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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




By Professor Iya Abubakar, Jan 14, 2006

Former Vice-Chancellor, ABU Zaria

Chairman National Mathematical Center Abuja


Sir, Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto, was the son of Ibrahim Mai Rabah, grandson of Sultan Atiku, great grandson of Sultan Bello, and great grandson of that Famous Islamic Scholar and reformer Shehu  Usman  ibn Fodiyo, the Mujaddadi, the Amirul Muminin and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate.


According to official Records the Sardauna was born in Rabah town in Sokoto State in 1910 (some sources say 12 June, 1909). He received both Islamic and western Education. From 1915-1917 he attended the Qur’anic School at home, where he learnt the Qur,an, Fikh and Sunna of the Prophet (SAW), between 1917 and 1926 he attended the Sokoto Middle School. From 1926-1931 he was at the famous Katsina Training College, the precursor to Barewa College. In those days traveling from Rabah to Katsina, a distance of about 170miles, took seven days to trek. At the college, he was the Prefect and Captain of Fives and he was an excellent batsman and bowler in the Cricket team. He completed his course with Flying Colours.


Upon return to Sokoto in 1931, he was posted to teach at his Alma Mata, the Sokoto Middle School, where he remained until 1934. In 1938 he was conferred with the Prestigious Title of Sardauna of Sokoto and deployed to Gusau with responsibility for Eastern Division of Sokoto Province and Comprising Fourteen of the Forty-Seven Districts in the Province. In 1944, he returned to Sokoto as the Chief Secretary to the Sokoto Native Authority and chief Advisor to the Sultan. Opportunity for him to visit overseas came in 1948 when he attended a course in local Government in United Kingdom (UK).


In 1949, he made his debut in the Political arena and was elected a member of the Northern region House of Assembly. In quick Succession, he was a member of a constitutional Drafting Committee as one of the representatives of the North; a member of the Northern Regional Loans Board. In 1951, he joined the Northern Regional Government Executive Council as Minister of works and in a cabinet reshuffle in 1953, he became the Minister of Local Government and Community Development and was designated the leader of Government Business of the Northern Region. At the Nigeria Constitutional Conference held in London in 1953, he was the leader of the Northern delegation. In 1954, at the Party Convention in Jos, he was elected the President-General of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the Political Party that was at the helm of affairs of the Government of the Government of the Federation up to the time our Independence. In the same year he assumed the Post of Premier of the Northern region. It was in 1955 that he first went on pilgrimage to Mecca, and thereafter the pilgrimage and the Umrah to the Holy Land became an unbroken annual event in the life of Sir Ahmadu Bello until his death. In 1957, there was another constitutional Conference in London and he led Northern Delegation. With the Achievement of self-Government in March 1959 he became the President of the Executive Council in the North. In the same year, he was knighted of the British Empire (KBE).

In 1960, he was elected Vice-President of the Ahmadu Bello University, the institution that he founded, nurtured and cherished. On 15th January, 1966 he suffered martyrdom at the hands of a gang of dissident Army Officers, in a senseless and treacherous coup d’etat that sowed the seeds of Political instability and retrogression in Nigeria, and led the nation into bloody Civil war.


With the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Nigeria lost a great patriot, a great statesman national hero and the North lost what no adequate words can describe. Suffice to say that it lost a legend, it lost its beacon of light and has left wandering in the wilderness for thirty years now without pilot or guide or shepherd. But Sir Ahmadu Bello left outstanding legacies which if we the inheritors of those legacies can apply or mite only a small fraction, our Peoples and our nation can make giant strides forward.

The Sardauna had Sterling Qualities far too many to mention. But it will be height of injustice and disservice to talk about his life and not to mention anything about his qualities, his dreams, his policies and some of his achievements.


A Devout Muslim and a Champion of Religious Tolerance

Witness: The motto he chooses for the North was “work and worship”. In his Christmas message broadcast in 1959 he stated inter alias: “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…”


Michael Audu Buba, Jolly Tanko Yusuf, George Uru Ohikere, Pastor David Obadiah lot, Peter Simon Achimugu, Ignatius Durlong, Sunday Awoniyi among others who were in his Government or in the public Service and work closely with him had the same treatment from him if not better then their Moslem counterparts. With Sardauna, what earned you more favours was your hard work, dedication to duty and honesty.


In the Process of undertaking the legal reforms of 1959 that involve the Sharia law, delegations were sent to Sudan, Libya and Pakistan. Peter Achimugu, a Christian, was included in the delegation that went to Libya and Pakistan..


A Progressive Reformist

Witness: The reforms and the democratization of the Native Authorities which were carried out during his time; a giant stride from Emirs-in-Council to Emirs-and Council; with outer Councils having as members, elected representatives of the people.


Witness: The launching of the Crash training programme at the Kano Medical Corps mooted in 1952-53 to produce doctors at a time when the North did not have more then a few indigenous doctors like  Dr. Ahmadu Rimi who rose to become a Major-General and Director-general of the Nigeria Army Medical Corps; the mounting of crash programmes in law and accountancy and the assistant District Officers (ADO’s) training programmes at the Institute of Administration Zaria.


The founding of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria the creation of the Northern Regional Development Corporation (NRDC) that later evolved into the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC) which has grown today into giant industrial and business conglomerate. The setting up of the Bank of the North, the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN), the Nigeria Citizen Newspapers. His proposal, as far back as 1952, for Mobil Oil Company to prospect for oil in the north; establishment of various Textile industries such as NORTEX and Zamfara Mills; the building of Hamdalah hotel in Kaduna and the Central Hotel in Kano; the infrastructures foundations for industrial, economic and agricultural development that he put in place, namely roads, rail, telecommunications, electricity and other facilities.


He had in mind the development of a river port at Lokoja which would be connected by rail links throughout the North and which would give the north direct access to the sea. He explored the Trans-Sahara highway idea that would link Kano to Algiers.


A Promoter, Defender and Champion of the North

Witness: when there was concerted campaign to excise a part of the then Ilorin province and merge it with Western region, he made the famous declaration that the North would not concede an inch of its soil, and that any part of it would go over his dead body.


Witness: the Northernasation Policy which was the cornerstone or center-piece of his programme, and which he pursuit vigorously,  Its aims, as stated in April 1960 were: to nothernise the Northern Region public Service as possible; to ensure for Northerners a remarkable proportion of post in the federal Public service; to secure for northerners a reasonable proportion of post in all Statutory Corporations; to increase the number of Northerners in Commercial, industrial, banking and trading concerns in the Region; to expand as necessary the educational, training and scholarship schemes of the Region in order to provide the qualified personal required for the Northernisation policy.


The Northernisation policy was intended to unite Nigeria not to divide it, and by uplifting the North, it was a guarantee for healthy united Nigeria. The same policy of regionalisation was pursuit in the other region without being spelt out. But the Sardauna had pride in whatever he represented and an unwavering belief in the justice of his cause, he was fearless whether facing new challengers or political foes, he was blunt to a fault and never afraid of calling a spade a spade.

He had clear sense of direction and purpose, and his openness, forthrightness, candour and honesty in pursuing his objectives were legendary. He did not compromise his pursuit of balance of growth in the Country. He believes that the long term unity of Nigeria required a policy of catch-up development in the north, and that pill of northernisation was essential for the long-term health of Nigeria.


In 1956, there were only four Northerners on group seven and upwards in the Public Service- Dikko, Umaru  Gwandu, Mr ,Olajide and Ahmadu Commassie. On 31 December 1960 in the senior Northern professional and administrative service position of the Civil Service  there were only Fifty-one Northerners.


At the federal level, the situation was worse. In March, 1961 only about 1% of the employees in the Federal Public service were northerners and fewer than thirty were in senior position post. The Department of Custom And Excise had only two northerners in service and there were only ten commissioned officers in the Nigerian Army.


So the Sardauna embarked on the Northernisation policy in order to redress this problem and he decide to draft some of the Northern civil servants to Lagos much against their will, and some of them set on the journey to Lagos with tears in their eyes because of anticipated hostility waiting them there. And many of the Generals still in active service and many of those retired are living witnesses of the good work and foresight of the Sardauna of Sokoto


An Avowed Federalist

Witness: his Independence Day message to the nation in October 1960 in which he said inter alias: “The Government of which I am the head is solemnly pledged to support the independence Constitution of Nigeria and to protect the federation against all divisionalistic forces within and outside the Country”


A strong Nationalist and a Hard Core Pan-Africanist

Witness: he championed the fight for a genuine and durable independence for Nigeria, insisting that it must be founded and built not on a fragile but solid foundation, based on parity of level of development of the components of the federation. A tripod cannot stand upright and balance with one leg shorter then the two legs.


He took a strong stand against France following the nuclear test by France in the Sahara and France never repeated those test in that region. He stood firmly against apartheid in South Africa.



Witness: the high esteem with which he was held by political opponents Aminu Kano and Joseph Sarwuan Tarka who never attacked him in their political campaigns.


Witness: the conclusion drawn by that great administrator, Chief Simon Adebo, one-time Nigeria Permanent Representative to the United Nations, that had the Sardauna opted to be at the federal level, with the whole country as his constituency, Nigeria would have risen to greater heights, and that he would have united the country into one Nigeria, one people, one destiny as he did with the north.


Witness: in December, 1961, when the Sardauna was awarded an honorary doctorate degree of law at Nsukka. Dr Azikiwe described him as a spiritual and political leader, a stateman, an educator and a distinguished administrator. There can not be a stronger testimony than this coming from a political rival. He was a man of enormous charisma and personal magnetism, and was easily approachable, and he wielded tremendous influence on all those who came into contact with him.


Witness: the strong influence which he had on foreign head of State in spite of the fact that himself was not a Head of state of Nigeria, President David Jawara of the Gambia became Dauda Jawara, President Hamani Diori of Niger, Ahmadu Ahidjo of Cameroun, Leopold of Senghor of Senegal,Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Tombalbaye of Chad,Ayub Khan of Pakistan and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia all became very close personal friends of Sardauna.


A Master of Blending and Harmonizing Contrasting Forces.

The old and the young, the new and the old, the past and the present, Muslims and Christains. Indeed, he was a strong believer in consensus. He paid attention and took into account the views born of the dynamism and radicalism of the youths and he respected the wisdom of the mature old –breed, and he blended the two.


Witness: the mix in the NPC cabinets. At the federal level, the Ministers ranged from the mature Muhammadu Ribadu in his mid-Fifties to the Youthful Maitama Sule, Shehu Shagari and Waziri Ibrahim in their early thirties. At the Regional level, they ranged from mature Makaman Bida to the then Wamban Daura Muhammadu Bashir, Mamman Nasir and Walin Muri Umaru Abba Karim, barely in their early thirties.


He had enormous Self-Confidence and was forceful in asserting himself, and in almost every situation he emerges as a natural leader. He developed toughness in politics and remarkable skills. He was quick to anger but quickly to-forgive and forget-approach to his political opponents was to try to win them over. He would send them gift as he would to his friends and maintained an open door policy towards them.


He was an upright and incorruptible Man, whose guiding principle in public service was honesty, probity, accountability, efficiency, dedication and hard work; and in the pursuit of these principles he did not care whose ox was goaded.


Witness: after several years as the Premier of Northern Nigeria, and undoubtedly the most powerful man in Nigeria during his time, when he died he left virtually nothing except the two local housing in Sokoto town and Rabah which he had build before becoming Premier.


Witness: The 1963 Episode involving the Kano NA during the reign of Emir Muhammadu Sanausi. Emir Sanausi and Sardauna were very close and long standing friends, Sanusi’s Son married Sardauna’s daughter and they have Children. Yet when there was financial misadministration on the Part of the Kano NA, the Sardauna did not hesitate to order an inquiry which led to resignation of the Emir.


Witness: In January, 1961 in an address to Emirs and Chiefs at the institute of Administration, Zaria, the Sardauna unequivocally declared that “My Government will not tolerate Chiefs who show financial irresponsibility or oppress the people”


Witness: the Sardauna once asked Mr. Desmond Wilson, a British officer who had worked in Sokoto and Gwandu as ADO, to purge the Sokoto NA of lazy and corrupt people, Wilson said he did not have the heart for it. The Sardauna replied to Wilson “Neither do I. Most of these people are my relatives. But it has to be done. ”When the exercise was over, one third of the NA was sacked, one third reprimanded and the remaining third kept on but put on warning. On completing the job to show his appreciation, the Sardauna gave Wilson a gift – a Bible.


Witness: the terse statement of Sardauna in December, 1952  “That the NA should retain the confidence of the great mass of their people, that they should discharge adequately the duties and responsibilities assigned to them, that they should conduct their financial affairs in a prudent and responsible fashion, and that they should maintain the standards of honesty and impartiality required in a country approaching independence”.


The simplest of Men and the Most Princely of the Princes

He was simple among his people who respected simplicity, but he was arrogant, pompous and contemptuous of those who arrogate to themselves-acclaimed wisdom just because they have read some textbooks. He was equally at home in the company he was a man of the people. He always sat on the floor in his house, to eat food with his bare hands, from the same bowl with his drivers and ministers alike.


His happiest moments were always when he was in the company of people. He constantly toured the length and breadth of the Northern Region, from Sokoto to Oturpko; from Offa across to Lake Chad, always on the move persuading, cajoling, mobilizing, urging, inspiring people to be disciplined and law abiding, to work hard for common goals, to measure up to their potential and to unite and catch up with the South in the various spheres of human endeavours that Nigeria could march in unison. He hardly ever spent up to a week in Kaduna except perhaps during the month of Ramadan. He literally stopped in Kaduna only to pick another suite case of clean dresses and move on. Files were delivered to him on tour and he never held back a file for more than a couple of days.


He visited his ministers in their homes and gave presents to the wives and Children. He maintained an Open house, and anybody who wanted to see him got audience .He listened to people’s problems and helped both the high and the lowly. He always walked to the mosque from his house.


A Man Whose Generosity was Legendary

He loved to give out presents and gifts. He never had material accumulation instincts and gave out whatever came into his possession. He was scrupulous with public finance but generous with personal finance.


He was a workaholic and a stickler for details. Three to four hours sleep was his life-time pattern of sleeping. When once he was asked whether he was not working too hard and not getting adequate sleep, he replied that his progenitor Abdullahi Ibn Fodio spent eight years after the death of his brother the Shehu praying, reading, writing, and teaching, with hardly any sleep. He was punctilious on formalities and parades would be time to a second, and he was never late for a function.


He was a keen and enthusiastic sportman. In Katsina College he played Cricket and was the Captain of Fives, a game that he played regularly with passion, up to the end of his life.


This is a brief about Ahmadu Bello, the scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, Grand commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Knight Commander of the British Empire, the Founder and First Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, the recipient of the honorary degrees of several Universities across the globe, the recipient of the highest honours bestowed by various countries, the benefactor and guarding of Northern Nigeria and one of the architects of modern Nigeria, The SARDAUNA OF SOKOTO. And a colossus and a legendry whose memory will never be erased and will forever remain aglow in the annals of our history.


May Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala.grant him eternal peace and a Special place in the al-jannal al-firdausi, Amin


Culled from the book: Leadership Accountability and Future of Nigeria. During Annual Lecture in Honour of Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region of Nigeria. Edited by Abdullahi Mahadi and George Kwanashie

  “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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