The former prime minister of Nigeria Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a politician and the first prime minister of Nigeria. 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 (OAU).
Tafawa Balewa was born in 1912 in Bauchi, the then Northern Nigeria, into the family of Yakubu Dan Zala and Fatima Inna. Balewa's mother Fatima Inna was Fulani and his father Yakubu Dan Zala was of Bageri Baggara ethnicity and district head in the Bauchi divisional district of Lere.
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's began his early education at a Koranic School located in Bauchi, Bauchi State. Thereafter, he proceeded to the Barewa College, where he had his secondary education and obtained his teaching certificate. After Abubakar got his teaching Certificate, he got a teaching job at the Bauchi Middle School.
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Later decided to further his education. In 1944 he got admission to study oversea at the Institute of Education, University of London. After concluding his education oversea, he returned to Nigeria, to assume the position of Inspector of Schools under the colonial government.
In 1946, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa joined politics. He contested and was elected as a member of the Northern Nigerian House of Assembly. In 1947, he became a legislature at the Nigerian's Legislative Assembly. As a legislator, Tafawa 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 (NPC).
Balewa entered the government in 1952 as Minister of Works, and later served as Minister of Transport. In 1957, he was appointed 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 Organisation 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.
As Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, from 1960 to 1961, doubled as Foreign Affairs advocate of Nigeria. In 1961, the Balewa government created an official Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations ministerial position in favour of Jaja Wachuku who became, from 1961 to 1965, the first substantive Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs.
He was overthrown and murdered in a military coup on January 15, 1966, as were many other leaders, including his old companion Ahmadu Bello. The circumstances of his death still remain unresolved. His body was discovered at a roadside near Lagos six days after he was ousted from office. Balewa was buried in Bauchi. News of his assassination spurred violent riots throughout Northern Nigeria and ultimately led to the bloody counter-coup of July 1966.
Today, his portrait adorns the 5 Naira Note. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his hon
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Although not overtly political, Tafawa Balewa 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.
“I 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”.
“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 signs of willingness to unite … Nigerian unity is only a British invention”