Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Teacher, Politician


January 15th, 1966

Kastina Teachers Training College

Bauchi, Bauchi State


Part of the title of Trevor Clark’s biography of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa describes the latter as ‘A Right Honourable Gentleman…’ This is self-evident in his manner of articulation, his gait, comportment and demeanour. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a true patriot, an excellent orator and a politician of uncommon finesse. The famous Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos was named after him as was the Federal University of Technology located in his hometown, Bauchi. He is the face in the five naira note of the Nigerian currency.


Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in December of 1912 in Bauchi of the present Bauchi State. As a common tradition in Northern naming, his last two names are after his birth place in Bauchi. His father was a district head in the pre-independence divisional administration. His first form of education was at the Koranic school in Bauchi before moving to Bauchi College from 1925 to 1928. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became a qualified teacher after his studies at the Katsina Teachers Training College from 1928 to 1933. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa married four wives: Jummai, Umma, Zainab and Laraba. He taught for a couple of years at the Bauchi Middle School before his admission for a one year programme at the London University Institute of Education where he received his diploma. He came back to Nigeria after his studies in London to give back to his community. He came back to Bauchi Middle School and held the post of the Headmaster. Soon afterwards, he was appoint inspector of schools for the then colonial administration and later became a full-time politician.

As a politician, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had significant impacts on the politics of the North, Nigeria and Africa at large until his death. He was elected to the Northern House of Assembly and later as a legislator to the Legislative Assembly. He was instrumental to the founding of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), a political party formed in June 1949, the party under which he was elected twice as the Prime Minister (after forming coalition with the NCNC with the AG in the opposition). He served as Minister of Works and later as Minister of Transport.

From various Constitutional Conferences, the three political parties: (NCNC) The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, (AG) Action Group, led by Obafemi Awolowo and (NPC) Northern Peoples Congress agreed to form a National Government with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister.

Albeit the Government while he was the Prime Minister suffered series of cataclysms due to the controversies in the regions, notably among them was the 1965 Western Region Election, the astuteness of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa politics showed in other areas like his foreign affairs, policies, peace keeping in Congo, economy and education. He played an important role in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and also had receptive relationship with Francophone African countries. In fact, his Government broke off diplomatic relations with France because the latter was obdurate and against Nigeria’s and other African countries’ objections, tested a nuclear weapon in the Sahara.

The first republic had a lot of challenges, upheavals and unrest that on the 15th of January, 1966, a coup d’état was led by Major Chukwuemeka Nzeogwu which led to the death of a couple of prominent figures among which were the Saduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Western Region, Ladoke Akintola and the ‘right honorable’ Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa himself. This coup which claimed the lives of most Northerners was going to be the preface to a looming civil war.


234 Impact

National Hero:

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria. After the coup d’etat of 15th January, 1966, the post was abolished.  Tafawa was the first black African to be captured on the front cover of Time Magazine. He remains a significant and unforgettable figure in the history of Nigeria. The famous Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos was named after him as was the Federal University of Technology located in his hometown, Bauchi. He is also forever remembered on the 5 Naira note.


  1. A History of Nigeria for Schools and Colleges: Africana-First Publishers, Limited, 2005.
  2. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah: An Open Letter to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  3. Wikipedia.