Among the architects and pillars of modern Nigerian nation who were felled by the military coup’ de tat of January 15, 1966, is Sir Ahmadu Bello, a Prince and religious icon who later in life came to be known and addressed in and beyond the shores of Nigeria, as the Sardauna of Sokoto.
The Sardauna was popularly referred to by various nicknames and epithets coined by his personal staff, minstrels and traditional public singers. Among these names were Gamji, Babe, Bajimi, Gimshikin Datse, Tozon Giwa Gamsheka, Mai Saje, and Uban Yan Boko.
Sir Ahmadu Bello was born in Rabah town in the present Sokoto State in 1910 and received both Eastern and Western education From 1915-1917, he attended the Quranic school at home where he learned the Qu’ran, Fikh, and Sunna, and between 1917-1926, he attended the Sokoto Middle School.
Sir Ahmadu Bello was the son of Ibrahim Mai Rabah, grandson of Sultan Atiku, great-grandson of Sultan Bello, and great-great-grandson of the famous Islamic Scholar and reformer, Shehu Usman bin Fodiyo, the Mujaddadi, the Amirul Mumiran and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate.
After attending middle school, Sir Ahmadu Bello studied at Katsina Training College between 1926 -1931. The school is the precursor to Barewa College. On return to Sokoto in 1931, the Youngman was posted to teach at his alma Mata – The Sokoto Middle School and remained there until 1934 when he was appointed district Head of Rabah.
Later, he was conferred with the title of Sardauna of Sokoto and deployed to Gusau with the responsibility of the Eastern Division of Sokoto province, returning to Sokoto in 1944 as Chief Secretary in the Sokoto Native Authority and Chief Adviser to the Sultan.
Entering politics in 1949, he was elected a member of the northern regional Assembly followed by his appointment as one of the representatives of the north in the Constitution Drafting Committee.
Therefore, Sir Ahmadu Bello became a member of the Northern Regional Development and Production Board as we as the Loans Board, in 1951, he joined the Northern Regional Government at Executive Council as Minister of Works and following a cabinet reshuffle in 1953. Sir Ahmadu Bello became the Minister for Local Government and Community Development and was designated as the leader of Government Business of the Northern Region.
He was also the leader of the Northern delegation at the Nigerian Constitutional Conference held in London in 1953. At the NPC convention in Jos in 1954, Sir Bello was elected the President General of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and in that same year, assumed the post of Premier of the Northern Region, He also led the Northern delegation to the 1957 Constitutional Conference in London.
With the country’s attainment of self-government in March 1959, Sir Ahmadu Bello became the President of the Executive Council in the north and was in the same year knighted by the Queen of England. He held the North together by ensuring fairness to all ethnic groups.
He detailed this in his Christmas message in 1959 as Premier of the North, when he said:
“Here in Northern Nigeria, we have people of many different races, tribes, and religions who are knit together by a common history, common interests, and common ideas…. the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us.
“I always remind people of our firmly rooted policy in religious tolerance – we have no intention of favoring one religion at the expense of another, Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience.”
A highly principled politician, the Sardauna’s political and social grip on the north was completed. The most visible aspect of his vision and policy was northernisation.
Explaining the goal of this policy, the Sardauna told the Northern House of Assembly in April 1960:
“To northernise the Northern region public service as soon as possible, to ensure for Northerners a reasonable proportion of post in all statutory corporations, to increase the number of northerners in commercial, industrial, banking and trading concern in the region, to expand as necessary the educational training and scholarship schemes of the Region in order to provide the qualified personnel required for the Northernisation policy.“
Sardauna’s view on some typical national issues was instructive and provides some meaningful insights into the man’s thinking and contentions.
On Nigerian unity, he is of the opinion that “Tribalism is a destructive force, and its worst and its most evil form is the appeal to a group of regions to come together against another region. It is dangerous and shortsighted. It is unwise to find any solution to a problem on the basis of hatred and inordinate ambition.
“When people say they are wronged, the sensible thing is to examine their complaint and produce a remedy or convince them that they are under misapprehension. But if you react to such a complaint by suggesting that you have nothing to do with the complaint, the wrong is more than half proved.
“It is like saying I must continue what I am doing even if you don’t like it. Otherwise, we must part.”
Commenting on culture, the Sardauna said: “Whatever the early historians and travelers may have said and writing about our country, we (the north) have our way of life. We have our customers and our Traditions, and our vitality lies in our capacity in social and cultural institutions. We have had our great warriors, great writers, farmers, and great craftsmen.
“We have had towns and villages in which the idea of the common goal-bound our different communities together. Culture is a type of civilization which is interwoven with the traditions of people….. ours is fast becoming a modern country that the idea of a club or society was not unknown to us.
“In the old days, elderly people in a village used to sit under the shade of a big tree and talked freely among themselves. They talked shop and they talked sense. That big tree was their club center.”
Although he died many years ago, the Sardauna is held in high esteem all over Northern Nigeria where he is seen as the torchbearer of modernity. His strategy of involving all northern ethnic groups in government without discrimination also proves useful for the cohesion evident in the Northern political class.
Written By: David Njoku