As the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello is still venerated by millions of Nigerians, especially among his kinsmen in Northern Nigeria.
Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa were major figures in Northern Nigeria’s 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, NPC. the Sardauna was a dominant personality in Nigerian politics throughout the early Nigerian Federation and the First Nigerian Republic.
Sir Ahmadu Bello’s 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 for nearly 12 years and one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders.
Sir Ahmadu Bello combined traditional leadership qualities with knowledge of Western governance and his greatest legacy was the modernisation and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria.
Early Life and Education
Ahmadu Bello was born in a village called Rabah, some 20 miles from Sokoto, on June 12, 1909, to Ibrahim, the district head of Rabah son of Sultan Abubakar Atiku, son of Sultan Muhammadu Bello, and son of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, the founding father of the Sokoto caliphate at the beginning of the 19th century.
His father died when he was six years old and he received his early Islamic education at Rabah in the hands of Malam Garba, the Imam of Rabah Village in his early teens who taught him the basic rudiments of his religion and the Quran. During his school days, at the Sokoto Provincial School and the Katsina Training College, he was known as Ahmadu Rabah.
The young Bello finished school in 1931 and subsequently became the English master teacher at 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.
Sir Ahmadu Bello first became politically active in 1945, when he helped to form a Youth Social Circle, which later, in 1948, became affiliated with the NPC of which he became the President-General in 1954.
Earlier in 1948, Sir 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, Bello won a seat in the Northern House of Assembly and became a member of the regional executive council as minister of works.
Sir Ahmadu Bello was successively minister of Works, Local Government, and Community Development in the Northern Region of Nigeria. In 1953 and in 1957, he led the Northern delegation to the independence talks in London. In 1954, Ahmadu Bello became the first and only Premier of Northern Nigeria until his assassination in 1966. In the 1959 independence elections, he led the NPC to win a plurality of parliamentary seats.
In forming the 1960 independence federal government of Nigeria, Bello, as the leader of the NPC, chose to remain as Premier of Northern Nigeria and devolved the position of Prime Minister of the Federation to his deputy, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Bello apparently did not want to live in Lagos and preferred the political climate of the North to 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.
Achievements of Sir Ahmadu Bello
Sir Ahmadu Bello’s many political accomplishments include establishing the Northern Regional Development Corporation, NRDC, (later becoming the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, NNDC), the Bank of the North, the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria, BCNN, and the Nigerian Citizen Newspapers.
The North was less developed economically than the South and Bello argued it was necessary for the North to catch up with the South for the sake of national unity. He travelled constantly across the North, meeting with people and listening to their concerns.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, at the age of 54, was assassinated during the January 15, 1966, military coup which 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.
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