By Adeola Akinremi
Memoirs by political personalities are suspect. They hide the details and give readers the trifles. The over-concentration on trivialities and controversies they court often makes the time invested in reading them, a waste. But a candid reflection on fright and forwardness that transformed a blighted agency of government in just four years, makes Dakuku Peterside’s memoir different. This is an account of the amazing turnaround of a once underperforming government Agency.
So steely and precise, sentence by sentence, Dakuku makes Strategic Turnaround: Story of a Government Agency, a pleasurable read.
It is a rare thing to start a memoir with a revelation that gives one off as incompetent or unqualified. Yet, Dakuku showed gratitude with his appointment by acknowledging maritime as uncharted territory before his arrival at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as the chief executive officer. As it turned out, he’s a luminous, observant, self-aware writer, who prepared himself for the opportunity.
In the middle of the year 2020, during a global pandemic, when everyone was looking for a turnaround, Dakuku sat down to write this book about what turnaround or change truly means in government agencies and institutions.
In his own reign of four years, catalogued in this 300-page book, Dakuku espoused the kind of leadership needed for turning around a persistently low-performing government agency to one that is performing acceptably as measured by its current agile and nimble management approach, a legacy bequeathed by this very man.
For this 13-chapter book, Dakuku’s focus is more on performance than politics. His narrative immediately suggests the persuasive power he displayed at negotiation tables as a member of the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015. “I am joining your team as one of you and not as a master of the ship,” he writes about the first statement he made at his inaugural meeting with NIMASA top management.
As a country, Nigeria has a parade of reformers of its public sectors like Nasir El-rufai, who transformed the capital city of Abuja when he was a superintendent of the city as a minister. There was Dora Akunyili, who changed the way pharmaceutical companies operated from selling dark alley products to what is safe for everyone to use. Nuhu Ribadu, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala, Akinwunmi Adesina, Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru all gained popularity for reform and innovation that transformed government or agencies.
Surprisingly, news about reform in government had taken the back seat for some time until
Dakuku appeared at NIMASA.
His reluctance to glory in any of his achievements has a particular texture to it. It is that of a brilliant technocrat with wise politics. The power he held never seemed to go to his head—neither did the stress or burden. He finished strong.
Within four years, NIMASA led the way in ensuring the country became the first in West and Central Africa to have a distinct anti-piracy law; Nigeria was also adjudged the number one for Port State Control in the region. Reputation of the Agency was restored. Nigeria also became the first country in Africa to have its Standard Operating procedure (SOP) for International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC) approved and an Integrated National Surveillance and Waterways Protection Solution with Command-and-Control Infrastructure (DEEP BLUE PROJECT) was established. And this is to mention a few.
There is, from the preface of the book a clear message that Dakuku wants to deliver: failure is not an option. “As we know, failure is not all bad; it is just another way of learning, and learning the hard way at a great cost,” he writes, making case for leaders to learn as they lead. It is like saying that “the obstacle is the way,” as Ryan Holiday, number one New York Times bestselling author who sold more than one million copies of the book wants everyone to believe.
“Any organisation, irrespective of how badly run or underperforming, can be transformed to perform optimally to the satisfaction of stakeholders. Every challenge can be overcome with the power of possibility,” he writes, pointing readers in the direction of leading change with a different way of thinking in an era of increasingly rapid change.
This book is like a reel with a thread of ideas on how to breath life into a dying agency of government or corporation. It is not difficult to know where Dakuku’s project manager thought process—as seen in all part of the book—came from. His degrees in business administration and leadership with learnings from highprofile schools make him outstanding. Dakuku possesses an MBA and a doctoral degree in organisational behaviour, specialising in corporate political strategy.
So obvious is Dakuku’s project management skills throughout the book that he started the reform idea at NIMASA with a roadmap. Everyone that wants to lead a government department either as a minister or chief executive officer should have a roadmap the way Dakuku did.
Roadmaps are one of the most powerful ways to communicate where your reform campaign or service is headed. Leaders who know the art of roadmaps use them to showcase upcoming features they plan on delivering, set expectations around project timelines, or ensure their constituents is apprised of their high-level initiatives.
With his steady hand on the tiller, Dakuku also knows that a clearer head makes for steadier hands. He writes that human capital affects an organisation’s success.
And that’s why he followed Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for human motivation that eventually paid off in the transformation of a once moribund agency of government.
“This prioritisation of staff housing changed the mood of the Agency and made staff more receptive to other turnaround activities. Staff also felt cared for, despite difficult decisions we had made in other areas… we studied the trend of health issues and made a critical decision to introduce, for the first time, a comprehensive annual medical check-up for all staff of the Agency. The reasoning was that early identification of health risks would reduce the number of persons going for treatment of illnesses and reduce absenteeism at work to its barest minimum,” he writes to underscore why every organisation should think of human capital as critical to any reform.
In the middle of the book, Dakuku used the story of Titanic to draw readers in on regulatory laws reform. He made clear case for constant review of laws and regulations as part of ways to make regulatory enforcement relevant to the time .
If Dakuku’s book suggests one thing, it is that every leader managing an underperforming government agency or corporation must find his/her strategy to reform early on and catalogue his/her reform lessons for others to read. The opposite is too dangerous.
In a story of an herbalist who died with his cure for malaria as told by Dakuku in the fourth chapter of the book, there’s an important lesson about knowledge transfer . “We had a choice on whether to share our experiences and knowledge with others or not and we could also see the consequences of withholding,” he writes.
From the book, it is easy to know what Dakuku will end up doing with the rest of his life. Clear-eyed about business strategy and leadership, whether serving in government or managing a private enterprise, he will continue to be an inspiring leader who tackles what’s on his way with precision.
And from the beginning of his career in public sector as a strategic aide, local government chairman and later commissioner for works in the southern Rivers State with vast and diverse constituents, he has been a witness, in the court of public works, to the truth of leadership lessons.
In January of 2021, when Dakuku set the table for those who wants knowledge on turnaround leadership with the appearance of this book on Amazon and bookshelves in most stores around the world, it might just be the beginning of many books from his stable.
•Akinremi, the chief executive officer of a Washington, D.C-based public affairs company, Strategy Yard Inc., is a former editor and currently a columnist at Thisday newspapers