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We need leadership with vision, passion and good planning, says Peterside

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Dakuku Peterside


• At 50, I’m worried about Nigeria’s underdevelopment, near stagnancy
In this interview, the former Director-General/CEO of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, spoke on his childhood, career passion, leadership question in Nigeria, as well as clocking 50. EKUNDAYO SMITH. reports:

You are a leadership turnaround expert and coach. Many have said that one of Nigeria’s major challenges today is bad and tactless leadership with misplaced priorities. What is your take on Nigeria’s leadership question?
Truly, the challenge of leadership in Nigeria starts from the way we recruit, prepare and the manner we enable leaders function. That indeed is our challenge. There is nothing wrong with the land, environment or the people of Nigeria. My approach is two-fold: one, at the micro level – that is, the level of the individual, the community, and the local government, and two, the macro – state and federal. The question now is how do we recruit leaders? Is it just an all-comers game open to anybody? What capacity do we expect our leaders to possess to enable them deliver? 

For me, leadership is not for everyone. Some are natural followers and must be ready to be good followers. There is a need to ensure the individuals who we entrust with leadership responsibilities are prepared, equipped, and ready to work with others to achieve our collective aspiration. 

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A leader is not the same thing as someone who occupies a position. For instance, one can be a local government chairman and yet not be the leader of the local government. What has happened is that over the years, we confuse and equate leadership with a position. Yeah. Position can make one a leader but a leader is not made by position. This is because a leader can exist without holding a position, yet he is there to exact influence, show the direction to go and mobilize others to achieve great goals.

Thus, there are those in positions but they are not leaders; they are just occupying the position. Until we make deliberate efforts to get persons with the right capacity to function where they are best suited, our progress will be stunted. We should strive to get people to function in their areas of strength. 

Therefore, my take is that we should take a critical look at our leadership recruitment process again. Consequently, I took some proactive steps in that direction many years ago. As far back as 2002, I set up a non-governmental, non-profit-making organisation called Development and Leadership Institute (DLI), with a focus to raise a new generation of leaders that will make a remarkable difference in the society, whether in business, politics, religion and in the professions. From that platform, we have been giving leadership training to young people. I have been committed to this vision over the years. 

We are aware of the fact that it will take time to build a critical mass of those Nigerians with the capacity to assume leadership positions. Sadly, at the national level, we do not always put our best foot forward. That appears to be a challenge. What we have had, very often, are opportunistic leaders. Those who took advantage of opportunity which could come from their relationship with certain powerful individuals, and they just found themselves in the position of leadership. They are often at sea about what to do.

They lack vision, and usually with no plans. Neither are they driven by any passion, therefore do not set out to make any difference from point one. 

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My suggestion is that we can begin to put in place necessary structures to build the capacity of those who will serve as leaders. Can we also interrogate the character and capacity of persons before we give them leadership roles to play? It is important for us to have a clarity whether they have the vision of what they want to do, an idea of why they should do it, and the understanding of what they should do to achieve set goals or objectives. 

In the interim, the immediate quick-fix is to strengthen our electoral process so that the votes of the people will count. Even when people vote very stupid candidates, let it be, it is their choice. Although what happens is that people will elect, on the aggregate, candidates that fairly reflect who they are; let the elected truly represent the electorate. I do not think most of those who currently occupy positions are truly representing who we are. So, in the interim, we should strengthen our electoral process, take a look at our recruitment process, and how we prepare our leaders. 

Most importantly, we need institutions that can prepare citizens that will occupy strategic roles in the nation’s leadership.  I acknowledge that we have the Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, and a few other think-tanks. Certainly, that is not enough for a country of over 200 million people. For example, the United States, with a population of 350 million, has over 1,000 think-tanks where leaders are prepared for future leadership roles. Whereas Nigeria, with over 200 million, cannot boast of more than five solid and reputable think-tanks.

You were the Director-General of NIMASA, a critical agency of the Federal Government for four years. How were those years?
I was appointed to serve as the CEO of NIMASA when the institution was at its lowest ebb. The reputation of the agency was assailed with unverifiable stories in the public domain about corruption, inefficiency, internal bickering and high-wired politics. Stakeholders also believed that the agency had lost focus in achieving its mandate. As at the time I was appointed, the president and the supervising minister charged me with the responsibility of repositioning NIMASA and putting it back on course to enable it deliver on its mandate.

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Therefore, it was clear to me from point one that I was called to serve at a critical point in the life of the agency. Hence, the moment I settled in, I started a search for solution to fix ‘the broken walls’ of the agency. That search began by asking questions stakeholders about what the problems were and the root cause.

We called the search a diagnostic review, which was meant to unearth some of the challenges and the genesis. Similarly, we set out to raise the morale of staff who were hitherto demotivated. We needed to get everyone to work with us and develop a plan on how to fix the agency that was almost going off-course.  We succeeded in crafting a turnaround plan to chart a new path for the agency. 

Thankfully, we implemented the plan diligently and the story today is nationally acknowledged that, as a team, we transformed NIMASA from being an under-performing and mediocre agency to a more vibrant institution of repute that is now well-respected nationally and globally, an organisation that is alive to its functions and responsibility. Indeed, we were able to make our modest mark. The kudos go to all of us that were appointed by the president to serve at the agency at that particular time.

Imagine you were given another opportunity of a second term in office, what would you have done differently?
Principally, if I were appointed for a second term, I would have completed most of the projects that I initiated during my first term in office. With a benefit of hindsight, I would have focused on a few other things that we did not initially give adequate attention. At the commencement of my administration, we were walking a tightrope, as we needed to turnaround the agency within such a short period. We were challenged in the area of reputation; we had lost focus on our mandate, we had lost the trust of stakeholders. The import was that things needed to be turned around at such a short period. Truly, it was a very challenging period in the life of the agency, but I am happy with what we were able to achieve. We may not have accomplished all we set out to achieve, but we have laid the critical foundation for others to build upon.

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How can you describe clocking fifty?
Oooh! At 50, I feel that I have lived and still living a life of impact. However, I have not been able to accomplish all that I would have loved to accomplish at 50. I would have loved to see a Nigeria that is just, fair, progressive; a Nigeria that provides equal opportunities for every young person. I have not seen that. I would have loved to see a country where everybody respects each other, irrespective of class, creed, ethnicity or religion; a citizenry that has respect for lives and properties. But today, we are a country that is still battling with insecurity and that makes my mind bleed and drip. 

I would have loved to see a situation whereby we have a 100 per cent literacy rate and social infrastructure that is responsive. Unfortunately, I have not seen that yet. Therefore, if I have any burden today, it is the underdevelopment of our society and the fact that instead of things getting better, we are either in a situation of near stagnancy or retrogression in some areas of National life, which gives me a huge concern.

As an individual, I am satisfied that I have done well for myself, but a tree cannot make a forest. Even, if you are doing well for yourself and people are wallowing in abject poverty and the entire society is not making commensurate progress, you are in trouble. In fact, you are worse off.

Apart from being a technocrat, you are a politician and a two-term member of the Federal House of Representatives. How can the submissions you just made be actualised, especially concerning effective leadership in Nigeria and whether such can be legislated? 
I am worried that there is nowhere in the world where there is a model that says you must go to a particular leadership training institution before you can play leadership role. Leadership can be innate or learned. Some persons have those qualities in them either by reason of their genetic composition, experience, training or exposure. There are also those who make effort to build their capacity. Honestly, I have not seen that model of legislating the criteria for leadership anywhere in the world.

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Nevertheless, there are different models. In China, a country with a communist system, they have a way of recruiting leaders through a process of membership of political bureau until the individual gets to the top. The system combines investment in quality education and ideological training. It is not a formal school. Russia has the same approach of recruitment and preparing individuals for leadership. Even though these are not done through legislations, it is a practice that is already embedded in these countries’ political and business system over time. The U.S. system appears liberal, but it prepares future leaders through education and political party platforms. It recruits leaders by marrying individual capacity and group purpose.

Therefore, Nigeria can also have a culture of spotting those with capacity to lead, giving them quality education, grooming such individuals in the art of leadership before they are given high profile leadership roles. I think that is the model that I prefer.

You took a shot at the governorship seat of Rivers State in 2015. Given your experience then and the current reality in the state, are you preparing to throw your hat in the ring once again?
What I can say is that the vision and the passion that motivated me to put myself forward five years ago are still there. Nonetheless, what I cannot say is whether I want to play that role as governor or just play the role of a statesman who can mobilise others for us to make a difference in Rivers State. But one thing I can say is that I still have a clear vision of how I think we can build a great state that will serve as example for others in the country. I still have passion to work with other well-meaning Rivers men and women to build a state that can be a model in Africa, beyond Nigeria. Also, what I cannot say is, which is the best route forward? For a fact, I belong to a political party and as things evolve, I will be able to make decisions based on prevailing circumstances. I think we should just leave it at that for now.

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