My Parents Taught Me Never to Compromise

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Dakuku Peterside

Call him the boy from Opobo and you will be right. Dr. Dakuku Peterside, immediate past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is the son of Senibo Adolphus Peterside of Opobo in Rivers State. Dakuku trained as a Medical Laboratory Scientist. He is now a politician, administrator, management consultant, leadership and turnaround expert; oil and gas maritime resource person and founder of the Development and Leadership Institute of Nigeria, a development think tank. Dakuku’s Ph.D. is not honorary. This former member of the House of Representatives obtained a Doctoral degree from the University of Port Harcourt, in Organisational Behaviour, specialising in Corporate Political Strategy. Dakuku, a former Rivers State Commissioner for Works and former chairman of Opobo-Nkoro Local Government Area, shares the story of his life with Onyebuchi Ezigbo

I have lived in different cultures
I spent my formative years in a number of cities and that must have influenced my cosmopolitan view of life. I spent some part of my life in a place called Azumini in Abia State, where we had a plantation settlement. I spent some time in Aba, the commercial city of Abia State. I was in Port Harcourt at different times and in Kaduna and in North Western Nigeria. Those were the principal places I spent my formative years and I am always proud to say that it must have influenced my cosmopolitan disposition. I don’t relate with people on the basis of where they come from or their background. I lived with both the high and mighty and the very low people in the society. I have encountered both the poor and the rich, smart and dull people, Muslims and Christians, and I have lived in different cultures and geographical regions, which shaped who I am. It has made me more accommodative of people and to understand diversity. I am able to relate and integrate with all manner of people.

Growing up, there was so much emphasis on discipline
What I can remember growing up is that there was so much emphasis on discipline – go to church, behave well to protect family name, read your book so that you can get the best job. With the benefit of hindsight, I don’t believe my parents were doing the right thing. They were always emphasising that I should go to school, get the best grades and get the best job, but I realised that life isn’t about getting the best job. Life is about feeling fulfilled and clearly fulfilling a purpose, but in the course of growing up I realised clearly by age 11 that I had discovered my life purpose which is actually to play a leadership role, help people, help society, help organisations to first define their vision then fulfill their mission and from then there has not been any looking back. From the early part of my life through the institutions I attended and post university, I have always been out helping people fulfill purpose, discover who they actually are and supporting them to achieve their vision. That way, I am also fulfilled. I feel I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose and I am happy.

My parents were neither rich nor poor
I wasn’t born with a Sliver-spoon. My parents were neither rich nor poor in the strictest sense of it. I come from a medium income family. My mother whom I spent most of my time with was a teacher and she taught at three levels of education. She taught in primary school, taught through secondary school, rising to be a principal and taught briefly at Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori. The disadvantage is that we didn’t grow up being aggressive, we weren’t fighting for space. We were taught to fight for excellence not for space to survive and Nigeria requires a bit of aggressiveness. I also grew up being contented which is the other good part of it, being focused in life and imbibing the virtue of hard-work. Those were the earliest virtues of life we were taught; the virtue of hard-work, honesty, of not compromising on the truth, listening to other people, accommodating other people’s opinion and the value of integrity in the society. My parents will always tell you ‘if you can compromise on any virtue, don’t compromise on integrity’, and another thing they often say is ‘hard-work doesn’t kill’. My father will tell you whatever has to be done, should be done now. That was one lesson he emphasised always, which we internalised.

The opportunity to travel around the country
Well, if you ask me, my best gift as a child was the opportunity to travel around the country and learn other cultures. At the time, it was some sort of excitement and education. I still remember when we visited the commercial City of Ontisha. Is it in Lagos, Kano, Ilorin, Maiduguri or Calabar? Secondly, were those precious moments I spent with my parents talking about remarkable historical events. I don’t know if I can emulate that part of them. I don’t spend quality time with my children. My parents were always spending quality time with me, talking about stories of wars of yesteryears, of how our people fought, conquered and never lost any battle and all sorts of history. The other one I enjoyed was the opportunity to read books and explain to them. I don’t believe my children have enjoyed that from me; how and why, I can’t explain but for me those were the most precious moments. For me, gifts were not material things but the quality time my parents spent with me. Growing up in life I realised my grandmother was an incurable giver and I feel all the blessings I enjoy in life are because of the generosity of my grandmother. My mother did a little bit of that also.

I made up my mind to get married early
I was 29 when I got married. I made up my mind to get married early and it was not influenced by anybody. I discovered that it was possible that I could be distracted and I needed to cure that thing that I discovered about myself. The young lady I married used to live in my neighbourhood and I observed her over a very long time without her being aware. Her conduct, her reasoning, integrity and the fact that she was always calm either in the midst of challenges or whenever other persons were losing their cool, were qualities I loved. I started chatting with her and observed those cherished old time character-traits that are no longer common these days. The virtues of fidelity, of enterprise, of honesty, values of dedication and a clear vision of where she wanted to go and I was pulled by the forces of those qualities and we got talking more often until somehow I fell in love. I won’t say it was love at first sight. Each passing day, I discovered a woman that was unique in every respect and it was something that wasn’t common, something I didn’t find in other women and I got naturally attracted to her until it got to a point where I asked her to marry me.

The painful points in my life
There are three important things I don’t like to talk about. First, as a young boy many years ago, I went out of the house taking a bicycle for a ride without anyone’s permission. It is not something I would normally do and I was nearly crushed by a moving vehicle. I took that bicycle without permission, without telling anybody and got myself exposed but God showed me mercy. Second, when I was in the university, there was an incident that happened and I was erroneously tagged what I am not. Whenever I look back I just say to myself; God showed me mercy because I could have been hurt. Those were two incidents that were remarkable in my life. Third, when I lost my first cousin who at the time was the closest person to me. We grew up in the same house and I never knew he was my cousin till I was old enough. I always thought he was my direct brother and we shared that kind of bond till his death. We lost him in an avoidable circumstance. He died by a surgery that was wrongly conducted. Those were the real painful points in my life.

My biggest mistake
I wouldn’t say it was a mistake. It was a case of lack of discernment and not being firm on my decision. It was about my choice of course of study in the university. I didn’t follow my heart, I tried to please my parents and whenever I look back, I say that was one mistake I made.

High points in life
Well, I will just mention a few. I became the President of National Union of Rivers State Students at a young age of 21 and made a lot of impact even though at the time I was ahead of my time. However, whenever I look back I realised I was doing the right things. I was working hard to protect my integrity but the people of my age then didn’t understand it. Indiscipline and corruption had started creeping in but I resolved in my heart not to do the things that people of my age were doing at the time. The other one was when I made up my mind to pursue a doctorate degree programme. It was an accident, I had an interaction with a professor who lectured me during the Masters programme who said ”you are an exceptionally bright scholar whether you like it or not, I am recommending that you enroll for a Ph.D programme and he insisted.

At the time, I was getting exposed to making money and getting involved in just too many political activities which can be a distraction. He said he feels that I am very bright and cannot watch my talent waste and when I look back, I just thank God that I followed his advice and I pursued it. At least, it enhanced my research skills and sharpened my quest for knowledge and how to apply knowledge to solve real life problems. The other remarkable event was the day I got married. If I hadn’t gotten married the time I did, so many other things would have distracted me. In life, over time I have had other passions that I got really interested in which I would have made me relegate family life to the background but I thank God.

The other thing I remember is the blessing of children God gave me. I will not forget when I was appointed Commissioner for Works in Rivers State and I purposed to give my best to that assignment. I am happy I left great footprints. The latest of them was the NIMASA assignment. I didn’t lobby for the Job, I didn’t talk to anybody and I was appointed chief executive of NIMASA and I had asked ‘God that if you see me through this landmine, I would remain eternally grateful to you and looking back today, I am satisfied I discharged myself honourably, delivered on the assignment and made a mark which would be difficult for anybody to erase.

Pursuing vision and heart’s desires
Everybody in life desires things. There are things I desire like anyone else with modest vision. What differentiates people is the way we go about the pursuit of our vision and heart’s desires. My way to go about my heart’s desires is to pray to the Almighty God, draw up a plan, work towards it, be very determined, give my best and ask for people’s support. There is no big vision you would accomplish without people’s support but first that vision must be yours. To work for the realisation of that vision is yours, no one can envision for you. It is your responsibility to identify your vision, you must be passionate about the vision, you must formulate a plan to accomplish the vision and other people can only support you to achieve that vision of yours. So, I have clear vision of the kind of things I want to accomplish in life. I have my plans well documented on how to accomplish the vision and from time to time, I would ask for support wherever I need it. I have no doubt that God will help me accomplish those visions of mine before I am called to the other side of the world.

I don’t want to disappoint God
The greatest fear, I must confess, is not to disappoint God, my wife, my children and my family; disappoint them in terms of my conduct and character. For me, this is the greatest fear. If there is any fear that puts me on my toes when I wake up at night, it is the fact that I don’t want to disappoint God, my family, and those that trust me. It is my greatest fear in life.

You can’t always get everything you want
Life has taught me that you can’t always get everything you want when you want them. The Holy Book says, and I agree that time and chance happeneth to them all. It is not about your smartness, education or your contact that guarantees success. I have realised that in life you can have the right education, the right contacts, the right qualities, the right character yet you may not be a success. There is something in Christendom called grace and I have come to realise in life that the grace factor is something you cannot wish away. In secular world, it is called the luck factor. In other places, it is described as faith and preparation meeting opportunity.

So, you must be prepared and the opportunity must come but there are times you are prepared and the opportunity never comes and there are times the opportunity would come and you are not prepared and so for opportunity to meet preparation it is something that you need to be grateful to God for. That is one of the things life has taught me that time and chance are important. You can say that I have given my child the best of education, I taught my child to live with integrity and be a man of character and therefore it is guaranteed that he/she will succeed; it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, you see those with nasty character succeed in life. Please, don’t be tempted to join them because I believe life is more than that.

I was called to leadership at the age of 11
I realised early in life that I was called to leadership at the age of 11. It took a number of events for me to come to that realisation and so I didn’t get involved in politics by accident or because I couldn’t find a job or I would have preferred something else. I think I had a natural calling to serve in that area. God perhaps called me to serve in that area and He equipped me to play that role. I sometimes believe that it is the reason why each time I am given an assignment in leadership very often I discharge myself very well. I have proven again and again that everything is possible if you have the vision, passion, determination, encouragement, you are able to mobilise partners or collaborators to work towards the achievement of an objective or a goal.

The starting point of my political journey
Well, I will tell you a story. When I was in primary school, the school authority appoints School Monitor, which I believe is what they call Head Boy, Head Girl now. For the first time, the school authorities made a new rule that those in Primary Six would elect a school monitor and unfortunately, I was the smallest boy framewise in the class and my classmates elected me. The school authorities felt that I was too small so they “annulled” the election and asked that they should nominate more persons for the contest. Each new process ended up seeing my mates voting for me as their Monitor. That was my earliest exposure to some form of democracy and so I was elected to be Monitor. Surprisingly, they found out that I was a very assertive and strict-minded person.

I was clear where I wanted my colleagues to be and I had capacity to enforce discipline. When I got to secondary school, at my final year, I was appointed School Prefect and amongst us we will elect an Administrative Head. The Administrative Head was called Secretary of Prefects Council and I was elected by my colleagues. You may have observed a pattern. When I got to university, I was elected Student Union leader so you can see a pattern was established. Apart from the fact that I discovered early that I have the calling to lead, at any time, there was a calling to lead, some unique part of me answers to the invitation. Most times, I am invited at very challenging times to lead and I have never disappointed.

I would like to serve God Almighty
Going forward there are three things I desire. Firstly, I will like to serve God Almighty. I will like to be known and remembered as a man of impact. I will like to leave legacies and when I say legacies not necessarily physical structures; I would like to be a role model to young people of what a man of character should be. I will like to work with others to raise a successful generation of leaders who will change this world by the kind of things they will do and impact they will make. I will like to also contribute in changing society. I am not satisfied with the Nigerian society we have today. I believe that people of like-minds should come together and begin to work towards changing society so that we would have a society that works for all of us, one where growth is sustainable, a society that all of us will be proud of. That gives me concerns every night. When I think of the future of my children, the future of generations that would come after mine and I ask myself – ‘what legacy are we leaving behind for them?’ it gives me sleepless nights. Whenever I think about it, I get worried and it may have influenced a lot of my writings in the papers, which is deeply shaped by my concern for the future of our country.

Motivations for my strategic turnaround book
There are five main reasons why I decided to write the Strategic Turnaround. First, I wanted those who are serving in public office or who may be appointed in future to serve to learn from our failures and successes in NIMASA. The reason is that failure teaches a lot of lessons and can strengthen anyone to achieve amazing results. Second, we wanted to shore up the confidence of those in public office to believe in possibilities no matter the odds. NIMASA at the time we were appointed was almost an institution that was a liability but today it is the toast of the nation. Third, we wanted to document our experience for posterity. Fourth, we chose to put together a reference material or a workbook, sort of, so all those who want to embark on organisational renewal can see a model that worked, to pick vital lessons from our experience.

Finally, we applied principles of transformational leadership in a public sector organisation and scholars of leadership will have lessons to learn from the way we applied the principles. Strategic Turnaround brings insight in form of a story to show that the British model of public service system without adaptation to our local setting will have difficulty delivering the results we expect. Our cultural context and environment are unique so when we import leadership and management principles we should adapt them to our situation. We magnified what Peter Drucker said, ‘that you don’t manage what you don’t measure’. Our emphasis in the NIMASA journey was get to the root of the problem, we called that diagnosis, then set goals to achieve desired results, and the second is performance measurement at every unit of the organisation and at the organisation-wide level. We used a lot of stories or narratives to show the importance of quantitative and qualitative measurement of outcome. Finally, we used a good number of African folklore to show that a lot of leadership and management principles are embedded in our African stories.