By Olusegun Adeniyi
(Text of the review of Dr Dakuku Peterside’s book, ‘Strategic Turnaround: Story of a Government Agency’ at the public presentation on Thursday 25th March 2021)
Some books, according to Francis Bacon, “are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested”. Without any doubt, ‘Strategic Turn-around: Story of a government agency’ is one of those books that need to be chewed and digested. With statistics that put the narrative in context, it is also a book one can read over a period of time without losing the essence of the message. Since the chapters are not arranged in any thematic order, readers may for instance begin from chapter seven, which traced the history of shipping in Nigeria and the critical role played by two prominent individuals who wrote themselves into national consciousness: Nana Olomu of Itsekiri and King Jaja of Opobo. In that aspect of the narrative, we can also see how the struggle for economic emancipation started in the Niger Delta as well as the repression by agents of state that has defined that struggle across generations.
I must commend Dr Dakuku Adal Peterside for this memoir which documents his stewardship as Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the reforms he initiated and the changes that were brought about on account of his interventions. In a way, the book also comes highly recommended for those who seek a better understanding of the evolution of the maritime sector in Nigeria and the accomplishments of the author at NIMASA.
In ‘Strategic Turnaround’, readers will find interesting anecdotes that tell compelling stories not only about the management of Nigerian maritime sector but also the identity politics that defines certain era. Nothing illustrates this better than the experience of the Ibani ethnic group, a clan within the Ijaw nation of Niger Delta briefly recounted in chapter two by the author. There are fragments of such narrative in other chapters as well.
In the 19th century, the agitation for a better deal over the control of trade and navigation in the inland waterways led to a confrontation between an Itsekiri merchant, Nana Olomu and King Jaja of Opobo. Refusal to submit to exploitation by these two men is not different from the current situation over oil and gas. The author offers snippets of the interactions between the British colonialists and Niger Delta people which in a way could be interpreted as a foundation for the current situation. What is remarkable is that the response of the post-independence authorities to some of the contradictions arising from their interactions with our nationals is also not different from what obtained during the colonial era. It is understandable that the author did not pursue this narrative beyond a few lines in one or two chapters, having restricted himself to tracing the history of Cabotage in the country though he could still have expanded more on this rather interesting issue and draw some conclusions.
With over 8,000 kilometers of navigable inland and coastal channels and dozens of fresh water lakes, Nigeria is recognized globally as a reputable maritime nation. But there have always been questions about management, which is the core issue addressed in this book. The opening testimonies, including the foreword by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, endorsement by Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University as well as blurbs by Professor Chris Bellamy, Editor-in-Chief of International Journal of Maritime Crime and Security and several others, attest to how the author’s stewardship as Director General of NIMASA followed a tailored, carefully crafted and strategic pathway. What Peterside has demonstrated, by his own account, is that doing things differently can be very rewarding. Through his leadership at NIMASA, Nigeria became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to have its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC) approved and an Integrated National Surveillance and including the establishment of the Waterways Protection Solution with Command-and-Control Infrastructure.
Even though the author categorically states from the outset that this is not a ‘management textbook’, ‘Strategic Turnaround’ reads like a manual for managers who seek to reform the organisations they head. But the lessons in the book are not just about the maritime sector. They are useful for every aspiring regulator, especially within the Nigerian public space. A major take-away from the book is that regulation should be seen more on the side of development rather than revenue generation. The author also speaks to the importance of collaboration, data analytics, branding, power of delegation, accountability, knowledge and skills.
From the narrative in ‘Strategic Turnaround’, it is easy to recognise when a government agency is either underperforming or weak—and that it is more productive to take measures that would directly overturn such shortcomings than being in denial. For change to happen, according to the author, it is important to understand what one is trying to reform before jumping into the actual task. And the author offers some nuggets. Here are a few: It is important to build a relatable corporate culture with a mission that is clear for every stakeholder to run with. A leader that is willing to learn can never get it wrong. A manager must be sure of what they can and cannot do with the resources at their disposal. You cannot function in a space where your staff are not on the same wavelength with you. Selling your vision to your employees and stakeholders is not only important but one of the key drivers for building a strong, collaborative and energetic workforce.
Drawing from his experience at NIMASA, the author outlines not only the steps taken but the initial plans that were put in place to ensure good results. His approach is relevant to how best to measure milestones. The author cites examples of some key reforms that were implemented off the back of the management models instituted and tools explored at the start of his tenure. From the account in the book, NIMASA’s regulatory functions in the maritime industry in Nigeria has taken a new turn. If this is indeed true, I hope it continues.
As the author reminds us, regulation is very complex and there is not a single fix to all the challenges. What the author recommends is that a strong regulator must put in place compliance measures that would allow firms and organisations under its perimeter to function well and meet requirements. The author also listed some of the challenges he and his team faced in the efforts to reform NIMASA as well as mitigating measures like bringing on-board new frameworks, systems and control.
One key lesson from the book is that you cannot regulate the future with outdated laws. Reviewing and updating legislations to meet new and trending challenges were some of the measures adopted by the author who highlights the important role stakeholders play in shaping legislation—including communication, lobbying and collaboration. It helps that the author was a member of the House of Representatives before his stewardship at NIMASA so he could leverage on the support of his former colleagues. In dissecting how the agency moved from local to a global player, the author takes readers through the efforts put in place from the start of his tenure which eventually opened a new vista for NIMASA in the global marketplace.
As the author has quite clearly highlighted, the pressure to generate huge revenues sometimes outweighs the importance of values-oriented change. But he insists that government must ensure that revenue generation is not the only purpose for public institutions. This book captures the missing pieces required to further Nigeria’s quest for total reforms in the economic space and is for serious minded people who are willing to take unpopular decisions to create lasting transformations. The lessons also cover why it is important to build strong ‘talent pipelines’.
This is a book that comes highly recommend because it presents practical steps and lessons for anyone interested in the concept of ‘transformation’. Although certain aspects read like a motivational book, ‘Strategic Turnaround’ is a huge contribution to Nigeria’s drive for building a knowledge-economy. It is particularly useful for setting up a better framework for enforcing regulatory obligations in the maritime industry. At a period when Nigeria is in dire need for reforms, the book showcases some of the best practices that have worked for NIMASA in recent years, especially under by the leadership of Dakuku Peterside.
However, while this book deals with several major issues, it doesn’t offer a complete picture of what transpires almost on a daily basis in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) where piracy and other criminal activities have combined to render this strategic maritime area very dangerous with dire implications for our national security. In 2018, the United Nations (UN) Security Council disclosed that Nigeria was losing approximately $1.5 billion a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and fuel supply fraud. According to the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre figures for the same year, the GoG accounted for 29 incidents in the first quarter, more than 40% of the global total. Of the 114 seafarers captured worldwide in the same 2018, all but one was within Nigerian waters. That the IMB has characterised Nigerian waters as “one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world” is an indication that Dakuku is overgenerous to himself and his team on the change at NIMASA.
In fact, figures from the energy sector reveal how much we lose to the crisis at the GoG which the Lloyds market association of the United Kingdom has classified as a war risk area resulting in insurance costs estimated to be triple that of other areas in the world. Vessels are now compelled to insure their crew and mobilize their own armed security guards to accompany every voyage. The same high cost of insurance applies for ships and cargoes. These costs are quite naturally transferred to consumers. A report by ‘Oceans Beyond Piracy’ that analysed the cost of this crime estimated that between 50 and 60 seafarers were kidnapped in the last quarter of 2019 in Nigeria alone and about N600 million was paid as ransom to secure their freedom.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, anybody who reads ‘Strategic Turnaround’ will definitely learn something about the way our parastatals work (or don’t work) as well as why doing something different might sometimes be difficult. But more importantly, the author highlights factors that can fast-track or derail change efforts while offering practical guides on how to address them. The idea, as he says in his conclusion, is to “provide something for practitioners and researchers to further evaluate and see if its applicable in turning around the many underperforming organisations, especially regulatory agencies that abound in Africa and other third world countries.”
Even if we concede that this is one of those ‘clap-for-yourself’ books, ‘Strategic Turnaround’ still stands out because there are not many of such memoirs which detail reforms and change management in Nigeria. As such, it is essential reading, especially for those who manage public institutions whether in the states or at the centre. Despite admitting that he arrived NIMASA without any experience or exposure in managing such large organizations, a willingness to learn helped the author who also reminds discerning readers that the journey to becoming a trusted executive is not something that can be achieved easily or quickly. Some of the pillars for building trust that the author identifies include ability to listen and engage critical stakeholders, effective communication and shaping the corporate culture.
What makes ‘Strategic Turnaround’ a serious work is the rigour applied by the author who draws not only from his own experience but also on a number of established approaches that have been tried and tested by others around the world. By challenging us to examine the habits and behaviours that can inhibit success in public agencies, the author dispels the warped notion that managers should elevate themselves above subordinates so as not to undermine their authority, and instead shows very clearly that workplace relationships based on mutual trust are just as important.
At the end, what the book reveals is that change can happen in any form. It can be top down, bottom up or diagonal. But the constant remains that it will happen only by deliberate efforts. The conclusion to draw from the book is that NIMASA would have remained the same if Dakuku and his workforce did not at least try to challenge the status quo and bring on board a new leadership model. Meanwhile, ‘strategic Turnaround’ is another reminder that we can do more for the country and the organisations we serve if we are ready to put in the shift. I therefore cannot but commend Dakuku Peterside and his team for demonstrating how a government agency can transform and become a model for good governance and leadership.