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  • NigeriaWorldToday [Home] > Nigerian History > Tafawa Balewa, Brief History of a Nigerian Hero

    Tafawa Balewa, Brief History of a Nigerian Hero


    Tafawa Balewa

    Tafawa Balewa was born in 1912 in the small town of Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi Province of North-Eastern Nigeria. After primary education in Bauchi, he went to Kastina Higher College for five years, qualifying in 1933 as a teacher. He taught at Bahchi Middle School until 1945, then spent a year at the Institute of Education of London University and on his return was appointed Education Officer for Bauchi Province.

    Tafawa Balewa Involvement in Northern Nigeria Politics

    As one of the few education people of his time in the North, Tafawa Balewa quickly became involved in the politics of that region. Constitutional development in Nigeria brought the need for indigenous legislators and he soon became a member of the first Northern House of Assembly from which he was elected to the Nigerian Legislative Council in Lagos in 1946.

    A further change in Nigeria constitution made A. Tafawa Balewa in 1952, as Minister of Works, one of the first group of central government ministers. In 1954, he was appointed minister of transport. Rapid constitutional development on the eve of independence brought further changes. Thus, as a parliamentary leader of the N.P.C. (Northern People’s Congress), the biggest party in the federal parliament, he was appointed in August 1957 as the Prime Minister of Nigeria.

    Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became First Prime Minister

    After the 1959 eve-of-independence elections, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became on 1st October, 1960, the first Prime Minister of Independent Nigeria. Surviving a stormy federal election in 1964, he was reappointed Prime Minister, a post which he retained until his assassination in January 1966. Sir Tafawa  Balewa’s 6 years as the head of government of independent Nigeria weighed heavily on the frail figure of this quiet man. In Nigeria’s turbulent and complex politics, he remained a cool figure preoccupied with the problem of holding together the country’s 250 ethnic groups. In September 1957, in his first parliamentary speech as Prime Minister, he made the following declaration which is characteristic of the man:

    Today, unity is our greatest concern and it is the duty of every one of us to work to strengthen it. Bitterness due to political differences will carry Nigeria nowhere and I appeal to all political leaders throughout the country to try to control their extremists. Nigeria is large enough to accommodate us all in spite of our political differences.

    As head of the federal government, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa controlled Nigeria’s foreign policy. Outside Nigeria as within it, he was guided by the same sense of moderation. Oppose to extreme and hasty Pan-Africanism, he is remember as stating at the inaugural meeting of the O.A.U. at Addis Ababa in 1963 that he did not believe in the “African personality” – the firebrand African nationalism as defined by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

    Northern People’s Congress Didn’t Give Tafawa Balewa Free Hand to Rule

    Although Tafawa Balewa was Nigeria’s federal Prime Minister, on the purely party political plane, he was always number two in his own party, the N.P.C. Under the shadow of Sir Ahmadu Bello, that party’s imperious and aristocratic chief, he never really had a free hand in ordering the affairs of the federal government. Much of the weakness of which his government was frequently accused came from this subordinate status in which his personal opinion and judgment were constantly interfered with by his party boss.

    A devout Moslem, popularly known as “Balewa the good,” Sir Abubakar was a simple man. In a North of feudal Fulani aristocracy, he was born a commoner, belonging to small Jere tribe (a branch of Hausa ethnic group) and throughout his life reflected the humility and native shrewdness that this background gave him. His assassination was perhaps the most regretted in Nigeria, where few people had anything against him as a person. He was killed for what he represented officially – the head of a government that had become unpopular with Nigeria’s progressives.


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