Archbishop Peter Akinola was born on 27 January 1944 to a Yoruba family in Abeokuta in southwestern Nigeria. Akinola was four years old when his father died, and he was sent to live with an uncle. He attended school between ages 10 and 16, when he left school to learn a trade. After an apprenticeship in Lagos, Akinola became a successful furniture maker and patent-medicine seller. He finished his high school by distance education. He studied at a Nigerian Anglican seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Soon after ordination, he pursued further study at the Virginia Theological Seminary.
In the beginning of the 1980s, Akinola was assigned to create an Anglican presence in the new capital Abuja which was about to be built. He holds it as one of his greatest successes, to create a vibrant Anglican community there. In 1989 he was ordained bishop of Abuja and 1997 archbishop of Province III of the Church of Nigeria, consisting of the northern dioceses of Nigeria. On February 22, 2000 he was elected primate of the Church of Nigeria, the second biggest church in the Anglican Communion, then numbering 18 million members.
Akinola was given the National Award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in December 2003. In 2006 Akinola appeared on TIME magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in the category Leaders and Revolutionaries. In 2007, the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay gave him together with 17 others a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Akinola was President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an ecumenical body bringing together 52 million Protestant, Catholic, and African independent Christians. During his Presidency, the National Ecumenical Centre in Abuja was completed, which had been a building ruin for 16 years. In October 2009, he reacted to the Vatican’s proposed creation of personal ordinariates for disaffected traditionalist Anglicans by saying that although he welcomed ecumencial dialogue and shared moral theology with the Catholic Church, the current GAFCON structures already meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of conservative Anglicans in Africa. In November 2009, Akinola signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences.
Akinola was among the Global South leaders who opposed the consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop in the Anglican Communion. This group successfully pressed for the voluntary withdrawal of ECUSA’s representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council’s meeting in Nottingham in 2005, although representatives did attend in order to make a presentation supporting full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church, for which a vote of thanks was passed.
Akinola is one of the principal founders of the Global Anglican Future Conference, an international gathering of conservative Anglican bishops planned for June 2008, and has declared that the Church of Nigeria is in full communion with the emergent Anglican Church in North America, which was founded to create a separate ecclesiastical structure to the Episcopal Church of the United States within the Anglican Communion.
In February 2006, Muslims rioting over the Danish newspaper cartoon controversy spread to Nigeria. Rioters targeted Christians and their property, resulting in a reported 43 deaths, 30 burned churches and 250 destroyed shops and houses. Included among the victims was the family of one of Akinola’s bishops, Ben Kwashi, the Bishop of Jos. Kwashi’s home was broken into and his wife was tortured and sexually assaulted, resulting in her temporary blindness.
With nearly 18 million active Anglicans in Nigeria, Akinola’s flock dwarfs the mother Church of England’s membership. And since he is chairman of the 37 million—member Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, when he speaks, far more than just Anglicans pay attention. Akinola has the strength of a lion, useful in confronting Third World fundamentalism and First World relativism.
Akinola retired in March 2010, 57 year old Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, of Bendel Province, was elected the Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) at the conference of the House of Bishops in Umuahia on 15 September 2009. Peter Akinola is married and a father of six.