Mr. Ferdinand Agu, former Director-General, National Maritime Authority (NMA), now NIMASA recently turned 50, He spoke with Daily Sun on what it feels being of the same age with Nigeria, his expcectations and memories of his days at the old NMA. Agu who has kept silent over the alleged raw deal he got in the hands of former Enugu State Governor, Dr. Chimaroke Inamani also gives a little insight into his relationship with the ex-governor.
Congratulations! You just turned 50. How does it feel to be 50? 'I feel blessed and I am very grateful to God. I have seen the power of His grace and mercies in the changing periods, seasons and fortunes of my life. It feels good to be 50, the golden year. It is a unique period of life. I have a lot to look back upon – for lessons, hope, celebration or inspiration. I also look forward with longing to the family, people and causes that I love; and the things that I would wish to do. It gives me a greater sense of urgency about the value of time. The inevitable reflections lead to a feeling that everyday is to be treasured as another chance for growth; and measured in the quantum of service we give to those issues that are greater than ourselves, and beyond or personal needs.
Being the same age as Nigeria, how would you describe Nigeria at 50?
We are independence children. That is really special in the sense that we were born at our nation's greatest moment of hope such, we could at times be used as the barometers of its progress. Sometime ago, Chief Ojo Maduekwe took the pains to obtain a copy of the 'Daily Times' of October 1, 1960. He gave it to a mutual friend who was born on that historic day. Reading that newspaper was like walking through the halls of history; and feeling its walls -as it were. Obviously, we were born when there was great hope in the air and a good sense of possibility. There are a few things to cheer but even the most incurable of optimists cannot fail to note the sense of broken dreams that is now so often on the lips of our fathers, the dwindling expectations of my generation and the frightening insecurity, some may even say - increasing bleak prospects - of our youths.
What do you think are Nigeria's major challenges?
'There are many challenges but a few of them stand out as particularly tragic. For instance, you cannot help but notice this awful and pervading sense of shrinking opportunities, increasing social irresponsibility and the loss of community. Every day, our politics and discussions are conducted like zero sum games - of the do or die variety in terms of group interest, parochial, sectarian or sectional advantage. What passes for real politik are all the plots and schemes for the capture of state power, the distribution of privilege and aggrandizement of our common wealth. The public seem unable or unwilling to demand or entertain issue-driven politics with serious plans for the production of wealth and reconstruction of the deep flaws in our national structure. Our politics is mostly about managing a failing or failed status quo.
Consequently, there is no heartfelt appeal to a shared national vision, or even to those common higher ideals in our human person. As a result, the exercise of state power is often denuded of nobility and purpose. That leads to the next tragedy, which is that in Nigeria, government and governance institutions are increasingly decoupled from the governed. People are losing hope. Many people don't care anymore. It is like Nebuchadnezzar cometh ….to your tents O! Israel. I have not mentioned the obvious lack of physical infrastructure because if we can fix our national ideas and ideals, we can fix our infrastructure in a matter of time. But, it cannot be done the other way round.
You were formerly Director General at the National Maritime Authority (now NIMASA), how would you describe your performance then?
Any regrets? Are there things you wish had been different?
I have always said that I am very uncomfortable with the personalization of the achievements of terms of office. It suggests that institutions are coterminous and inter-defining with the persons and personality of their leadership. I do not wish to encourage that because that pattern of thinking prompts our leaders toward very troubling narcissism and negates the difficult task of consensus building and group solidarity.
Let me say that I was part of a wonderful team. We had clear-headed ministers and a very good board. Together, we shared the zeal to transform NMA into a functional maritime safety administration. To improve and deepen the participation of Nigerians in shipping - through the enactment of the cabotage law and other measures; and to develop the human - technical and administrative - capacities of the industry. Our work is our testament. We did out beat.
Sudden removal as NMA D-G
Those were things of many years ago. We have all moved on. My removal seemed sudden to many people - especially since I had been appointed to a second term after a promising first four years. But, it was not sudden to me or the long list of people that Governor Chimaroke Nnamani was fighting. Recall the likes of Jim Nwobodo, Okwy Nwodo, Ken Nnamani, Dubem Onyia, Senator Fidelis Okoro, Nana Ogbodo, Sam Mbah and so on. Nnamani had been on my 'matter' for a long time. If you know Nnamani well, you must give him credit for persistence and tenacity - even when he is doing the wrong thing. He fought everyone who would not bow before his 'statue' and worship the 'Baal' of the day.
He was further encouraged by the constitutional immunity of his office and the political impunity vested on him by the then national leadership. He developed a very muscular approach to issues - the politics of 'single-bone', like those famed youngsters with 'single-bone' that fought everyone at school. It was a dreadful time for the people of Enugu State. Added to this is the fact that Nnamani can be dogged, so much so that he is capable of sustaining an error - irrespective of cost or consequence.
In terms of present relationship with Nnamani, I am like 99% of the people of Enugu State. We do not really relate to him, nobody sees him; you do not even read of him in the Senate or of the on-going corruption case against him. Generally, we regret the 8 years we lost under him. Luckily, the present Governor - Sullivan Chime - has worked tremendously and has effectively wiped out the previous eight years of locust. So, we are all indifferent toward Nnamani. As the people whose resources were wantonly wasted by Governor Nnamani, we must be very interested in his trial for corruption. And, as Christians, we wish him well.
What is your take on politics in Enugu State (your State) in 2011
It is a script out of Manichean dualism. Wherever there is light, darkness must threaten and contend, and vice-versa. Just look at the number of Enugu sons and daughter that now shine in service under Gov. Chime - Nwodo, Ekwerenmadu, Ayogu Eze, Mrs Njeze, etc. I believe that if there is a free and fair election; and, if the works of these two men should speak for them - there will be no contest. But, the issues should be beyond the defeat of one or the victory of the other. The real issue is for the people to get a chance to pass their verdict on the eight inglorious years of Ebeano vainglory - its propaganda, tragic denouement of our heroic 'Wawa' spirit, blind political rage, celebration of mendacity and sickening mediocrity; ritual street dance by the mighty…, - all these are the legacies of the Ebeano years. They cry for public and electoral trial, judgment and political burial.
They want to interrogate the spirit behind this pretentious masquerade; because Ebeano was the vacuous drum for some empty megaphones and will be remembered as an obelisk of saw-dust that was presented as a statue of marble. It was shear baloney, a most lamentable nonsense. Nonsense! As a political movement, Ebeano was basically a shady, infantile and puerile re-incarnation of Hitler's brown shirts.
How did you get this far in life? Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth as they say? What huddles and challenges did you have to cross?
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth neither was I born with rags. I have been blessed with the love of an incredible family. We have seen and known the power and mercy of God - especially at times of trial and challenge. We have overcome many huddles and crossed many rivers - but nothing is beyond the ordinary when you have the extraordinary - which is the love of God.
Who or what will you say had the greatest influence in your life? How?
I have many sources of influence, the most obvious being the strength I derive from the abiding love and providence of God. I have also been influenced by heroes - from all times and climes; people that were the creative forces of history and others that are but the created figures of literature and fiction. Closer to home, I have been shaped by my parents - especially my mother; my wife, siblings, friends and many associates.
How? They build my character, share my dreams; stand with me in adversity; point my direction towards the good and noble and - offer the encouragement and strength to carry on.
What is your philosophy or perception of life?
I seek to understand the challenges of everyday life - in the works of the great stoic, Marcus Aurelius: 'it's all about 'living, dying - and what is the good life?' I seek to understand, traverse and transcend these issues by sheer loftiness of the mind. You know, in the realms of thought and of the spirit - the space open to all men are truly limitless.
Zoning has suddenly become a major issue in Nigerian politics. What is your take on zoning as a way of choosing political office holders?
Like most Nigerians; I have read a lot about zoning in recent times. There was a particularly lengthy and scholarly write-up by Udenta Udenta - a respected thinker and intellectual pugilist. Yet, something is noticeably absent from the debate thus far. The Late K.O. Mbadiwe - once said that when they initiated zoning in the NPN - 'we zoned to unzone'. I understand that to mean that the purpose of the zoning exercise was to take the acrimony out of our politics, rationalize and make gentle, the pursuit of power. That seems to have failed, hence the heated debate of the last three months. But, as Chief Barnabas Gemade pointed - there is a difference between our 'human zoning' and what now seems like 'divine zoning'.
The issue for me is this - How do we secure the highest good for Nigeria?
Is it by a strictly North-South rotation of power amongst the zones or can we rotate power within the zones in a way that enables us to overcome present socio-political problems as well as years of historic inequalities in the power relationships between zones?
I believe we should continue zoning but that power rotation can take cognizance of 'divine interventions' and the need to address the years of political under-representation of some zones at the highest level – like the North-East, South-East and South-South Zones - and that rotation and zoning can be used to palliate - in the short term - some pressing issues of the national question; like was done in 1999 for the annulment of June 12.
11. The word 'OPPOSITION' seems to be fast phasing out in the Nigerian political parlance. Do you think this is good for Nigeria or not?
It is not good, at all. You know the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This statement could apply as much to individuals as it does to a political party, like the PDP.
12. You are a registered member of PDP. Some say PDP will burst soon, if not in 2011; others say PDP will rule Nigeria for next 50 years. What do you see?
PDP can claim certain historical credits, especially in managing the transfer of power from the military and for helping to entrench civil rule. However, there are troubles of entrenching democracy.
PDP has thrived as a result of the spread and depth of its composition. Like every organism - it will also decay as a result of the inherent contradictions in its internal composition and its reaction to external impulses. However, it may not burst by 2011 and it is not certain that it will rule Nigeria for the next 50 years. I am more interested that there should be a Nigeria in 50 years time. By some indices, we rank 14th in the list of states that are likely to fail - and there are real reasons to worry about that.
13. What are your plans for the future politically?
I will always be interested in politics; and will advice everyone who cares to be interested in politics. A statesman once said that politics is too serious a business to be left on to politicians. However, am not inclined to seek elective office at this very time or in the upcoming election cycle. I am very happy with the avenues I have to work with many good people to influence politic and policies.
14. How would you rate the performance ofGovernor Sullivan Iheanacho Chime of Enugu State ?
Governor Chime has proved that you cannot judge the taste of a wine by its label. I shared the apprehension of many when he was presented as the PDP candidate by ex-Governor Nnamani in 2007. Since his election, Chime has been everything but the lackey of his controversial predecessor. He has shown maturity beyond his years; he is focused and result oriented. He has led our State with distinction, diligence, respect for friends and magnanimity to opponents. He has shown a reverence for the sanctity of life; improved security in the state and is tacking the problems of infrastructure. His deeds are much louder than his voice. His tenure is easily the most consequential in terms of development since the state was created; and if he continues this way - his place in the pantheon of Igbo heroes and national leaders will be will assured. I am awfully proud of him.
15. A final word for Nigeria and Nigerians, especially the youths.
I like to think of myself as an idealist without illusions. Nigeria can yet keep its rendezvous with destiny as a great country with good people but it will take more than our current efforts, structure and attitude to get there. But we can. If I may paraphrase the words of J.M. Kariuki - the Kenyan politician that was assassinated in 1975 - it takes more than an anthem, regardless of how stirring; a flag, regardless of how colourful; a constitution, regardless of how voluminous - to make a nation. The past is but our lesson; our present is a challenge and the future is our beacon - it is our youths, our gallant youths, if they are patriotic and value-driven; that will make our dreams of Nigeria to come true.