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Date Published: 10/22/09

Nigeria's Forgotten Heroes: Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Part 1) By Max Siollun


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 Emir of Bauchi and became a district head.

Balewa was born in 1912 in the village of Tafawa Balewa, in modern day Bauchi state. Although it is widely presumed that he was Hausa, Balewa was in fact of Gere ethnicity. He was educated at Bauchi Provincial School, and later attended Katsina Teacher Training College (1928-1933). He became a teacher and later headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. 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”, for:

“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.

During World War II Tafawa Balewa had become interested in political activities. In 1943 he founded a political organization named the “Bauchi Discussion Circle”. In 1948 he was elected vice president of the Northern Teacher's Association, the first trade union in Northern Nigeria. In 1949 he helped organize the Northern People's Congress (NPC), originally conceived as a cultural organization but by 1951 a political party.

In 1946 Tafawa Balewa had been selected by the Bauchi Native Authority as their representative to the Northern House of Assembly, and the House of Assembly in turn selected him to become a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council. In 1951, in the North's first elections, Tafawa Balewa won seats in the Northern House of Assembly and in the House of Representatives in Lagos, where he became a minister in the Central Council. In 1952 he became Nigerian minister of works and in 1954 minister of transport and the senior minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives. In 1957 he became the first prime minister of Nigeria, a position he held until his death.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in January 1960 and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Sheffield.


He died and left four of us. I am from Sokoto but brought up in Bauchi. I was 13-years-old when he married me and the marriage was blessed with six children. There is also Hajia Babba [Zainab] who is aged now and has eight children. Followed by Hajia Umma who has two, and late Hajia Laraba that had only a child.

The children include Mukhtar and Sadiq who are the eldest and Hajia Uwani, Umar, Ahmed, Haruna and Aminu, who was a journalist and is late now. Others are Hafsat, Amina, Zainab, Yalwa, Saude, Hajia Binta and Hajia Talle Aishatu, who is late now. For instance, my last child who was delivered two weeks after the death of the prime minister is now 42 years old.

Did you re-marry after the death of the prime minister?

Because of our young age then our parents insisted that we should re-marry. So it was after one reason or the other that the marriages ended and we thus came back to the Prime Minister's house to look after our children. And we have been living happily together since.

Hajiya Zainab, better known as Hajiya Umma, the 3rd wife of the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, has died. She was 73.

She died at Bauchi Specialist Hospital after a brief illness on Monday. Her remains were buried in Bauchi yesterday according to Islamic rites.

The deceased is survived by two children, Hadiza and Ahmed as well as many grand children. The two other wives of the late prime minister are still alive.

Bauchi State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Muhammad Garba Gadi, was among those who attended the burial of the deceased.

Umma was the 3rd wife of the Prime Minister before he was killed in a bloody military coup on 15th January, 1966.

Sympathizers were seen trouping into the family home of the late prime minister along old Ran road in Bauchi while condolences were being received.

Bauchi governor, Malam Isa Yuguda, described the late Umma as a mother to the state who was also a nationalist since she might have worked with and assisted the late Prime Minister in different ways during the course of his national assignment.

Speaking through his director of press, Mohammed Khanna, Yuguda also said the late Umma did her best in the sustenance of peace and unity in Bauchi State.

In his condolence, Borno governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, prayed to Allah to grant the late prime minister’s widow, Aljanna firdaus and give the family the fortitude to bear the loss.

On the part of Yobe State governor, Ibrahim Geidam, who spoke through his director of Press, Abdullahi Bego, said, “the death of Hajiya Zainab was a sad loss, not to only to the Tafawa Balewa family, but also to the entire north and Nigeria in general”.

Max Siollun

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