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Akanu Ibiam

Akanu Ibiam (1906 1995) was a distinguished medical missionary who was appointed Governor of Eastern Region, Nigeria from December 1960 until January 1966 during the Nigerian First Republic.[1] From 1919 to 1951, he was known as Francis Ibiam, and from 1951 to 1967, Sir Francis Ibiam.


Early years

Ibiam was born in Unwana, Afikpo, Ebonyi State on 29 November 1906, of Igbo background. He was the second son of Chief Ibiam Aka, a traditional ruler of Unwana.[2] He himself later became traditional ruler, Eze Ogo Isiala I of Unwana and Osuji of Uburu. He attended Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar, and King's College, Lagos, and then was admitted to the University of St. Andrews, graduating with a medical degree in 1934. He was accepted as a medical missionary of the Church of Scotland, in which role he established Abiriba hospital (1936 1945) and later superintended mission hospitals at Itu and Uburu.[3]

Ibiam was never ordained as a minister, but he was elected and ordained as an elder of the Presbyterian Church.[2] He was knighted in 1951 for his work as a medical missionary of the Church of Scotland.[4] Ibiam was president of the Christian Council of Nigeria (1955 1958). In 1957 he was appointed principal of Hope Waddell Institution.[3] In 1959 Ibiam was president of the University College of Ibadan. On a visit to Northern Rhodesia, he was refused service at a cafe reserved for whites, an affair that became notorious.[4] In 1962, he was chairman of the committee that established the Protestant Chapel at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka Campus.[5]

In the lead-up to Nigerian independence Ibiam served in local government, in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, and in the Legislative and Executive Councils. After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, Ibiam was appointed governor of Eastern Region, holding office until the military coup of 15 January 1966 that brought Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power.[3] His authoritarian successor, colonel Emeka Ojukwu, immediately ejected Ibiam from the State House in Enugu. Later, Emeka became president of the breakaway state of Biafra.[6]

Nigerian Civil War

During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 - 1970, Ibiam actively assisted the Biafrans, helping obtain relief supplies through his church contacts. As one of the six Presidents of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Ibiam spoke at the WCC Meeting in Upsalla, Sweden in July 1968 where the problem of relief for refugees was discussed. Bola Ige, Adviser to the Church of the Province of West Africa was also present, and ensured that the name "Biafra" be avoided in the WCC resolution, since that could imply recognition of the state. However, Ibiam was instrumental in ensuring that the nightly air lift of relief into Biafra was started.[7] In 1969, he traveled across Canada to raise humanitarian aid and support for the people of Biafra. Ibiam returned his knighthood and renounced his English name, Francis, in protest against the British government's support of the Nigerian federal government.[8]

Later years

Following the war, Ibiam continued work on reconstruction and hospital service. Ibiam was responsible for the Bible Society of Nigeria and the Christian Medical Fellowship. He became a president of the All Africa Conference of Churches.[3]

Ibiam died in December 1995. More than 20,000 people attended his funeral in Unwana.[8] The Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and the Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Ebonyi State are named after him.


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