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Nigerians In History: Francis Akanu Ibiam

He was born on 29th November 1906 in Unwana, a town close to Afikpo in Ebonyi state in Nigeria, to the family of Chief Ibiam Akanu, a well known and highly respected traditional ruler in the village clan of Unwana. He was a year old when his father died.

Early Childhood and Education

Ibiam was brought up by his elder brother Samuel Aka Ibiam who was a teacher at the Hope Waddell Training Institution in Calabar. He enrolled Ibiam at Hope Waddell Primary School in 1912. In 1916 Ibiam was admitted to the Junior Secondary section of the school. He was baptized in 1919 and given the name Francis. In order to study science subjects like physics, chemistry, and biology, he was transferred in 1921 from Hope Waddell to King’s College, Lagos. His ambition was to study medicine. At King’s College, he distinguished himself not only in the field of sports and soccer but also in his studies. He completed his course at King’s College in 1924 and passed the Senior Cambridge Certificate exam with distinction. Francis then went to the UK to study medicine at the University of St. Andrews, with the full financial support of his elder brother Samuel. He graduated from medicine in 1934.

Career Path and Ministry Life

On his return to Nigeria in August 1935, Francis chose to be a missionary medical doctor under the auspices of the Church of Scotland Mission. He was inspired to do this by his abiding admiration for the Scottish missionaries who left the beauty and bounty of their homes to serve in remote places like his village in Unwana.

Ibiam was given the assignment of opening up a rural hospital in Abriba. In 1936 he began by setting up a dispensary and consequently, expanded the facility to a hospital which served the surrounding villages like Ohafia, Item, Igbere and Nkporo. He also advanced the cause of women by promoting maternity work and child welfare services. Through his efforts, hospital services in Uburu and Itu received financial grants from the government of the eastern region of Nigeria and from the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

As an African of the Igbo extraction, Ibiam understood the impact of superstition and witchcraft beliefs on his people. These beliefs caused the people to attribute all their problems – like barrenness, the birth of twins, malaria, miscarriages, fever, stroke – to demonic attacks. Dr. Ibiam was bold and fearless but sympathetic in dispelling these fears from the minds of his patients. He gave them physical healing through western medicine and spiritual and emotional healing through the dynamic preaching of the gospel.

Public Service and Administration

Though Dr. Ibiam served as a missionary medical doctor, he equally maintained an active and transparent interest in education and politics. As early as 1940, he represented his people in the Afikpo Divisional Council and later became a member of both the Eastern House of Assembly and the Legislative Council in Lagos. Five years later, in 1951, he won the election into the Eastern House of Assembly and was later decorated by King George VI of Britain as a Knight of the British Empire (KBE).

On October 21st 1960, Sir Francis Ibiam was appointed to the post of Governor of the eastern region of Nigeria. Ibiam brought his Christian beliefs to bear on some of the vital decisions of the government. Though this role was ceremonial, yet he refused to give his assent to the bills promoting lottery in the region. He threatened to resign rather than give approval to such a bill. Consequently, the bill did not see the light of day. He strongly detested and spoke against ethnicity anywhere. He was an advocate of Meritocracy rather than mediocrity; Credibility rather than Ethnicity.

Ibiam’s career as an educationist came to the fore with his appointment as the first Nigerian Principal of the Hope Waddell Training Institution in Calabar in 1958. This was a renowned comprehensive post-primary school that has to its credit the making of outstanding Nigerians: leading statesmen, medical doctors, engineers, theologians and university professors.

Traditional Title and Community Service

In 1983, Dr. Ibiam was decorated with the traditional title of Ezeogo Isiala of Unwana, the local community where he was born. This traditional title was conferred upon him in recognition of his shining contributions to the welfare of his community and that of the nation at large. In continued recognition of his sterling contributions to the field of education, politics, medicine and Christian community service, Ibiam received many awards: the honorary doctorate degree of LLD was conferred upon him by the University of Ibadan, the DSc. honorary degree by the University of Ife. He was also elected Chairman of Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and Chairman of the Imo State Council of Chiefs.

Below are some of the Responsibilities and Conferment on the Man

  • Member of the Legislative Council of Nigeria; Member of the Executive Council, Nigeria;
  • Member of the Board of Governors, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Umuahia-Ibeku;
  • Member, Provisional Council of the University of Ibadan; Member, Privy Council, Eastern Nigeria;
  • President, Christian Council of Nigeria;
  • Member, Administrative Committee of International Missionary Council, 1957-1961;
  • Chairman, Council of the University College, Ibadan;
  • Executive Member, United Bible Societies;
  • Governor, Eastern Nigeria, 1960-1966;
  • Member, Educational Authority of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria;
  • Member, Missionaries Committee, Medical Board, and Standing Committee of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria;
  • Elder, Presbyterian Church of Nigeria;
  • One of the Six Presidents of the World Council of Churches 1961-1970;
  • Member, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs;
  • Vice-Chairman, United Bible Societies of Nigeria;
  • Founder and Honorary President, Student Christian Movement of Nigeria.
  • Created Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George by Her Majesty the Queen;
  • Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger by His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
  • President, World Council of Christian Education and Sunday School Association;
  • Advisor to the Military Governor of the Eastern Provinces of Nigeria on appointment by the Head of the Federal Military Government, and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

This was the testimony of the Upper Room on Ibiam’s life:

Dedicated lay witness to the gospel of Christ; a humble follower of the great Physician; dedicated to the practicing of medicine and surgery; given to good works in the uplifting and healing of his people; a servant in whom there is no guile; committed to world Christian fellowship in the service of his Lord.



Francis Akanu Ibiam, What About Africa? (1961).

Agwu Kalu, Dr. Ibiam… the Challenge of His Life (Aba: Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, 1988)

Emele Mba Uka, Ibiam, Akanu Francis. (2001)

Featured Image Source: News Express NG

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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