Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa: Biography, and Career, and Death

Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first prime minister of independent Nigeria. He served from 1957 to 1966. Let’s meet one of Nigeria’s heroes of independence.


Abubakar Balewa was born in Bauchi, the son of a Bageri Muslim district head in the Bauchi divisional district of Lere. His background was relatively humble, unlike many other Nigerian leaders. He started early education at the Koranic School in Bauchi and like most of his contemporaries. Young Abubakar studied at the Katsina College for further education and soon acquired his teaching certificate.

Tafawa Balewa returned to Bauchi to teach at the Bauchi Middle School. Tafawa was chosen to study abroad for a year at the University of London’s Institute of Education. Balewa married four women who bore him nineteen children.


Abubakar Balewa entered politics after returning to Nigeria. He and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to represent the Muslim majority in Northern Nigeria. Balewa was elected to the colony’s Northern House of Assembly in 1946. He gave a famous and impassioned speech calling for a radical change in the Native Administration and its relations with Great Britain.

Soon after this speech, the British began restructuring the Native Authority for self-rule and eventually Nigerian independence. In 1955 Balewa was appointed Federal Minister of Works and Transport by Nigeria’s Colonial Governor, Sir James Wilson Robertson. Balewa became Prime Minister when Nigeria was granted self-governance in 1957. Balewa was knighted by Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain in January 1960.

Overthrow and Death

The daunting task faced by Balewa and his fellow politicians was to balancing the interests of each region so that a national identity could be nurtured and shaped and the rights of all citizens could be honored. With various factions pulling in different directions:

  • some favoring membership of an even larger polity,
  • others wanting a large measure of regional autonomy,
  • and determined to privilege their community over others.

This bordered on the impossible. In May 1967, the Eastern Region declared independence as the Republic of Biafra under Lt Colonel Emeka Ojukwu and civil war broke out.

He was murdered in a military coup on January 15, 1966, as were many other leaders. The circumstances of his death still remain unresolved. Six days after he was ousted from office his body was discovered at a roadside near Lagos. His portrait is on the 5 Naira Note and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his honor.

Author: BF

light sleeper, heavy dreamer.

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