EARLY MISSIONARIES OF THE NIGER DELTA (SERIES 2)
REV.DR ANDREW BUCHANAN MACDONALD
AND ITU LEPER COLONY
Dr Andrew Buchannan Macdonald was born in 1892, in Glasgow, a town by River Clyde in the Western Lowland in Scotland. Glasgow is famed for its Victorian art and nouveau architecture. Rev Dr A.B. Macdonald was the founder and medical superintendent of Itu leper colony where he worked from 1923 to 1954 with his wife, a nurse, Dr. Macdonald studied Medicine at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1920. Rev. Dr A. B. Macdonald arrived in Uburu (in present-day Imo state) in September 1921 to revive the mission hospital. Six months later, he relocated to Itu with his wife. His major achievement at Itu on his arrival was his relentless and tedious job of fighting yaws which was a plague in the area. In his book ‘of God and Maxim Guns’ Geoffrey Johnston noted that at the peak of the fight against the scourge, he gave one thousand injections of the newly discovered drug NAB- Novoarsenobenzy daily. He charged sixpence a dose to sustain the treatment and used the profit to build the hospital.
Macdonald’s greatest and most notable achievement was his founding the Leper Colony in Itu. According to Donald MacFarlane in his book, “Calabar” it all started with a visit by a leper to Macdonald’s dispensary in Itu asking for help, he treated him and he brought others. Soon the news spread like wildfire and a crowd of lepers who were hitherto outcasts and hopeless gathered at a sandbank by the Cross River shading themselves with palm fronds from the scorching sun. The flood of the rainy season submerged the island and they were relocated to the mainland where they built huts as they continued to attend the hospital for treatment. Itu chiefs offered a piece of land where a hospital, treatment rooms, amenities, church, school, leisure facilities, farmhouse etc. were provided. Industries where garri and other food items were produced, sprang up to make the colony self-reliant. Dr. and MrsMacdonald relocated from the quarters in Itu hospital to the colony where they worked among the lepers. This feat did not go unnoticed as the British Monarch awarded him the prestigious Member British Empire (MBE) in 1934 and later Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1954.
The leper colony in Itu survived after the departure of Rev. Dr A.B. Macdonald, the colony is now converted into a Theological college, Essien Ukpabio Theological College, Itu, run by the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.