Simply Ferdinand Agu


He had everything going for him. Deep knowledge of several subjects, from his core area of architecture to the most rarefied dimensions of Classical German idealism. He had incredible access and contacts, from the political, sociocultural and generational, to the profoundly academic and ethereal. I recall a conversation, during which I said, “Ferdinand, it is sometimes amusing how you go prancing about and calling yourself a mere architect. Yes, you belong to the physical and design sciences by training and academic learning, but you are a polymath with a deep sense of the present. So, in case you don’t know, and in case no one has ever told you this, you belong in the academia, but not as a conventional academic or scholar”.

He is no more today. He left the flesh yesterday, in a-yet-to-be-believed tale of departure without the slightest whimper of a warning sign. He was at a wine carrying event on Friday, which ended around 9pm. While at the event, he tried to speak with Victor Anoliefo; who called him from the US. They could not talk much because of the noise level in his wine carrying location. They agreed to continue, and conclude, their discussion some other time. Well, that conversation will not be concluded as planned.
This brings us all face to face with the hard reality of earthly existence. You either live for something, or die unsung; notwithstanding your wealth and other matters. Just think of the many people now in tears and deep mourning because of this sad incident. They are not saddened because Ferdinand is no longer there to give them money, contracts or political leverage, no. They are mourning a great man whose greatness lay in what he lived and stood for and what he is remembered for.

On that occasion of our conversation about his knowledge exposure, which I referred to in the opening paragraph of this piece, he had a good laugh, but with a mischievous glint in his eyes. He tried to respond to me, but burst out laughing again. Then he began thus: “Okey, please have mercy on yourself. We finished an earlier discussion about the behaviour of Elementary Particles. You were arguing, then, that their unpredictability is not a major determining variable of ultimate reality, since their agglomerations and motion ultimately lead to stable entities and the reality we know and live in. Is that not so? He asked. I answered in the affirmative.

He roared with laughter again and then continued: “You obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy after your first degree, without a Masters Degree. You are at home with practically any subject I can think of; from nuclear physics to climate change, political economy and global economics. So, my dear brother, in case no one has also ever told you this before, hear it from me: It does not make sense to common sense to behold someone who studied philosophy writing and teaching the sort of things you teach and write with appalling, or even contemptuous, ease. Look, I gave up on you, that is on trying to compartmentalize your capacities and capabilities, when I learnt you had started teaching Cyber Security and Cloud Computing part-time at the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA) a few years ago. Biko, your guilt in regard to what you are trying to accuse me of is known everywhere”. His renewed laughter rang out loud and long.

He was a great person to be with. Informed, poetic, self-sacrificing and self-effacing in so many ways. Many brilliant ideas he birthed exist in government and the public domain generally today; but without anyone knowing his involvement in it. He was exemplary as the Director General of the National Maritime Authority (NMA), now NIMASA. The reforms he introduced, the international linkages he established and his profile and reputation as one of the most forward looking.and most dependable Head of Parastatal in the then Federal Ministry of Transport put him in a class all by himself.
Sauve, politically savvy in a decent sort of way and a relationship lubricant for many public office holders who either boxed themselves into awkward corners, or needed extra policy or political leverage to achieve their goals or ambitions. Ferdinand was never demanding of extra attention, pecuniary rewards or demeaning encounters. He was always frank about matters he could deal with and those he could not.

He understood the difference between being in office and being in power. He would not mind anyone who cared to claim credit for some of his endeavours, provided it served the common good. In the midst of that, he would take you on various aspect of the physical sciences, climate change, the most abstract aspects of classical German idealism, the philosophy of Hegel, Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.  And, in all of this, his ability to navigate conversations about the gifted word and visual artist shone through unblemished.
Just as rhat quite, clear-headed, dependable and unpretentious man of understated perspicuity and intelligence has left the flesh. So shall we all one day. All the wealth, glamour, big cars and false friends would be gone. Yes, but not for Ferdinand Agu. He was a true friend to everyone who knew him. That is why, with all sincerity, and with a deep sense of loss for the nation and Ndigbo, one would like to pray that The Almighty, Creator of all, welcome him into His Kingdom and give us more human beings like him. Ferdinand Agu was good in a way many will not understand. He was simply Ferdinand.

The New, and Pleasant, Development at Customs:
The news out there is that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) is set to install scanners with 200 containers clearance/hour capacity. This will certainly address the problem of port congestion and drive efficiency, while putting an end to the nightmare (well, including daymare) of importers and clearing agents.
One thing is clear in this regard: The Custom’s Trade Facilitation Programme of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Mr. Adewale Adeniyi, is yielding something worth looking forward to.  Nigeria Customs is working in collaboration with Trade Modernisation Project Limited on this infrastructural intervention. This will involve the installation of Gantry Scanners with the capacity to scan 200 containers every hour.

But the massive deployment of such state-of-the-art equipment across the nation’s ports by NCS can only spell efficiency if other bottlenecks are not introduced by third parties. I speak here of the plethora of agencies that are today ensconced in many port entry and clearance facilities, in the name of checking heaven knows what. From ASSCUDA 1 to all subsequent policy interventions designed to make our ports procedures and processes more efficient and more like what obtains all over the world, the very agencies that are weeded out each time manage to crawl back into their former positions in one way or another. This cannot be right’
So, let no one ruin the new era NCS is about to usher in. It will improve the organization’s effectiveness and regulatory capabilities. It will also upend mischief makers and aid Ease of Doing Business. What is now being introduced here is more or less the norm in most climes. So, it is about time Nigeria tagged along.
I recall a visit to Israel in 2001 when, alongside the then Minister of Transport, the late chief Ojo Maduekwe, we had cause to inspect and understudy that country’s ports and customs practices. The purpose of the visit was to find areas of possible collaboration with Israel’s transport and maritime authorities. In addition, Ojo was personally invited as a guest of the State of Israel because of his posture of incorruptibility in his dealings with very highly placed Israeli business interests.

We first visited the Port of Ashdod. A very tall office building overlooked the port. It was deserted, lifeless and very uninspiring, when compared to the Lagos experience we were all familiar with. On the assumption that the port had been shut down, we asked why there was no activity whatsoever going on in what is reputed to be an extremely busy port. That’s when we learnt that everything in the place was automated. As we looked more closely, it became clear that many containers were actually in motion, shifted and loaded into many moving things by towering stationary cranes with arms spanning scores of meters. It was an uncanny sight to behold.

The story was the same at the Port of Haifa! It then dawned on us, Minister and team, that why the Israeli officials did not fully understand what we were saying when our conversations hovered around our query about ‘who’ was facilitating the clearing of containers at the ports.
There is no doubt that the new drive of NCS, especially for those who have had a look at the Modernization Hub of the project within the NCS Management Estate in Abuja, and the cutting-edge technology being put in place, would make the long-awaited ports decongestion a reality for Nigeria and Nigerians.  It is now for the Manager of Trade Modernisation Project Limited, to ensure that it won’t just be a matter of installing state-of-the-art equipment; but a simple and straightforward one of ensuring that the time containers spend in our ports, as well as the time spent on documents drop by 50%.  

Information Technology experts and software developers are working long hours daily to deliver a foolproof system that would make export and import businesses easy in the country. It is expected that the desired Unified Customs Management software, which would leverage on geospatial technology, will deliver a new business experience; especially with customers software experts infused into the team of experts from the TMP Project limited.
Finally, the supporting infrastructure that would further enhance the planned, and expected, efficiencies should not be hamstrung by an inefficient transportation system. It will always take a cocktail of well-coordinated policies, actions and needed infrastructure to deliver sustainable inerventions in any regulatory, or business, environment. But, for the record, NCS is squarely on the right track on this one.

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