Muhammadu Ribadu: Nigeria’s First Minister of Defence

After independence, Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence was Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu (1910-1965).

The Minister of Defence of Nigeria is a senior cabinet official in the Nigerian Federal Executive Council in charge of the Nigerian Ministry of Defence. The Defence Minister’s main responsibility is to manage all branches of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to maintain a modern, competent, and professional military force for the protection of the national territory, maritime interests, airspace, and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Alhaji Ribadu was born at Bulala, in present day, Adamawa State. He was active in Politics in the Northern Region and entered the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna in 1947.

Thus began a political career in which he rose rapidly. He soon became a leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), founded in 1949 as a cultural organisation but soon turned into a political party in order to meet the requirements of the Macpherson Constitution.

Under the leadership of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966), the most powerful politician during his era, the NPC won all the Northern seats in Nigeria’s first general elections of 1951-52 and Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu was one of the Northern candidates who won the election to the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos where he was appointed Minister of Natural Resources. He was previously a director of the Nigerian Produce Marketing Company, but resigned this post on becoming a Minister.

Historians believe that had Ribadu been alive, the January 15, 1966 coup wouldn’t have happened.

Image of Ribadu and Aguiyi-Ironsi
Ribadu with Lt. Col. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, 1960.

In 1954, he was appointed Federal Minister of Land, Mines and Power; he served in that ministry until 1957 when he was transferred to the portfolio of Lagos Affairs. He was second Vice-President of the NPC, and of the most influential leaders of the NPC-dominated regime in the Federation.

He received a British decoration, being awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1952.

While serving as Minister of Defence, Ribadu presided over a rapid expansion of the Nigerian Army, Navy as well as the creation of the Nigeria Air Force. He established the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna, the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna and a Second Recce Squadron in Abeokuta.

No doubt, Alhaji Ribadu was a towering figure. A giant among men. He was in all but name, the deputy Prime Minister. He was powerful and intrepid. His colleagues often refer to him as “power of powers”. He completed the Nigerianisation of the Nigerian Army. Till today, he’s still being remembered as one of the most outstanding Defence Minister Nigeria ever had.

Historians believe that had Ribadu been alive, the January 15, 1966 coup wouldn’t have happened.

On May 1, 1965, he was to be honoured along with the then Prime Minister, Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello with gold medals of the Usmamiya order in Kaduna but died on the morning of that day at the age of 55.

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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