Institute of Education, UCL
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Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a Nigerian politician, and the only prime minister of an independent Nigeria. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was born in Tafawa Balewa, North East State, Nigeria. Unlike the majority of Northern Nigerian political leaders, he was of humble background, his father having been a client to a district head. After attending Katsina Teacher Training College (1928-1933), he was a teacher and later headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. He studied at the London University Institute of Education (1945-1946), where he received a teacher's certificate in history.
Balewa was a teacher by profession and was one of the first Northern Nigerians to be sent to London University Institute of Education (1945). On his return in 1946 he was elected to the House of Assembly of the Northern Region and in 1947 was one of its five representatives to the Central Legislative Council in Lagos. He was reelected to the assembly in 1951 despite the hostility of some conservative emirs of the generally Muslim north.
From 1952 until his death, Balewa served in the federal government. He was minister of works and of transport in the middle 1950s, and then, as leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives, he was made the first prime minister of Nigeria in 1957. After the preindependence elections of 1959, he again became prime minister in a coalition government of the NPC and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, and he continued to hold that position after Nigeria was officially granted independence in 1960.
In January 1960, Balewa was knighted by Elizabeth II as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield in May, 1960.
As Prime Minister of Nigeria, he played important roles in the continent's formative indigenous rule. He was an important leader in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity and creating a cooperative relationship with French speaking African countries. He was also instrumental in negotiations between Moise Tshombe and the Congolese authorities during the Congo Crisis of 1960–1964. He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and also entered into an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. However, a treason charge and conviction against one of the western region's leaders, Obafemi Awolowo, led to protest and condemnation from many of his supporters.
Balewa proved unable to mitigate the growing tensions of 1964–66, manifested by a partial boycott of the election in 1964, army unrest, and outbreaks of violence in the Western Region. The 1965 election in the region later produced violent protests. Rioting and violence were soon synchronous with what was perceived as inordinate political encroachment and an over-exuberant election outcome for Awolowo's western opponents.
Balewa was killed in the first of two Nigerian army coups in 1966.