Former Finance Minister and university teacher, Dr. Chu SP Okongwu, died on January 12, 2022, in Enugu at the age of 87. In his death, Nigeria has lost a brilliant intellectual and economic theorist of great repute. His death came on the heels of the passage of erstwhile head of defunct Interim National Government (ING), Ernest Shonekan, who died a day earlier.
Born on September 23, 1934, in Nnewi, Anambra State, Nigeria, he attended St. Michael’s school, Aba between 1941 and 1946. Later, he moved to Government College, Umuahia, where he was a student from 1947 to 1951. He bagged his B.Sc degree in Economics at Boston University, Massachusetts in 1961. He also attended Harvard University from 1961 to 1965 for his higher degrees. His interest to pursue a career in economics was reportedly inspired by intellectuals such as Sam Aluko, Pius Okigbo and Justice Paul Nwokedi.
Apart from being a renowned researcher, he was equally an outstanding author in his field of study. One of his books, “The Nigerian Economy: Anatomy of a Traumatised Economy with Some Proposals for Stabilisation,” analyses Nigeria’s economic challenges by dealing with the major aspects of the economy as well as the macroeconomic planning and management. The book also recommends practical steps at micro and macro levels, interactions within and between the levels to get the economy out of its present crisis.
Okongwu also had stints with journalism at various times. He was a broadcaster who anchored the programme, ‘Jaz Club,’ at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service. He also served as a sub-editor at the Daily Times of Nigeria, where he worked with such great minds as the late Peter Enahoro, Ebun Adeseye, and a host of other seasoned journalists in an engagement he described as a ‘wonderful experiment.’
Okongwu, who served as Minister of National Planning between 1985 and 1986, was later appointed Minister for Finance between 1986 and 1990 by the Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda administration. In this capacity, he was one of the vocal defenders of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the administration’s major economic and most vilified policy. He debated vigorously in support of SAP despite vehement opposition by Nigerians. The policy, which was launched in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, aimed at cutting the cost in public expenditure and weaning Nigeria’s economy from undue dependence on crude oil. It came with harsh impacts on the citizens’ standard of living and lost its envisaged gains shortly after introduction, due to institutional deficiencies.
Since his exit from government, Okongwu had remained a consultant researcher, offering services to writers and scholars on Nigeria’s history and economy. There is no doubt that Okongwu gave his best in the service of the nation in whatever capacity he found himself. He distinguished himself as a journalist, teacher and economist. This can explain why his erstwhile boss, Gen. Babangida, described him as “one Nigerian, who was devoted and committed to nation building, using his expertise and rich knowledge to create templates for national development. When our paths crossed, his intellect and humane disposition to discourse swayed my attention. He was incisive and analytical in his deliberations. He was profound in his elocution and didactic in his delivery.”
Okongwu played a major role in the formulation of government policies during the Babangida administration both as a Minister of National Planning and later the Minister of Finance. He was therefore instrumental to the achievements of that administration in economy and national planning. Out of office and public glare, Okongwu lived a quiet life and not much was heard of him until his demise. He was a patriotic Nigerian, a role model and an accomplished technocrat.
Okongwu was a very strict professional and public servant. He was meticulous and had eyes for details. He enjoyed intellectual engagements and had special interest in interrogating figures. Considering his numerous contributions to the development of the nation, we urge the Federal Government to immortalise him. We extend our condolences to his family, Anambra State and the nation at large. May God grant his soul eternal repose.