‘Timi, a Professional in Politics

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Sam Akpe x-rays the political journey of ‘Timi Alaibe, former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), who turns 57 today

His mother remains his greatest inspiration. As a kid, mother sang him a song in her native Ijaw—a song that infused a spirit of indomitability in him. Then she showered him with mysterious jaw-twisting nicknames such as “Pelekpogorogha” “Kikposuogha” and “Teinkposuogha.” Translated, they all mean the Invincible One. His father called him Madukaribia—a deep Igbo nomenclature meaning Greater Than Others. Add these to his first name, Ndutimi, meaning “enduring liberty,” “long life and prosperity,” it becomes clear why he is seen as a reckless optimist—someone above a downfall.

In business, Ndutimi Emmanuel Alaibe possesses the never-give-up spirit. Whatever he touches turns gold. It started from the banking sector where he made indelible marks, to private business before pioneering the Finance and Administration Department of the Niger Delta Development Commission where he rose to become the Managing Director—a position that exposed him to regional politics until, by presidential fiat, he was appointed Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and mandated to nurture the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

Over the years, his political networks and strongholds have widened. Even in the remotest part of Ijawland, those who have never seen him have heard of him. His influence is unmistakable—and unforgettable among individuals and communities. Different people hold diverse perceptions of him. While some think he is extra smart with a large heart, others belief he is an example of the popular theory that politics is local.

A media delight and socialite who makes friends with the ease of a smile, Alaibe, best known as ‘Timi, has an unquenchable appeal among his admirers. It was this appeal that made him pull out Dokubo Asari—the godfather of recent militancy in the Niger Delta—from the turbulent creeks and took him to the Presidential Villa for a ceasefire negotiation. That skillful, courageous move triggered the foundation for establishment of the PAP which ‘Timi nurtured with a lasting operational template that has brought peace to the Niger Delta. The programme with its globally accepted disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) platforms, pulled out almost 30, 000 militants from the creeks of the Niger Delta, raised oil production per day from 700, 000 to above two million barrels, brought peace to the region and restoration of economic stability in Nigeria.

Born today in 1962 in Warri—far from his hometown of Opokuma in Bayelsa State—‘Timi dreamt of being a medical doctor. However, when he applied for admission to the University of Port Harcourt, he was instead offered opportunity to study applied chemistry. He accepted and matriculated until his uncle—an accountant—persuaded him to accept the second offer to study accounting at Rivers State University (RSU). Perhaps, he was divinely guided. Three years later, he met his wife there. Today, he has two boys and three girls. Today, he is a grandfather.

Looking back, daring the impossible has always been his trademark. As a kid—about 12 years old—he almost turned himself into a mouth-watering dinner for wild rainforest crocodiles. His father had entrusted him to the care of one Ikpebinimi, with the instruction to take him to Kaiama through Mbiama where he had secured admission in a secondary school. By the time they arrived the periphery of River Nun before crossing to Kaiama, night had started falling. Between River Nun and Mbiama was a ravine with a stream which they had to swim across, ‘Timi and his guide did what adults were afraid of doing even in broad daylight. Stripped bare, with their bags of clothes tied to their backs, both bravely swam across the 50-metre wide stream to the other side.

Here, they met an elderly woman in an old canoe who wondered aloud: “How did you people get here without being eaten up by crocodiles? Did you see one?” No, they did not. They were ignorant of their existence. For young ‘Timi, it was his first trip in the thick rain forest—and his first swim across any stream. The woman carried them in her canoe—almost as flat as banana leaf—to Kaiama.

Life in secondary school was exciting. ‘Timi had a master. Everyone did. There was no borehole. Everyone bathed and fetched water from River Nun. Each time, he went to River Nun with two buckets to fetch water—one for his master and the other for drinking. The same river was where they had their bath and even defecated. There was no electricity. Everyone used lantern lamp to read at night. ‘Timi loved books—he still does. He is an intellectual militant. He relishes cognitive discourse, because it stimulates fresh ideas. He detests native intelligence or deceptive smartness.

‘Timi’s father—a Burma war veteran—relocated to Lagos after conscription into the Nigerian Army during the civil war. Henceforth, ‘Timi saw very little of his father until the end of the war. While the war raged. “At the end of every month, we would go to collect money from my father’s salary. Even when we were sick, we went to the Nigerian Army Hospital. They had a well-organised structure. We used to memorize my father’s ID Number: NA64849. I remember it till tomorrow. Whether my mother was going to pick the monthly allowance remitted from my father’s salary or was seeking treatment at the military hospital, NA64849 was the access code.”

His early school years started at Isoko Primary School, Marine Beach in Apapa, in 1967. At the end of the war in 1970, his father relocated the family to Port Harcourt and enrolled ‘Timi at Christ the King Primary School, Oromenike, Port Harcourt. His admission to Stella Marris Secondary School was later discarded as his father insisted that ‘Timi must school in Ijawland so that he could speak Ijaw. ‘Timi later graduated with a degree in accounting from RSU, Port Harcourt and an MBA from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

After an exciting career in the banking sector, politics crept into his vocabulary.  Banking is his first love. Politics is his passion—a passion ruled by the desire to provide strategic leadership; help people achieve their aspirations; consciously reduce poverty, hunger and joblessness among his people; conquer the fear of failure, which has been his internal phobia; dream the unimaginable; then aim and achieve the impossible within an unusual time frame.

‘Timi defines politics in different ways: the route to enduring liberty; transformation; societal welfare; a means—not the destination. In politics, he seeks to reverse a generational belief made more popular by Nicolo Machiavelli that the end justifies the means. ‘Timi believes the process justifies the end. What matters most is not just the victory but the process. As he has often said, “When I don’t win at the end, I sit back and review the process for a resurgence. Victory must come through a decent process.”

In all his political adventures, his message—as embodied in his vision and mission—has been consistent; with minor garnishing: a better Bayelsa through innovative ideas; shifting the paradigm by transforming wasted human potentials into useful development resource; giving direction and providing guidance to the led; engaging in politics of development instead of development of politics; and empowerment of the people. In terms of thematic areas: developing a booming economy; creating critical infrastructure; education, enthroning civility and order; and dealing with environmental issues are his focus.

‘Timi’s political thoughts and maneuvering are always well calculated. He is critical-minded—analytical. For every political calculation that goes wonky, he extracts a lesson for another day. His return to PDP in 2018 was received with huge enthusiasm. He explained the return: “Sometimes, you may not really appreciate the taste and richness of your mother’s soup until you have tasted that of your neighbour. Now, I have tasted my neigbhour’s soup. I have weighed the differences and I have decided to return home. PDP is where I grew up. PDP is family. PDP is home. The most important thing is not where I went; but the fact that I have found my way back home because it is traditional for a child who faces danger outside to run back home. That is what I have done.”

A peace advocate, ‘Timi explained in May 2019 why his several forays into politics were sometimes inconclusive. “You will recall that since 2002 when I stepped into the political arena in Bayelsa State, I have had to pull back a few times in the middle of the contest—not out of timidity, weakness or lack of support base to win elections. Far from it! I have always taken such a decision when it became clear that for me to achieve my goal, I will have to swim in the blood of fellow citizens—by matching violence with violence. Instead of this, I have always chosen the path of peace at the risk of my political career. Why should I create orphans and widows just because I want political power?”

A professional in politics, Timi is obsessed with transparent leadership because it generates trust and forms the foundation for democratic governance. A brilliant and energetic corporate player, his desire goes beyond personal gains. He shares the belief with Plato that “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Perhaps, hope is about to unfold. The sun is shining again.