Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello was born in Rabah, the northwestern Nigerian city of Sokoto in 1909 to the family of Mallam Ibrahim Bello, a leading Islamic reformer. His father held the title of Sarkin Rabah.
He is a descendant of Uthman dan Fodio founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, a great grandson of Sultan Muhammed Bello and a grandson of Sultan Atiku na Raba.
Bello received Islamic education at home, where he learnt the Qur’an, Islamic jurisprudence and the traditions of the Prophet. Muhammad.
He later attended Sokoto Provincial School and the Katsina Training College (now Barewa College).
During his school days, he was known as Ahmadu Rabah. He finished school in 1931 and subsequently became the English teacher in Sokoto Middle School.
In 1934, Bello was made the District Head of Rabah by Sultan Hassan dan Mu’azu, succeeding his brother.
In 1938, he was promoted to the position of Divisional Head of Gusau (in present-day Zamfara State) and became a member of the Sultan’s council.
After schooling and at the age of 23, Bello began his political career by seeking the post of Sultan of Sokoto. At just 28, he made attempts to become the Sultan of Sokoto but was not successful, losing to Sir Siddiq Abubakar III, who reigned for 50 years until his death in 1988.
On his early political life, in 1940s, he joined Jamiyya Mutanen Arewa, which would later become the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in 1951.He soon became president general of the NPC and minister of local government, works, and community development. Bello was appointed the first premier of northern Nigeria in 1954.
young politician.After returning from Britain, he was nominated to represent the province of Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly in the first elections held in Northern Nigeria in 1952.
Sir Ahmadu Bello won a seat in the Northern House of Assembly and became a member of the regional executive council as minister of works. Bello was in succession minister of Works, of Local Government and of Community Development in the Northern Region of Nigeria.
As a member of the assembly, he was a notable voice for northern interests and embraced a style of consultation and consensus with the major representatives of the northern emirates, namely Kano, Bornu and Sokoto.
He was selected with some others as a member of a committee that redrafted the Richard’s Constitution and he also attended a general conference in Ibadan.
His work at the assembly and in the constitution drafting committee brought him appreciation in the north and he was asked to take on leadership positions within Jamiyya Mutanen Arewa.
In 1954, Bello became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria.
Unlike other Nigerian political leaders who envisioned a single, united nation after independence from the British, Bello saw his primary mission as protecting the interests of the people of northern Nigeria.
Also, he found himself in opposition with Nigerian nationalists from the southern regions. Bello, however, never sought leadership over all of Nigeria.
He was fulfilled in his position as leader of the northern region and president general of the NPC, which at the time was the largest political party in Nigeria.
Bello was made a Knight of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II of England in 1959.
The importance of Bello in Nigeria’s political history can be seen in his leadership in the NPC.
He understood northerners’ concerns about domination by southern Nigerian politicians and seemed reluctant to embrace independence for that reason.
The great man also recognised its inevitability and worked to ensure that the predominately Muslim north would not be excluded from various government development projects.
He sponsored the Bank of the North, the Northern Nigerian Development Company, and founded the Ahmadu Bello University.
Independence of Nigeria
In the 1959 independence elections, Bello led the NPC to win a plurality of the parliamentary seats. Bello’s NPC later forged an alliance with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) to form Nigeria’s first indigenous federal government, which led to her independence from Britain.In forming the 1960 independence Federal Government of Nigeria, Bello as president of the NPC, chose to remain Premier of Northern Nigeria and devulged the position of Prime Minister of the Federation to the deputy president of the NPC, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of Northern Nigeria.I am not unaware that I have often been a controversial figure. I have been accused of lack of nationalism and political awareness because I considered that independence must wait until a country has the resources to support and make a success of independence.
I have been accused of conservatism because I believe in retaining all that is good in our old traditions and customs and refusing to copy all aspects of other alien civilisations; I have been accused of many things, but the views of others have never made me deviate from the path which I am certain is the one which will benefit my people and country. I have always based my actions on my inward convictions, on my conscience and on the dictates of my religion.
Sir Ahmadu Bello originally embraced the Indirect rule system of colonial Nigeria before gradually embracing reforms.
During his period of premiership, his biographer, John Paden, described him as a progressive conservative, because he was an agent of change and also of the traditional elites.
Bello’s leadership characteristics was a blend of religious, traditional and modern values and his obligation in colonial and post-independence Nigeria was performing these different roles in the northern region.
Due to a limited number of qualified graduates from the region, Sir Ahmadu Bello initiated the northernisation of the regions public service.
Administration in the North was through indirect rule and Western education was not considered very important in many divisions.
After the regionalisation of the public service, political leaders in the region felt that the number of Northerners in the service was minimal in comparison to their counterparts in the South.
Based on political considerations, leaders in the region limited the recruitment of Southerners into the Northern regional service and found ways to push up the ranks of northerners in junior and senior position.
The leaders however, retained the services of expatriates, because Northerners regarded expatriates as transients but feared southern domination of the regional civil service.
Measures were put in place to train northerners; in 1949, a scholarship board provided grants to almost all Northerners with qualifications to enter universities.
In 1957, administration courses were taught at the Institute of Administration in Zaria. Apart from trying to fill positions in the civil service with Northerners, political leaders in the zone also made it a priority to secure Northern representation in senior positions of the Federal service.
On economy, various institutions were created under Bello, including the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), Bank of the North and Northern Nigeria Investments Ltd (NNIL).
NNDC was an holding company with capital sourced from the region’s marketing board while NNIL was a partnership between the Commonwealth Development Corporation and NNDC created to assist in the industrial development in Northern Nigeria.
As a result of his education background, Bello initiated plans to modernise traditional Koranic education in Northern Nigeria.
He set up a commission to this effect and gave official recognition to the schools. The commission recommended the introduction of secular subjects in the schools and creation of different classes for pupils.
Part of his educational objectives was building a school in each province in Northern Nigeria.
Bello’s final years were characteristic of his earlier years. A major priority was making sure the region was at par politically and economically with the Western and Eastern regions.
This contributed to the decision to replace both Southerners and Europeans in the Northern region’s civil services with Northerners, a policy that received criticism from opposition leaders.
Prior to the 1966 Nigerian coup d’etat, Bello received warnings from the Premier of the Western Region Samuel Akintola, and Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun.
On 15 January 1966, Bello was assassinated by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu an Igbo Nigerian Army officer in a coup which toppled Nigeria’s post-independence government. He was still serving as premier of Northern Nigeria at the time.
This was the first coup in the history of Nigeria, which heralded the rise of the military in the country’s politics.
According to intelligence dispatches on the death of Ahmadu Bello, he was not in the main house but upstairs in the rear annex with his senior wife Habsatu; his second wife Goggon Kano, third wife Jabbo Birnin Kebbi and Sallama, a house retainer when Nzeogwu and his soldiers started breaking down doors asking for Sardauna.”They (Sardauna and his wives) listened and rattled prayer beads in fear for an hour as Nzeogwu and his motivated mutineers booted down doors, pumped bullets into guards mounting resistance and shouted to others, “Ina Sardauna? Take us to the Sardauna.”
“It was dark, Sardauna and his wives went downstairs and into the courtyard connecting the annex and the main house. They were trying to escape.
“On finding them, Nzeogwu shot the Sardauna and his senior wife who was trying to protect him. He then blew a whistle which was the agreed signal for all soldiers to converge at the rallying point at the front gate for the final onslaught on their symbol of national decay.
“The rocket-launching party then began shelling the house. Boom! Boom! The ground shuddered like the cannon fire, which the great Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky laced into his 1812 overture”.
Nzeogwu was a lover of jazz and classical music. Their beauty heightened his sensitivity to the decay which Nigeria was. He even mentored Captain Theophilus Danjuma to become a classical connoisseur.
“With the huge flame before him overpowering the harmattan and the night with abundance of light and heat, Nzeogwu was satisfied his own unit’s assignment was a success.
It was learnt that Nzeogwu then left for the brigade headquarters to await news from other units.
Also assassinated in the coup was his long time friend Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, alongside many political elites in the north and in the west.
Bello had three wives at the time of his death. Hafsatu, his senior wife, died alongside him.
He had three surviving daughters with another wife, Amina (Goggon Kano). His eldest daughter was Inno, followed by Aisha and Lubabatu.
Bello’s greatest legacy was the modernisation and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria.
Ahmadu Bello believed that every Nigerian and all human beings are created equally, that they are endowed by God with rights among which are life, liberty, equal opportunity, blessings and the legitimate pursuit of happiness.
Throughout his political career and before, he espoused high morality and intellectual virtues.
A number of localities and monuments around the country have been named in Sardauna’s honour. They include: The Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, which was named after him, while his portrait adorns the N200 banknote.