“Wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga took over the reins of government on September 5, 1990, as the 3rd chief executive of the fledgling Akwa Ibom State. His tenure, lasting till February 2nd, 1992, a mere 16 months, was a model in how to achieve much with lean resources.”
The passing, on Christmas eve 2020, (a month shy of his 69th birthday), of Idongesit Okon Nkanga, retired Air Commodore of the Nigerian Airforce, former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, and holder of the eminent traditional title of Otuekeong, was to me personally, like rubbing salt in an open wound.
Only six months prior, I had gone to seek his counsel on a matter of life and death that concerned my household. Receiving me in his modest bungalow at the Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, he listened attentively to my story. Then, the philosopher and the problem solver in him took over.
He encouraged me not to lose hope and pledged to support my effort to seek a solution. True to his word, he helped put together a plan, and followed up promptly the following day, making necessary contacts, and practically taking over my burden like it was his own.
Alas, in his hour of great need, as he fought for life on that tragic December night, his plans for celebrating Christ’s birth put in abeyance, he could not be helped. His time on this side of eternity was up, and he was heaven-bound to keep the inevitable face-to-face appointment with his Maker, as we must all do when our time is ripe.
I first met Air Commodore Nkanga in August 1990, at the Akwa Ibom State governor’s lodge, Kofo Abayomi Street in Ikoyi, Lagos. He was then a wing commander and had just been appointed governor of Akwa Ibom State. I had accompanied the sitting governor of the state, then Colonel Godwin Abbe on an official visit to Lagos, as his press secretary. Nkanga joined Abbe for what was more or less, a pre-handing over breakfast meeting. Naturally, I was anxious for early close interaction with the in-coming governor, and Abbe obliged by inviting me to join them at breakfast.
As the two officers discussed, Nkanga was a study in concentration. I remember thinking…“he exudes calm and self-confidence.” But then I wondered – was he showing respect for his senior in rank? Or was he already overwhelmed by thought of the work ahead? But then he began to ask his host penetrating questions about challenges and opportunities of his coming job. This dude sure knows what he is doing, I remember thinking.
Wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga took over the reins of government on September 5, 1990, as the 3rd chief executive of the fledgling Akwa Ibom State. His tenure, lasting till February 2nd, 1992, a mere 16 months, was a model in how to achieve much with lean resources.
The state secretariat, a symbol of the “independence” of the state as a political entity is probably the most prominent landmark built in the Nkanga era. The imposing complex, emblematic of the fulfillment of the dream for state creation, decades in the making, was fittingly named after him by the Obong Victor Attah administration. Grateful Akwa Ibomites called him Idongesit Akwa Ibom, meaning comforter of Akwa Ibom people.
His impactful tenure signposted other significant infrastructural developments in the state, among them, the Nnung Udoe – Afaha Nsit Road, which opened up access to the seat of government for remote villages in the Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium axis; the expansion and dualisation of Dominic Utuk (formerly Brookes Street) and Ibrahim Babangida Avenues; the completion of Ibom Hall, built partly with personal financial contributions by indigenes following the creation of the state; as well as the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation.
On retirement, Nkanga immersed himself in the fight for the rights of the people of the Niger Delta. As chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum, he brought issues of development affecting the people of the region, to the forefront of national discourse. Till the end, he kept up this fight, and though sadly he will not be around to celebrate when success is attained, posterity will honour him.
The Holy Bible in Ecclesiastes 9:10 admonishes us to do with might, whatever our hand finds to do. And to quote a popular philosopher, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Both of these powerfully capture the folly of failure to seize the moment. Thankfully, Air Commodore (Rtd.) Idongesit Nkanga seized his moment when history beckoned. A man of immense courage, driven by patriotism, he enrolled in the armed forces to serve his fatherland, at the risk of making the supreme sacrifice. A brilliant administrator and prudent resource manager, he left a mark wherever he served. Above all he was simply a good human being, not given to boastfulness or foolish pride. He was indeed a quiet achiever who let his achievements speak for themselves.
I will miss my boss (who became my friend) as many across Nigeria surely will. But I thank God… “he is at peace in Heaven’s garden, his memory a blessing to countless many.”
Fare Winds, Sir! So long, General!
- Idiong, broadcaster extraordinaire, was Chief Press Secretary to Governors Godwin Abbe and Idongesit Nkanga; and ex senior manager at ExxonMobil.