Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (First Prime Minister of Nigeria, 1957 – 1966)

For a person to be the face of a country’s currency, they must be important to that country. This man on the Nigerian five naira note is Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was one of Nigeria’s leading politicians of the mid-1990s.

Early Life, Childhood, and Education of Tafawa Balewa

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born as an only child into a humble family in 1912, Bauchi, Northern Nigeria. His father, Yakubu Dan Zala was of Gere, Bageri descent while his mother was of Fulani and Gere ethnicity.

Yakubu Dan Zala said, “he was a slave who rose in service of the Madaki of Bauchi and became a district head.” Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was named after his birthplace, the Tafawa Balewa village.

Tafawa Balewa was formed from the corruption of two Fulani words, “Tafari” which means rock, and “baleri” which means black. Later in life, the man Tafawa Balewa would be nicknamed the “Black Rock” by friends and acquaintances.

As a young Muslim boy, he first attended the Qur’anic school. After that, he went on to attend Tafawa Balewa Elementary School from 1922 – 1925. For his secondary school education, he attended the Bauchi Provincial School from 1925 – 1928.

Next, he proceeded to the Katsina Training College, where he trained to become a teacher from 1928 – 1933. Although he graduated with a third class, he was the best performing student in the English language.

Early Career of Tafawa Balewa

After he graduated, Tafawa Balewa returned to his secondary school, Bauchi Provincial School. He taught his students the English language.

Tafawa Balewa taught for ten years at the Bauchi Provincial School and rose to a Teacher Grade I qualification in 1944. In 1945, he won a scholarship to study at the London University Institute of Education, one of few Northern Nigerians.

In 1946, he returned to Nigeria, where he continued with his political career. Even though he delved into politics, Tafawa Balewa returned to Bauchi Provincial School in 1949, becoming Headmaster. Following that, he became Inspector of Schools in Nigeria; however, this was brief.

Tafawa Balewa: Political Life and Prime Minister of Nigeria (1957 – 1966)

The events of World War II awakened an interest in politics in Tafawa Balewa. In 1943, together with a few others, he established the Bauchi Discussion Circle. An organization aimed to reform politics in Nigeria. In 1946, after his return from the London University Institute of Education, Tafawa Balewa continued with his political career.

That same year, an election got him into the House of Assembly of the Northern Region. In 1947, the following year, Sir Balewa was among the five representatives that the House chose to appear in the Central Legislative Council in Lagos. 

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was Nigeria’s first federal prime minister from 1957 – 1966, with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the President. As Nigeria’s prime minister, Tafawa Balewa was actively contributing to the events of the African continent. 

For example, he spoke against the South African Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which the South African police killed 69 protesters. Tafawa Balewa also helped negotiations between the Congolese authorities and the Moise Tshombe during the Congo Crisis (1960 – 1964).

Still, Balewa’s tenure as a prime minister of Nigeria was constantly disturbed by military unrest and violence in the Western part of the country.

Tafawa Balewa’s Death (January 15, 1966)

On January 15, 1966, the first-ever military coup in Nigeria took place. This coup targeted the civilian leaders, and Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu spearheaded it.

The purpose of the coup was to get rid of corrupt civilian leaders who were leaving lavish lifestyles to the detriment of the country’s economy. Tafawa Balewa was one of such targeted civilian leaders. He was kidnapped and was found dead six days after, his body rotting away at a roadside.

Tafawa Balewa’s Speech: First Speech as Prime Minister

Tafawa Balewa’s first speech as the Prime Minister of Nigeria as published by the site Blackpast (2009):

“This has been a great day for Nigeria, and, as the first Prime Minister of the Federation of Nigeria, I am proud to speak to my fellow countrymen tonight. I am proud, and I am humble, too, when I think of the enormous responsibility which has been placed upon me, and my colleagues.

Today, we have set out on the last stage of our journey to Independence. The next three years will see the culmination of a process that has been gathering momentum year by year and will see us reaping the harvest of what we have sown. The success of the harvest will depend upon us, and that is why I am glad to speak to you tonight. Every one of us has his part to play in the work of preparing Nigeria for Independence on April 2, 1960.

 I want everyone in Nigeria to realize that this is no easy task, and it cannot be performed by the Federal and Regional Ministers and legislators alone. It is a task for every one of you because it is only by the personal effort of each individual that Independence for the Federation can become a reality in 1960.

We have declared our intention of attaining Independence for the Federation on April 2, 1960, and if we wish to take our place among the responsible nations of the world, we must make every effort to see that this aim is achieved, and achieved with an international reputation for the good internal government.

Nigeria has now reached a critical stage in its history. We must seize the opportunity which has been offered to us to show that we are able to manage our own affairs properly. Every Nigerian, whatever his status, and whatever his religion, has their share to contribute to this crucial task. 

I appeal to all my countrymen and women to cooperate with me and my colleagues to create a better understanding among our peoples, to establish mutual respect, and trust, among all our tribal groups, and to unite in working together for the common cause, the cause for which no sacrifice will be too great.

I am convinced, and I want you also to be convinced, that the future of this vast country must depend, in the main, on the efforts of ourselves to help ourselves. This we cannot do if we do not work together in unity. Indeed, unity today is our greatest concern, and it is the duty of every one of us to work so that we may strengthen it. 

This morning I said in the House of Representatives that bitterness due to political differences would carry Nigeria nowhere, and I appealed to the political leaders throughout the country to control their party extremists. To you who are listening tonight, I repeat that appeal—Let us put away bitterness and go forward in friendship to Independence.

To further this overriding need for unity, my colleagues in the Council of Ministers and I have decided to give the country a lead by inviting the leaders of the Action Group to form with us a truly National Government composed of members of the main parties in the country, and here I must pay tribute to Dr. Azikiwe, to Chief Awolowo, Dr. Endeley and to the leader of my own party, the Sardauna of Sokoto, for supporting me in this decision.

 I and my Colleagues of the N.C.N.C. and N.P.C. bold out our hands in welcome to the Action Group members of the Council and I promise you that we shall do our utmost to ensure that the deliberations of the Council are held in an atmosphere devoid of strife and narrow party prejudice.

And now I would like to say a word to the civil service. We are grateful to all the civil servants, through whose work the country has reached the present stage of political development. I know that every constitutional advance puts a great strain on the civil service.

 Not only is there additional work to be done, but some officers find it hard to accept the new changes, but I must emphasize that Nigeria has today taken another important step forward, and if we are to succeed, we must have the loyalty of all Nigerian and expatriate officers in this vital period before self-government is achieved.

I should like to reassure all our expatriate staff of our continued Sincerity in the pledges given over the last few years and to promise them that they need have no fears about their future. Their aim and our aim remain what it has always been—the welfare and prosperity of Nigeria. Our political advance will be of no value if it is not supported by economic progress.

 It is, therefore, most important that the development plans throughout the country should be carried out with vigour in order that we may have a proper financial standing when, in three years’ time, we ask the world to regard us as an independent self-governing nation.

I want to remind you of what a great American once said. It was this, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. This statement is as true for Nigeria today as it has been for any other country. The peoples of Nigeria must be united to enable this country to play a full part in shaping the destiny of mankind. On no account should we allow the selfish ambitions of individuals to jeopardize the peace of the thirty-three million law-abiding people of Nigeria.

It is the duty of all of us to work for unity and encourage members of all our communities to live together in peace and harmony. The way to do this is to create understanding, mutual respect, and trust. It is important that we should first show respect to each other before asking the world to respect us.

Well—it is time for me to wish you good night, but first I would Once more tell you how absolutely vital it is for your future and the future Nigeria which your children will inherit that, during this interim period before Independence we should be united.

 Let us be honest with ourselves, and let us be sincere—we know what we want, and we are sure that we can get it, and get it at the right time, provided we are not delayed by selfish quarrels. At a time like this, we must all turn our minds to Almighty God and seek His guidance and assistance—by His grace, we shall succeed.”

Tafawa Balewa Personal Life

Despite the claims of Major Kaduna that Tafawa Balewa was a corrupt civilian, Tafawa Balewa lived a modest life. He owned one House and a farm of about fifty acres where he visited frequently. Tafawa Balewa was married to four women, one of whom was Hafsatu Bello who was killed with him. He had 19 children.

Tafawa Balewa Honours and Awards

Tafawa Balewa received these awards and honours from the British Royal house:

Officer of the Order of the British Empire, O. B. E — 1952

Commander of the Order of the British Empire, C. B. E — 1955

Knighthood, Sir — 1960

The University of Sheffield also awarded him:

Honorary Degree — 1960

Quotes by Tafawa Balewa

“Unity is our greatest concern, and it is the duty of every one of us to work so that we may strengthen it.”

“I am convinced, and I want you also to be convinced, that the future of this vast country must depend, in the main, on the efforts of ourselves to help ourselves. This we cannot do if we do not work together in unity.”

“Bitterness due to political differences would carry Nigeria nowhere, I appealed to the political leaders throughout the country to control their party extremists.”

“The peoples of Nigeria must be united to enable this country to play a full part in shaping the destiny of mankind. On no account should we allow the selfish ambitions of individuals to jeopardize the peace of the law-abiding people of Nigeria.”

“We must seize the opportunity which has been offered to us to show that we are able to manage our own affairs properly. Every Nigerian, whatever his status, and whatever his religion, has their share to contribute to this crucial task.”

“Our political advance will be of no value if it is not supported by economic progress.”

“It is the duty of all of us to work for unity and encourage members of all our communities to live together in peace and harmony. The way to do this is to create understanding, mutual respect, and trust.”

“It is important that we first show respect to each other before asking the world to respect us.”

“It is, therefore, most important that the development plans throughout the country should be carried out with vigour in order that we may have a proper financial standing when, in three years’ time, we ask the world to regard us as an independent self-governing nation.”

“It is important that we put away bitterness and go forward in friendship to Independence.”

References

Blackpast (2009) https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/1957-abubakar-tafawa-balewa-first-speech-prime-minister/

Udoekene, A. (2019) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.motivation.africa/top-10-quotes-of-abubakar-tafawa-balewa.html%3famp=1

Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Libraries (2021) 

https://zodml.org/discover-nigeria/people/abubakar-tafawa-balewa

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa – First Prime Minister of …. https://www.oasdom.com/sir-abubakar-tafawa-balewa/

Remembering Tafawa Balewa, the Right Honourable Gentleman …. https://tribuneonlineng.com/remembering-tafawa-balewa-the-right-honourable-gentleman/

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