Ikoku was born on August 1, 1900 in Arochukwu in present-day Abia State to a wealthy merchant family. He attended the Government School and Hope Waddell College in Calabar,Cross River State. In 1920, he received his first teaching appointment with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland at Itigidi in the Abi LGA of Cross River State. Two years later, he became a senior tutor at St Paul’s Teachers’ Training College in Awka, Anambra State. He earned a degree from the University of London in philosophy in 1928 through private correspondence.
Educationalist and Politician
In 1931, Ikoku established one of the earliest private secondary schools in Nigeria: the Aggrey Memorial College located in Arochukwu. The school was named after James EK Aggrey, an eminent Ghanaian educationalist.
In 1946, after several constitutional changes which allowed for more Nigerians to be part of the legislative chambers, Ikoku was nominated to the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly and assigned to the Ministry of Education. In 1947, he became part of the Legislative Council in Lagos as one of three representatives of the Eastern Region.
In government, Ikoku exerted his influence to promote the interests of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and further the cause of education and his active participation in the organisation led to his becoming its National President in 1955. He was instrumental to the legislative council’s acceptance of 44 of the NUT’s proposals for amendments to various educational ordinances. He worked for the introduction of uniform education in Nigeria through the NUT, although the colonial government repeatedly rejected his recommendations throughout much of the 1950s. Ikoku and his union were vindicated after independence when the recommendations became the foundation of the new nation’s official policy on education.
He retired from government politics in the early 1960s and served on various educational bodies in the country. He was a member of the West African Educational Council (now the West Africa Examination Council – WAEC) and the governing council of the University of Ibadan. He also served as the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Aviation Training Centre in Zaria,Kaduna State.
Ikoku was given an honorary doctorate in law in 1965 for his contributions to education in Nigeria at a special convocation of the University of Ibadan. The Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Owerri, Imo State is named after him. His image appears on Nigeria’s ten naira note.
He died on November 18, 1971 at the age of 71.