Ibiam, (Francis) Akanu
1906 to 1995
Nigerian medical missionary and statesman.
Ibiam was born in Unwana, southeast Nigeria, and educated at Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar, and King's College, Lagos, before becoming the first African medical graduate of the University of St. Andrews in 1934. Rejecting well-paid government service, he was (after some hesitation) accepted as a medical missionary of the Church of Scotland. He pioneered Abiriba hospital (1936 - 1945) and then superintended mission hospitals at Itu and Uburu. In the period preceding Nigerian independence he was increasingly recognized as a popular leader and representative; he served in the local government, in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, and in the Legislative and Executive Councils. He was a vigorous advocate of universal primary education and one of the early voices calling for a Nigerian university. In 1957 he became principal of Hope Waddell Institution. With independence in 1960 he was appointed governor of Eastern Nigeria. When the events of 1966----two military coups, the secession of Biafra, and the civil war----overturned all constitutional arrangements, Ibiam became advisor to the Biafran military government, often representing Biafra abroad, where his church contacts were useful in obtaining relief supplies. He renounced his two knighthoods (awarded in 1951 and 1960 by the British monarch) in protest against British support for the Nigerian federal government. When war ended in 1970, he remained in Nigeria, working for reconstruction and relief and returning to honorary hospital service.
In Nigeria, Ibiam was a key Christian figure, responsible for new initiatives such as the Bible Society of Nigeria and the Christian Medical Fellowship, and serving as president of the Christian Council of Nigeria (1955 - 1958) and in many other representative capacities. He was also an outstanding African ecumenical figure of the decolonization period, serving as chairman of the conference that led to the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), a president of the AACC and of the World Council of Churches, chairman of the council of the United Bible Societies, and leader of the AACC peace mission to Sudan. In his home area he was a respected traditional ruler, Eze Ogo Isiala I of Unwana and Osuji of Uburu.
Andrew F. Walls
Geoffrey Johnston, Of God and Maxim Guns: Presbyterianism in Nigeria, 1844 - 1946 (1988); D. C. Nwafo, Born to Serve: The Biography of Dr. Akanu Ibiam (1988); The Scotsman, July 24, 1995.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.