By NBF News

Prof. Anthony Jerry Agada has, figuratively, worn many caps in the country. He was Minister of State for Education, national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and chairman of the board of governors of the National Colleges of Education Commission (NCEC).

Incidentally, not many know that the former education minister has an interesting childhood story. He's a village boy who grew up to become a star.

In this interview Agada told his story, including his love life, family and experience as minister, among others.

How would you describe your growing up?
I was born in a village called Orokam, in Otupko Local Government Area of Benue State about 57 years ago. I grew up in that village and attended St Joseph Primary School from 1959-65. From there, I went to St Francis College, in Otukpo from 1971-74, I also attended Kaduna Polytechnic; National Technical Teachers' College, Lagos, where he had his B.Ed (English Education) and University of Exeter, United Kingdom, 1979-81 for a master's degree in Commerce. I bagged a PhD at Stratton University, United States in 2004.

There is something unique about my growing up in the village. There were five clans that made up the Orokam village then. They were Uku, Agbo, Agboriko, Una and Ona. I spent my childhood in all these villages. This was because my father married from each of the five villages. In those days your father would marry from a certain village and he would allow the children he had from his wife to stay with her family, in the village. My father's wives were scattered in these villages. I was close to all the women my father married. At that time whenever I visited any of the villages, I would stay with my father's wives.

Can you recall some pranks you played while growing up?

There were so many of them, as a village boy. There was one I did, which I would never forget. I attended a missionary school, which was like we were in seminary. Religion was the dominating factor. It was a Catholic school and one of the instructions was that we should never tell lies. It was a regular practice for the principal to check if any one was absent, after we resumed from Prep in the evening. So, there was a time we were in the dormitory making noise. Unknown to us, we woke up the principal from his sleep. He came checking, as usual. We all rushed to our seats. He was really upset and that sent every one panicking.

Unfortunately, the head prefect was not on his seat. The principal saw the empty seat of the prefect and asked after him. We were afraid because we knew he was going to punish him. Suddenly, I put up my hands and said: 'Excuse me, brother! The prefect went to the toilet.' He said okay and went on checking other people. But while he was doing this, the prefect returned from where he had been and was peeping through the window to see whether he could come in. The principal saw him and demanded to know where he was coming from. The boy brought out a little paper from his pocket and said he was coming from the hospital. The principal turned to me and said: 'Mister, where did you say the prefect went? And I repeated: 'He went to the toilet, Sir.' He asked if I didn't hear that the prefect said he was coming from the hospital. I just looked at him. He descended on me and beat the hell out of me.

And then that was followed by a two-week suspension from the school, with a strongly worded letter to my parents that they should warn me and that a repeat of the act would attract expulsion from the school. The incident had a serious impact on me. Up till now, I have inculcated a habit of never telling lies and even imparted this on my children. I have made them to realise that they must never, in whatever situation, tell lies.

If you were not a teacher what would you have been?

In our own days, in college, you didn't pick a career because you like it or are passionate about it. In other words, there was no career guidance and counselling, as we now have. You must pick any career your intellect can carry. So, you have somebody becoming a medical doctor just because he knows biology. So some of us picked careers only to discover later that we would have done another, but I am not regretting choosing to be a teacher or choosing education. Remember, I took literature, history and did some other subjects in arts. Later I took interest in teaching. My first job was as a teacher in the Government College, Keffi. My first salary was under N60 monthly, it was N7, 060 per annum. This was 1974. But that was big money then.

The unique thing in my life is that I started from the lowest rank, in education and got to the peak. I started as a classroom teacher and became principal. I was an assistant education officer and rose to the position of director of education at the ministry and then minister of education.

What about your love life?
By the time I met my wife, I was already a classroom teacher and she was then in the teachers training college. During our days, we had so much respect for each other. Love was taken seriously and you were together for so many years in courtship without thinking of making love. You were proud to have somebody from another college. You were also proud to be showing her to every one you know, writing endless love letters. Lovemaking was the last thing to think of. This was the game we played and continued faithfully until we got married. That was how we had it then.

What have kept you together?
They are the same virtues we shared before marriage, of having great respect for each other. You know, we even grew up to regard each other as brother and sister because of the long years of courtship. And now we have been together for so many years. We have five children, who are no longer children but grown ups.

How would you define greatness?
Greatness, to me, is when you, as an individual, has all the virtues of goodness; you are honest, trustworthy and all that. It is, to me, not a measure of your material possession.

What about happiness?
Yes, it is all encompassing. Once you have all these criteria I attached to greatness, you are, naturally, a happy man.

While you were minister for education, what did you do that you want to be remembered for?

I was then minister of state. There were three of us then. There was the minister of state (2) in charge of basic education and the third was for tertiary education. I was in charge of the secondary schools. In my sector, we discovered that so many things were not going on well, especially, in terms of the interpretation people gave to the 2005 UBEC Act. Then, there was something known as disarticulation, which means that JSS 1-3 component should not be attached to SSS 1-3 in the secondary schools. And of course, that law did not work anywhere, except in the unity schools. As the minister in charge, we thought of the way to reform the system, so that the falling standard of education was arrested. We decided to look at the UBEC law and discovered that one of the very first steps to take was the restoration of the junior secondary school, in the unity schools. We did that and took it to the Joint Consultative Council. From there, we took it to the National Council on Education in Kastina.

We also took it to the Federal Executive Council and from there we came back to start the process of doing the restoration of the JSS into our unity schools.

We did the interview and conducted the examination. As the minister in charge of that area, I was to sign it the next day, so that the result will be released and the process would start. All of a sudden, there was an announcement of a change of federal cabinet. I was affected. The other minister was also affected. This was in October 2008. We were affected and the question of coming to sign the document, to release the results was out of the question. We heard later that the whole exercise was a misinterpretation of the UBEC Act and that because of that the government had cancelled it. There was nothing I could do. I kept quiet. But just about two weeks ago, the Federal Executive Council took a decision that the JSS 1-3 was now restored into the unity schools. Incidentally, that was my idea at that time, which was misinterpreted.

If the exams I conducted at that time were not cancelled, by now our JSS, in the unity schools, would have stabilised. In any case, I am not blaming any body. I am only feeling vindicated that there was an action, which was taken at that time and which, in my opinion and in the opinion of the people around me, was alright. Somehow, it was thought not to be right. Now it has come to stay. Although I am no longer there, as the minister, my dream has now been realised.