Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

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Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

1st Prime Minister of Nigeria
In office
1 October 1960 15 January 1966
President Nnamdi Azikiwe
Preceded byPost established
Succeeded by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi as Military Head of State
Personal details
BornDecember 1912
Bauchi, Northern Nigeria Protectorate
Died15 January 1966 (aged 53)
near Lagos, Nigeria
Political party Northern People's Congress
Spouse(s)Four wives - Jummai, Umma, Zainab and Laraba
Relations Aisha Balewa, Muhammed Balewa, Baba Balewa, Hadiza Balewa. (grandchildren)
Alma mater Barewa College
University College London

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, KBE (December 1912 – 15 January 1966) was a Nigerian politician, and the first prime minister of an independent Nigeria.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.

Prime minister most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system

A prime minister is the head of a cabinet and the leader of the ministers in the executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary or semi-presidential system. A prime minister is not a head of state or chief executive officer of their respective nation, rather they are a head of government, serving typically under a monarch in a hybrid of aristocratic and democratic government forms.

Nigeria Federal republic in West Africa

Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa, bordering Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east, and Benin in the west. Its coast in the south is located on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. The federation comprises 36 states and 1 Federal Capital Territory, where the capital, Abuja, is located. The constitution defines Nigeria as a democratic secular state.


Early life and career

Early life and education

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in December 1912 in Bauchi State, in the Northern Nigeria Protectorate. Balewa's father, Yakubu Dan Zala, was of Gere ethnicity, [1] and his mother Fatima Inna was half Gere, half Fulani. [1] [ citation needed ] His father worked in the house of the district head of Lere, a district within the Bauchi Emirate. [2]

Bauchi State State in Nigeria

Bauchi, usually referred to as Bauchi State to distinguish it from the city of Bauchi, is a state in northern Nigeria. Its capital is the city of Bauchi. The state was formed in 1976 when the former North-Eastern State was broken up. It originally included the area now in Gombe State, which became a distinct state in 1996.

Northern Nigeria Protectorate 1900-1914 UK possession in Western Africa

Northern Nigeria was a British protectorate which lasted from 1900 until 1914 and covered the northern part of what is now Nigeria.

Balewa began his education at a Koranic School in Bauchi; when southern colonial administrators began to push for western education in the Northern region, Balewa was among the children sent to Tafawa Balewa Elementary School, after the Koranic school. Thereafter, he proceeded to Bauchi Provincial School. [2] Like many of his contemporaries, he studied at Barewa College, then known as Katsina College, where he was student number 145. Ahmadu Rabah, later known as Ahmadu Bello, was student number 87 and was two years his senior, while Abubakar Imam was a year ahead of him. [3] The College was several kilometers from Bauchi and was not close to a railway station nor other public transportation. During holidays, which was twice a year, Balewa trekked home, a journey of more than 400 kilometers. He trekked for 40 kilometers a day, before finding a resting place at a nearby village. In total, the journey took him 10 days. [2]

Barewa College

Barewa College is a college in Zaria, Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. Founded in 1921 by British Governor General Hugh Clifford, it was originally known as Katsina College. It switched its name to Kaduna College in 1938 and to Government College, Zaria in 1949 before settling on Barewa College. It is one of the largest boarding schools in Northern Nigeria and was the most-celebrated post-primary schools there up to the early 1960s. The school is known for the large number of elites from the region who attended and counts among its alumni five who were Nigerian presidents including the late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

Abubakar Imam O.B.E C.O.N, L.L.D (Hon.) N.N.M.C. was a Nigerian writer, journalist and politician from Kagara, Niger in Nigeria. For most of his life, he lived in Zaria, where he was the first Hausa editor of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, the pioneer Newspaper in Northern Nigeria.

Katsina College had British expatriate teachers, many of whom had been educated at leading British schools and then attended Cambridge or Oxford. Students were taught in English, and speech was an important part of learning for the students. Apart from excellence in English, the school was also a training ground for teachers to be posted to the provincial and middle schools within the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. [2]

Northern Region, Nigeria former autonomous division within Nigeria

Northern Nigeria was an autonomous division within Nigeria, distinctly different from the southern part of the country, with independent customs, foreign relations and security structures. In 1962 it acquired the territory of the British Northern Cameroons, which voted to become a province within Northern Nigeria.

Balewa completed his five-year education in 1933 and returned to Bauchi to teach at Bauchi Middle School. He taught at the school and rose to become a senior schoolmaster. In 1941, he became acquainted with a young Aminu Kano, who was posted to the school as a teacher. After a student unrest, investigations into student grievances indicted the headmaster, and in 1941 Balewa was nominated as the new headmaster. [2]

Aminu Kano Nigerian politician

Aminu Kano was a Muslim politician from Nigeria. In the 1940s he led a socialist movement in the northern part of the country in opposition to British rule. The Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, and the Aminu Kano College of Islamic Studies all in Kano, are named after him.

In 1944, Balewa and some other educated teachers in the Northern Provinces were chosen to study abroad at the University of London's Institute of Education, which today forms part of University College London. Upon returning to Nigeria, he became an Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration and later entered politics.

University of London federal public university in London, United Kingdom

The University of London is a federal research university located in London, England. As of October 2018, the university contains 18 member institutions, central academic bodies and research institutes. The university has over 52,000 distance learning external students and 161,270 campus-based internal students, making it the largest university by number of students in the United Kingdom.

University College London, which has operated under the official name of UCL since 2005, is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. It is a member institution of the federal University of London, and is the third largest university in the United Kingdom by total enrolment, and the largest by postgraduate enrolment.

He was elected in 1946 to the Northern House of Assembly, and to the Legislative Council in 1947. As a legislator, he was a vocal advocate of the rights of Northern Nigeria. He supported hesitance by the North to become independent, based on the objection that the north and south regions were not on an equal footing. In the Northern Assembly, he sought more roles and responsibility in the Native Administration for the educated members of the emirates. [2]

Together with Ahmadu Bello, who held the hereditary title of Sardauna of Sokoto, they proposed the transformation of the cultural organization, Jam'iyyar Mutanen Arewa, which means Northern People's Congress (NPC) in English, to become a political platform for use as campaign platform during the elections of 1951. Balewa was elected Vice President of the new party and subsequently resigned his post as headmaster of Bauchi Middle School. NPC won the plurality of votes to the regional House of Assembly in 1951. Balewa was among the new legislators in Kaduna. Under a new constitution, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, an electoral college system was implemented whereby, some regional legislators were elected to the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos, and among the federal legislators, three members from each region would be appointed federal ministers with portfolio. Balewa was among those nominated to Lagos and along with Kashim Ibrahim and Muhammadu Ribadu were nominated to become ministers.

From self-government to independence

Balewa administration

Balewa entered the government in 1952 as Minister of Works, and later served as Minister of Transport during a time Nigeria was moving towards self-government. During his tenure at the transport ministry, both the Marine and Railway departments were transformed to corporations and the designs for a bridge over the Niger and plans for the Kainji Dam were developed.

In 1957, NPC won the plurality of votes in the Federal House of Representatives and Balewa became the Chief Minister and designated Prime Minister. As part of his plans to unify the country towards the move for independence in 1960, he formed a coalition government between the NPC and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe and also invited the Action Group (A.G.), the 1957 cabinet was constituted as an all party cabinet. Though, Awolowo, the leader of A.G. and premier of the Western region was skeptical of the plan, [4] the national executive committee of Action Group party endorsed the National Government and Ayo Rosiji and Samuel Akintola were nominated by the party. During this period, Balewa developed a close relationship with K.O. Mbadiwe from NCNC and Akintola from AG. [2]

Balewa retained the post as Prime Minister when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, and was reelected in 1964.

Prior to Nigeria's independence, a constitutional conference in 1954 had adopted a regional political framework for the country, with all regions given a considerable amount of political freedom. The three regions then were composed of diverse cultural groups. The premiers and some prominent leaders of the regions later took on a policy of guiding their regions against political encroachment from other regional leaders. Later on, this political environment influenced the Balewa administration. His term in office was turbulent, with regional factionalism constantly threatening his government.

Balewa at the White House with President Kennedy, 1961 JFKWHP-ST-A-A3-3-61.jpg
Balewa at the White House with President Kennedy, 1961

However, as Prime Minister of Nigeria, he played important roles in the continent's formative indigenous rule. He was an important leader in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity and creating a cooperative relationship with French speaking African countries. He was also instrumental in negotiations between Moise Tshombe and the Congolese authorities during the Congo Crisis of 1960–1964. He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and also entered into an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. However, a treason charge and conviction against one of the western region's leaders, Obafemi Awolowo, led to protest and condemnation from many of his supporters. The 1965 election in the region later produced violent protests. Rioting and violence were soon synchronous with what was perceived as inordinate political encroachment and an over-exuberant election outcome for Awolowo's western opponents.

As Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, from 1960 to 1961, doubled as Foreign Affairs advocate of Nigeria. In 1961, the Balewa government created an official Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations ministerial position in favour of Jaja Wachuku who became, from 1961 to 1965, the first substantive Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs.


In January 1960, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield in May, 1960 [1]. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the New York University in July 1961.


He was overthrown and murdered in a military coup on January 15, 1966, as were many other leaders, including his old companion Ahmadu Bello. The circumstances of his death still remain unresolved. His body was discovered at a roadside near Lagos six days after he was ousted from office. Balewa was buried in Bauchi. News of his assassination spurred violent riots throughout Northern Nigeria and ultimately led to the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 [4].

Today, his portrait adorns the 5 Naira Note. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his honour.

Balewa's Shaihu Umar

In 1934, Balewa wrote Shaihu Umar, a novella about a pious Muslim in response to a request to promote Hausa literature by Rupert East, head of the colonial Translation Burearu, . [5] Written in a prose homily structure, [5] [3] the protagonist, Shaihu Umar recounts his events in his life's history. Events and themes within the novel dealt with slave trade, familial relationships and Islamic themes of submission to the will of God. [5]

Shaihu Umar was staged as a play in the 1970s. [5]

Shaihu Umar, was first published in 1955.

Personal life

Balewa was described as modest and self effacing. [6] At his death, his major assets included his house in Bauchi and a 50 acre farm where he vacationed when he wanted to relax. The farm was located on the way to Tafawa Balewa village about nine miles outside Bauchi, many official decisions while in office were taken at the farm. Balewa was married to four women who bore him nineteen children. [7]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Kperogi, Farooq (22 Jan 2016). "Gere: Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's Real Ethnic Group". Daily Trust. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Nigeria; Federal Department of Information (1982). Nigerian heroes. Lagos: Federal Dept. of Information.
  3. 1 2 Sani., Umar, Muhammad (2006). Islam and colonialism : intellectual responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British colonial rule. Leiden: Brill. ISBN   900413946X. OCLC   62554253.
  4. A., Joseph, Richard. Democracy and prebendal politics in Nigeria : the rise and fall of the Second Republic. Cambridge. p. 34. ISBN   9781107633537. OCLC   864086426.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Бессмертная, Olga Bessmertnaya-Ольга. "A Hausa Author's Idea of Literature as an" about-face" response to the British literary challenge". Multiculturalism & Hybridity in African ….
  6. "See Nigeria's ex-leader Buhari is being compared with – Daily Advent Nigeria" . Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  7. "Footprints: The life and legacy of Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa – NorthernLife" . Retrieved 2019-01-17.