Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam: Advocate of better society
Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam was a statesman, educationist, medical missioner and the Governor of Eastern Region from October 1960 to 1966, when military took over government. He was the first Nigerian Principal of the Hope Waddell Training Institution (HWTI), Calabar, in 1958. He is known for his advocacy against injustice, inequitable distribution of the nation’s resources, tribalism and enthronement of mediocrity over meritocracy in civil service and national appointments.
Born in Unwana, Afikpo, Ebonyi State on November 29, 1906, Ibiam attended Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar, and the King’s College, Lagos, before travelling to the United Kingdom to study medicine.
Graduating in 1934, he became a medical missioner of the Church of Scotland from where he established hospitals in Abiriba, Itu and Uburu as well as a School of Nursing.
In 1940, Ibiam represented the Afikpo Divisional Council and in 1951, he was elected into the Eastern House of Assembly, where he became both member of the Eastern House of Assembly and the Legislative Council in Lagos. In the same year, he was decorated Knight of the British Empire (KBE) by King George VI of Britain.
In 1957, he became the first indigeneous principal of Hope Waddell Institution and in 1959, president, University College of Ibadan. Upon Nigeria gaining independence in 1960, Ibiam was appointed governor of Eastern Region.
On August 24, 1962, he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Ibiam held office until the military coup of January 15, 1966. In 1962, he also became chairman of the committee that established the Protestant Chapel at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
In 1967, Ibiam had to drop his English name ‘Francis’ and also returned the insignia of his knighthood as a Knight of the British Empire to protest British government’s open hostility to Biafra.
Leaving politics, Ibiam continued his advocacy against tribalism, injustice and upholding meritocracy at all appointments — at local, state and national levels.
Ibiam’s medical missionary took him to the nooks and crannies of the Eastern Region, enabling him to establish and encourage different Christain groups, aside spreading Christianity in the region.
In 1983, he became the Ezeogo Isiala of Unwana, a traditional ruler of his community. He died on July 1, 1995. Stadium, airport and tertiary instions have been named after him. Nigeria, British government and church organisations honoured him with different awards, including the Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George by Her Majesty the Queen and Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, among others.