One should by now be weary of writing and reading so many tributes that have marked the aftermath of sudden and benumbing deaths that befell the literary and writing community of late. Many others have passed on too in other spheres of life and as one read tributes here and there ,one could feel the searing pain in every loss ,whether of persons known to one or not.
How could one begin to pen a tribute to someone like Prof. Jerry Agada just a few days after his demise? To write exhaustively in so short a time about somebody who had been there for all without flinching in the educational and literary circles for decades and with whom one had shared so many intimate moments is not easy.
The image that readily comes to mind about Prof. Jerry Agada is that of an archetypal father with a lot of sons and an overseer of a great compound where all sorts of beats will find ready dancers( as said in one of Achebe’s books). Many of us encountered him in the Association of Nigerian Authors(ANA), an Association he was very proud of ; publicly proclaiming that pride before the Senate in a ministerial screening years ago and which he served practically to the very end of his life; garnering well deserved positions and accolades, culminating in becoming its President, Fellow and a member of the National Advisory Council. He was also until his demise a member of the Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). For many in the Association of Nigerian Authors(ANA), he was a father figure for quite a long time, encouraging younger authors, listening to their complaints, assuaging their hurts, finding them life-long engagements, being present whenever called to their events and taking them back, like the father of prodigal sons ,without feeling sore after being crassly betrayed.
Prof. Jerry Agada had done a lot for education in his home State of Benue in the area of teaching and in the top public service appointments he held in that sector that were numerous, capping it as a Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Education. He was a serving Minister while a Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). I was then the General –Secretary of ANA and I became an unofficial clearing house on “ANA Affairs” in his ministerial office. I had an unfettered access to that office; sometimes chancing on him in meetings with the two other Ministers. I was a witness to so many assistance that he gave to writers and authors across Nigeria as a Minister; including my conveying good news of employment to one or two unemployed writers courtesy of his exertions. It was also instructive that it was during his time as a Minister of State for Education that the well-designed “Read Campaign Initiative” of the Ministry was launched and he devoted so much energy to driving that initiative that workers in that Ministry who should ordinarily be obsessed about books began calling him “The Book Minister.” It was well known that he did not last long in that Ministry as we all know political perception of public office in Nigeria is not about merit nor even performance. He was settling down to do much more when he was made a former Minister.
He became President of ANA out of office as a Minister but his hitherto good relationship with writers fetched him the position in a keenly contested election which held in Minna in 2009. As President of ANA and Chairman of the board of the National Commission for Colleges of Education(NCCE), he did his best for the Association for the two years he headed it, including hosting the seminal Colloquium on 50 years of J.P Clark Writings which held in Lagos in 2010 and personally funding entirely the Convention of the Association that held in Abuja in 2011. Away from ANA’s top office, he never relented in reaching out to writers when necessary and answering their calls for assistance and presence. He retreated to his home State and many times we were called to celebrate one communal thing or the other with him, his kindred young and old writers and his community in Orokam, bothering South –Eastern Nigeria. Writers travelling to and fro the South –East from North-Central Nigeria always have to look sideways at Orokam to locate Agada’s compound or detour there when he was available at home to sip palm wine and drink from his fountain of wisdom, like they actually did when coming from the 2012 ANA Convention which held in Uyo . Prof. Jerry Agada loved his community and it was obvious the community inspired his many writings which were mainly novels and other philosophical treatises. Of late, he had been effusive about sharing his writings about his community on the social media ; mainly notating about the passage of older and younger individuals of worth from the community. Alas here we are, writing likewise about him! Agada was one who gave people much honour as much as he received. He received much honour in his life and you could read the sheer joy in his visage whenever he was being honoured , whether big or small.
Prof. Jerry Agada served the Association of Nigerian Authors to the very end. The elders of the Association in July this year, found in him the sturdy, welcoming and avuncular shoulder, to carry the burden of putting its affairs right; after the power tussle that disrupted the Association’s election in Enugu in November,2019. It was Prof. Agada that was seen as neutral enough and who could withstand the barrage of vociferous insinuations and attacks from expected quarters when he was given the task by the Board of Trustees of ANA, the National Advisory Council of which he was a member and the Past Presidents of ANA, to superintend over a constitutionally provisioned Emergency General Meeting(EGM) that led to the election of a new national executive council for the Association In July,2020 at Makurdi, Benue State. Convoking that EGM at the time it came was not an easy task; resources were thin and the expected attacks from retrogressive forces happened but Prof. Jerry Agada proved yet again the point that no problem or conflict is intractable where sincere elders interested in progress and justice exist. He deployed his wisdom, goodwill and resources to execute the task. He carried the can and ANA was salvaged. That last service to the National Body of the Association of Nigerian Authors(ANA); after which followed many well- published service to the local body in Benue State, earned him permanent imprimatur as a bridge-builder in the history of the Association.
Whatever has been written here is clearly an abridged version of the tome of what Prof. Jerry Agada had been to many of us in the literary community. From the tributes written about him so far by many persons; it is apparent he was that proverbial elephant; felt and reported from the angle from which it had been encountered. Much more will be unveiled in the writings to come and in the due honour that must be accorded him when we would have overcome this devastating year of pestilence.
Adieu to Prof. Jerry Agada , a man of many words and intriguing locally –flavoured witticism in public oration. May we be there when the canons will be fired to herald the real beginning of your journey to join your ancestors. May God give your immediate and extended family, the Benue State Government, your community and members of ANA in Benue State and nationwide the fortitude to bear your departure.