SIR ABUBAKAR TAFAWA BALEWA: THE GENTLE BLACK ROCK AND THE FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF NIGERIA
“I am pleased to see that we are now all agreed that the Federal system is, under present conditions, the only sure basis on which Nigeria will remain united. We must recognize our diversity and the peculiar conditions under which the different tribal communities live in this country” Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, KBE, OBE, CBE. the prime minister of independent Nigeria
Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, KBE, OBE, CBE (December 1912 – January 15, 1966) was a Nigerian politician, and the only prime minister of an independent Nigeria. He was described as a ‘cool figure’ who pre-occupied himself with holding together Nigeria’s more than 250 ethnic groups when duty was entrusted to him to became Nigeria`s independent prime minister for the federation.A man who was originally a trained as a teacher, he became a vocal leader for Northern interests as one of the few educated Nigerians of his time. He was also an international statesman, widely respected across the African continent as one of the leaders who encouraged the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU). Balewa was nicknamed "the Golden Voice of Africa" because of his oratorical prowess and eloquence, he stands as one of only three National Heroes of the Nigerian Nation.
A man of “unusual authority” and “possessed of the gravitas of a statesman,” Tafawa Balewa must have been a soothsayer of sort to have foretold what a post-independence Nigeria would look like. According to his biographer, Trevor Clark in his book “A Right Honourable Gentleman: The Life and Times of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,” Balewa had said that “an independent Nigeria would be likely to flounder on tribal differences and on corruption,” and he was doubtful whether the British-style Westminster democracy would be the ideal system for an ethnically divided Nigeria. He never under-estimated Nigeria’s political weaknesses and was said to have admitted Nigeria’s cross road status in pursuit of political relevance: “The trouble is that the Nigeria Member of Parliament wants to criticize the government and to be in it at the same time.
Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (right) in stately glamour, charms other African brother heads of government. On his right is Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, far the right is Dr Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone. On the left is Dr Sekou Toure of Guinea. Behind them are their retinue if aides.
The man who was often popularly referred to as ‘Balewa the Good,’ had a humble background from the Jere ethnic group (a branch of the Hausa). His assassination was described as “the most regretted in Nigeria,” due to his humility, Spartan lifestyle, commonsense, and tolerance. And as a measure of his sincerity in his task of building a new nation, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, Chief Justice of Nigeria (1958 to 1972) said the Prime Minister had often put himself on the spot by his own utterance. “If this people do not want me anymore, all they need do is to give me about two hours’ notice, and this is enough for me to pack my few belongings here and leave.” Unfortunately the assassins never gave him the chance to once again display that modesty that leadership should bestow and which only the great Balewa had monopoly of. The same coup that consumed the Sardauna Sir Ahmadu Bello also snuffed the life out of the nation’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on January 15, 1966. He was abducted and later killed by Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the five majors that plotted the first coup, and who was assigned the role of operation New Wash in the mutineers’ action plan. His body was not found until January 21 that year.
Again, to quote Clark, “his murder in 1966, perpetuated in the arrogance of ignorant brutishness, appalled and affronted me as did countless others…” This workaholic, simple and gentle Nigerian leader was reported to have to his only annual leave as Prime Minister of Nigeria in 1963 and decided to spend the vacation in his village.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister, Nigeria) on his farm in Bauchi Source. Circa 1962
It must also be emphasized here that after many years of Balewa`s death, the subject is still a serious raging controversy in Nigeria. A former external affairs minister,Chief M.T .Mbu, sparked off a controversy recently when he claimed that the Nigerian prime minister in the first republic, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa,died of asthma. The claim was disputed by those who held on to the view that Balewa had been shot dead by coup plotters who had abducted him ,among other political leaders of the country, on January 15, 1966. This claim seems to authenticate Chief Olusegun Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State, who had earlier calimed that "As an eye witness, the body I saw was fresh." Osoba came into the picture courtesy of a report he did as a young reporter and published in the Daily Times Of January 23,1966 after providentially seeing the corpse of the late Nigerian leader where it had been dumped alongside that of Chief Okotie Eboh, the then finance minister. On the other hand, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of state in the ministry of transportation, did a two-part article on the controversy on the side of those who believed Balewa was killed by the coup plotters and his body dumped at a spot along Lagos-Abeokuta Road.
President John F Kennedy and Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa at the White House
So who is this great Nigerian? In contrast with the largely aristocratic ruling elite in the north, many of whose ancestry derives from royal lineage, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had very humble origins. His father, Mallam Yakubu was a slave who rose in service of the Madaki of Bauchi and became a district head. According to family oral history, Balewa’s paternal grandfather Isa was murdered in front of his family by his rival’s agents. Isa’s widow then took her infant son to Bauchi, where the Madaki of Bauchi took her in.
Abubakar was born in December 1912 in the village of Tafawa Balewa, in modern day Bauchi state. He was his father’s only child. The name of his birthplace was appended to Abubakar’s name (Abubakar Tafawa Balewa). Tafawa Balewa village takes its name from two corrupted Fulani words: “Tafari” (rock) and Baleri (black). This may have contributed to the “Black Rock” nickname he acquired in later life. Although it is widely (incorrectly) presumed that he was Hausa, Balewa’s father Yakubu Dan Zala was in fact of Bageri ethnicity, and his mother Fatima Inna was Fulani.
The Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and The Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa being received at the university by the first Nigerian Vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Kenneth Dike.
He attended Quaranic school and learnt the first chapter of the Qur’an by heart. For his Western education he attended Bauchi Provincial School. According to his teacher and classmates he was a shy, quiet and not outstanding student. Although reserved by nature, he did commit a disciplinary infraction when he was caught outside school without permission, and smoking with his friends to boot. He was whipped as punishment. One of his juniors at school was Nuhu Bamalli (later Foreign Minister). He later attended Katsina Teacher Training College (1928-1933) and graduated with a third class certificate. His best subject was unsurprisingly, English. He became a teacher and irritated by a friend’s remark that no Northerner had ever passed the exam for a Senior Teacher’s Certificate, Balewa duly sat the exam, and obtained the Certificate. He became headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. He reported that the first white woman he ever set eyes on was Dame Margery Perham (a renowned academic on African affairs) when she visited Nigeria on an investigation of native administration.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister, Nigeria) with Minister of Finance Chief FS Okotie- Eboh responded to charges of accumulation of wealth by government officers by quoting from the Bible, “To those that have, more shall be given. From those that do not have, shall be taken even the little they have.”
In 1945 he and other northerners (including Aminu Kano) obtained a scholarship to study at the University of London’s Institute of Education (1945-1946), where he received a teacher’s certificate in history. When he returned to Nigeria he said he now saw the world with “new eyes”. Balewa said he:
“returned to Nigeria with new eyes, because I had seen people who lived without fear, who obeyed the law as part of their nature, who knew individual liberty”
He returned to Nigeria as a Native Authority Education Officer.
The Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
Balewa was no firebrand political radical. He may have remained a teacher for the rest of his life had southern politicians such as the flamboyant intellectual Nnamdi Azikiwe not pushed for Nigerian independence. Although not overtly political he founded an organisation named the “Bauchi Discussion Circle” in 1943, and was elected vice president of the Northern Teacher’s Association (the first trade union in Northern Nigeria) in 1948. Anxious not to be politically upstaged by the southerners, Northern leaders sought educated Northerners to serve in political posts. Balewa helped found the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which was originally intended as a cultural organisation but by 1951 morphed into a political party due to the need to present a Northern response to the rapid and sophisticated political groupings emerging in the south. Balewa was called into political service as the Bauchi Native Authority’s representative to the Northern House of Assembly. The House of Assembly also selected him to become a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.
Despite political involvement, Balewa remained suspicious of Nigerian unification and feared that the Northern Region would be dominated by the better educated and dynamic south. He said that “the southern tribes who are now pouring into the north in ever increasing numbers…do not mix with the northern people in social matters and we…look upon them as invaders. Since 1914 the Brirish government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. So what it comes to is that Nigerian unity is only a British intention in the country.”
He later became the federal Minister of Works and in 1954 Minister of Transport and the senior minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives. His conversion from regional to federal outlook came after he visited America in 1955 on a fact finding mission. He reminisced that “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.“
Even though Balewa was only the deputy leader of the NPC, the NPC leader the Sardauna of Sokoto sent Balewa to Lagos to become the federal Prime Minister in 1957. The Sardauna had no interest in living in the south. When Nigeria became independent in 1960, he became the newly independent country’s first Prime Minister and received the instruments of independence from Princess Alexandria (cousin of Queen Elizabeth II). Although the country’s Prime Minister, he was not the leader of his own party (the NPC) and thus remained in the paradoxical position of being a head of government that had to defer to, and take instructions from his boss (the Sardauna)
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa primier of federal Nigeria and Sir Ahmadu Bello, primier of Northern Nigeria
A “Perfect Victorian 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.
Jaja Wachuku, Sir A. Tafawa Balewa & Her Majesty, The Queen of Britannia
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.
Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, prime minister of independent Nigeria and Queen Elizabeth of England standing on a dais during Nigeria`s independence Day
Balewa proposed an amendment to Nigeria’s constitution to give due recognition to the nation building role played by then Governor-General Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Balewa proposed that “Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to have been elected President and Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces” because “Nigeria can never adequately reward Dr. Azikiwe” for the nationalist role he played in building Nigeria and achieving independence. Azikiwe is referred to by name in Nigeria’s 1963 constitution, and to my knowledge Azikiwe was the only living individual constitutionally enshrined by name in his democratic country’s constitution.
Throughout his life Balewa spoke “convincingly, meaningfully and truthfully,” concerning the imperative of justice and transparent honesty, as he was reported to have told the Chief Justice of Nigeria (1958 to 1972), Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, who himself wrote a forward in the book “A Right Honourable Gentleman: The Life and Times of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,”. “I remember one of his sayings to me from time to time, ‘CJ, if I do anything wrong and I am brought before you, deal with me; and if necessary send me to jail….” Sir Adetokunbo wrote that Balewa often repeated and emphasized this point.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister, Nigeria), Otunba T.O.S Benson (Minister of Information, Nigeria) & Nikita Kruschev (Premier of the Soviet Union).
Death and Beyond
On January 15, 1966 he was kidnapped from his official residence by armed soldiers who were executing Nigeria’s first military coup. He was missing for several days and a search for him was ordered by the new military regime headed by Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi. His family and friends continued to believe he was alive. Rumours claimed the rebel soldiers were holding him alive and that he would be released as part of a prisoner swap involving the imprisoned Chief Awolowo. However these hopes were dashed when his decomposing corpse was found a few days later, dumped in a roadside bush. His corpse was taken to Ikeja airport in the company of Police Commissioner Hamman Maiduguri, Inspector-General of Police Kam Selem, Maitama Sule and his wives Laraba and Jummai who accompanied it as it was flown to Bauchi where he was buried. His body now lies inside a tomb declared a national monument. The tomb includes a library and a mosque. The famous race course square in Lagos was renamed “Tafawa Balewa Square” in his memory. His image appears on the 5 Naira note.
His mother Hajiya Inna died less than a year after him. He was survived by his four wives Jummai, Umma, Zainab and Laraba, and 19 children. He married Jummai (from Sokoto) when she was 13 years old. He also had a posthumous daughter (Zainab) who was born by Jummai two weeks after his death. Although all of Balewa’s widows remarried after his death, their subsequent marriages collapsed and they returned to the Prime Minister’s house in Bauchi to live together. Balewa’s third wife Hajiya Zainab (aka “Hajiya Umma”) died earlier this year at the age of 73.
(1957) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, “First Speech as Prime Minister”
By 1957 Nigeria was clearly on the path toward independence. In preparation the British Government named Abubakar Tafawa Balewa the first Prime Minister of the soon to be independent nation in a power sharing agreement among the colony's three major political parties. In the following radio address broadcasted to the Nigeria in September 1957, Balewa accepts his new appointment and outlines the political future of the soon-to-be independent nation.
This has been a great day for Nigeria, and, as the first Prime Minister of the Federation of Nigeria, I am proud to speak to my fellow-countrymen tonight. I am proud, and I am humble, too, when I think of the enormous responsibility which has been placed upon me, and my colleagues.
Today, we have set out on the last stage of our journey to Independence, and the next three years will see the culmination of a process which has been gathering momentum year by year, and will see us reaping the harvest of what we have sown. The success of the harvest will depend upon us, and that is why I am glad to speak to you tonight. Everyone of us has his part to play in the work of preparing Nigeria for Independence on the 2nd of April, 1960. I want everyone in Nigeria to realise that this is no easy task, and it cannot be performed by the Federal and Regional Ministers and legislators alone. It is a task for everyone of you because it is only by the personal effort of each individual that Independence for the Federation can become a reality in 1960.
We have declared our intention of attaining Independence for the Federation on the 2nd of April, 1960, and if we wish to take our place among the responsible nations of the world, we must make every effort to see that this aim is achieved, and achieved with an international reputation for good internal government.
Nigeria has now reached a critical stage in her history. We must seize the opportunity which has been offered to us to show that we are able to manage our own affairs properly. Every Nigerian, whatever his status, and whatever his religion, has his or her share to contribute to this crucial task. 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, in the main, on the efforts of ourselves 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 off everyone of us to work so that we may strengthen it. This morning I said in the House of Representatives that bitterness due to political differences would carry Nigeria nowhere, and I appealed to the political leaders throughout the country to control their party extremists. To you who are listening tonight I repeat that appeal—Let us put away bitterness and go forward in friendship to Independence.
To further this overriding need for unity, my colleagues in the Council of Ministers and I have decided to give the country a lead by inviting the leaders of the Action Group to form with us a truly National Government composed of members of the main parties in the Country, and here I must pay tribute to Dr Azikiwe, to Chief Awolowo, Dr Endeley and to the leader of my own party, the Sardauna of Sokoto, for supporting me in this decision. I and my Colleagues of the N.C.N.C. and N.P.C. bold out our hands in welcome to the Action Group members of the Council and I promise you that we shall do our utmost to ensure that the deliberations of the Council are held in an atmosphere devoid of strife and narrow party prejudice.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa welcoming ace jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchimo" Armstrong to Nigeria
I would like to remind you of what a great American once said. It was this, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. This statement is as true for Nigeria today as it has been for any other country. The peoples of Nigeria must be united to enable this country to play a full part in shaping the destiny of mankind. On no account should we allow the selfish ambitions of individuals to jeopardise the peace of the thirty-three million law-abiding people of Nigeria. It is the duty of all of us to work for unity and encourage members of all our communities to live together in peace and harmony. The way to do this is to create understanding, mutual respect and trust. It is important that we should first show respect to each other before asking the world to respect us.
Well—it is time for me to wish you good night, but first I would Once more tell you how absolutely vital it is for your future and the future Nigeria which your children will inherit that, during this interim period before Independence we should be united. Let us be honest with ourselves, and let us be sincere—we know what we want, and we are sure that we can get it, and get it at the right time, provided we are not delayed by selfish quarrels. At a time like this, we must all turn our minds to Almighty God and seek His guidance and assistance—by His grace, we shall succeed.
US vice president Lyndon Johnson and Sir Tafawa Balewa in White reception at Washington DC, Circa 1961
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Mr. Prime Minister: A Selection of Speeches Made by Alhaji the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, K.B.E., M.P., Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Apapa: Nigerian National Press, Ltd., 1964).
Tafawa Balewa Was Not Killed By Soldiers: Mbu
by omamokta: On Sep 05, 2010
Forty-four years after, the controversy over how Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa died may have been finally laid to rest.
Contrary to the widely-held belief, Nigerian soldiers did not kill the country’s first Commander- in-Chief in the bloody coup of 1966. Rather, Prime Minister Balewa succumbed to asthma, according to a key player in his government. He reportedly died while soldiers were taking him out of Lagos in the aftermath of the putsch.
Nigeria’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and one of only three surviving members of the first Federal cabinet, Dr. Mathew Taiwo Mbu made this known to The Nation in an exclusive interview in Lagos.
Prime Minister Balewa died as a result of an asthmatic attack while he was being driven to Calabar by soldiers under the command of Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna who arrested him, Mbu said. Veteran journalist Chief Segun Osoba, who led the Police to the bodies of the late Prime Minister and his Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, could not be reached last night for a corroboration.
Previous accounts of what actually happened on the night of January 15, 1966 have been hazy. Even BBC archive reports on the day of infamy only spoke of a kidnapping of the Prime Minister by soldiers.
Most on-site accounts to date, only reported that the body of the late Prime Minister was found in a seating position by a tree, in a plantation, on the road to Abeokuta, near Ifo, some 35 kilometres from his Ikoyi residence where he was arrested by soldiers on the night of January 15, 1966. The Prime Minister’s body was found beside the bullet-riddled body of Chief Okotie-Eboh, Nigeria’s first Minister of Finance.
The Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa arrives Lagos Airport after a private trip. With him is Chief Festus Okotie Eboh (left) and other Officials.
No report of the macabre events of January 15, 1966, has been categorical that the Prime Minister was shot death; and no autopsies were carried out on the bodies discovered several days after the two had been reported kidnapped from their official residences by soldiers.
But Dr. Mbu, who was a close confidant of the late Prime Minister, recounted a momentous encounter 44 years ago, with the late poet Christopher Okigbo, one of the last people to see the late Prime Minister alive before he was arrested by the coup plotters.
He said Christopher Okigbo, who was also a close friend of Major Ifeajuna, who led the coupists in Lagos, recounted the arrest of the Prime Minister to him first hand. Okigbo and Ifeajuna themselves were killed in action during the Nigerian civil war.
Mbu, who many also regarded as Tafawa Balewa’s de-facto foreign minister, was ironically sent out to India for a State funeral by the Prime Minister, only hours before the coup. He had warned the late Prime Minister of an impending coup just days earlier.
He said he was reliably informed that Prime Minister Balewa had been accosted by the soldiers who first gave him the salute due to a Commander-in-Chief before informing him that they were effecting a change of government. They allowed him to say his Islamic prayers before taking him in a car.
The plans of the putschists according to Mbu’s account, did not include killing the Prime Minister. He was to be taken to Calabar and forced to release and handover power to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then in prison for treasonable felony.
Balewa unfortunately did not make it out of Lagos. He reportedly suffered an asthmatic attack and died in the car. The announcement by the Army chief, General Aguiyi Ironsi of a failed coup, led to the dumping of the late Prime Minister’s body in the forest off the road to Abeokuta.
Okotie-Eboh, against whom the military high command then, had the most serious of the allegations of bribery and corruption the Balewa regime was accused of, was apparently executed at close range in the forest, leading to speculations that the Prime Minister too was shot to death. The several days that lapsed before the bodies were discovered must have made it difficult to find out the real cause of the Prime Minister’s death. His body was taken to Bauchi for burial.
Mbu spoke with The Nation Databank, in one of several interviews the country’s premier private digital archive conducted with senior Nigerian citizens and elderstatesmen. The interviews, on historical and contemporary events in Nigeria over the last 50 years, are to be packaged in special video and data discs to mark Nigeria’s golden jubilee independence anniversary. Two million copies of the discs, coming as the Nigeria’s premier national e-Reference ,will be given out FREE to Nigerians, particularly Nigerian youths.
THE DEATH OF TAFAWA BALEWA: THE SEGUN OSOBA ANGLEBy Femi Fani-Kayode
Let me begin by commending Mr. O’seun Ogunseitan and the convenors of this vital discussion on the death of Sir Tafawa Balewa who have given us the opportunity to iron out this vital issue of monumental historical importance once and for all and then hopefully, at the end of it all, we can perhaps bring the matter to closure.
My attitude to such matters is simply that for the sake of posterity, we owe it to ourselves, to future generations of Nigerians, to the families of those who were killed on January 15th 1966 and to those who were killed themselves and are no doubt watching this historical discussion from the great beyond.
The quest for ascertaining and establishing the truth in this matter is my primary motivation for participation and it is certainly not to disparage, discredit or question anyone's integrity or sanity or to impugn anyone's character or their recollection of events.
However I have to say that I really do find some of the assertions that were originally made by Chief Matthew Mbu (to the effect that Sir Tafawa Balewa was not shot by soldiers but that he had died of asthma) which I attempted to address in my essay last week a little alarming and I still do.
In this second essay I will attempt to address some of the fresh and pertinent issues raised by Chief Segun Osoba who happens to be one of my favourite egbons and a formidable writer, journalist, politician and elder-statesman in his own right. Here goes.
If at the age of 50 I do not know a thing or two about the history of my country, then I really can't lay claim to being educated or enlightened.
To those that say that some of us were too young at the time of Balewa's death and therefore could not have known what really happened I say this: I was not born when Hitler ruled Germany and gassed six million Jews to death or when the Roman empire ruled the world or when the Russian Revolution took place or when the first and second World Wars were fought or when Lord Lugard and the British amalgamated the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria or when the slave trade took place.
But I have read books and seen records that confirm all these monumental events and there is little that I do not know about them. And that goes for most of us. It comes with a good education and being widely read and well acquainted with all the relevant sources, credible references, research materials and historical documentation.
We must assume that these are accurate until better and new evidence is provided and adduced. We cannot just change our knowledge of history based on hearsay evidence such as that which Chief Mbu is now providing.
He said that Major Ifejuana told Christopher Okigbo who then told him that the Prime Minister was not shot but rather that he died of asthma. That is hearsay and most unreliable not because Chief Mbu is dishonest, because I happen to know that he is one of our most eminent statesmen , a wonderful father and a fine and upstanding gentleman, but because somewhere along the line the story may have been distorted or Ifejuana may have just lied.
This is why I dismissed Chief Mbu's assertion especially since it conflicted with the eye witness accounts of many others like Alhaji Babankowa who claimed that they discovered the body, saw it clearly in a decomposed state and with bullet wounds, cleaned it and wrapped it up and then took it to Bauchi for burial.
This account is buttressed and corroborated by Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi who were all policeman that were directly involved in the investigation or were privy to it and who have all seen the official reports and claim that there was a post mortem.
To add to this are all the history books written by foreigners and Nigerians alike on this matter, most of which I have read. They also corroborate the allegation that Ifejuana and Okafor shot Balewa and left his body to rot by the roadside.
Again there were the various submissions at the Oputa panel in 2001 in which no-one refuted this but rather everyone confirmed it. I also heard the accounts of General Danjuma and others who I have discussed this matter with on various occasions over the years. They also corroborate the suggestion that the Prime Minister was shot , mutilated and left to rot. So with all this and coupled with all the official police investigation reports, security reports and eye witness accounts which until just last week had not been publicly refuted in 44 years, it is fair to assume that this is really what happened.
However Chief Segun Osoba's new eye witness account today and the story that he wrote in the Daily Times newspaper on Jan. 22nd 1966 where he said that he saw the Prime Minister’s body propped up in a sitting position lying on a tree seven days later and that it was not bullet ridden but was in fact ‘’fresh’’, whilst the body of Okotie-Eboh, beside it, was decomposed and bullet ridden, raises a lot of new questions.
If this report is true, it suggests that Sir Tafawa Balewa lived for a few days longer than we had been lead to believe, that he died later than the others and that his body was then placed there by someone who wished to give the impression that he had been shot to death in the presence of Chief Okotie-Eboh and the others.
It would also mean that there was a massive official cover-up probably with the collusion of British Special Branch, the Nigerian Police, the doctor from LUTH who did the post mortem, the Nigerian Federal Government and so many others over this issue and over the last 44 years.
If the body was really fresh six days after the coup and if Ifejuana really did leave for Enugu the day the coup failed on the 15th of January, then these questions have to be asked: who was the Prime Minister with for six days after the coup? Who killed him? How did he die? Who moved his body to that spot? What was the motive? And finally why this official cover up and reign of disinformation.
If Osoba is right and the others are wrong, then these questions must be answered. Nigerians have a right to know the truth about what really happened to their Prime Minister.
I believe that this is why it is vital that we have a Freedom of Information Act as soon as possible and that all these documents are declassified.
The testimony of a man of the sheer stature of Chief Segun Osoba cannot be waived away or dismissed easily by any responsible historian or commentator especially since, at least to a certain extent, it seems to corroborate and support Chief Matthew Mbu's assertion that Sir Tafawa Balewa "was not killed by soldiers but by asthma".
I must say however that I, for one, do view Osoba's submissions with some level of skepticism and surprise despite the fact that I have nothing but the deepest respect for him, just as I do for Chief Matthew Mbu.
This is because it flies in the face of the testimony and account that has been given by virtually every person that attended the Prime Minister’s burial itself, including members of the Balewa family and his private secretary Alhaji Ahmed Kari who all firstly testified to the fact that the body of the Prime Minister was so badly decomposed and so badly mutilated that it had to be covered and could not be shown publicly and secondly that it was smelling so badly that water had to be regularly poured on it in order to help to douse the terrible stench.
This could hardly have been the case if the body had been "fresh" as Osoba is claiming. In the light of this painful burial testimony together with that of the respected elder
statesman Alhaji Maitama Sule's account that he also saw the body of the late Prime Minister in a terribly decomposed state at the site where the body was found and before it was taken to the airport for the burial in Bauchi, how I wish that Osoba had taken a picture of the supposedly "fresh body" that he claimed that he saw and that he wrote about on January 22nd 1966 in order to help substantiate his astonishing claim.
I should also add that regardless of whatever it was that actually did cause the death of Sir Tafawa Balewa, whether it be gun shot wounds, a bout of asthma or a fear-induced heart attack (as some have sought to argue), the fact remains that if he hadn't been brutally abducted and kidnapped by Major Ifejuana and Captain Okafor and if they had not carried out an extremely violent and bloody coup on January 15th 1966, he would not have lost his life at that time.
If there had been no coup on that day and if he had not been abducted from his home, he most probably would have lived longer and continued to rule Nigeria . General Aguiyi-Ironsi may never have been our Head of State. There may never have been the July 1966 northern revenge coup. There may never have been any pogrom of Igbos in the north which ultimately led to the civil war and the history of our country may well have been very different today.
Well providence made it otherwise but whichever way you look at it, Ifejuana, Okafor and their co-conspirators were wholly responsible for the Prime Minister's death and by their actions, whether directly or indirectly, they caused it.
Even though Major Ifejuana, with the assistance of the renowned poet Christopher Okigbo, managed to escape to Ghana after the event, Captain Okafor, his second in command and co-conspirator, was apprehended, arrested, thoroughly interrogated and placed in detention and whilst there he reportedly admitted the fact that both he and Ifejuana had killed the Prime Minister.
It is no wonder that just a few months later during the execution of the northern revenge coup of July 1966, Okafor, who was at that time being detained at Abeokuta prison, was taken out of his cell by northern soldiers and, again reportedly amidst the most terrible and horrific screams, he was slowly tortured and then buried alive. This is a terrible tragedy and I consider it to be a sad and utterly barbaric event.
On his own part and on his return to Biafra from Ghana during the civil war, Major Ifejuana was later executed by Colonel Ojukwu, the leader of Biafra , by firing squad for attempting to plan yet another coup and for again involving himself in the act of treason.
It appears that, once again, the man could not find the courage to be loyal and he shamefully betrayed and plotted the downfall of his own principal and leader. This time around however there was no escape to Ghana or anywhere else for him and he paid the supreme price for his treachery .
What a sad and sorry end that this young man came to and this surely is the greatest testimony to the veracity of the biblical injunction and spiritual truism that says "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword". In conclusion I would just like to issue a few posers which are based on information that I gathered from just one of the numerous books that I have read on this issue over the years. Firstly how true is it that the assassins first took Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to the palace of the Oba of Lagos where “the mutineers stubbed cigarette butts on his hands” among other things and “told him to drink wine to save himself?” He apparently replied that “he had never drunk alcohol in his life and he was not going to do so at the point of death”.
These were just some of the assertions made by a British Colonial Officer who was in Nigeria at the time by the name of David Muffet in his book titled “Let TheTruth Be Told (The Nigerian Civil War)”. Similar issues were raised in the British Daily Telegraph newspaper many years later and these can be found at “telegraph.co.uk” of Oct. 13th 2007. In Muffet’s book he repeated verbatim reports given by some eye-witnesses, notably Kaptan Topyomoli, who was the Prime Minister’s orderly, confidant and friend. If anyone that is interested cannot find the book anywhere please look for it on “Ebay” or “Amazon.com” on the internet.
Secondly, who told Chief Osoba where the corpse was? Who went with him that can corroborate what he has said and what he wrote? Did he go with the police team at 2.00a.m? Commissioner Babankowa said in his interview with Trust Newspaper in 2004 that he overheard some people talking about a foul smell coming from the forest near the roadside and then he started his search and later found the body. Was the police “beaten to the scene” by this adept and incredibly brave young reporter? These are vital questions that need to be answered. I would urge those that are interested in establishing the truth and getting the answers to ask the elder-statesman Alhaji Maitama Sule, the former Inspector General of Police and former National Security Advisor, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, the former Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff General T.Y. Danjuma and the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji M.D. Yusuf exactly what they know about these matters, claims and counterclaims as they were all living witnesses to all these events. That is the only way that we can really establish the truth and bring this matter to closure.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode was the spokesperson to President Olusegun Obasanjo; he subsequently became Minister of Tourism & Culture & later served as Aviation Minister for Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is currently vying for the position of Governor in Osun State (South-West, Nigeria).
Balewa’s Death Controversy: As an eye witness, the body I saw was fresh – Osoba
on September 26, 2010
By Wale Akinola
A former external affairs minister,Chief M.T .Mbu, sparked off a controversy recently when he claimed that the Nigerian prime minister in the first republic, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa,died of asthma. The claim was disputed by those who held on to the view that Balewa had been shot dead by coup plotters who had abducted him ,among other political leaders of the country, on January 15, 1966. Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of state in the ministry of transportation, did a two-part article on the controversy on the side of those who believed Balewa was killed by the coup plotters and his body dumped at a spot along Lagos-Abeokuta Road .
Celebrated Nigerian Sculptor BEN ENWONWU (14 July 1921–5 February 1994) and Sir Abubakra Tafawa Balewa
Chief Olusegun Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State, came into the picture courtesy of a report he did as a young reporter and published in the Daily Times Of January 23,1966 after providentially seeing the corpse of the late Nigerian leader where it had been dumped alongside that of Chief Okotie Eboh, the then finance minister. Osoba speaks, in this interview, on his experience of January 21, 1966 when he saw the corpses and other issues surrounding the death of Balewa.
Forty-four years after, a fresh controversy is brewing over the death of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first and last prime minister …
The British intelligence that was in charge of Nigeria’s security then fell flat at the critical time and had no clue whatsoever on the situation in Nigeria. Their intelligence situation was totally flawed.
I could not imagine, even as a young reporter, that a well grounded and well informed security network would allow world leaders to assemble in Nigeria for the Commonwealth conference few hours to a major political upheaval and a military intervention, the first in the history of the country, would be in the offing and they didn’t know. We had heads of government of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and others from all over the Commonwealth gathered in Nigeria, yet the British intelligence didn’t know. It shows you that any reference to the British archives on this issue, especially by those who claimed that Balewa had been shot by the coup plotters, would be a fruitless exercise.
That means one cannot rely on such source for information on what actually happened.
No, because the then prime minister of Britain himself, Harold Wilson, was still in this country 24hours to the coup. I was at the airport at about 11 p.m., on Friday, 14th of January 1966 when Tafawa Balewa saw off Harold Wilson on his journey back to the UK. That was just 24 hours to the time the coup took place. Would any serious government have risked the head of their government in a country where the military was about to strike? Supposing he was trapped in the crossfire just like the then head of government of Cyprus was caught up in the coup because he was in Enugu on a tour of the country and a guest of Michael Okpara when the coup took place?
Your report of January 23,1966 has become a reference point on the death of Balewa. As someone who saw the body of the late prime minister and reported it, what do you say?
Sam Omatseye, in his column, made a profound statement that there was a failure of intellectualism. Nobody among the writers or those making claims about Tafawa Balewa made adequate research. The newspapers of that time are all in the archives and they are important sources of information or record of what happened.
All those who are talking are basing their information on hearsay, third party, from one person to another. The New Nigerian which was a major newspaper then was just founded at that time. The Daily Times, the leading paper in the country then, was there and The Pilot. These newspapers were all owned by government. Nobody has bothered to go and search for them and read the reports of these papers. Instead, some of them are quoting British archives when already I said the British intelligence on the coup in Nigeria at that time was a total failure; so you cannot rely on such or use a failed report of failed people and intelligence as history, that is my argument.
That means some of the things said, for instance, by Chief Femi Fani- Kayode, who is raising issues on the circumstances surrounding Balewa’s death, cannot be relied upon if his facts are based on the British archives.
I would not say Tafawa Balewa died of asthma for the fact that I am not a medical doctor. But as an eye witness, the body (of Balewa) that I saw was a fresh body. Fani- Kayode, I can understand his emotions, but I think he is getting too emotional and indirectly politicizing history. The first cliche they teach in journalism is facts are sacred. The first thing my editor told me about the story as I got to the office that day was that,’ don’t embellish your report, don’t be flamboyant ,just be factual ,’and the facts I stated in my story have never ever been denied, debunked, controverted in 44 years. Why now? Fani- Kayode had many mistakes and flaws in his argument.
What are the flaws?
First of all, he claimed an autopsy was held on the body(of Balewa) in LUTH before it was taken away. That cannot be true because the late Professor Odunjo, the brother of Soji Odunjo, was in LUTH then when I wrote the story and I remember that Soji and I saw him that same Sunday that my report was published and we talked extensively on the matter .So, if there had been autopsy, he would have told me in the course of our discussion. That was the first error on the part of Fani- Kayode.
In the second article, he now changed ,saying the autopsy was done on the spot where the body was found. That is an impossible thing scientifically, because the body (of Okotie Eboh) I saw close by was already being infested by maggots and ants such that you had to be careful so that the ants would not get into your body. You can imagine if the ants got into your body, you had to strip naked. It was not an environment that you could ever carry out autopsy.
The last error he made was that it was done right there in the bush. As at the time I wrote my story, the body was already being flown out of Lagos to the north but I guess they had to take it first to Kaduna because I was not sure there were landing facilities in Bauchi where it was buried; they probably had to take the body in the morning to Bauchi and I stated in my report the Indian pilot and the co-pilot that accompanied the body. All this happened within fours hours after I saw the body.
You don’t fly a decomposed body and stay in the aircraft for one or two hours and you survive .These are some of the flaws in his claim. And he is getting emotional about it and the evidence he is producing are third party:’ General Danjuma told me,’‘ M.D, Yusuf told me’. The military too at that time were hamstrung because for communication network, they had to depend on the police communication system as they did not have signal department in the army of that time.
Are there other persons that can corroborate your claim or photographs of the scene to lay to rest the controversy concerning your claim?
So many people. As a matter of fact, some people called me from Abeokuta. Mr Iboye, one of them, said he was working at WAPCO, Ewekoro, at that time and that he saw the body. Ogunseitan of The Nation also called to say that he was going to Ibadan to interview somebody who called to say he saw the body. I interviewed people in the villages who also saw the body.
All I am saying is that Tafawa Balewa’s body that I saw was a fresh one and that, yes, the body might have odour by the time they got to Bauchi but not as strong as they put it. A body without embalming after 24 hours would, naturally, after a while….. decomposition sets in. But to say that the body was not allowed to lie- in- state, Muslims don’t lie body-in-state, Muslims detest such open display of bodies. Muslims detest marking of graves, Muslims detest having a statue on graves, they see it as paganism, they detest it.
And before the body was taken to Bauchi, they would have cleaned it up, prepared it and wrapped it up in the Islamic way and so there would be no need to expose the body. Tafawa Balewa’ s case was not the only example. When General Murtala Muhammed died after being shot in Lagos, the body that was taken to Kano was already prepared, that is the second example that I will give.
Murtala’s body was already prepared and taken straight away for burial. Even the late General Sani Abacha that died in Abuja, his body was already prepared by the time it got to Kano. Tafawa Balewa’s body was not the only Muslim head of government that would be buried. None of these other ones I said has ever been disputed ,whether Murtala Muhammed or Abacha. So why are they making an issue on whether his body was displayed or not? Do Muslims display body like Christians? So, tell me, which Muslim head of state’s body has ever been displayed?
How did you get the information about the dumping of Tafawa Balewa’s corpse on that spot and you now went for verification?
At that time, there was no SSS. What you had was called E-Branch of the Nigeria Police Intelligence Department .What you had was E- Branch and SCID. E- Branch was like today’s SSS. And someone from there phoned me and for a reporter like me who had phone , my colleagues were making jest of me that it was elitist and luxury. It was already 6 p.m. that day when I heard of the news and my immediate reaction was to get there before dark ;so the question of looking for a photographer didn’t arise and, as Chief E. A. Oshunneye, another eye witness, his wife is still around, she can easily corroborate what I am saying, her husband would have recounted the story to her ;he was coming from Abeokuta and he told me that somewhere after leaving Abeokuta, on their way to Ifo, that he stopped and that they were all peeping from the window of their vehicle to look at the place where the bodies were kept. And so that was how I took my Vespa which was like having a car then. There was no traffic because there were fewer vehicles on the road and I raced there to see the body. I spoke with a lot of the villagers on the story. If people are enterprising enough, I think they should go to Ilogbo or Iyana Ilogbo, they would find people who saw the bodies.
What was the situation of the bodies at the time you got there?
The Okotie-Eboh body had decompsed and I didn’t even see any sign of gunshots on his body. His head was mangled, I suspect he was maltreated and manhandled. I am still suspicious of the involvement of the then government in the whole saga. How Tafawa Balewa died is not something I want to talk about. M.T. Mbu didn’t say he was the source of the manner of Tafawa Balewa’s death; he said he was told by Okigbo who was told by Ifeajuna. His own story is for empathy. He didn’t make a claim of it. He just made a statement as a minister that the man died of asthma based on what he was told. The death of Tafawa Balewa may have been influenced by elements in government who wanted to cover certain things up and now had to put his body on the same spot with Okotie-Eboh so that the story would be that the coupists put the two bodies there. I have reason to believe that there are some games played by some people in government who had a hand in it.
So there were no signs of gun shots on either of the bodies?
Tafawa Balewa was highly respected by everybody whether those in government or outside. He was a gentleman, he didn’t only have an image of a gentleman nationally; internationally, he was also respected.
When the OAU was being formed which broke into factions then, the Casablanca group, the Nkrumah group and all kinds of groups, he was involved in bringing all the African countries together and, out of the respect he had worldwide for sorting out the issue of East and Southern Rhodesia then which had gone out of the British government, that Commonwealth conference hosted by Nigeria was the first to be held outside UK, it show the kind of respect and affection for Tafawa Balewa. So the coupists might not want to manhandle him. And that this is why I think there was a foul play.
In the first place, there was a coup of some majors which became very bloody in some parts of the country. It was a funny situation there was a coup where Ironsi survived. One, attempt must have been made to kill him and the federal cabinet decided to hand over to the military or the coupists and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was on a tour of the Carribean; so the acting president of the Senate joined to formally hand over government to Ironsi.
That was the situation and after that, all the heavy weights in politics took flight. They ran away. Therefore the issue that they called everybody to come and identify Tafawa Balewa’s body didn’t arise because I still have my newspaper cuttings … even politicians from Western Region ran to Cotonou, Benin Republic.
And I went to interview them and they said they would not return to Nigeria until the military handed over power. If such politicians ran away, what makes you think the other ministers would be around when they had already handed over power to the military and particularly at a time Major Nzeogwu was making serious statements on the radio that any major offence became death sentence? There was fear in everybody. My suspicion is that after the rein of government had been handed over to Ironsi, if Tafawa Balewa had been alive then, the government of the day would have wasted him because if Tafawa Balewa were alive, the handing over by the ministers would have been null and void because he was the head of government. So writers and researchers still need a lot of work to do. In 44 years, nobody has denied, whether in government or outside, nobody has said anything contrary to what I wrote in the Sunday Times of 23 January 1966.
So, no matter what anybody says ,you hold on to your story on what you saw at the spot where Balewa and Okotie Eboh’‘s bodies were found.?
Yes, Balewa’s body was a fresh one. It could be that day (January 21, 1966) or overnight that the body was put there. There were no signs of gunshots on Tafawa Balewa’s body. Fani-Kayode was just being sentimental that I should have gone with a photographer. He didn’t know that in those days, it could take three hours to develop a film. If I didn’t leave immediately as I left that day, perhaps those who evacuated the body would have done so before I got there.
What was important to me then was to confirm the story and I did confirm my story? Why is it that 44 years after, some people are now talking of their own story. Why didn’t they talk then? Tafawa Balewa was abducted and captured. Fani-Kayode’s father was abducted and captured. If the coupists didn’t kill his father, what makes him think they would kill all those they abducted?
How did his father manage not to be killed? If they didn’t kill his father who was highly controversial in the politics of that time and highly visible, what makes him now believe that Tafawa Balewa, a gentle man, a highly respected individual, somebody that was loved by Nigerians for his humility and mild disposition in his life time, would be killed?
How Sunday Times of January 23, 1966 reported the discovery of his corpse
Balewa is dead Found by roadside Buried in Bauchi
Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first and last Prime Minister of the First Republic of the Federation of Nigeria, is dead, it was officially announced in Lagos at 12 noon yesterday by the Federal Military Government.
The announcement did not say when, where and how he died.
But the announcement came exactly one week after it had been officially stated that “in the early hours of this morning, Saturday, January 15, 1966, a dissident section of the Nigerian Army kidnapped the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and took them to an unknown destination.”
At his first news conference after he had been handed the Government of the Federation, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, in answer to a question on the whereabouts of Alhaji Abubakar replied, “Every attempt is being made to locate his whereabouts. At the moment, I have no information.”
But by Friday morning, villagers around reported that a body which looked like that of Alhaji Abubakar had been discovered in a nearby bush.
The body was in a sitting posture with the back rested on a tree. The body was robed in a big white agbada with a cap lying at its feet.
Alhaji Abubakar’s body was flown on a chartered plane from Lagos to Bauchi his hometown at midnight on Friday, January 21. Apart from the captain and radio officer, only soldiers were on the aircraft.
Alhaji Abubakar was buried at the Muslim cemetery in the presence of a large number of sympathizers.
Segun Osoba, Sunday Times staff reporter, reports that Alhaji Abubakar was found on the road side on Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road.
“About 220 yards from Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road, I saw the dead body of the former Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and what appeared to me to be the body of Chief Festus Okotie Eboh on Friday evening.
“I got there with a friend Titus Shokanlu about 7p.m. that Friday and saw the two bodies placed in a ditch by the road side.
“First I saw Chief Okotie-Eboh ‘s body stripped naked with face placed downwards with maggots crowding round it.
“There was a little strip of stripped pyjamas left on his right leg.
“About four yards away was Alhaji Balewa’s body. He was placed by the side of a kola nut tree in a sitting posture.
“He had a snow white toga a part of which was wrapped over his head.
No marks of bullets on both bodies. I saw the head of Chief Okotie-Eboh badly battered. “While the body of Alhaji Balewa was still fresh, that of Chief Okotie Eboh was swollen and in a decomposed state.
“Not far from the scene is Owode village. Some of the inhabitants of the village ran down to the scene to see the two bodies.
“Many motorists plying Abeokuta-Lagos road also stopped at the spot.
“Tears ran down the faces of all the people found there. And there was a general sign of grief in the villages around.
“Said one of the weeping onlookers: ‘This is pathetic and pitiful that this is the body of Alhaji Balewa is too much for me to bear,”
By yesterday morning, the corpse had been removed from the spot. Investigations later revealed that a body in a coffin was brought to the Ikeja Airport by soldiers about midnight.
Most of the tarmac of the airport where the coffin was to be loaded into the plane was condoned off by armed soldiers. Not even the officials of the Nigerian Airways were allowed to come near.
After the coffin had been taken into the plane, it took off at exactly 30 minutes after midnight. Some of the soldiers at the airport accompanied the plane on its journey.
A British captain and an Indian first officer, both employees of Airways, were the only civilian crew on the plane.