of maritime safety and inspections of vessels, our number has increased perceptivity. We boarded more vessels and made five more vessels comply with safety regulation. And so, we exceeded the IMO – we far exceeded their 15 per cent boarding last year despite the peculiar challenges we had. In terms of marine environment, we reduced major shipping spills to three and this is a drop from 15 cases in the three previous years.

That is because of extra vigilance. We raised awareness of the shipping industry of their obligation to maintain clean ocean and seas in the course of doing our shipping. The other area that is important is the human capacity development under the Nigeria seafarers’ intervention. We just had 130 persons graduate from Maritime University in Egypt; we also have some other persons, who graduated from Philippines, Romania and the South Shield Marine Institute in the UK.

All of these were accomplished in the last one year, because of our determination and commitment because we are focused on the things that matter most. We realised that we have virtually no ocean going vessels; you have more than half a million in the Philippines. There are more than 140, 000 officers for China and we have absolutely no officer on ocean going vessels. But with the Nigerian shippers intervention, we are likely to have more than 100 ocean going seafarers in the next one year. That is a significant achievement.

We have also done a lot to improve our ship registry. We are not where we are supposed to be but a lot has happened. Those who relate with us will tell you that there has been significant improvement in the way we conduct our business in NIMASA. We are proceeding at pace in the areas of automation of our processes. We have gotten approvals of the bureau for public procurements and other relevant departments that need to give us approval. What we are waiting for is the approval from the Federal Ministry of Transportation and other processes will also be automated.

We are also waiting for the approval of the board of directors to erect magnificent edifices in our eastern zonal offices in Port Harcourt and Western zonal office in Warri as well as Onne. We have put that process in motion. We are also delivering brand new offices in the zones. Like I said to you, we have also done well in the area of marine environment, especially in the enforcement of international conventions and regulations to which Nigeria is a party. There is no one we have neglected in the past one year.  We have done extremely well and we are even upping our game.

In terms of revenue, there is a significant drop in the revenue. This is not due to any failure of NIMASA or NPA but because of interfering variables, which have to do with the fiscal regime in our country and the state of the economy in the world. I am sure that you know the world economy is going through very difficult times. Forex is an issue in Nigeria. So, very few persons have money to import. Then, there has been a drop in crude oil production.

So, in terms of oil and gas, we export less than we used to export. Yes, there has been an improvement but it is not significant enough to support the data that support our making money. Before now, NMIASA owed years of tax arrears but right now, we have cleared our tax and VAT commitments. And so, we are making progress in every direction. A lot of progress!

We also have a presidential approval to set up new security architecture for four maritime domains. That is one area we have done well. In the areas of cabotage law enforcement, there has been a lot of improvement. We have more Nigerians on board cabotage vessel than we had one year ago. We have more cabbotage vessels than we had one year ago. One year ago we hand less than 300, now we have more than 300 cabbotage vessels on our register. Now that we have a downturn in oil and gas, most cabotage vessels support oil and gas activities and so, if you ask me, vertically and horizontally, we have made a lot of progress. Nigeria is becoming a stronger voice globally in the area of maritime.

Mind you, we are hosting the Association of Maritime Administrators in the 32 member maritime association in Nigeria in April. We are also bidding to return to IMO council. Something we lost many years ago. Smaller nations are in the council. Liberia is in the council. We are not supposed not to be there. We drew attention to the fact that of all cargos headed to Africa, minimum of 60 per cent will end up in Nigeria and it means we have significant interest in the maritime industry. So, we are being acknowledged as the real voice of Africa in the industry.

In ISPS compliance, you saw that the Americans were here recently. Before now, we had achieved less than 12 per cent compliance with the ISPS code but in the past two years, they have rated us above 75 per cent compliance. The ISPS code is a very important instruction in the international shipping industry. We have been rated very highly by the US coast Guard.

Finally, we subjected ourselves to what is called International Maritime Auditing scheme and the IMO auditing scheme had had rated us highly. So, in every aspect, we are recording great successes that are undeniable. I think we have done well.

Is there a target in terms of revenue generation?

Oh yes! In terms of revenue generation, we are working very hard; we are self-funding – we don’t get grants from the federal government. It is from the percentage of what we generate that we also fund our activities. So, it is in our best interest that we generate more money. But we don’t want to push our people to a point where they will compromise on the things that matter most – safety of vessels coming or leaving our ports in favour of money.

So, for us, fine is only a tool to get compliance. It shouldn’t be the basis for us to raise money. But we have made significant contributions to the consolidated revenue fund. We intend to double it in the year under review. We are working very hard. Last year, we contributed significant amount. We intend to double it simply by looking at more revenue streams and ensuring that we tighten loose ends in the current revenue steam, ensure total compliance and get all funds into the kitty, so that we can support the economic development of our country.

You are obviously getting on well with this job, was there anything that prepared you for it?

What prepared me for this job is the fact that my parents taught me that no knowledge is a waste. That knowledge itself is power and that wherever you find yourself, you must be willing to learn and apply yourself to knowledge. I owe them so much for that rudimentary lesson. In the course of growing up, I had mentors, who challenged me to be the best of who I can be wherever I find myself.

And so, wherever I find myself in terms of assignment, I go the extra mile to acquire knowledge, to discipline myself to learn from my juniors, those above me as well as my peers. It has helped me thus far. And I am ordinarily inquisitive by nature. I like to find out why things happen the way they do.

When I got to the industry, people were generous enough to come to my assistance. Professionals who are not in NIMASA, as well as professionals in NIMASA, everybody enthusiastically were ready to give us one advice or the other and we took the advices and applied the ones that made sense to us. The ones we don’t understand, we ask more questions and it has really helped us and I recommend to everybody, the collaborative style of learning, not just learning for learning sake but willing to share knowledge with others, share experience with others, tap experience from other people and you can never get it wrong asking the right questions.

By the time you are done at NIMASA, what signature would you have left behind?

I want to leave a better agency than I met it. That is the most important legacy I like to leave. I like to leave an agency that is institutionalised; an institution with the right structure, with the right work ethics; an institution that Nigerians can be proud of. For me, when I leave I want to be seen as having turned around that institution 360 degrees.

I want to leave a model regulatory agency that will be a model of reference on the continent of Africa, an agency that understands that it is set up to serve the Nigerian people. If I accomplished that – an institution that understands that the force of authority that we have is the force of the Nigerian people – not for fun, not for show – that we have the force of authority of the Nigerian people to do good to the majority of our people. If I left an agency that is a reference model, I will be pleased that I have accomplished much.

Let’s get a bit political. Your party lost elections in River State in 2015 and you were its governorship candidate. Can you tell, what were the factors responsible for your defeat? Was it that the candidate was not good enough or that Rivers, as they say, is traditionally a PDP state?

It is absolutely wrong to say we lost an election. Perhaps, a better way to say it is that you guys were rigged out in the process of the 2015 elections. We went to court, Nigerians followed the entire legal process and there is no Nigerian, who is in doubt that there was no election so properly called in Rivers. And so, we were rigged out by the forces of darkness, using the instrument of the state that is supposed to be a force for good – they used it to their own advantage and installed the kind of government that we have in Rivers today – that nobody is proud to associate with.

So, we didn’t get there not because we didn’t have the requisite strength or not because the candidate was not acceptable to the people or that we did not do the right thing, we simply lost to the combination of a president, who was determined to stop those he perceived as his enemies at all costs, even without following any rules. We lost to a system that was heavily compromised. But a lot has changed. The scenario that led to that unfortunate incident is no longer there. It is now a different scenario, so now, the fortune of the party will totally be different from what it was pre-2015 or during the 2015 elections.

Given the outcome of some of the recent rerun polls you had in the state, do you see your party making greater impact in 2019?

One thing that people don’t understand is that the elections that were conducted after the 2015 election were mostly completion elections, that means there were standing results which were not in our favour, the most recent being Etche. The party had been assigned votes before. Then our own party was lagging behind by over 7000 and so, we went for another election which significantly represented a shift in the election.

But a free and fair election will not produce the same result as one that is handwritten. They assigned number to a result. The number assigned was different from the vote cast. So what happened in Etche was that they conducted an election, which the APC won a majority, added them to the number assigned in an earlier election for which we hand an outside result. I cancelled that out and it appeared that we lost.

We’ve already questioned those easier results, which they assigned to themselves and right now, it is a subject at the tribunal. We believe that whenever the tribunal is done with its work, Nigerian will know the true situation. The other election in Ogoni area and my own River South senatorial district, we had already won the elections in Ogbogbo Ikoroma, my own local government. We had won elections in Oyigbo and Tai and that was why it was easy for us to compete because we already had a fair playing ground. That was why we won in the senatorial district.

I can tell you in all honesty, I fear God. Rivers is a solid APC state. All we need to do is to have a free and fair election – a level playing field and it would show clearly and glaringly that Rivers is an APC state. I am optimistic that in 2019, if there is one statement that will be made in Nigeria, it is the fact that APC is firmly rooted in Rivers State and River people deserve change. They yearn for change and River people can pay any price to get a change.

The government we have in place today does not know the aggregate of what a Rivers man wants or what he yearns for. It is actually everything against what a River man yearns for. Killing is alien to us. Today, more persons are killed in Rivers than any other part of the country. It’s a fact and I ask anybody to challenge that data. Today, more Rivers children are out of school in terms of percentage than any other states in the whole country. Public and private schools are being shut down. I have never seen a government so hostile to education.

The immediate past administration of right Honourable Rotimi Chibuke Amaechi was building model secondary schools, but this government came and abandoned those schools. This government came, shut down primary schools that were functioning optimally – schools that were reference points in this country. This government is so hostile to teachers, that they are denied their basic wages. Pensioners are treated with levity. This government is so hostile to security agencies that it is ready to compromise the security of Rivers people for political interest.

Rivers people never had it this bad before. It has never happened in our history and I don’t believe Rivers State deserves this kind of treatment and so, the only instrument at their disposal is their votes and they are waiting for the appropriate time to use it to change this government to the kind of government that they want and the kind of government they deserve and I have absolutely no doubt that in 2019, that change will come.

If you had been elected governor, what would you have been doing differently?

I would have done everything differently. First, is the issue of security: three things – and I have always said this consistently, that the body language of a governor does 50 per cent of the job! If a governor shows by his body language that he is tolerant of crime, then, crime will flourish. If a governor, by his body language, speeches and predisposition shows that he has zero tolerance for crime, crime will drop immediately.

The second thing is that the governor must be the leader of a strategic section in the designing of the security architecture of a state. If you leave security and be running around everywhere, what is the security strategy of Rivers State? What are we doing in terms of intelligence? What are we doing in the area of security of infrastructure? What are we doing in getting the communities involved in policing their environment?  What are we doing to interface with security agencies? What are we doing to maximize our relationship with security agencies?

I clearly do not see any strategy in place on how to tackle security issues. The only thing they have done is to pardon well-known criminals in the name of amnesty for them to do more crimes. We have not begun to reap any benefit from the so-called amnesty, even when they have absolutely no power to grant amnesty – absolutely no power!

For those who severed peoples’ heads and displayed them on the road? They are well-known. The whole of the orashi area – it has never happened in our state before – where they severed 21 heads and displayed them on the road! That level of bestiality has never happened in our state before but it is happening every day! They go to their houses, drag them out in broad day light. We have more crime – more bank robbery in Rivers State then any state in the country and I stand to be challenged.

And a governor raises no finger, no voice and you are governor? If I were governor of Rivers State, the first priority for me is security. To tackle the issue of security and in 30 days I will stamp out insecurity in Rivers State with the cooperation of other stakeholders simply by identifying the right intelligence, devising a strategy that will prioritise crime and take them one after the other and in 30 days, we will be able to take out all these criminal elements and get a sanitised system and get a state that is working and flourishing.

In the area of education, what we would have done differently is that I would not have brought back Rivers students, who are in various universities abroad in their final years. Over 1000 students were brought back in their final years to rot. I would not do that. And the funds required were not much. I would have priortised education. Aside security, the only thing I would have priortise is education.

I would have sustained those young boys and girls abroad to ensure that they graduate. I would rather send more persons to join them. I would fix public schools because I know many persons in our state cannot afford private schools. Primary and secondary schools would have been working. At worst, I would do a PPP arrangement to get the secondary schools to work. I would have revolutionalised the public primary and secondary schools.

Does it mean you still have your eyes on the seat?

That will be determined by my party and the Rivers people. Three things will determine whether I have my eyes on the seat or not. First is the Almighty God. Second is my political party and third, the people of Rivers State. If God says run, I will put myself forward and I have a relationship with the Almighty God.

The second thing is if the party says we won’t give you our ticket, I wouldn’t bother myself one day, despite the passion I have for Rivers State. I have totally subjected myself to group dynamics. Finally, even when the party says run, I have to see that Rivers people are really ready for change and if they are ready for change, then I will partner them to bring about that change for the good of the majority of our people.

What should matter to us is the interest of our people. Nobody should want to be governor for the pomp and pageantry of the office – for his own ego. I don’t have to be a governor for my ego. I believe I have attained a status that I deserve the kind of respect a governor gets, and so, I am not driven by ego; I am not driven by self-interest. You get to a time in life that you make up your mind to sacrifice your comfort for the good of the people and posterity. I am not in a hurry. God’s time is the best and He will always order our steps.

Looking at the state of the nation now, especially the economy, do you think your party stands a good chance, both in your state and the country at large?

What my party has been doing in the past one year and ten months is to re-engineer the direction of our country. We were already in a ditch before the APC came to power and what the APC is doing is to pull the vehicle of our economy out of the ditch and when you pull it out, you get it moving. We are already out of the ditch. Look at the statistics – look at the data, things were really bad – the economy was already comatose before we came. We were being deceived by flowery language.

We knew things were bad, we didn’t know it was this bad. And so in the past 18 to 22 months, what the government of President Buhari is doing is to even bring us back from the brink of disaster and as God would have it, we will accomplish that. Nigerians are already beginning to feel the changes we talked about – they are beginning to happen. We have a more disciplined fiscal regime. We have a clear road map of where we are headed and there is no one who is in doubt that Nigeria is on the right course. It will only take some time for results to manifest. Nobody who will do a re-engineering of an economy will expect it to manifest in 12 months. Then that person doesn’t understand how the world economy works.

So, if it is taking APC two years to get the ‘vehicle’ out of the ‘ditch’, when are you going to get it started?

We have pulled it out of the ditch already and we are beginning to start the vehicle. Look around, a lot is beginning to change. Corruption is no longer the order of the day. It used to be that bad – that corruption was free for all. Right now, things are picking up. Investors are beginning to pick interest in our country. Look at the ease of doing business rating. Things are beginning to change and it is the government that is responsible. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely true, there is a lot of room for improvement. Are we where we intended to go? The answer is no! Nigeria is work-in-progress.

Finally, where do you see the country under APC in the foreseeable future, given the many challenges?

I am optimistic that in the next 18 months, APC will put its house in order, fix the economy and Nigeria will know prosperity again. What Nigerians want are the fundamentals. Let’s have our educational system working, health care system working; let’s have infrastructure, let’s have institutions that are working; institutions that do not treat people based on their tongue or their place of birth or their religion or the language they speak – institutions that will work for all Nigerians.

If we get our infrastructure right, get our institution right and get the economy working again for all our people, Nigerians will definitely ask that APC stays a few more years so that this country does not go back to the hands of those criminals; those cabals that ran the country aground. So, I see a prosperous Nigeria. I see a peaceful and united Nigeria. I see a Nigeria that is in tune or in alignment with other countries in the 21 century, where things work. That is the Nigeria I see and I believe many others who see beyond the challenges we are currently facing can see a bright future ahead of us. Nigeria that is truly the giant of Africa, not giant of Africa by mouth, it is easy to say giant of Africa without supporting data.

I want to see a giant of Africa that truly has the biggest economy in Africa, where our people are doing great exploits in all parts of the continent, where good stories are coming out of Nigeria everyday, not negative stories of corruption, not negative story of mismanagement and misgovernance. That is the Nigeria of our dream. We want Nigeria of our dream. We want where there is hope for our children, where the future of our children is secure and guaranteed by the quality of governance they enjoy. That is the kind of Nigeria I see.