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.
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.
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”
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.
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).
Great story about Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria’s iconic green-white-green flag.
Excellent documentary series by Al-Jazeera focusing on the every day lives of Nigerians.
The outgoing Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Professor Attehiru Jega was recently a guest of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. During a talk attended by Jega’s INEC Commissioners and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America Ambassador Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, Jega gave a very eye opening talk about Nigeria’s election landscape and the recently concluded 2015 elections.
Jega said that Nigeria’s electoral laws caused operational problems for INEC. If a presidential election is inconclusive with no clear winner, the Nigerian constitution requires a second run-off election to take place within 7 days of the original election. Prior to the election INEC had recommended that this provision of the constitution should be amended. In other countries the average time to prepare for a run-off is 6 weeks. Jega described the possibility of organizing a run off election in 7 days as “impossible”. A run-off could have caused “a constitutional crisis”. He said he prayed the election would not go to a run off!
INEC did what it could to prepare for the eventuality of a run-off; printing extra ballot papers just in case. Because of fear of being challenged in court, INEC printed extra run-off ballot papers for all parties (even though the law requires that the run-off should take place between only the two top parties).
INEC Key Steps
Giving semblance of impartiality.
Building key partnerships
The permanent voter cards (PVCs) that voters used to vote were made in China.
INEC met quarterly with party chairmen and representatives. Meetings became monthly in the run up to the election.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s Government
Jega said that “Time will come when positive things will be said about Jonathan’s government” – in terms of allowing INEC to be independent. Jega said none of the electoral malpractice or attempts to affect INEC’s independence could be attributed to Jonathan or the government in particular.
The postponement of the presidential election from February to April allowed INEC more time to train more staff and allowed more people to collect their PVCs and vote. As at February 28, tens of millions of PVCs had not been collected.
In February INEC and Jega were invited to the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt-Colonel Sambo Dasuki for a meeting. The meeting was also attended by the military service chiefs Air Chief Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh (Chief of Defence Staff), Lt-General Kenneth Tobiah Minimah (Chief of Army Staff), Air Marshall Adesola Amosu (Chief of Air Staff), Vice-Admiral Usman Jibrin (Chief of Naval Staff), and the Inspector-General of Police Solomon Arase.
INEC were told that there were compelling reasons to postpone the election. The security chiefs told INEC there was “a window of opportunity” to fight Boko Haram and that their energies would be focused on that fight around the time the election was scheduled. They said that for the first time Nigeria’s neighbors Chad, Cameroon, and Niger were pressing Nigeria to join a Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF); whereas in the past it was Nigeria that was pressing them to join a military coalition, and they foot dragged.The security officers said that joint action against Boko Haram would rob it of the ability to flee for respite to Nigeria’s neighbours. The security chiefs said that the time was opportune because the military had just taken delivery of military weaponry they had ordered before. In conclusion the armed forces could not provide their customary level of security support for this election.
INEC were taken by surprise. Their position was that they were ready for the elections to go ahead as scheduled. INEC asked the service chiefs to undertake consultations and build consensus for their recommendations.
The following day the NSA Dasuki went to Chatham House and recommended a six-week postponement of the election; without consulting INEC. https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/nigeria-national-security-adviser-not-very-optimistic-about-chibok-girls/ In the words of Jega “we were shocked” by Dasuki’s speech and candor at Chatham House. Although Dasuki’s Chatham House speech took INEC by surprise, INEC could not publicly contradict the NSA.
The following week Jega and INEC were summoned to a National Council of States (NCS) meeting (also attended by the service chiefs) at which Jega briefed the NCS and told them about the situation (INEC was ready to go ahead with the election as scheduled, but had received security advice to the contrary). Jega also received a letter from the NSA Dasuki (signed by the Chief of Defence Staff Badeh) reiterating the earlier security advice given to INEC. The service chiefs and the NSA reiterated to the NCS that they could not provide security guarantees for the election.
The decision on whether to postpone was deferred to INEC since it was INEC that had the legal mandate to schedule the election. Jega said the discussion at the NCS “took a partisan divide” (with some parties for and against postponement depending on their assessment of whether or not it would benefit them).
INEC called a meeting of its commissioners. Jega considered the safety of its electoral staff and said he “would not put the lives of over 750,000 election workers at risk” by ignoring the security advice. INEC did not want to be blamed for bloodshed if it ignored the security advice and lives were lost. Postponement also offered INEC a silver lining by allowing more people to collect their PVCs and vote, giving them more preparation time, and offered the potential for a genuine and peaceful elections to take place in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States which had been wracked by the Boko Haram insurgency and which were so insecure that it was difficult to envisage how elections could take place in those states.
As at February, INEC had produced 68.95 million out of 69 million PVCs that were supposed to be produced. 67% of people had collected their PVCs. By the time the election took place 56 million PVCs had been collected out of a total of 69 million PVCs (81% of PVCs were collected).
INEC received petition to cancel Rivers State election results on the grounds that fake result sheets were being distributed and that no elections took place at all in certain polling units. Jega said these claims “were spurious”. INEC sent a three man team of its national commissioners to Rivers State to investigate. The commissioners were there for 12 hours and refuted the petition’s allegations.
The “Orubebe incident was unfortunate”. Jega said he has no evidence of further conspiracy regarding Orubebe’s outburst. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/16/uk-nigeria-election-exclusive-idUKKBN0N71KO20150416
All Jega said is that he “Hope we learned lessons from that and move on…statesmen should be statesmen…we need more role models”.
Jega said Nigerians should not spend so much time in euphoria of the election success, but should also focus on maintaining standards and preventing regression. Said Nigerians “shouldn’t just sit back and gloat about a wonderful election”.
INEC used NYSC cadets as ad-hoc staff. NYSC and security staff did not get to vote because of their election day duties. Jega said they had tried (after 2011 election) to arrange for ad-hoc staff to vote but INEC did not get around to implementing it. Jega said perhaps essential election staff could vote 1 day or 1 week in advance of the public.
INEC piloted an electronic results system in 2011 – using the governorship election in Rivers State as its test case. INEC worried that technology failure or manipulation would taint the election. Result technology had failed in Kenya. INEC felt they already had too much on their hands with the introduction of PVCs and biometric readers. He also said that using an electronic counting system required trust in the technology, and faith it would not be manipulated. Jega said that level of trust does not yet exist in Nigeria’s political system, and that the possibility of technology being manipulated or corrupted, led INEC to count results manually.
Jega gave credit to Jonathan’s government for giving INEC approval and money to implement PVCs and electronic card readers.
Video showing the scenes following the end of the civil war between Biafra and Nigeria: between the respective representatives of the two armies: Colonels Obasanjo and Effiong.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in the New York Times about the kidnap of her 83 year old father in the New York Times:
there was my own sad guilt: He was targeted because of me. “Ask your daughter the writer to bring the money,” the kidnappers told him, because to appear in newspapers in Nigeria, to be known, is to be assumed wealthy. The image of my father shut away in the rough darkness of a car boot haunted me. Who had done this? I needed to know.
Amazing how history repeats. Sixteen years ago a retired general was sworn in as Nigeria’s president and vowed to fight corruption. He vowed:
“The beneficiaries of corruption…will fight back with all the foul means at their disposal…There will be no sacred cows. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption…”
A video report on the controversies of Buhari’s first tenure in government.
Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan led president-elect Muhammadu Buhari on a tour of the presidential villa at Aso Rock in Abuja. Jonathan gave Buhari the presidential handover notes. Buhari was accompanied by his son and daughter.