How Did A Man Who Was A Fisherman, A House Boy, With A Mother Who Had Three Husbands, Become The Governor Of Central Bank & A State.
CLEMENT NYONG ISONG
A life of Integrity, Discipline and Public Service
Written by Prof Olutayo C. Adesina
*THIS EPIC WOULD BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY, 16th August @ The Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.*
Here is the book, finally: Clement Nyong Isong: A Life of Integrity, Discipline and Public Service. It is the biography of one of Nigeria’s silent but great patriots. Surely, and without doubt, it’s been a long time coming. Many wished it would be written. Good enough, it has now been written.
In the words of Dr Yakubu Gowon, his former boss, Dr Clement Nyong Isong was a man driven by a powerful sense of duty and mission. This drive made him to surmount powerful obstacles and tribulations while in pursuit of his dreams.
Yet, he lived. In fact, his birth on April 20, 1920 was followed in quick succession by the birth of two other female children, Alice and May. They too, lived. His father, Nathaniel Isonguyo Ekpa Ebai Ito was from Ikot Osong while his mother, Maggie, was from Ikot Akpan Ntebon, all in modern day Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. His father died while Isong was in Infant Class 11.
One day, many years ago, I had an opportunity of an interview with Dr Isong. Sweet memories! The interview was not mine. In fact, I was a privileged apprentice-journalist in company of my former teacher and a veteran reporter—Parchi Umoh—who was then an editor the Champion newspapers. Isong looked into my face with those dark penetrating eyes as he responded to one question I had the audacity to utter: It was about his unfulfilled dreams.
The 363-page book, Clement Nyong Isong: A Life of Integrity, Discipline and Public Service starts with the story of Isong’s birth and the travails of his parents which rubbed-off heavily on him. His mother, Maggie, is described as a symbol of hard work and resilience. For instance, she was married to three husbands at different times.
Growing up, Isong was not permanently diseased; but his health condition was not fantastic either. At a point, his parents took him to a famed native doctor called Ataotoro. Instead of treating the young man, the native doctor turned him into a fisherman.
The book captures in detail Isong’s admission to the University College, Ibadan in 1949 for a diploma programme in education. The one-year experience opened his eyes to greater possibilities. The author, in Chapter Two, narrates in an interesting manner how little Isong dreamt of, and eventually gained admission to Iowa Wesleyan College on a scholarship.
Then began Isong’s search for a wife—a story of courage, perseverance and adventure. He got a wife who turned out to be just who he needed by his side as he pursued his dreams. That, however, did not come easy.
Before marriage, Isong’s desire to get admitted to Harvard for post-graduate studies is a narrative full of suspense. Harvard University was established in 1632. Isong was admitted on December 16, 1953 to study economics with emphasis on public administration.
One of the attractions of this book is the depth of research carried out by the author. By the way, Adesina is a professor of history at the University of Ibadan. He had his PhD at Ife and has twice headed the History Department at Ibadan.
After a stint at the Federal Reserve Bank in the US, Isong returned to Nigeria and taught for about a year at the University of Ibadan. The book details the process that led to the establishment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which began operations on July 1, 1959.
However, that was not the end of the dreamer—and also not the end of ethnic intrigues. When the two top Nigerian officers of the bank eventually retired in 1967, the British Government was contacted by the Federal Ministry of Finance to send someone on temporary secondment. The colonial government baulked at the idea.
Managing the CBN—and by extension, the Nigerian economy—during war time constitutes in part, the main focus of this book. The author weaves a story of inhuman challenges that greatly tasked the intellectual and patriotic capacity of the war-time CBN governor.
Chapter Five of the book dwells on post-war reconstruction and what the author refers to as the limits of power. It presents Isong as a frugal person—not just regarding spending on his family but as chief financial manager of the war-torn country.
Despite his near-wizardry in financial management, Isong—through a military fiat—lost his job on September 22, 1975. He left the CBN with his head held high. Then came life after the CBN. After a brief stop-over in consultancy business, politics showed up. The author paints a word picture of how Dr Isong got involved in politics of the then Cross River State.
Politics, power and the people forms the discussion in Chapter Seven. A peep into Dr Isong’s family also makes up a part of this chapter. As governor’s wife, Nne Isong was still working and earning a salary in Lagos until an incident forced her to join the husband in Calabar. Soon the cracks appeared on the walls of his administration when he refused to play politics of stomach infrastructure with state funds. Those who had persuaded him to join politics led the campaign against his second term.
Quite difficult to understand was the fact that those opposed to his second term bid, referred to as the Lagos Front—were members of his party—the National Party of Nigeria. It was led by Joseph Wayas—the then Senate President. The author, in capturing this scenario, states that there were indeed: “A multitude of barriers erected on the path of the Isong administration from within the ruling party; to discredit him.”
The military coup that followed did not spare Isong and his colleagues. They were all carted into jail where he spent 20 months. His travails in prisons across the country and the suffering by his family are extensively discussed in Chapter Eight. The author narrates that charges against him were drawn from speculations of mysterious arms and ammunitions allegedly found in his residence by policemen. At the end, he knew no freedom even after the court discharged and acquitted him.
Chapter Nine of Clement Nyong Isong: A Life of Integrity, Discipline and Public Service is all about the family Isong raised. The training he subjected the children to, and what they later became, make quite an informed reading. Chapter Ten ends the book with testimonies from close associates. Truthfully, as the author observes, the chronicle of Isong’s personality revealed the incongruous combination of brilliance, fairness and resilience. On May 29, 2000, at age 80, Isong passed on.
In Clement Nyong Isong: A Life of Integrity, Discipline and Public Service, the world witnessed the rise of a petty trader, a lay preacher, a house boy and a fisherman to the apex of his career in banking, academia and politics.