Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello

The Nigerian political leader Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966) was the leading Northern spokesman during Nigeria's drive to gain independence from the British.

Ahmadu Bello was born in Rabah, North West State, a descendant of Uthman don Fodio, the renowned 19th-century Moslem leader of Northern Nigeria. Bello received his education first at the Sokoto Provincial School, then at Katsina Teacher Training College. In 1934, after teaching several years in the Sokoto Middle School, he entered the emirate administration as district head of Rabah. In 1938 he made an unsuccessful claim to the office of sultan of Sokoto. The new sultan immediately conferred upon him the traditional, now honorary, title of sardauna and elevated him to the Sokoto Native Authority Council.

As World War II drew to an end, Bello became involved in broader political concerns. In 1945 he assisted in the formation of the Youth Social Circle in Sokoto, a discussion group of Northern educators and civil servants. In 1948 this organization affiliated with the newly founded Northern People's Congress (NPC), originally conceived as a cultural organization but destined to become the leading political party in Northern Nigeria. Bello became increasingly active in the NPC and ultimately its president. In 1949 he was elected by the Sokoto Native Authority to the Northern House of Assembly. During the 1949-1950 discussions of constitutional reform he became a leading spokesperson for the Northern view of federal government. In 1952 in the first elections held in Northern Nigeria, he was elected to the Northern House of Assembly, where he became a member of the regional executive council and minister of works. In the following year he accepted the regional portfolio of community development and local government. In 1954 he became the first premier of Northern Nigeria, a position he held until his death.

As president of the NPC and premier of the Northern Region, Bello was perhaps the most politically powerful person in Nigeria during the first 5 years of independence. Despite this, his role in national politics remained anomalous. He had an expressed distaste for the Southern style of politics and had no desire for participation in the federal government, which would require his residence in Lagos. Although he participated in national discussions on constitutional reform and from 1952 to 1959 was a member of the Federal House of Representatives, he was concerned primarily with the development of the North and the protection of that region from what he considered Southern incursions. Therefore, when Nigeria became independent in 1960, Bello chose to remain premier of the Northern Region, while the deputy president of the NPC, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, became prime minister of the Federation.

In 1964 Bello led the NPC into an alliance with the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) of the Western Region. The coalition party, called the Nigerian National Alliance, won a clear majority in the federal elections of 1964. In the fall of 1965 the NNDP claimed victory in a hotly disputed regional election, and the Western Region lapsed into chaos. Bello's attempt to support his political allies on this occasion was the immediate, though not sole, cause for an attempted coup d'etat in January 1966, during which Bello was assassinated.

Further Reading on Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello

The only book that deals specifically with Bello's life is his autobiography, My Life (1962). Although this is not an objective account, it is excellent in revealing Bello's view of his role in Nigerian political development. A discussion of the Northern People's Congress and Bello's role in it may be found in Richard Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation (1963).

Additional Biography Sources

Sir Ahmadu Bello: a legacy, Jos: ITF Printing Press, 1992.

Paden, John N., Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: values and leadership in Nigeria, London: Hodder and Stoughton; Portsmouth, N.H.: Distributed in the U.S.A. by Heinemann Educational Books, 1986.