History of Tafawa Balewa: Biography, Political Achievements & Contributions to Africa.

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Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a prominent Nigerian politician who served as the first and only prime minister of Nigeria before and after independence. He was trained a teacher, and became a vocal representative of Northern and Nigerian interests at the time. Tafawa Balewa is recognized as one of the Nigerian Nationalist who ardently fought for the country’s independence from Great Britain. He also played an active role in the formation of the Organization of African Union (OAU).


Tafawa Balewa was born in December 1912 in Tafawa Balewa village, in modern-day Bauchi State. His name was appended to the name of his birthplace which was originally coined from two Fulani words: Tafari meaning “rock” and Baleri meaning “black.”

Balewa’s father, Yakubu Dan Zala, was of Gere ethnicity, and his mother Fatima Inna was of Gere and Fulani descent. His father worked in the house of the district head of Lere, a district within the Bauchi Emirate. Tafawa Balewa was his father’s only child.

The Gera, also called Gerawa, are the main inhabitants of the city of Bauchi. They speak a Chadic language, which contains many words that resemble the Hausa vocabulary.


Balewa began his education at a Koranic school in Bauchi where he learnt the first chapter (surah) of the Qur’an by heart. When southern colonial administrators began to push for western education in the Northern region, Balewa was sent alongside other children to Tafawa Balewa Elementary School from 1922 to 1925. Thereafter, he proceeded to Bauchi Provincial School from 1925 to 1928. According to his teacher and classmates, he was shy and quiet.

Later, Tafawa Balewa studied at Katsina Teacher Training College – known as Barewa College – from 1928 to 1933. Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Iman were his seniors at the college. Balewa graduated from Barewa college with a third class certificate, performing best in English. With his teaching certification, he returned to Bauchi Provincial School as a teacher where he taught English to his pupils. During the next years, Balewa rose in the ranks of the teaching staff and became the senior schoolmaster. In 1941, Balewa was nominated as the new headmaster.


In 1944, Tafawa Balewa and a number of educated northern teachers obtained scholarships to study at the University of London’s Institute of Education from 1945 to 1946 where he received a teacher’s certificate in history. Upon his return to Nigeria, Balewa said he “returned to Nigeria with new eyes, because [he] had seen people who lived without fear, who obeyed the law as part of their nature, who knew individual liberty.”

Balewa returned to Bauchi Middle School as headmaster and afterwards served as Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration.


In the early 1940s, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had developed a sense of national consciousness and interest in politics. He once said:

“In less than 200 years, this great country [America] was welded together by people of so many different backgrounds. They built a mighty nation and had forgotten where they came from and who their ancestors were. They had pride in only one thing —their American citizenship. I am a changed man from today. Until now I never really believed Nigeria could be one united country. But if the Americans could do it, so can we.”

~ Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
  • In 1943 he founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle, an organisation interested in political reform.
  • In 1948, he was elected Vice President of the Northern Teacher’s Association, the first trade union in Northern Nigeria.
  • Together with Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, he transformed of the cultural organization, Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa, which means Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in English, to become a political platform for use as campaign platform during the elections of 1951.
  • Balewa was elected Vice President of the new party. NPC won the plurality of votes to the regional House of Assembly in 1951.
  • In 1951, Tafawa Balewa won seats in the Northern House of Assembly and in the House of Representatives in Lagos, where he became a minister in the Central Council.
  • By 1952, he became Minister of Works and in 1954 was made Minister of Transport and the Senior Minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives.
  • In 1957, Balewa was elected Chief Minister, forming a coalition government between the NPC and the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe.
  • In 1960, when Nigeria gained independence, he remained as Prime Minister, and was re-elected in 1964.


  • In 1960, he was instrumental in negotiating a settlement between factions in the Congo Civil War.
  • He led his government in a vocal protest of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa.
  • Tafawa Balewa also was one of the African leaders who encouraged the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.
  • He convened a Commonwealth Conference in Lagos to discuss action against the unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia.


Five Naira note with Tafawa Balaewa portrait.
Tafawa Balewa portrait on Five Naira note.
  • In January 1960, Balewa was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
  • He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield in May 1960.
  • Balewa’s portrait is placed on the 5 Naira Note.
  • The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University [ATBU] in Bauchi was named in his honour.
  • The Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos was named after him. It was at the Tafawa Balewa Square that Nigeria celebrated her independence in 1960.

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was overthrown and murdered on January 15, 1966, in Lagos during a military coup d’état which ended The First Republic. News of his assassination spurred violent riots throughout Northern Nigeria and ultimately led to the bloody counter-coup of July 1966.

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