1-Born on 1st August, 1900 to a rich merchant family in the tiny town of Amanagwu, Arochukwu, Abia State, he remains one of Nigeria’s finest educationists. Dr. Ikoku was also an activist, nationalist, politician and undoubtedly, a statesman.
2-A pioneer of education, he resigned and established one of Nigeria’s very first private secondary schools, Aggrey Memorial College in Nigeria in Arochukwu, Abia State in 1931. Till date, the college holds the enviable record of the oldest private college ever built in Africa. Ikoku named the college after James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey, the eminent Ghanaian teacher, intellectual and missionary.
3-At Aggrey, he introduced carpentry as a subject, where he called it ‘the Education of the Hand.” The most interesting aspect of this is that the students were able to make their desks, lockers, chairs, bookshelves and tables all by themselves. All his children also studied at Aggrey, with the exception of Stella Aku (late). She was a molecular biologist and Senior Lecturer, Biochemistry Department, ABU.
4-An intellectual giant, he had graduated BA in 1928 long before the Great Zik of Africa and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
5-As a politician, he was nominated to the House of Assembly (Eastern Nigeria) where he sat on the Board of Education in 1946. A year later, he was a member of the Legislative Council in Lagos representing the Eastern Region (1947-1951).
6-He was the leader of the United National Party (later the United National Independence Party) which was formed in 1952. Ikoku opposed party politics (was a constant critic of the NCNC which felt he might use his massive influence over the NUT to embarrass the government of the Eastern Region) and supported a national government.
7-A resolute defender of teachers, he was at the forefront of championing the causes of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT was formed in 1931 and Ikoku was its National President in 1955). At various times, he was at loggerheads with the colonial rulers who disagreed with and resisted his recommendations on education, such as the introduction of uniform education in the country. However, upon gaining independence, he was vindicated and his proposals became the bedrock of basic education policy formulation in Nigeria. Throughout his time in government, he always pushed for the promotion of educational development in Nigeria. He criticized the educational system at the time for failing to teach indigenous languages.
8-When he left the political arena, he was not tired, and still offered his services to the nation as a member of the Governing Board of Directors of West African Educational Council (WAEC) and the Council of the University of Ibadan (UI) where he was later given an honorary doctorate degree in law in 1965.
9-Alvan Ikoku is the first Nigerian to earn a university degree as an external candidate when he bagged a philosophy degree from the University of London in 1928.
10- Interestingly, his son, Mazi Samuel Goomsu Ikoku (born 24th July 1922 at Igbo Amabani, near Itigidi, Cross River State), popularly called S.G, was also a politician and a trusted lieutenant of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (with whom he co-authored Forward with Democratic Socialism). A pro-Soviet Union figure (in March 1952, his house in Lagos was searched by security officials for evidence of his communist ideology while he was also arrested and questioned by the enraged colonial authorities with his socialist party disbanded repeatedly), Samuel Ikoku was later a very prominent figure in the Action Group Party (General Secretary), and at a point, he astoundingly defeated his father, Alvan, at the southeastern House of Assembly.
He was a very vocal supporter of self-government in 1956. His victory shocked many, including his father, who later gave his support, and even provided funds for his re-election in 1961. He rallied members of the Action Group Party in the Eastern Region and became the Leader of the Opposition. Described as a ‘selfless and charming master fixer’, he also worked for the victory of fifteen other independent candidates. Samuel Ikoku was one of those accused in 1962 during the Treasonable Felony Trial but luckily for the masters degree holder in developmental economics (he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lagos and wrote many books), he was away in Ghana where he stayed with President Kwame Nkrumah. He did not even bother to return home until 1966.
Later, Samuel Ikoku was selected by President Shagari (also served as the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Affairs) to lead a three-man team to observe the March 1980 Zimbabwean elections as part of the Commonwealth Observer team. Then, Nigeria was quite serious about and committed to the liberation of Zimbabwe. S. Ikoku would later romance with military dictators like Babangida (he was at the forefront of the Council of Elder Statesmen created by Halilu Akilu) and was also on very friendly terms with General Abacha. He died in 1997 when Abacha was still in power. He was famous for saying to his wife: “There is no coup. Let’s go and sleep, my dear.” There was a coup in December 1983, and he was jailed at Kirikiri Maximum Prisons until IBB’s junta. Enough of the son for now! We will come to another of his sons later.
11-The Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education in Owerri, Imo State was named in his honour and of course, his face is emblazoned on the ten naira note (see pictures). It was at this school that the first full-fledged Igbo Language Department in Nigeria was established in 1975.
- Also, Alvan Ikoku Crescent, University of Lagos Campus, Akoka was named after him.
13-Although he was an Ibo man from Arochukwu, it is worthy of note that his mother was an Efik woman from Calabar where he schooled at the Hope Waddell Training Institute. His father, Mazi Ikoku Adim was friends with Chief Coco Otu Bassey, a rich trader and politician. The relationship was solidified when he married one of Chief Bassey’s daughters. Described as a ‘flawless speaker with a great command of the English language’ Alvan was the only product of that marriage.
14-Alvan Ikoku and Nnamdi Azikiwe were always at loggerheads, and in retaliation, the Great Zik would blast him in his newspapers. As Zik noted in his autobiography My Odyssey, it was so serious that at a point, they dragged themselves to court. Who won? Grab your copy of My Odyssey…lol!
15-One of his sons and elder to SG, Chimere Ikoku, Foundation Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Abeokuta & former two-term Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria (UNN), a Pan-Africanist and a professor of chemistry was gunned down on a Sunday morning, 13th October 2002 by unknown assailants. His killers arrived at his Enugu residence on okadas (motorcycles) shooting sporadically in the air. They first met his wife and forced her to take them to the erudite scholar. They asked for the sum of one million naira which he was not able to produce. Then they shot him. But the University of Chicago-trained scholar did not die immediately, according to his wife, he was rushed to four different hospitals but they turned him down because there was no police report. He finally breathed his last after four hours of frantic efforts by his wife to get him treated. He was 70. He was in America before he decided to come to Nigeria to contribute his own quota. When he told his friend that like the Chinese who left US to develop their nation, he would also fly home. His friend looked at him and laughed. What a nation.
NB: SG Ikoku is the first son of Alvan not Prof Chimere. However, Alvan has a step son (Dr Nkpanam who died in 2007 from itigidi) who is the first child of Goomsu (Alvan’s wife) from her first marriage. Alvan also named his last son from Goomsu Nkpanam.
16-Sir Alvan was a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Some of his critics would say he was too pro-British.
17-He died on the 18th November, 1971 at the Aba General Hospital.
18-Alvanville, opposite Aggrey Memorial College in Arochukwu is named after him and was the site of the funeral of his son, Chimere.
19-His wife, an Efik woman, was the leading female organist of the Protestant choir of his college and she was very good at it. She was said to have been so good that she played the Te-Deum, Laudamus, Veniteand others without looking at the Psalter.
20- He was a practising Protestant and his other children include Gloria (scientist and publisher), Eson Ecoma, Nkpanam Bassey (UK-based consultant haematologist), Veronica (medical doctor), Chinyere (professor of petroleum engineering, University of Port Harcourt), Alvan Enyinnaya and Fide. Sir Alvan Ikoku sure had a lot of kids…lol!
Abiyamo sincerely thanks the following people for their kindness in providing the images of ten naira notes that we made use of for this article:
– Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah of Ghana (http://koranteng.blogspot.com/). My sincere thanks go to Mr. Ofosu-Amaah for allowing us use his image of the old ten naira note. He kept it for posterity when there were attempts to redominate the naira. He is pleased to share the timeless picture with us.
– Edwin Duban of the United States. Mr. Duban was in Nigeria in the early 1980s as a Navigating Officer of the High Seas with his vessel unloading cargo in Lagos. It was then that he collected the old ten naira note. He is very glad that the note survived the washing machine…lol, and he is very happy to share the pictures with us all. You are very much appreciated, Sir.
And of course you too, for taking your time to read!