Sir Ahmadu Bello: The Sardauna of Sokoto


Even 47 years after his death at the age of 55, Sir AHMADU BELLO is still venerated by millions of Nigerians. The largest university in West Africa and the second largest in Africa is named after him while his picture is graciously perched on one of Nigeria’s highest currencies -the N200 note first issued on the 1st of November, 2000 (see pictures).

But who was the late Warlord (Sardauna) of Sokoto, a descendant of Uthman Dan Fodio, who is still an idol to millions of Nigerians today even if millions of his compatriots, especially from the Southeast still despise him? Has the Nigerian nation learnt anything from history? Why was he jailed? Oh, did you know he was born on a June 12? What were his achievements? Why do his people love him so much? Why has he generated so much hatred in the minds of some others? Is there anything we can pick from history and make Nigeria great again? You decide. Abiyamo takes you on an interesting voyage: the life and times of ALHAJI SIR DR.AHMADU BELLO, Nigeria’s one and only Gamji!

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The late Sardauna was born on the 12th of June, 1910 in the village of Rabah, some 20 miles from Sokoto. His father, Ibrahim Bello, was the Head of the District and also prince of the Sokoto Caliphate as his great-grandfather was the legendary Sultan Muhammed Bello who was the father of Sultan Abubakar Atiku. Sultan Bello was the son of, yes, you guessed right, the much-revered Fulani sheikh, Usman Dan Fodio, a scholar, warrior and teacher who founded the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809 and became its first Sultan.


At the age of six, his father died. Young Ahmadu first schooled at the Sokoto Provincial School, which happened to be the only modern school in the entire province of Sokoto. He finished at the age of 16 top of the class. He also got his Islamic and Arabic education as a teenager from Mallam Garba who was the Imam of Rabah village. Thereafter, he attended the Teacher’s Training College, Katsina (later became the famous Barewa College) (1926-1936) where he was a School Prefect and Class Captain and graduated as a Teacher in 1931 with a credit equivalent Grade III result. After studying there for five years, he was appointed by the Sultan of Sokoto to work as a teacher at the Sokoto Middle School, where he was once a student and taught from 1931-1934. He was the only surviving son of his father and mother, Mariyamu.


In 1932, he married Hafsatu, his first wife and the daughter of the Waziri Maccido. Some records indicated he married Hafsatu when she was nine while another stated twelve. Hafsatu would later battle with childlessness. With time, he married two more wives, Kande and Amiru (divorced them in 1938) and later married Amina and Jabbo in 1940 and 1952 respectively. In 1952, his five-day-old son from Jabbo died and back in 1936, he had also lost a two-year-old son, Mohammed Tambari, from his divorced wife, Kande.

The late Sardauna of Sokoto was survived by three daughters (Inno, A’ishat, Lubabatu). One of them, Inno died in 2008. There were three sons but all died.

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The eldest today is Hajiya A’ishat Marafa Danbaba, born in 1945 (see pictures) now aged 67, she said that after the brutal assassination of their dad, they have been surviving on the goodwill of close associates such as the late Emir of Daura, Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, the Sarkin Fadan Kano, Alhaji Sule Gaya and the former Chief Justice of Nigeria but commended the Sokoto State Government headed by Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wammako for taking good care of them, as from May 29th, 2007, the State Governor had placed the Sardauna family on a monthly allowance of N250,000 ($1560). She said:

“Since the death of our father, there has never been a government that showed us care and concern as the current administration of Governor Wamakko which placed this family on a monthly allowance of N250,000 for which we are very grateful.”

She also praised the former administration of Army Colonel Yakubu Mu’azu, the Military Administrator of Sokoto State during General Abacha’s regime (read all about General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s most enigmatic ruler HERE) for renovating one of the late Sardauna’s two houses at Kanwuri, Sokoto but complained that his other building at Kofar Marke area of the state is in a dilapidated condition and desperately needed renovation. Hajiya A’ishat got married to the late Magajin Gari Sokoto in 1956 and said of her father: “I had a very close relationship with my father. He showered us with great love and we will continue to cherish those moments. My dad was a simple man despite being an aristocrat. He was temperamental but easily forgets after sometime.

He doesn’t bear any grudges against those who offended him and forgives those who wronged him. My father was kind and just to people and never discriminated against anybody based on his ethnic group or religion.

“He was a man of the people. He always sat on the floor in his house, to eat food with his bare hands, from the same bowl with his drivers and relatives. He maintained an open house, and anybody who wanted to see him got audience. He listened to people’s problems and helped both the high and the lowly.

“My father was generous and loved to give out gifts to people. He never had material accumulation instincts, did not accumulate wealth and gave out whatever came into his possession. He was scrupulous and prudent with public finance but generous with his own money.
“His happiest moments were always when he was in the company of people. He constantly toured the length and breadth of the Northern Region, always on the move persuading, cajoling, mobilizing, urging, inspiring people to be disciplined and law abiding, to work hard for common goals, to measure up to their potentials. My father had the desire of transforming the North so that the country can attain its true potentials.” Hajia A’ishat has five children and the fourth one, Hassan Danbaba Marafa is the Magajin Garin of Sokoto, who happens to be one of the 11 kingmakers of the Sokoto Caliphate saddled with the responsibility of appointing the Sultan. Her first daughter is married to Nigeria’s former Ambassador to South Africa. Alhaji Shehu Malami.

A second daughter, Hajia Luba is married to the Marafan Sokoto, Alhaji Ali Umaru Shinkafi (CON, NPM, MNIM), former Head of the National Security Organisation (NSO) and one-time Presidential Aspirant.


By 1934, he was made the District Head of Rabah under the colonial setting and in 1938, he got a promotion as the Divisional Head of Gusau (now in present-day Zamfara State). In 1938, at the age of 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. The new Sultan immediately made Sir Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna (Warlord) of Sokoto, a honorary title and promoted him to the Sokoto Native Authority Council, these titles automatically made him the Chief Political Adviser to the Sultan. Later, he was put in charge of the Sokoto Province to oversee 47 districts and by 1944, he was back at the Sultan’s Palace to work as the Chief Secretary of the State Native Administration.

In the 1940s, he established the Jamiyya Mutanen Arewa which would later become the NPC in 1951. In 1948, he got a government scholarship and was off to England to study Local Government Administration which broadened his understanding and knowledge of governance. As ‘successor-in-waiting’ to the throne of the Sultan, he wore the turban. In 1943, a drama played out when he was thrown before the Sultan’s court for misappropriating jangali (cattle) tax for the Gusau region where he was the Councillor.

He was sentenced to one year in prison. Do not forget the fact that there was a rivalry simmering below the robes between him and the new Sultan. But with the aid of the other ‘Barewa guys’ like Shehu Shagari, Aminu Kano and Ibrahim Dasuki, he filed for an acquittal after he had already spent three months in jail. But that would only boost his popularity and many felt he was just a victim of unfair political tussle.


Upon arriving from the United Kingdom, he was nominated to represent the Sokoto Province at the regional House of Assembly. He was also one of the three selected to represent the north at the drafting committee for the new Macpherson constitution in 1951. While in the assembly, he became a veritable voice for the northerners and in consultations with his colleagues from the other emirates of Bornu and Kano, he formed a solid platform to promote northern interests.

Therefore, it was no surprise that when the first elections were held in 1952, he won a seat in the Northern House of Assembly and was appointed a Minister of Works in the Regional Executive Council, of which he was now a Member. He would later become the Minister of Local Government and Community Development for the Northern Region of Nigeria. With time, he was also a Member of the Nigerian Forest Board, Nigerian Coal Board, Inspection Board and Northern Regional Development and Production Board. He was also made the Business Leader of the Government of the Northern Region. In all these roles, he distinguished himself as a hardworking civil servant.

In 1954, Sir Ahmadu Bello became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria and in 1955, he made his first pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 1953 and 1957, he was the leader of the Northern delegation to constitutional conferences in London (my good friend still wonders why we had to go all the way to London to write our own constitution) The ‘Work and Worship’ motto on the Northern Nigerian crest was adopted by him.

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Five years late in 1959 federal elections, he led the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to victory in the parliament. Later, his party formed an alliance with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) headed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and they came up with the very first indigenous federal government in 1960 which eventually secured Nigerian independence from the British colonial masters.

Since he was the President General of the NPC (later the largest political party in the country), he chose to remain the Premier of Northern Nigeria and gave the position of Prime Minister to his hand-picked candidate, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was then the Deputy President of the NPC. Sir Ahmadu Bello who stayed back in Sokoto with Balewa in Lagos, never sought the leadership of Nigeria, once stated that he would rather be the Sultan of Sokoto than to be the leader of Nigeria:


It is an open secret that his relationship with the Ibos was a very turbulent one even if he had worked hand-in-hand with an Ibo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to ensure Nigerian gained independence in 1960. At various times, he made inflammatory statements about the Ibos and as you must have expected, the Ibos too did not take such statements laughing. He once referred to the Ibos as the ‘Jews of Nigeria’ whose sole purpose is to dominate wherever they find themselves. He said: ‘The Ibos are more or less a type of people whose desire is mainly to dominate everybody. If they go to a village, or town, they want to monopolize everything in that area. If you put them in a labour camp as a labourer, within a year, they will try to emerge as the headman of that camp.’

Sir Ahmadu Bello with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe at an event.

Sir Ahmadu Bello with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe at an event.

He also said that he would rather have a non-Nigerian do a job than give it to a non-northerner. You can therefore understand the carnage and massacre that was to follow his assassination on the 15th of January 1966 by an Ibo major, Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. All the tensions would gradually accumulate and result in a full-blown civil war the following year, with millions of Nigerian lives sacrificed to the senseless orgy of violence. Bello’s critics pointed out that he was more preoccupied with the agenda of a more united North than a stronger Nigeria. Some critics even felt he felt the pulse of his people who feared a domination by the southerners and accused him of footdragging on the independence of the nation. However, this does not diminish his contributions in ensuring Nigeria became free from British imperialism.


By the beginning of 1966, it was quite clear that the Sardauna was one of the most powerful figures in the country, and many believed that he was actually the most powerful, even much more powerful than the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, his party held sway over 29 million out of 55 million Nigerians. Some soldiers who harboured this belief, led by Major Nzeogwu, stormed his residence in Kaduna on the fateful evening of 14th January, 1966. Nigeria would never remain the same.

Previously, on his way to Umrah (the Muslim lesser pilgrimage), he received a letter with threats to kill him. The letter was said to have stated: ”We have arranged to kill you and the Prime Minister (Alhaji Tafawa Balewa). The Sardauna was concerned and felt that the tip was from someone who wanted to save them. He directed that the letter be given to the Private Secretary who would then transfer it to the Security Unit for the appropriate action, but that was not to be. The security provided was not water-proof. A devout Muslim, the Sardauna believed that giving his life in the service of Northern Nigeria was worth the sacrifice and that death was a certain end. He later said of the threat: ‘Don’t worry, continue to get useful information. I know what to do.

And so it was on the evening of 15th January, 1966. Armed soldiers mentioned above arrived at his residence at Lugard House, Kaduna. They were not to have tea with the late Premier. They came with the gloomiest message ever, the message of death. By the next day, the soldiers in Nigerian Army uniform had turned assassins. As the gun-toting soldiers scattered the peace of the house searching for him, the Sardauna went into his quarters and announced to his family the coming of the unwanted guests. He told his family to stay away in safety but they would have none of that. They all trooped behind him as he came out of the family quarters and in a matter of seconds, he was surrounded by the soldiers led by Nzeogwu who fired at Ahmadu Bello’s babanriga and immediately, blood sputtered from the point of impact through the beard on his face. Brave till the very end, he had faced the soldiers and introduced himself as the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region.

At that point, his first and eldest wife threw herself at him in a final embrace. They were both shot. The soldiers opened fire and by the time the claps of thunder emanating from the bullets died down, the Sardauna and his wife, Hafsatu, were dead. He was believed to have been killed instantly when a bullet penetrated his spinal cord. Family members tried to move his corpse from the site of impact but were not able to do so, and left it there till the next morning for proper arrangements. The soldiers did not leave until about 6.am the next morning. A bodyguard was also killed. Two women later carried Hafsatu’s body from where she was killed to a bathroom, and very few people know of her story as till today. The mighty Gamji tree was cut down in his prime. The chaos of that day is yet to disappear till this day as the ghosts of those killed in that coup still loom large over the Nigerian nation.

Before his death, he saw Major Nzeogwu at his residence and inquired to know his mission to which Nzeogwu reported he was doing his duty checking the security facilities and installations. The Sardauna told him: ‘You must do your duty but my safety is in the hands of God.’ Later, Sardauna’s personal security detail, Sani One Minute became disturbed after he reported seeing Major Nzeogwu surveilling the residence on three different occasions.

With Tafawa Balewa and Michael Okpara.

With Tafawa Balewa and Michael Okpara.


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-Pioneer Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, 11th October, 1962.

Sir Ahmadu Bello made Pioneer Chancellor, ABU.

Sir Ahmadu Bello made Pioneer Chancellor, ABU.

-March 1959: President, Northern Regional Executive Council.

-Vice President, World Muslim League.

With Sheikh Gumi.

With Sheikh Gumi.

-In ensuring that the North would not be sidelined in the scheme of things, he sponsored the Bank of the North (now Unity Bank), the Northern Nigerian Development Company and capped it all by establishing the 16,000-seater Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. The institution was established on the 4th of October, 1962 as the University of Northern Nigeria.

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Widely revered as a hero today, his greatest legacy and achievement was modernizing the Northern Region (his northernization policy was controversial but very successful) and unifying its different peoples under one umbrella. Even in death, he still has a cult-like following with millions ready to rally round his ideals. Bodies like Gamji and the Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation have sprang up to highlight his achievements and preserve his legacies. Today, he is believed to have contributed more than any other individual to the development of education in Northern Nigeria, which sadly today, has one of the lowest rates of literacy on earth.


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-He once referred to Nigeria as the ‘mistake of 1914’ but he later worked for and gave his best for the new nation of Nigeria.

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“I have never sought the Political Limelight or a leading position in my country. But I could not avoid the obligation of my birth and destiny. My great-great-grandfather built an Empire in the Western Sudan. It has fallen my lot to play a not inconsiderable part in building a new nation. My ancestor was chosen to lead the holy war which set up his Empire. I have been chosen by a Free electrorate to help build a modern state. –Preface, My Life

“Our Customs and institutions are not artificial creations, nor have they been borrowed ready-made from others. On the contrary, with their roots deep in the Past, Yet changing to meets the needs of the future, they are living, growing things. We are proud to our way of life and are honoured that we have the priviledge of displaying a few of its many aspects”. -While responding to the Queen’s Goodwill message in 1959.

Sir Ahmadu Bello with Queen Elizabeth II in 1956.

Sir Ahmadu Bello with Queen Elizabeth II in 1956.

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“I am impatient, and who would not be with all that lies before me and the responsibilities that have been placed upon me? I have a thousands causes for impatience, but I am not impatient for myself or my family. All my time I give to my work: my life has been in the service of the state even from the time that I went to school. For there I was learning for the future and that future had caught up with me. A new future lies ahead into which I go, trusting in God’s eternal mercy. ”

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-“You are unique in that we stand at the meeting Point of two of the major cultural system of the world. Islamic culture from the East and Christian culture from the West, and meeting in the Presence of a third culture, that of the ancient state and empires of African itself. Our task is to bring about a dialogue between these two cultures and fit them to Africa, Interpreting one of the other to the Mutual benefit of all. We should introduce Western ideas and technologies where necessary but it must be without disrupting our existing Spiritual, cultural and social Values”.-From his speech while being made the Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on 23rd November 1963.

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“They say that I am proud and impatient. I am certainly proud, for I have much to be proud of, and not the least the trust that God has given me to lift up our People from their Primitive conditions into the light of life and the happiness of contentment. But I am not proud in the arrogant sense, for I know that I am merely an instrument carrying out God’s will and pleasure. -My Life


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Our history as a nation is full of smiles, joy, sorrow, blood and tears. It is very clear that our Founding Fathers also had their own flaws with them manifesting rabid ethnicism and other parochial interests to the detriment of the nation. Several groups in the country still nurse deep wounds they’ve suffered from various events, and until these wounds are healed, Nigeria will remain nothing but a mere ‘geographical expression’. The future and survival of Nigeria and Nigerians depend on the ability or inability of the current generation of Nigerians to shed the toga of tribal arrogance, ethnicity-based hatred and mindless religious fanaticism, mistakes that our fathers made. Failure to do so will spell doom for the most populous black nation on earth. Long live the Giant of Africa.



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