May 29, 2020 will not be celebrated as Democracy Day this year. But some of us who were exceedingly fortunate to have worked with Chief Dr. Clement Nyong Isong will privately remember that day as the one he joined his forefathers 20 years ago. He departed at the dawn of the new century.
Dr. Isong was the second indigenous Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Wikipedia (2020) records that during his tenure, he resisted external “unsupported debts.” Recall that he ran the CBN during the Civil War and the early years of the Oil Boom (1967-1975).
In 1979 he became the 1st Executive/Civilian Governor of Cross River State (Cross River/Akwa Ibom) and left office in October 1983. He had an illustrious career including a PhD in Economics from Harvard University; lectureship at his alma mater, University of Ibadan; and a stint in CBN and IMF before being invited by General Yakubu Gowon to head the CBN during the war years and beyond. It is pertinent to mention that in the US, the Executive Branch of government through the Secretary of Treasury runs fiscal policy while the Chairman of the Federal Reserve (Central Bank) runs monetary policy. If it does not apply in Nigeria, too bad. Governor Sanusi Sanusi tried to assert that independence but like Trump is doing now, the job can be tough when there is an overbearing President in office.
The main thrust of this piece is that we can copy from greats such as Chief Isong. He functioned at the international level, then gradually went home. The experiences in international finance, corporate management, and public policy were only too evident in Dr. Isong’s contributions as the sun of his illustrious life gradually went west.
Those that participated or were old enough to appreciate his governance approach will recall among other things the focus on industrialization. This had not been replicated more than three decades after until the current government of Governor Udom Emmanuel in Akwa Ibom State.
We can recall the rubber shoes factory at Obubra; another one at Calabar by Senator Victor Akan; car battery and biscuit factories at Ikot Ekpene; Ceramics factory at Itam; paint factory at Etinan; and in my opinion the prince of industries – steel rolling mill at Eket. Until the recent administration in Akwa Ibom, Governors went for the glamour and the glitz with nothing sustainable to show.
In education we still recall that he built two-bedroom bungalows in secondary schools among other achievements. That meant teachers too can live descent lives.
When he left office, he became the Chairman of Ibibio Elders Forum. This was a viable think tank for economic and sociocultural development of Ibibio people. I still recall that he stood against dismembering Akwa Ibom State into two or more. Rather he canvassed for accelerated development of the state as then and now constituted.
I had the privilege of working with him and benefiting from his large stock of knowledge and experiences. A father to all, I recall an occasion he read my memo and drew my attention to the fact that “in spite” are two words not one “inspite.” I also recall him saying I could visit his modest bungalows at Uyo and the village wherever he was anytime before 7pm because thereafter he must listen to NTA network news and then go to bed. I think he had just one property at Lagos. Chief Isong was down to earth and fiercely patriotic. He believed in the philosophical concept of the greatest good for the greatest number. Private wealth was not on his agenda of public service.
I also recall his worry about the Nigerian nation. He strongly supported One Nigeria but said that he was sad about the way we were operating and warned that it was evident that the country could break up. He held that unless something was done, breaking up was a matter of when, not if. Time to him included when the wasting assets – crude oil and gas – the current reason for unity are exhausted. He said this during the heydays of Nigeria’s Maximum Leader.
Dr. Isong adorns the N1,000 note with his predecessor Alhaji Aliu Mai-Bornu thanks to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. The bank notes came on board in 2005.
He was decorated Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR) and when Bashorun Moshood Abiola built a postgraduate students hostel at the University of Uyo, it was named after Dr. Isong. We can see him coming home gradually, from Washington DC to Calabar to Uyo, leaving prodigious footsteps on the world’s stage.
It’s like his family, generally safe-effacing or because of the health crisis in the world did not highlight his 100th birthday on 20th April. There is an NGO, The Dr. Clement Isong Foundation with registered office at E10 Ben Udo Street, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo in Akwa Ibom State. The Foundation awards scholarships and runs based largely on donations. There is also an Annual Memorial Lecture. Available information has it that since 2006, four have been hosted, the last in 2012. Memorial Lecture is not easy to sustain. I ran one in honour of Senator Sir Francis Ellah between 2011 and 2017, publishing the proceedings as Occasional Publication of the Federal College of Education (Technical), Omoku, Rivers State. I am hoping that it will be re-started in the future. Memorial Lectures are not meant for the honourees. They are for present and future generations as think tanks and inspirational fora. The eagle landed in 1920, lived a multifaceted and productive life and bowed out gracefully on May 29th 2000. God rest his soul.