Category Archives: Nigerian History

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa – A Right Honourable Gentleman – #Nigeria


In memory of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was killed (during Nigeria’s first military coup) on this day exactly 50 years ago:

Today is the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup. What do we remember of January 15, 1966 and the victims of that day?  Do we remember the man who received the instruments of independence on behalf of Nigeria on October 1, 1960?

Other countries keep libraries full of books and archives about their first leaders.  All Americans know chapter and verse about George Washington.  Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah is an icon.  What of Nigeria’s case? Are we accurately recording our history for our children and descendants?

The only book on Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was written by a foreigner. Little is known about Balewa.  In the first of a new series of articles on “Nigeria’s forgotten heroes”, I chronicle and attempt to release a little more information about Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.

Birth and Origins

In contrast with the largely aristocratic ruling elite in the north, many of whose ancestry derives from royal lineage, Balewa had very humble origins. His father was a slave who rose in service of the Madaki of Bauchi and became a district head.

According to family oral history, Balewa’s paternal grandfather Isa was murdered in front of his family by his rival’s agents. Isa’s widow then took her infant son to Bauchi, where the Madaki of Bauchi took her in. Abubakar was born in December 1912 in the village of Tafawa Balewa, in modern day Bauchi state. He was his father’s only child. The name of his birthplace was appended to Abubakar’s name (Abubakar Tafawa Balewa). Tafawa Balewa village takes its name from two corrupted Fulani words: “Tafari” (rock) and Baleri (black). This may have contributed to the “Black Rock” nickname he acquired in later life. Although it is widely (incorrectly) presumed that he was Hausa, Balewa’s father Yakubu Dan Zala was in fact of Bageri ethnicity, and his mother Fatima Inna was Fulani.

Education

He attended Quaranic school and learnt the first chapter of the Qur’an by heart. For his Western education he attended Bauchi Provincial School. According to his teacher and classmates he was a shy, quiet and not outstanding student. Although reserved by nature, he did commit a disciplinary infraction when he was caught outside school without permission, and smoking with his friends to boot. He was whipped as punishment.  One of his juniors at school was Nuhu Bamalli (later Foreign Minister). He later attended Katsina Teacher Training College (1928-1933) and graduated with a third class certificate. His best subject was unsurprisingly, English. He became a teacher and irritated by a friend’s remark that no Northerner had ever passed the exam for a Senior Teacher’s Certificate, Balewa duly sat the exam, and obtained the Certificate. He became headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. He reported that the first white woman he ever set eyes on was Dame Margery Perham (a renowned academic on African affairs) when she visited Nigeria on an investigation of native administration.

In 1945 he and other northerners (including Aminu Kano) obtained a scholarship to study at the University of London’s Institute of Education (1945-1946), where he received a teacher’s certificate in history. When he returned to Nigeria he said he now saw the world with “new eyes”. Balewa said he:

“returned to Nigeria with new eyes, because I had seen people who lived without fear, who obeyed the law as part of their nature, who knew individual liberty”

He returned to Nigeria as a Native Authority Education Officer.

Political Calling

Balewa was no firebrand political radical. He may have remained a teacher for the rest of his life had southern politicians such as the flamboyant intellectual Nnamdi Azikiwe not pushed for Nigerian independence. Although not overtly political he founded an organisation named the “Bauchi Discussion Circle” in 1943, and was elected vice president of the Northern Teacher’s Association (the first trade union in Northern Nigeria) in 1948. Anxious not to be politically upstaged by the southerners, Northern leaders sought educated Northerners to serve in political posts. Balewa helped found the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which was originally intended as a cultural organisation but by 1951 morphed into a political party due to the need to present a Northern response to the rapid and sophisticated political groupings emerging in the south.  Balewa was called into political service as the Bauchi Native Authority’s representative to the Northern House of Assembly.  The House of Assembly also selected him to become a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.

Despite political involvement, Balewa remained suspicious of Nigerian unification and feared that the Northern Region would be dominated by the better educated and dynamic south. He said that “the southern tribes who are now pouring into the north in ever increasing numbers…do not mix with the northern people in social matters and we…look upon them as invaders. Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. So what it comes to is that Nigerian unity is only a British intention in the country.”

He later became the federal Minister of Works and in 1954 Minister of Transport and the senior minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives. His conversion from regional to federal outlook came after he visited America in 1955 on a fact finding mission.  He reminisced that “In less than 200 years, this great country [America] was welded together by people of so many different backgrounds. They built a mighty nation and had forgotten where they came from and who their ancestors were. They had pride in only one thing —their American citizenship… I am a changed man from today. Until now I never really believed Nigeria could be one united country. But if the Americans could do it, so can we.

Position Without Power?

Even though Balewa was only the deputy leader of the NPC, the NPC leader the Sardauna of Sokoto sent Balewa to Lagos to become the federal Prime Minister in 1957.  The Sardauna had no interest in living in the south. When Nigeria became independent in 1960, he became the newly independent country’s first Prime Minister and received the instruments of independence from Princess Alexandria (cousin of Queen Elizabeth II). Although the country’s Prime Minister, he was not the leader of his own party (the NPC) and thus remained in the paradoxical position of being a head of government that had to defer to, and take instructions from his boss (the Sardauna).

A “Perfect Victorian Gentleman

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4twfjk3hoA4&feature=player_embedded

In 1963 he gave a spellbinding eloquent speech at the Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) inaugural conference of the Organisation of African Unity. As Prime Minister he maintained a thoroughly dignified comportment.  A British acquaintance called him “perhaps the perfect Victorian gentleman”. He gained several awards from the British: OBE in 1952, CBE in 1955, Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in January 1960 and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Sheffield in May 1960.

Balewa proposed an amendment to Nigeria’s constitution to give due recognition to the nation building role played by then Governor-General Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Balewa proposed that “Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to have been elected President and Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces” because “Nigeria can never adequately reward Dr. Azikiwe” for the nationalist role he played in building Nigeria and achieving independence.  Azikiwe is referred to by name in Nigeria’s 1963 constitution, and to my knowledge Azikiwe was the only living individual constitutionally enshrined by name in his democratic country’s constitution.

Death and Beyond

On January 15, 1966 he was kidnapped from his official residence by armed soldiers who were executing Nigeria’s first military coup. He was missing for several days and a search for him was ordered by the new military regime headed by Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi. His family and friends continued to believe he was alive. Rumours claimed the rebel soldiers were holding him alive and that he would be released as part of a prisoner swap involving the imprisoned Chief Awolowo.  However these hopes were dashed when his decomposing corpse was found a few days later, dumped in a roadside bush.  His corpse was taken to Ikeja airport in the company of Police Commissioner Hamman Maiduguri, Inspector-General of Police Kam Selem, Maitama Sule and his wives Laraba and Jummai who accompanied it as it was flown to Bauchi where he was buried. His body now lies inside a tomb declared a national monument. The tomb includes a library and a mosque. The famous race course square in Lagos was renamed “Tafawa Balewa Square” in his memory. His image appears on the 5 Naira note.

http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675061783_Abubakar-Balewa_Commonwealth-Minister%27s-Conference_Vehicular-traffic_ministers-seated

His mother Hajiya Inna died less than a year after him. He was survived by his four wives Jummai, Umma, Zainab and Laraba, and 19 children. He married Jummai (from Sokoto) when she was 13 years old. He also had a posthumous daughter (Zainab) who was born by Jummai two weeks after his death.  Although all of Balewa’s widows remarried after his death, their subsequent marriages collapsed and they returned to the Prime Minister’s house in Bauchi to live together.  Balewa’s third wife Hajiya Zainab (aka “Hajiya Umma”) died earlier this year at the age of 73.

His two sons in England were comforted and looked after by their headmaster Trafford Allen with the support of their guardian J.E.B. Hall, with their school fees at Epsom College being paid by the military government of General Gowon. His son at Keffi Government College did not know of his father’s death until the school caterer broke the news to him. His children include Mukhtar, Sadiq, Hajia Uwani, Umar, Ahmed, Haruna, Aminu (a journalist who has since died), Hafsat, Amina, Zainab, Yalwa, Saude, Hajia Binta, Yalwa (widowed early and became an organiser of women’s education), Rabi (resisted early marriage in favour of study), Ali (died aged 9), and Hajia Talle Aishatu (now deceased).

 

 

 

The Man Who Designed #Nigeria’s Flag


http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/my-nigeria/2015/09/nigerian-flag-150901092231928.html

Great story about Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria’s iconic green-white-green flag.

What Really Happend to Abacha and Abiola?


The Death of MKO Abiola: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02w68yg

The Death of General Abacha: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02vyxqq

How quickly we forget. Almost exactly 17 years ago, the political situation was as follows:

  • Nigeria was being ruled by a ruthless and reclusive military dictator called General Sani Abacha.
  • General Olusegun Obasanjo was in prison, along with over 50 other army officers were in jail (some awaiting execution) on charges of coup plotting.
  • Nigeria had become a pariah nation after being expelled from the Commonwealth for executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists who were campaigning for a fairer share of Nigerian oil revenues and against the environmental damage caused to their lands by the drilling and spills of big oil companies.
  • Lt-General Oladipo Diya, Major-Generals Abdulkareem Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and several other officers were on death row awaiting execution for their role in another coup plot.
  • The winner of the acclaimed June 12 1993 election Chief MKO Abiola had been in jail for 4 years, kept incommunicado from the outside world.
  • General Abacha was on the verge of transforming himself from a military ruler to civilian President having strong armed all the 5 political parties (“five fingers of the same leprous hand”) into adopting him as their presidential candidate.
  • Genuine democracy seemed far, far away.

abacha3.jpg

Plus a lot of the “pro democracy” activists shamelessly abandoned Abiola to join Abacha (Olu Onagoruwa, Baba Gana Kingibe). Even ministers in Abacha’s regime were not safe. The Guardian Newspapers (owned by Abacha’s minister Ibru) was proscribed by a newspaper proscription Decree and shut down after it criticised the government. It was the paper’s continual criticism of Abacha’s regime that led to the near fatal assassination attempt on Ibru.

The Abacha -v- Abiola power struggle was holding the entire country hostage (Abacha’s desire to remain in power and Abiola’s unrealised mandate). Even if Abacha was removed, what would the country do about Abiola who won a credible election five years earlier?

Then the following cataclysmic events happened in the space of 30 days:

  • On June 8 1998 Abacha dies of a heart attack and is hurriedly buried without an autopsy by the time the news filters through to most Nigerians. Nigerians publicly celebrate the death of a reviled leader with wild jubilation. General Abdulsalam Abubakar quickly replaces Abacha and announces that Abiola will be released but that he had to realise that his mandate had expired. A lot of chicanery was used to get Abiola to renounce but he refused. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sent to talk to him and explain that his “term of office” had expired since 5 years had passed since the June 12 1993 election. All to no avail.
  • Exactly one month after the death of Abacha, Abiola suddenly dies of a heart attack on July 7 1998.
  • With Abacha, Abiola and the June 12 issue out of the way, General Abubakar announces a swift 10 month programme for a return to civilian democratic rule. Just 10 months after Nigeria seemed doomed to perpetual military rule under General Abacha, the military steps down and a new democratic government is elected under President Obasanjo.
  • The speed with which Abacha’s infrastructure was dismantled just seemed too contrived. With Abacha alive and Abiola incarcerated, most people thought democracy was years away in Nigeria. Just 10 months after his death everything he did was undone: his killer squad was dismantled, coup convicts and pro democracy activists released, Nigeria back in the Commonwealth, democracy restored, and the army back in the barracks. Note that a lot of Abacha’s supporters survived in office and resurfaced in subsequent dispensations (Sarki Mukhtar – NSA, Jerry Gana etc).

Somehow exactly 30 days apart, both men die of heart attacks. Abacha is prevented from becoming a civilian ruler, from executing the condemned men like Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and a recalcitrant Abiola (who refuses to renounce his mandate) also dies. Problem gone, debate over, fresh start. All rather convenient isn’t it?…. How easily we forget….

“The Day the Biafran War Came to My Village”


http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01rj50x

“It was the first time I saw my dad scared”

The Full Story of the War between #Biafra and #Nigeria


This past weekend was the anniversary of the declaration of the republic of Biafra in May 1967. The surviving actors from the war spoke about the war in this excellent video series:

https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1835372607783/?type=1&theater

#Buhari – Soldiers of Fortune Book Reading on Unilorin 89.3FM @IqraBooks @coolgaffi @UNILORIN893FM @bolajibooks


Essential reading for those who want to understand Buhari 1.0.
Unilorin FM 89.3 radio station has been doing readings of Max Siollun’s book on the Buhari and Babangida years called “Soldiers of Fortune: Nigeria From Buhari to Babangida (1983-1993)”.

They are doing the readings every Monday at 5:30pm Nigeria time. You can listen online at  or via their Android and Blackberry apps.

https://soundcloud.com/max-siollun/soldiers-of-book-reading-on-unilorin-fm-893

Readers With Their Copy of Soldiers of Fortune: Ayobami Olunloyo (Number 32) #MaxSiollun


https://twitter.com/ayobamiolunloyo/status/566698050287308800

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B91Q38iIIAAujdb.jpg:large

Many of you have been posting images of yourselves with your copy of my book Soldiers of Fortune. To say thanks to you, I have been posting “shout outs” to say thanks to you for buying and reading the book.

The 32nd shout out goes to Ayobami Olunloyo.

Copies of Soldiers of Fortune can now be downloaded to Amazon Kindle from the Amazon website:

It can also be bought online from Buyam and Cassava Republic who can deliver directly to your front door:

other buying locations: –

  • Glendora, Awolowo Road, South-West Ikoyi, Lagos
  • Patabah Bookstore, Shop B18, Adeniran Ogunsanya mall, Surulere, Lagos
  • Jazzhole in Lagos, at 168 Awolowo Road, Lagos, Nigeria
  • Terrakulture, Plot 1379, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos

Full list of locations here: http://www.fortunesoldiers.com/where-to-buy/

Reviews: http://www.fortunesoldiers.com/in-the-news/

How Well Do you Know #Nigeria? (Part 2)


I am restarting a feature I began (and wisely discontinued) a few years ago:

https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/how-well-do-you-know-africa/

https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/how-well-do-you-know-nigeria/

Do you think you know lots about Nigeria? Well, here is a chance to show off how much you really know about that country.  Take the 10 question quiz below. Answers to the questions will be posted here in due course.

NO CHEATING, no use of Wikipedia or Google (or other web search engines!). ;-)

NIGERIAN QUIZ

1)    Who coined the name Nigeria?

2)    In what year was Nigeria’s current national anthem adopted?

3)   Nigeria’s first Prime Minister was Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. What does ‘Tafawa Balewa’ mean in English?

4) What was the last military post held by president-elect Muhammadu Buhari before he became head of state on December 1, 1984?

5)  What was former president General Obasanjo’s career before he joined the army?

6)    Abuja succeeded Lagos as Nigeria’s capital city. Which city was the capital before Lagos?

7) Which school counts among its alumni, four different Nigerian heads of state?

8)   Who is the longest reigning head of state in Nigeria’s history? (single uninterrupted reign)

9)   Who is the only Nigerian to have commanded the air force of two different countries?

10) What was the first political post held by president-elect Muhammadu Buhari?

#Buhari: What Should #Nigeria Expect from Buhari Version 2.0? A Different Man #Nigeriadecides


My Op-Ed article in the New York Times about how Buhari is likely to govern in his second stint in power.

In order to succeed, he must learn from what happened to him in 1985.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/09/opinion/can-nigerias-former-dictator-muhammadu-buhari-become-a-democrat.html
Excerpt:

In most countries, a 72-year-old retired general who once led a severe military dictatorship that imprisoned its opponents without trial, publicly executed convicts by firing squad, arrested journalists who criticized it, ran an Orwellian intelligence apparatus that bugged the phones of government ministers — a man whose overthrow three decades ago was welcomed with relief by his countrymen, and who lost three consecutive presidential elections in 12 years — would be considered unelectable.

http://t.co/8ut41QNiZO

#Nigeriadecides: Is #Buhari a Dictator or a Reformed Democrat?


http://www.npr.org/2015/04/02/397096933/nigerian-president-elect-calls-himself-a-converted-democract

My interview with National Public Radio’s Melissa Block regarding Buhari’s first sting in power as Nigeria’s military ruler between 1984-1985.

Some excerpts of what I told NPR:

A government in Nigeria today has to behave in a far more benevolent manner…the citizenry has evolved as well and are a lot more sophisticated; a lot more cognizant and aware of their rights, and would not tolerate some of the excesses that the military got away with during the decades of military rule.

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