Alvan Azinna Ikoku, a revolutionary educationist
Dr. Alvan Azinna Ikoku was an educationist, activist, and a statesman. He pioneered the idea of a uniform educational system in Nigeria and also free and qualitative primary school education for all Nigerian children.
Born on August 1, 1900, in Amanagwu Arochukwu in Abia State, Ikoku had his early education at the Arochukwu Government Primary School and from 1915 to 1920 attended Hope Waddell College, Calabar.
In 1920, he got his first teaching appointment with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and Scotland at Itigidi, Calabar. Two years after, he became a senior tutor at St. Paul’s Teachers’ Training College, Akwa, Anambra State. He got his University of London degree in Philosophy in 1928 through the external program, while still teaching at Awka.
He established the Aggrey Memorial Secondary School, Arochukwu in 1932. He named the school — a co-educational secondary school — after his mentor, James Emanuel Kwegyir Aggrey, a Ghanaian educationist. The school was at the forefront of technical and entrepreneurial education, as well as the teaching of indigenous languages. He did not just run the school but taught some of the subjects.
After the 1946 constitutional changes, which allowed more Nigerians to be in the legislative chambers, Ikoku was one of the persons nominated into the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly. In 1947 he became part of the Legislative Council in Lagos as one of three representatives of the Eastern Region.
Ikoku contributed to making the colonial government implement the decisions of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and also pushed for some of its educational ordinances to be amended in the 1950s. He later became the president of the union in 1955.
In 1962, Ikoku advocated for the Education Bill of Rights for primary school education to be free for six years across the country and also for indigenous languages to be taught in schools. The bill in the first republic did not scale through, but in 1976 the Federal Military Government adopted it as a policy for the country.
Retiring from active politics, Ikoku served on various educational bodies in the country, including the West African Educational Council (WAEC) and Council of the University of Ibadan, among others.
Dr. Ikoku died on November 18, 1971. He was an icon in educational development and to honour him for his various contributions, his face was emblazoned on the N10 note. Also, the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, was named after him, as well as campuses of tertiary institutions. Different states across the federation have also named streets and parks after him.
He was a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
• Compiled by Omiko Awa