Dr. Jerry Agada was Minister of State for Education in the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. An author with many literary credits, Agada defected to the All Progressives Congress with other political figures in Benue State recently. He speaks on his defection and other issues, in this interview with Adams Abonu. Excerpts:
As a former education minister, how would you assess the ccurrent educational policy of the federal government?
I served as a Minister of the Federal Republic for a period spanning one year and three months. Within that time, the administration tried to create novel approaches to ensure that Nigeria’s low status in terms of education was reversed. We tried to evolve better strategies to increase literacy level and President Umaru Musa Yar’adua was very convinced about our efforts. Our major strategy was to provide the right foundation from primary education all the way to tertiary level so that national productivity could be enhanced.
In the Ministry of Education during our time, we had defined roles and mine was strategic to tertiary education. During that time we achieved a lot in trying to strengthen tertiary education through provision of requisite instructional infrastructure and developing efficient curriculum.
The present government is trying to do even better than we did in terms of developing capacity. Take, for instance, government’s plans to recruit 5,000 teachers across the nation. This is capable of revolutionising education at the foundational level with attendant benefits to the entire system. The effort at restructuring the university system to enhance the quality of graduates is a manifestation of the incumbent government’s innovations and holds a lot of prospects for national development.
President Yar’adua had a passion for education until his unfortunate demise. He took us into the serious task of administering the education sector and we achieved within our limits. Though I could have done better if given more time, I did my honest best as one with an educational background. Having enjoyed scholarship to foreign education, it is my wish that such opportunities abound for our teeming young people who are eager to learn. It is my candid opinion that the present state of education in Nigeria would be enhanced by the commitment of the Buhari administration.
What necessitated your recent defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to All Progressives Congress alongside some of your contemporaries in Benue State?
It is true that I was a member of PDP, where I served as minister and even a staff of the national chairman recently. While in the party, I was among the voice of reason and decorum within a cacophony of noises. During the last electioneering period, I served as secretary of the Benue PDP Elders Forum and we meant well for the state and the party. The rest, they say, is now history.
Shortly after the election, my people began to prevail on me, as their political leader, to join the APC since they reasoned that their interests would be better served under mainstream politics. Since politics should be about serving the interests of your people, I saw sense in their agitations.
Furthermore, the incumbent governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, is someone I have utmost regards for and hold in high esteem. I can attest to Ortom’s sense of purpose because I am even a beneficiary of his goodwill even before he became governor. I share a lot of personal attachments to him and see every reason to join him in realising the Benue dream.
My people gave me the title of Oyalobu of Orokam kingdom, which translates to pace-setter, because they believe in my sincerity and heart of service to them. I am the first to become a permanent secretary in my place and the first to serve as Minister of the Federal Republic til date. I have served their interests in all these capacities. My people’s desire to be in mainstream politics combined with the sense of direction and purpose that I have observed in the APC both at the national level and my home state of Benue are what motivated my joining the APC with other like-minded individuals.
Many saw your defection to APC shortly before the Benue South senatorial re-run election as a betrayal of former Senate President David Mark, who was a candidate in that election. How would you react to this insinuation?
I accept that I am a benefactor of Senator Mark’s goodwill and had always remained loyal to that goodwill. The former senate president is one man that I still have a lot of respect for, regardless of what people who go between would want to have him believe. Prior to the recent election and my joining APC, I met him severally to discuss his re-run election and he could attest to my sincerity. But there were certain elements from my local government and others close to his circle that had a lot to benefit from sowing seeds of discord between us.
In that election, I did what my conscience and my people would have me do and I know that the decision lies with the entire people of Benue South senatorial district. I remember that Senator Mark would always tell us that since the Idoma nation was already a minority, our best interests would be with the majority party and my joining APC is part of this exhortation. In fact, I want to call on the former senate president to listen to the yearnings of the Idoma people and join President Buhari in mainstream politics so that our collective aspirations would be better enhanced.
David Mark remains a leader of the Benue South and Nigeria as a whole and I will love to behold him in mainstream politics soon, instead of an opposition that holds no chance of bettering the lot of the people. The senator is a person who listens a lot and I am sure he would listen to the call of his people this time around.
You served an erstwhile national chairman of PDP, Dr. Adamu Muazu, special assistant. Are you not worried that your defection to APC could be linked to investigations into alleged corrupt practices of the immediate past dispensation?
My defection to APC has nothing to do with the arms deal scandal, as being insinuated in some quarters. Though I served the national chairman of PDP at that time, I was never in any way connected to any of the underhand deals that went on. I brought my integrity to bear in any capacity of service and I cannot begin to compromise at this later time in my life. The former national chairman, whom I served, has not been indicted by any arm of the law in the entire saga and I have never been invited by any agency of government to explain my role in whatever capacity. I am ready to present myself for proper scrutiny if the need ever arises.
Do you think the APC administration in the states and the federal government are meeting the people’s expectations for change?
I have utmost confidence that the APC will justify the confidence the people reposed in the party. President Buhari comes across as an epitome of integrity and there is no doubt that he will keep his words in making the lot of Nigerians better. The entire North-central zone, where I come from, is now governed by the APC and the people are highly expectant and rightly so. In Benue, Governor Ortom has shown that he is committed to turning around the fortunes of the state. In less than eight months, the administration in Benue has taken steps to give the people quality governance and deserves the support of the people. I have every confidence that the APC-led government will come to give the people the needed expectations.