Sir Ahmadu Bello is still venerated by millions of Nigerians, especially Northerners. The largest university in West Africa (the second largest in Africa) is named after him while his portrait is featured on the 200 naira note.
But, did you know that Bello was once jailed on charges of corruption in 1943? Has the nation learnt anything from history? Why was he jailed? Oh, did you also know he was born on a June 12? What were his achievements? Why do his people love him so much? Why has he generated so much hatred in the minds of some others?
In a jiffy, I shall quickly outline what you may not know about Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria.
Firstly, let me share with you some of his quotes
“Nigeria: the ‘mistake of 1914′.”
“I would rather have a non-Nigerian do a job than give it to a non-northerner.”
“The Ibos are more or less a type of people whose desire is mainly to dominate everybody. If they go to a village or town, they want to monopolize everything in that area. If you put them in a labour camp as a labourer, within a year, they will try to emerge as the headman of that camp,”-BBC interview, 1964.
“We the people of the North will continue our stated intention to conquer the South and to dip the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean after the British leave our shores.”
“I will allow Sir Tafawa Balewa to go and become Prime Minister and lead the unbelievers of the South whilst I will stay in the North and lead the faithful.”
“Here in Northern Nigeria we have people of many different races, tribes, and religions who are knit together to common history, common interest and common ideas; the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us. I always remind people of our firmly rooted policy of religious tolerance.
“We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience.”
“I am not unaware that I have often been a controversial figure. I have been accused of lack of nationalism and political awareness because I considered that independence must wait until a country has the resources to support and make a success of independence. I have been accused of conservatism because I believe in retaining all that is good in our old traditions and customs and refusing to copy all aspects of other alien civilizations.
“I have been accused of many things, but the views of others have never made me deviate from the path which I am certain is the one which will benefit my people and country. I have always based my actions on my inward convictions, on my conscience and on the dictates of my religion.”
“No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”- Reacting to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha and the Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria in the wake of the 1959 federal elections.
“You must do your duty but my safety is in the hands of God.”- Reacting to Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, leader of the January 15, 1966, carnage in Northern Nigeria, 1965.
“You are unique in that we stand at the meeting point of two of the major cultural system of the world. Islamic culture from the East and Christian culture from the West, and meeting in the presence of a third culture, that of the ancient state and empires of African itself.
“Our task is to bring about a dialogue between these two cultures and fit them to Africa, interpreting one of the other to the mutual benefit of all. We should introduce Western ideas and technologies where necessary but it must be without disrupting our existing spiritual, cultural and social values.”- Excerpts from his speech while being made the Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on November 23, 1963.
“They say that I am proud and impatient. I am certainly proud, for I have much to be proud of, and not the least the trust that God has given me to lift up our people from their primitive conditions into the light of life and the happiness of contentment. But I am not proud in the arrogant sense, for I know that I am merely an instrument carrying out God’s will and pleasure.”
Now, the HARD FACTS!!!
1. Ahmadu Bello was born on June 12, 1909, in Rabbah, present-day Sokoto State.
2. He was the son of a concubine.
3. His father died when he was 6 years old.
4. He was the only surviving son of his father and mother, Mariyamu.
5. He was a great-grandson of Shehu Uthman dan Fodio, the great Fulani jihadist.
6. Bello got his Islamic and Arabic education as a teenager from Mallam Garba who was the Imam of Rabbah village.
7. He finished at the age of 16, top of his class.
8. He attended the Teacher’s Training College, Katsina (later Barewa College) where he was a School Prefect and Class Captain.
9. Thereafter, he graduated as a Teacher in 1931 with a credit equivalent Grade III result.
10. Bello was appointed by the Sultan of Sokoto to work as a teacher at the Sokoto Middle School.
11. He was once a student at the Middle School and taught from 1931 to 1934.
12. He was appointed a rural administrator (District Head) at the age of 25 in 1934.
13. Ahmadu Bello became a candidate for the succession to the throne of the Sultan of Sokoto at the age of 29.
14. He made attempts to become the Sultan of Sokoto but was not successful, losing to Sir Siddiq Abubakar III who reigned for 50 years until his death in 1988.
15. The new Sultan immediately made Sir Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna (Warlord) of Sokoto, a honourary title and promoted him to the Sokoto Native Authority Council, these titles automatically made him the Chief Political Adviser to the Sultan.
16. Later, he was put in charge of the Sokoto Province to oversee 47 districts.
17. In 1943, a drama played out when he was thrown before the Sultan’s court for misappropriating jangali (cattle) tax for the Gusau region where he was the Councillor.
18. He was sentenced to 1 year in prison but spent 3 months in jail.
19. By 1944, he was back at the Sultan’s Palace to work as the Chief Secretary of the State Native Administration.
20. In 1949, at the age of 40, he was nominated for a seat in the Regional House of Assembly.
21. Bello spoke impeccable English and respected many European values.
22. Sir Ahmadu Bello keenly encouraged female education.
Premier of Northern Nigeria
23. In 1954, Sir Ahmadu Bello became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria.
24. Bello was said to be scrupulous and prudent with public finance but generous with his own money.
25. In 1955, he made his first pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
26. The “Work and Worship” motto on the Northern Nigerian crest was adopted by him.
27. Bello chose to remain the Premier of Northern Nigeria and gave the position of Prime Minister to his hand-picked candidate, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was then the Deputy President of the NPC.
28. Sir Ahmadu Bello never sought the leadership of Nigeria.
29. He once stated that he would rather be the Sultan of Sokoto than to be the leader of Nigeria.
30. At various times, he made inflammatory statements about the Igbos as he once referred to them as the “Jews of Nigeria” whose sole purpose is to dominate wherever they find themselves.
Achievements, Honour and Awards
31. In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) made him a Knight of the British Empire (KBE), and that explains the ‘Sir’ in his title.
32. In 1962, he became Pioneer Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria.
33. Bello founded the Bank of the North (now Unity Bank).
34. He also founded the Northern Nigerian Development Company.
35. He established the 16,000-seater Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna.
36. Bello once referred to Nigeria as the “mistake of 1914″ but later worked for and gave his best for the new nation of Nigeria.
37. He established the University of Northern Nigeria, which stretched from Samaru present-day Kaduna State to Funtua present-day Katsina State on the 4th of October, 1962, now known as Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
38. By the beginning of 1966, it was quite clear that the Sardauna was one of the most powerful figures in the country, and many believed that he was actually the most powerful, even much more powerful than the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
39. His party, Northern People Congress (NPC), held sway over 29 million out of 55 million Nigerians.
40. On his way to the Umrah (the Muslim lesser pilgrimage), he received a letter with threats to kill him.
41. The letter was said to have stated: “We have arranged to kill you and the Prime Minister (Alhaji Tafawa Balewa).”
42. As a devout Muslim, the Sardauna believed that giving his life in the service of Northern Nigeria was worth the sacrifice and that death was a certain end.
43. He later said of the threat: “Don’t worry, continue to get useful information. I know what to do.”
44. On the morning of January 15, 1966, armed soldiers, led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, arrived at his residence at the Lugard House, Kaduna, with the message of death.
45. He told his family to stay away in safety but they would have none of that. They all trooped behind him as he came out of the family quarters and in a matter of seconds, he was surrounded by the soldiers led by Nzeogwu who fired at his babanriga. And immediately, blood sputtered from the point of impact through the beard on his face.
46. At that point, his first and eldest wife, Hafsatu, threw herself at him in a final embrace. They were both shot to death.
47. He was believed to have been killed instantly when a bullet penetrated his spinal cord.
48. Brave till the very end, Bello was reported to have faced the soldiers and introduced himself as the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region.
49. Bello died leaving £10 in his bank account.
50. He gave birth to a daughter after his death (posthumously).
Premier of Nigeria’s Northern Region and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello speaks on the domineering nature of the Igbos and on why he would employ a Northerner before any other Nigerian to the Region’s civil service, 1964.
If there are other facts I must have missed, you can gladly share them in the comment box below.
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.