I am honoured and deeply emotional to be here this afternoon at the launching of the biography of a man who was in all sincerity the epitome of integrity, honesty, discipline, transparency, decency and all other values and virtues we all desire to possess.
You may wonder why I am emotional. The reason is simple: The man we are celebrating here today and I share a lot in common and over the years, I have gladly and proudly worn the garb of comparison, sometimes with a little feeling of trepidation and rightly so!
Dr Clement Nyong Isong was an astute and visionary Financial Services Expert, an economist par excellence, who was poached from his plum job at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City to help his Fatherland at a time of great national turmoil and uncertainty.
He was Nigeria’s wartime Governor of the Central Bank, the first civilian Governor of the old Cross River State, a devout and unapologetic Christian and a towering community leader. He was in every definition a great man and as Benjamin Harrison, the 23rdPresident of the United States once said: “Great lives never go out, they go on.”
The Late Dr. Clement Isong and I are from the same community (as a matter of fact his village and mine are mere 10 minutes apart in Onna Local Government Area) and our trajectories have been amazingly similar. I am like he was, a Financial Services Expert, rising to the position of an Executive Director with the Zenith Bank which had put me squarely at the front seat of decision-makers of our nation’s economic growth and prosperity.
He was persuaded to join the political fray in 1978 after a sterling career as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, becoming the first civilian Governor of the old Cross River State on October 1, 1979, a position he held until October 1, 1983.
In July 2013, I was also persuaded to join the public service as the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government and on April 11, 2015, was elected the Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
In the lead- up to the campaign for my second term, the other side had pushed an obtusely laughable narrative that just as the man we are honouring here today, being the first Onna born Governor of the old Cross River State had failed in his second term bid, that I will suffer the same fate.
9.Well, since the plans and machinations of man are different from those of the ONLY God we worship, if I may say it, the only aspect of my life and that of our late great leader that took a different route is that this same ONNA born Governor won an emphatic and overwhelming second term and I stand here today, proud to be from Onna, proud to be given a second chance to superintend over the affairs of Akwa Ibom State, proud to be a Nigerian and above all proud to be the late Dr, Clement Nyong Isong’s brother, kindred and professional colleague.
Let me commend the author, Professor Charles Adesina for chronicling this masterpiece and long over-due biography of our cherished leader. The title of the book: Dr. Clement Nyong Isong-a Life of Integrity, Discipline and PublicService” captures aptly and profoundly the essence of what Dr. Isong’s life had represented.
11.Dr. Isong’s life was one of selfless service, passionate commitment to the pursuit of excellence; a disciplined and focused leader who was not taken in by the trappings of power or the attendant fawning followership that was at best ephemeral. He stood for the principles that defined his life and his guiding philosophy appeared rooted in the aptly reflective quote of Grover Cleveland, “It is better to be defeated standing for high principles than to run by committing subterfuge”.
It was this focussed and disciplined mindset that saw him oversee the Nigerian economy during the turbulent years of the Civil War to great and spectacular success. It is on record that he ran the Nigerian economy, ensuring sound fundamentals of growth and the nation never borrowed a dime or kobo to prosecute the war. What a great and inspiring leader he was!
As the Governor of the old Cross River State, he applied the lean resources available to him to affect lives. He believed the resources available to the state should be used to create enduring economic base predicated on industrialization and the advancement of the human spirit and capital.
He established industries and boosted the manufacturing sector; he wanted people to be gainfully employed, believing that an engaged population is the best antidote against social dislocation and upheavals. Such bold and people-centric approach to governance may not have endeared him to certain interests who felt he should walk the conventional path. He stood his grounds and as Millard Fillmore, a one-time American President stated: “An honourable defeat is better than a dishonourable victory”. He left Government House in Calabar with his head held high and his foundational principles intact.
When the military took over on December 31st1983 and herded the political class into detention, it is on record that our late revered leader was the only Governor of that dispensation that was not indicted by the military government of any financial impropriety. He was detained only for a registered firearm that was found in his house, a case he successfully defended himself at the courts and was acquitted! What a great and honourable leader he was!
As we celebrate this great Nigerian Statesman, let me use this opportunity to urge us all to learn from his sterling character, passion and commitment to honourable leadership style.
He saw leadership as a clarion call to serve a cause higher than his own; he had the opportunity to have amassed wealth and to luxuriate in conspicuous consumption, yet he chose to live moderately and within his means. He loved people and his mantra of the relationship was based on what I may refer to as “talents over geography”- meaning he discovered and empowered talents irrespective of where such came from.
He loved Nigeria and desired for her to be a great nation of doers and achievers. The values that shaped the Late Dr. Clement Isong I may add are the same values that I share. We are industrializing Akwa Ibom State with fury and a sense of urgency. We are creating enduring infrastructures knowing full well that industrialization cannot thrive where there is the absence of world-class infrastructure. Today, through Ibom Air, the first State-owned and run airline in Nigeria nay Africa, we have simplified the ease of travelling and doing business.
A week ago, we introduced into the market, the first made- in -Akwa Ibom flour mill, our educational system in line with our avowed commitment to improving and building human capital has been celebrated all over the nation; our investments in healthcare facilities, remodelling and equipping secondary healthcare facilities, some fully digitalized is a function of a government that cares. Our road network is world-class, our Ibom Rice and other investments in agriculture have engendered a new spirit of entrepreneurship in the agro-allied industry. Most parts of our State now enjoy 22 hours of uninterrupted electricity and in our Completion Agenda, we are working to have electricity for all. These are no rocket science, it takes passion, commitment and holding those appointed to manage these sectors to accounts and refusing to accept efforts but result. It can be done and replicated at the larger national space.
Finally, I believe it is not too late for us to live the dreams of the Late Dr. Isong. We can be great; Nigeria is destined to be great, we have the talents, the skills- set, the blessings, and natural endowments. If we all possess the right passion of excellence, selfless service, love and tolerance for one another, we can in the words of Lyndon B. Johnson while not attempting to recover yesterday with all its failures and disappointments ensure that “tomorrow is ours to win”. We can win our tomorrow today and ensure that the great works of nation-building of our heroes such as Dr, Clement Nyong Isong, and my beloved kinsman was not in vain.
Thank you and God bless Akwa Ibom State, God bless Nigeria!
BEING A GOODWILL MESSAGE BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MR. UDOM EMMANUEL, GOVERNOR, AKWA IBOM STATE AT THE LAUNCHING OF THE BIOGRAPHY OF LATE DR. CLEMENT N. ISONG, YAR’ADUA CENTRE, ABUJA, AUGUST 16TH, 2019.