So, yesterday (Wednesday, 25th March 2021) was a red-letter day for my former colleagues and I.
It was the day our mutual Boss, friend and brother, Dr Dakuku Peterside, launched his book, The Strategic Turnaround – story of a Government Agency.
For the records, Dr Dakuku Peterside was Director-General/CEO, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) between March 2016 – March 2020; I was Executive Director, Operations; Mallam Gambo Ahmed was Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage services and Dr Bashir Jamoh, Executive Director, Finance and Administration. The four of us were members of the Executive Management of the Agency at that time.
Prior to this period, NIMASA had the alleged notoriety of an Agency bedevilled with rapacious corruption, nauseous inefficiency and garrulous leadership!
It was not uncommon to hear staff members complaining of being stagnated at a grade level for up to 14 years.
This was so because there was no structured promotion exercise; succinctly put, the morale of the workforce was dangerously at low ebb. As a testament to the meritorious service that the Dakuku Peterside team rendered, in December 2016, the first promotion exercise was conducted and afterwards, a yearly ritual had become part of the organisational culture. All these and more were documented in the book.
Perhaps, one of the intangibles that did not get mentioned in the book was the impressive humility in leadership exhibited by Dr Dakuku Peterside. I shall elucidate this point with two anecdotal illustrations.
1. Sometime in 2017, we got a tip-off from the Maritime Administration in the Netherlands that a vessel that was headed to our jurisdiction was laden with dangerous goods. In the Maritime domain, there are set protocols for dealing with such scenarios.
So, on the day of the ship’s arrival, four young officers of the Agency were sent for the inspection. Unfortunately, they did not have the required test kits to carry out the inspection. Mandatorily, a test kit should be on board the vessel; the ship’s captain bullied these young officers and prevented them from using the test kits on board. The young officers got off the ship. Gratefully, our sister Agency, NPA, successfully did the inspection before the ship was allowed to berth at the Port.
When Dr Peterside learnt about this case, he ordered that the officers should be put through the disciplinary process. Already, the Administration and HR department had issued them a query. That was the first step towards their being punished severely for the gaffe. All the four officers were in the two departments that my directorate had supervisory oversight on. So, I wrote to the DG on the same file that I disagreed with the action he had taken on two grounds:
A. I wondered why the very senior officers of the two departments were not in the team for the inspection. Insofar that the young officers failed, it should speak more to the level of training they had received than their incompetency.
B. I wondered why anybody should be sorely punished for making mistakes in the course of performing his/ her job. I reminded the DG that the Agency we should seek to build is one, in which people are not castigated for making mistakes but encouraged to learn from them.
He wrote back to say that he agreed with me, especially the second ground. He ordered the Administration and HR department to stand down his earlier directive. That was how the career of these young officers was saved because Dakuku did not exhibit the unreasonable obduracy of many CEOs who cannot be engaged intellectually by their subordinates.
2. One of the liabilities inherited by our Team was the report of a ministerial committee that examined the general recruitment exercise by the Agency in 2012. The report was far-reaching as it recommended demotion for certain officers.
A senior officer, an Assistant Director (level 15) in the IT department was recommended for demotion to level 10! Apparently, the recruitment exercise in 2012 was an admixture of Headhunting and advertised vacancies. The Committee was obviously oblivious of the second category. This officer came to seek my intervention and I requested for the newspaper Advert that publicised the position he applied for. He brought it and I promised him that, as God grants me the strength, I shall fight his case appropriately. It did not matter that he is from a different tribe from mine!
From the Board level, I brought out the distinguishability of this officer’s case from the others. Given that and other reasons, the Board ordered that the Executive Management should empanel a committee to examine all the cases and make appropriate recommendations. Meanwhile, the officer had been promoted to the position of Deputy Director (level 16) at the promotion exercise in 2016 but could not enjoy the promotion because of the recommendations of the ministerial Committee report.
At Executive Management, I progressed with my argument. When I started, the DG and my two colleagues were on one side and I was on the other side of the divide. I continued and it was the DG who later said, “Gentlemen, I am agreeing with ED-OPS.” That was how the order for the demotion of this officer was vacated and was made to enjoy his promotion to level 16!
The major highlight of yesterday’s event was the seminal lecture on Security by the Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum. His delivery came with the ordinariness of a humane and humble servant – leader.
He said, “when I became governor, I separated the friends of Babagana Zulum from the friends of contracts and positions!.” He said many more things which endeared him to the audience and drew a loud ovation from everyone. I shall write at a later date on Friends of the Office!
Many people got appointed as CEOs and immediately got ennobled to the position of gods! They never believed that such positions were not interminable and that, it was not because they were better than others.
It was Dr Thomas Fuller who said in 1733, “Be ye never so high, the Law is above you.”
Engr. Rotimi Fashakin, FNSE.
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