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"Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience…”  - Sir Ahmadu Bello


Sardauna, Balewa: 40 years after 

by Zainab O. Suleiman / 2006-01-14


Tomorrow January 15, 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria...

Tomorrow January 15, 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It is yet another time for poignant reminiscences and reflections on the lives of these great men of Northern extraction. The political landscape today is visibly shaky and under the tension of the likelihood of a major crisis resulting from a possible stalemate between the North and South over where the presidency goes in 2007. There is equally a nostalgic remembrance of the crises of 1965-66 which climaxed in the 1966 coup, the counter-coup and eventually led to the civil war.
The Sardauna we knew…
Known for his intimidating allure, frankness, and imposing personality, this giant (in stature and strength of character) was both adored by many and despised by opponents. For the North whose cause he lived and died for, it couldn’t have been anything other than admiration. His nothernisation policy drew the ire of his southern critics, but it is the same reason why 40 years after he was assassinated, his life is still celebrated. His records have remained unequalled and unrivalled. In the story pieced together by Weekly Trust, those who knew and worked with him shared and relived their experiences with the man, Sardauna. Chief Awoniyi, the Sardauna’s Senior Assistant and one of those that have lived the exemplary life of the Sardauna has this to say: “He was intolerant of indolence because he believed that the indolent man is a liability to everybody around him. He was a workaholic. He loved the country and the people. And his concentration on the North, to bring up the North quickly, was his way of working for the unity of the country, because he believed that the North must be got into a position of competitive parity with the rest of the country…he had no moment for himself. It was work, work, work.”
Contrary to opinions in some quarters, Chief Awoniyi revealed that the Sardauna equally worked tirelessly for the unity of the nation. “Just before he died, he started a programme. He said why don’t we send six administrative officers to the West and six to the East, and we take six from the East and six from the West to come and work in the North for one year. This was going to be the integration of the bureaucracy in the country,” Awoniyi said, concluding that the “unity of Nigeria was very paramount to him.”
Described as the undisputed political party leader by Dr Shettima Ali Munguno, who was minister of Internal Affairs during the First Republic, the Sardauna was in his own opinion a unique kind of person when it came to playing the role of a shepherd… “When it comes to material acquisition, he had no place for that, otherwise, he would not have died a relatively poor man. It was the same with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Kashim. They had integrity, they had principle and they had a human touch,” he averred.
Asked to describe Nigeria 40 years after their death, Munguno said Nigeria of today is “a sorrowful state” and that had these patriotic leaders lived, they would have earned for Nigeria the greater respect and friendship of other nations. According to him, they “believed deeply in their hearts the necessity of the welfare of their countrymen and women as opposed to some political leaders today,” Munguno lamented.
For Adamu Fika, the Sardauna’s northernisation and education policies stood him out from the pack and this he did through motivation, encouragement and reward. “When he went to the Nigerian College of Arts and Science, he asked us to come and meet him in his house in Kaduna. We had two hours of discussion just to encourage us. Most of us were in our teens then. We were happy this man did not see us as small boys but was encouraging us. His old college, Barewa, he used to visit regularly, talking to the young ones that the future would be theirs if they worked hard. And up to the time that more secondary schools were established in the North, he kept on visiting, visiting and visiting,” Fika explained.
Looking at the pervasive religious intolerance in the society today Chief Ezekiel Adeyemi Ore Oyeyipo who served as Senior Assistant Secretary and Acting Chief Protocol in the Premier’s office could not help but marvel at Sardauna’s large heartedness and his (Sardauna’s) contribution to the development of his (Oyeyipo’s) career.
“He evaluated what I had and decided to take me to his home province, Sokoto as provincial secretary. This he did regardless of the fact that I did not live enough of my active life in Northern Nigeria, inspite of the fact that I happen to be a Yoruba and a Yoruba identifiable by every mark of Yoruba, inspite of the fact that I happen to be a Christian, yet he sent me down to Sokoto to man that big province of his. It was an administrative feat by him.”
Providing a military insight into the Sardauna’s demise, Maj. Gen. IBM Haruna (rtd) said though the Southern leaders were angered by Sardauna as gaining more politically, “they took an exception to it and the crisis deepened especially in the Western region. The military had no option but to strike…he Nigeria army had more southern officers in it with the foot soldiers being Northerners,” IBM Haruna explained, adding however that the masterminds of the coup lied to their Southern political leaders about their main motives.
Tafawa Balewa, a man of distinction
The same coup that consumed the Sardauna also snuffed life out of the nation’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on January 15, 1966. He was abducted and later killed by Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the five majors that plotted the first coup, and who was assigned the role of operation New Wash in the mutineers’ action plan. His body was not found until Jan. 21 that year. Born in 1912 in Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was described as a ‘cool figure’ who pre-occupied himself with holding together Nigeria’s more than 250 ethnic groups. Presiding over some major political upheavals in the nation’s history, he was a man guided by a sense of moderation and the 1965 election crisis in the Western region was his greatest challenge.
Popularly referred to as ‘Balewa the Good,’ he had a humble background from the Jere ethnic group (a branch of the Hausa). His assassination was described as “the most regretted in Nigeria,” due to his humility, Spartan lifestyle, commonsense, and tolerance.
A man of “unusual authority” and “possessed of the gravitas of a statesman,” Tafawa Balewa must have been a soothsayer of sort to have foretold what a post-independence Nigeria would look like. According to his biographer, Trevor Clark in his book “A Right Honourable Gentleman: The Life and Times of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,” Balewa had said that “an independent Nigeria would be likely to founder on tribal differences and on corruption,” and he was doubtful whether the British-style Wesminister democracy would be the ideal system for an ethnically divided Nigeria. He never under-estimated Nigeria’s political weaknesses and was said to have admitted Nigeria’s cross road status in pursuit of political relevance: “The trouble is that the Nigeria Member of Parliament wants to criticize the government and to be in it at the same time. Democracy, democracy, what is it? There is American democracy –British democracy. Why not Nigerian democracy? I wish we could find that.” Perhaps the search has continued to elude Nigeria.
Described as the man with ‘the golden voice’ because of his oratorial powers and eloquence, Balewa spoke “convincingly, meaningfully and truthfully,” concerning the imperative of justice and transparent honesty, as he was reported to have told the Chief Justice of Nigeria (1958 to 1972), Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, who himself wrote a forward in the above-mentioned book. “I remember one of his sayings to me from time to time, ‘CJ, if I do anything wrong and I am brought before you, deal with me; and if necessary send me to jail….” Sir Adetokunbo wrote that Balewa often repeated and emphasized this point.
And as a measure of his sincerity in his task of building a new nation, Sir Adetokunbo said the prime minister had often put himself on the spot by his own utterance. “If this people do not want me any more, all they need do is to give me about two hours’ notice, and this is enough for me to pack my few belongings here and leave.” Unfortunately the assassins never gave him the chance to once again display that modesty that leadership should bestow and which only the great Balewa had monopoly of.
Again, to quote Clark, “his murder in 1966, perpetuated in the arrogance of ignorant brutishness, appalled and affronted me as did countless others…”
…And Arewa House celebrates Sardauna
As part of events to mark the Sardauna’s death, Arewa House, Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna has slated today (14th of January 2006) to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of the late premier.
A historical documentation centre, Arewa House which also serves as the venue of today’s event was the Sardauna’s official residence. It was there that Sir Ahmadu Bello was assassinated by mutinous soldiers led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzegwu on 15th January, 1966.
Some of the major dignitaries expected at today’s event are former President Shehu Shagari as chairman, Vice President Atiku Abubakar as special guest of honour, while distinguished guests of honour include, Speaker Aminu Masari, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais, Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar
His eminence, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, Sultan of Sokoto, is scheduled to lead chairmen and councils of chiefs in the Northern states to the ceremony while members of Northern Senators’ Forum, Northern Members’ Forum and Northern Speakers’ Forum would also be in attendance.
Some expected key speakers at today’s event include Chief Awoniyi, Professor Iya Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma, Umar Shinkafi, John Mark Samchi and a host of others.
The event will likely turn into a talk shop with third term and power shift taking the centre stage. As a gathering of Northerners of various political backgrounds, the issue of power retention or power shift would no doubt generate heated debates among participants.

  “Here in the Northern Nigeria we have People of Many different races, tribes and religious who are knit together to common history, common interest and common ideas, the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us. I always remind people of our firmly rooted policy of religious tolerance. We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience…”  - Sir Ahmadu Bello 

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