Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
(December 1912 - January 15
) was a Nigerian politician
, and the first prime minister
of an independent Nigeria
. Originally a trained teacher, he became a vocal leader for Northern interest as one of the few educated Nigerians of his time. He was also an international statesman, widely respected across the African continent as one of the leaders who encouraged the formation of the Organization of African Unity
Early life and career
Abubakar Balewa was born in Bauchi
, the son of a Bageri Muslim
district head in the Bauchi divisional district of Lere. He started early education at the Koranic
School in Bauchi and like most of his contemporaries, he studied at the Katsina
College for further education and soon acquired his teaching certificate. He returned to Bauchi to teach at the Bauchi Middle School. In 1944, along with a few learned teachers from the north, he was chosen to study abroad for a year at the University of London
's Institute of Education
. Upon returning to Nigeria, he became an Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration and later entered politics. He was elected in 1946, to the colony's Northern House of Assembly, and to the Legislative Assembly in 1947. As a legislator, he was a vocal advocate of the rights of northern Nigeria, and together with Alhaji Ahmadu Bello
, who held the hereditary title of (Sardauna
) of Sokoto
, he founded the Northern People's Congress
From self-government to independence
Balewa entered the government in 1952 as Minister of Works, and later served as Minister of Transport. In 1957, he was elected Chief Minister, forming a coalition government between the NPC
and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons
(NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe
. He retained the post as prime minister, when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, and was reelected in 1964.
Prior to Nigeria's independence, a constitutional conference in 1954 had adopted a regional political framework for the country, with all regions given a considerable amount of political freedom. The three regions then were composed of diverse cultural groups. The premiers and some prominent leaders of the regions later took on a policy of guiding their regions against political encroachment from other regional leaders. Later on, this political environment influenced the Balewa administration. His term in office was turbulent, with regional factionalism constantly threatening his government.
However, as prime minister of Nigeria, he played important roles in the continent's formative indigenous rule. He was an important leader in the formation of the Organization of African Unity and creating a cooperative relationship with French speaking African Countries. He was also instrumental in negotiations between Moise Tshombe and the Congolese authorities during the Congo Crisis of 1960-1964. He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and also entered into an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. However, a treason charge and conviction against one of the western region's leaders, Obafemi Awolowo, led to protest and condemnation from many of his supporters. The 1965 election in the region later produced violent protests. Rioting and violence were soon synchronous with what was perceived as inordinate political encroachment and an over-exuberant election outcome for Awolowo's western opponents.
In January 1960, Balewa was knighted
by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
. He was awarded an honorary doctorate
from the University of Sheffield
in May, 1960.
He was overthrown and killed in a military coup on January 15
, as were many other leaders, including his old companion Ahmadu Bello. His body was discovered by a roadside near Lagos six days after he was ousted from office. Balewa was buried in Bauchi.
Today, the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his honour.
- Kalu Ezera;, Constitutional Developments in Nigeria: An Analytical Study of Nigeria's Constitution-Making Developments and the Historical and Political Factors That Affected Constitutional Change, 1960
- James S. Olson, Robert S. Shadle; Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, Greenwood Press, 1996