Why Akanu Ibiam dropped his English name and returned his knighthood

Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam was a medical missionary born on November 29, 1906 and lived till July 1, 1995. He hails from Unwana in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

According to records, his father, Chief Ibiam Aka, was a traditional ruler. 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.

Ibiam was never ordained as a minister, but he was elected and ordained as an elder of the Presbyterian Church.

After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, Ibiam was appointed governor of Eastern Region. On 24 August 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 15 January 1966 that brought Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power.

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. He was instrumental in ensuring that the nightly air lift of relief into Biafra was started. In 1969, he travelled 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.

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.

During his burial, more than 20,000 people attended his funeral in Unwana.

The Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Ebonyi State, and the Francis Akanu Ibiam Stadium, University of Nigeria, Nsukka are named after him.

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