Sir Ahmadu Bello: Warlord, Statesman, Politician

Sir AHMADU BELLO (June 12, 1909 – January 15, 1966) is still venerated by millions of Nigerians, especially his kinsmen – the Northern Nigerians. The largest university in West Africa, the second largest in Africa, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is named after him while his picture is graciously perched on one of Nigeria’s high currencies – the ₦200 note.

Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa were major figures in Northern Nigeria pre-independence politics and both men played major roles in negotiations about the region’s place in an independent Nigeria.

As the leader of the Northern People’s Congress, he was a dominant personality in Nigerian politics throughout the early Nigerian Federation and the First Nigerian Republic. 

His biography is a story of courage, perseverance, diligence, honesty, patriotism, and service to mankind. He was a teacher, farmer, administrator, politician, statesman, and religious leader. He built edifices which survived him. He was the Premier of the Northern Region of Nigeria and one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders. 

Bello combined traditional leadership qualities with knowledge of Western governance and his greatest legacy was the modernization and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria.

Early Life and Education

Ahmadu Bello was born in a village called Rabah, some twenty miles from Sokoto, on June 12, 1909, to Ibrahim, the district head of Rabah, son of Sultan Muhammed Bello, grandson of Sheikh Uthman dan Fodio, the founding father of the Sokoto caliphate at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

His father died when was 6 years old and he received his early Islamic education at Rabah in the hand of Mallam Garba, the Imam of Rabah Village in his early teens who taught him the basic rudiments of his religion and the Qu’ran.  He attended Sokoto Provincial School and the Katsina Training College, during his school days, he was known as Ahmadu Rabah. 

He finished school in 1931 and subsequently became the English master teacher in Sokoto Middle School. In 1934, he was made the district head of Rabbah within the Sultan’s administration. Four years later, he was promoted and sent to Gusau to become a divisional head.

In 1938, he made an unsuccessful bid to become the new Sultan of Sokoto. The successful sultan immediately conferred on him the traditional, now honorary, title of “Sardauna” and elevated him to the Sokoto Native Authority Council.

Political Sojourn

Bello first became politically active in 1945, when he helped to form a Youth Social Circle, which later (1948) affiliated with the NPC (Northern Peoples’ Congress) of which he became President-General in 1954.

In 1948, Ahmadu Bello visited the United Kingdom where he studied Local Government Administration, thereby widening his intellectual horizons and honing his administrative skill and competence.

In the first elections held in Northern Nigeria in 1952, Ahmadu Bello won a seat in the Northern House of Assembly and became a member of the regional executive council as minister of works.

Bello was successively minister of Works, of Local Government, and of Community Development in the Northern Region of Nigeria. In 1953 and in 1957, he led the Northern delegation during the independence talks in London.  In 1954, Bello became the first (only) Premier of Northern Nigeria. In the 1959 independence elections, he led the NPC to win a plurality of the parliamentary seats.

In forming the 1960 independence federal government of Nigeria, Bello, as president of the NPC, chose — although arguably one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria — to remain Premier of Northern Nigeria and devolved the position of Prime Minister of the Federation to the deputy president of the NPC, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

He apparently did not want to live in Lagos and preferred the political climate of the North from that of the South. His disinclination to head the national government also suggests that he was not interested in power for the sake of power but in serving the people whose votes had elected him to office.

Death and Legacy

Bello’s many political accomplishments include establishing the Northern Regional Development Corporation (NRDC)(subsequently the later the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), the Bank of the North, the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) and the Nigeria Citizen Newspapers. 

The North was less developed economically than the South, and Bello argued that it was necessary for the North to catch up with the South for the sake of national unity. He traveled constantly across the North, meeting people and listening to their concerns.

Bello, at the age of 54, was assassinated during the January 15, 1966, military coup that toppled Nigeria’s post-independence government. He was still serving as Premier of Northern Nigeria at the time. The Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is named after him and his portrait adorns Nigeria’s ₦200 note.

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.

Further Reading

How Bello, Balewa, others were killed in January 1966

How Nzeogwu killed Ahmadu Bello and wife

Pondering on the life of Sir Ahmadu Bello

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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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