Sampson, Akoma Paul
In order to understand and appreciate the contributions educational and religious icon Mazi Akoma Paul Sampson made to Christianity in Ngwaland, in the present Abia state, one must understand that in the early days of colonialism, church and school complemented each other in mission objectives–i.e. to bring converts to Christianity and afford them educational opportunities.
Akoma was born around 1918 in Uratta Ngwa in the present Abia state. Akoma’s parents were Mazi and Lolo Nwaschukwu Ahamba. Akoma was the eldest of four children. Akoma was the name given to him at birth and means “a good turn deserves another.” Akoma was a man of very humble origins, honest, trustworthy, and kind to a fault.
In the early 1920s Akoma entered St. Michael’s Primary School in Aba, the commercial town of the present Abia state. There he made his first contact with white missionaries of the Anglican Church and subsequently was converted to Christianity. Due to the absence of schools and churches in his locality then, Akoma walked about twenty miles every day for about two years to attend school at Aba.
Akoma was well liked not only for his humility but also for his brilliance and academic excellence. As Akoma was the first person to pass the first school-leaving certificate with flying colors in those early days, he made local history. In 1924 Akoma belonged to the first choir at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, which attracted many youthful converts. These youths, who represented the “crème de la crème” of the local young people and their parents, saw Akoma as a shining star or role model. Following his lead, they hoped to establish the Anglican church in their communities with little resistance.
At the request of the missionaries at the Anglican Church in Aba, Akoma studied at the Government Teachers Training College in Calabar, the capital of the present Cross River State. In 1933 Akoma graduated with a high elementary (i.e. as a primary school teacher) certificate and, as a result, became a celebrity in the community.
In 1935 Akoma went to the Umudike College of Agriculture–now the Federal University of Agriculture near Umuahia, the capital of present Abia state. There Akoma showed such brilliance that Dr. Alvan Ikoku, founder and owner of Aggrey Memorial College, Arochukwu, offered him a job as a science teacher in 1943. Akoma also became Dr. Ikoku’s assistant.
Akoma’s contribution to the educational development of Ngwaland was monumental. His early contact with the missionaries and his educational qualifications made him an ideal candidate to serve as a liaison with the government in obtaining permission to open many Anglican mission primary schools. These schools enabled people to obtain their primary six certificate–the educational pillar of the society at that time. Akoma’s presence in the area attracted many elementary teachers who joined the Anglican mission. This explains the high rate of teachers from Ngwaland as opposed to other professionals even up to the present time.
As an itinerant teacher, Akoma taught in many schools like Olokoro Central School and St. Silas Anglican School in old Umuahia province, an enclave of the Roman Catholic Church. Akoma won many converts to the Anglican Church in this area due to his charisma and dedication to the church. Akoma championed the establishment of Anglican community maternity homes and hospitals. On Sundays Akoma preached in different Anglican churches emphasizing the need for social services and auxiliary institutions such as educational projects in order to spread the gospel. People who saw Akoma as a product of the church were influenced by his exemplary conduct and readily converted to Christianity.
In 1961 Akoma was transferred from Umuahia province to Aba. His teaching and preaching career took him to schools like St. Michael’s Anglican School, Aba; St. Augustine’s School, Okpu Umuobe; St. Chrysostom’s School, Ohanze, and St. Barbara’s School, Ihie Ngwa. Akoma’s message to parents and pupils was to “invest in education rather than cloths.” Akoma encouraged many parents to send their children to mission secondary schools after primary school through the establishment of community palm nut harvesting projects and self help projects that brought even more converts to the Anglican Church. This explains the high rate of Anglican churches, primary and secondary schools, and teacher training institutions throughout both Umuahia and Aba provinces in the present Abia state.
Akoma married Mary from the ruling class family of Udonsi Orji in Ujari Arochukwu. A Scottish missionary sister at Mary Slessor Coventry, Arochukwu, had raised Mary after her mother had died giving birth to her. Akoma had nine children from his marriage with Mary who died in 1992.
Akoma encountered some hostility from the Roman Catholic Church authorities. For example, the Roman Catholics in Olokoro thought that Akoma was a threat to their growth or had encroached on their territory. After Akoma had initiated the establishment of the community maternity home and hospital in Olokoro, the Catholics rushed to open Santa Cross Secondary School just two blocks from the Anglican hospital. However, rather than take offence, Akoma considered the move a positive challenge. It was not surprising that Rev. Father Ford, principal of the Catholic college, maintained a cordial relationship with Akoma.
In 1964 Akoma was appointed lay treasurer of schools by the Anglican church. From St. Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Aba, the headquarters of the church, he administered the educational activities of the church, even throughout the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70). Akoma was responsible for paying teachers their salaries in a timely fashion and for the funds for building projects in all Anglican educational establishments.
Akoma was well respected by his kinsmen as an intelligent, humble, and steadfast believer in God. Consequently, the Uratta community allowed him to decide whether to open its doors to the Catholic Church in the locality. Akoma welcomed the establishment of St. David’s Catholic Church after the Uratta community had refused to grant them permission for fifteen years. For Akoma, the purpose of religion was to civilize and emancipate mankind.
In 1948 Akoma established the first Uratta progressive union, which attracted the elites of the church. The union encouraged adult education through the church and made counseling services and community scholarships available. Akoma provided the money needed to start the first brass band in Uratta. St. Andrew’s Church became known for its brass band used to spread the gospel. Thanks to these two projects, Christianity spread to other neighboring villages where people wanted to participate in religious activities. Akoma conducted the church choir and made sure that the children received an education.
After the Nigeria civil war Akoma returned the balance of the Anglican mission money in his custody. In 1971 the Anglican Synod honored Akoma for his hard work and honesty.
Akoma Sampson retired in 1986 from his work as a devoted missionary and educator. He died in 1998 after meritorious service to the Anglican Church in Ngwaland and Nigeria. Akoma’s life continues to be the building block and point of reference in Uratta community’s march toward civilization and religious growth and freedom
Kemdirim O. Protus
Barrister Chimere Akoma, son of Akoma Paul Sampson, interviewed by Uchechi Enweremadu, a research assistant in 2004 at the University of Port Harcourt.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. Kemdirim O. Protus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Religious and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, a DACB Participating Institution. Dr. Kemdirim Protus is also the DACB Regional Coordinator for Nigeria.