Meeting Dr. Dakuku Peterside the other day at the imposing office of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in Apapa, Lagos, changed my perception about life after a political contest. Unlike many people who have a hangover after “losing” an election, Peterside is settled-in in his current role as the Director-General of a federal parastatal. Does he pine away and rue his fate for not becoming governor of Rivers State? I didn’t get that feeling as I watched him deal with the many files in front of him. I saw him zestfully demolishing the files as he attended to them with all the seriousness they deserved. He is hardly out of the office, he tells me, choosing to put all his best in the task he has been given. As I watched him handle staff matters, connecting with those pesky files, I thought of the number of times I have seen politicians broken after failing to get an office. I recall one time when one of our friends failed to clinch the primaries of a certain position he was angling for. He had poured all his best in the effort, including resigning from a top position he was occupying at the time. When it dawned on him that he’d lost the primaries, his reaction was dramatic. He first started bawling out at the delegates, calling them all sorts of names and pulling at them. After that, almost comically, he asked them to refund the money he claimed he gave each of them. He went berserk, frothing at the mouth, while many people just laughed at him. Our friend also declared that he would never engage in any form of politics again.
There is always pain in losing an election. And reactions differ with individuals and temperaments. While some, like our unnamed friend above, become reactive and angry, others just take it in their stride and move on. Moving on is, however, easy when there is something to fill the void created by the loss.
Like when Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan lost Taraba but got a ministerial position. Or Dr. Kayode Fayemi getting a position too after being voted out of Ekiti State. Former governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, must have also felt a sense of closure with his ministerial appointment. It is the way politicians are aided to cushion the pains of defeat or disappointment. In one state, some local government chairmen were sacked and then reappointed as advisers. The state’s helmsman was criticised for the move but he explained that it was the only way to ameliorate the chairmen’s anguish for losing office. I call it appointment by pity!
Yet, somehow, I don’t feel Peterside’s appointment as DG falls into any of the categories above. I had watched him at the campaigns during the governorship contest and was struck by how he carried himself. Devoid of the braggadocio of men seeking office, Dr. Peterside was almost always calm and collected. At a point I started wondering why he was running with the wolves when he cut the image of a sheep. Genial and with a trademark smile, he didn’t fit into the mould in the war-prone state. Is this not the state of ferocious militants? Is this not the place famous for the Ken Saro Wiwa hanging and other grim tales? Is this not the place called the Rivers of blood? And, I thought myself, how can this urbane, well-mannered dude function here? But watching him that cool afternoon in his office, I got the feeling that his backers wanted the state to have a touch of Peterside’s hard work and discipline.
Democracy is not often a very fair game as it ends up giving a people not necessarily the best hand. And, although we may never know for now, Peterside would have made a fantastic governor. At the agency, workers starting to feel his touch may agree. Some of the staff I spoke to were excited at the prospect Peterside brings. Having suffered under various leaders in the past, many of them are glad that a new lease of life has begun at the agency. The old system of delaying promotions is gradually giving way to a new day. According to Bola, a staff I met on one of floors, the place has now jerked back to life. “If you observe carefully,” she said, “there is a new gaiety among the staff as we now have a strong hope that things would pan out well. That hope is important because in the past despair and gloom was the name of the game. Many of us suffered greatly but now things are looking brighter.”
But it’s Hajiya Lami Tumaka who succinctly captured the new feeling for me. She said, “Dr. Peterside is quintessentially a young, vibrant, highly cerebral and dynamic leader, with lots of energy, zeal and determination for excellence. With him driving the vision of a new NIMASA, you can be rest assured that he would certainly take the Nigerian maritime industry to the next level.” Hajiya Tumaka should know, having seen many leaders over the years come and go in the agency.
A look around his modestly furnished office showed Mr. Peterside loves books, something you can’t say about power-seekers. There was a book case filled with all sorts of titles. On one side, a card from an association of maritime reporters disclosed he was enjoying their support. I asked him if he ever wondered how life would have been in Port Harcourt’s Government House. The DG smiled and walked to the window as if taking in the view of his new environment. He turned to me and said, “Well, I’m here now, Emma, and I dare say I like it. Of course, I’m still a home-boy but I’m contributing to the growth of our maritime sector and really do care about how we are changing people’s life nationally. You see, I have always been motivated by the need to serve and not by the act of just grabbing power. I went into the governorship contest to change lives, if I had the chance. So you can imagine my sorrow when the other side thought it was war and didn’t care about voters. And, of course, my heart bleeds at the pains of people in our state, suffering under tyranny. To answer your question, I’m really at home and the difference I make in people’s life is what drives me daily. I hope you guys would agree I’m trying,” he said, laughing.