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Tafawa Balewa: Remembering the right honourable gentleman

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in December 1922 and was killed on January 15, 1966. The first Prime Minister hails from Bauchi State. He…

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in December 1922 and was killed on January 15, 1966. The first Prime Minister hails from Bauchi State. He was a school teacher and politician. He was a “cool figure” who preoccupied himself with integration of Nigeria’s over 250 ethnic groups during his tenure.

Tafawa Balewa was a vocal leader, a trained teacher, and he was one of the most educated northerners during his lifetime. He participated in numerous international development fora. He was nicknamed as the “Golden Voice of Africa” over his eloquence and oratorical prowess. He was a man of unusual authority and having gravitas of a statesman.

Tafawa Balewa was killed in a coup of 1966, though his death remained full of controversy. The late Bauchi illustrious son lived a life worthy of emulation; he sacrificed his day to beautify our today and tomorrow. He lived without tribalism, nepotism, religious bias and showed love to his subjects and the entire nation. During his lifetime, he emphasized that Nigerians should forget all kind of tribalism. “I appeal to all my countrymen and women to cooperate with me and my colleagues to create a better understanding among our peoples, to establish mutual respect, and trust, among all our tribal groups, and to unite in working together for the common cause; the cause for which no sacrifice will be too great.

“I am convinced, and I want you also to be convinced, that the future of this vast country must depend on our efforts to help ourselves. This we cannot do if we do not work together in unity. Indeed, unity today is our greatest concern, and it is the duty of every one of us to work so that we may strengthen it.”

Abubakar said this as part of his speech in 1966 after taking over power. Did he know that Nigeria will be suffering from disunity? It is apparent that Abubakar’s quest for togetherness has become a thing of concern as calls for separation sound more loudly.

He was the father of politics in Nigeria; I must attest to that and the contributions he received from the Late Aminu Kano, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and others kept him moving.  As a teacher and a political gladiator, he left a legacy worth appreciating, but it seems the labour of our heroes has been forgotten. He lost and sacrificed his life to cement our today and tomorrow. Their memories should be celebrated. History has begun to forget them. It is sad that the younger generation find it unsurprised not to know the Right Honourable Gentleman.

In 1963, he gave a spellbinding eloquent speech at the Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) inaugural conference of the Organisation of African Unity. As Prime Minister, he maintained a thoroughly dignified comportment.  A British acquaintance called him, “perhaps the perfect Victorian gentleman”. He gained several awards from the British: OBE in 1952; CBE in 1955, Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in January 1960 and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Sheffield in May 1960.

As Prime Minister, Balewa helped shape the early foreign policy of Nigeria. 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 and attempted unsuccessfully to persuade other British Commonwealth nations to expel South Africa because of its apartheid policies. Balewa also was one of the African leaders who encouraged the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Let’s continue to remember this great Nigerian.

Usman Abdullahi Koli, a student of Mass Communication Department, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic Bauchi

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