Compiled by Jogunomi Olatunde

Prior to 56 years ago, there were men and women who fought tooth and nail to see that the Nigeria nation becomes a dream come true. They gave their best, and for a reward, God crowned their efforts with success on October 1, 1960 when independence was granted.

Below is a few of the personalities that midwifed the birth of the Nigerian nation:

Sir Ahmadu Bello (1910 – 1966)


Sir Ahmadu Bello, KBE was born in Rabbah Sokoto and is one of the most prominent early leaders in Nigeria. He was the Sardauna of Sokoto and a leader of the Northern People’s Congress where he dominated Nigerian politics throughout the First Nigerian Republic. Sir Ahmadu Bello fought actively in the independent struggle of Nigeria, and on his return from a trip to Britain, he was nominated to represent the province of Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly.

He made sure his voice was well heard in the assembly and also consulted other representatives of the northern emirates to arrive at an agreed conclusion. KBE was assassinated on 15 January 1966 in a coup which toppled Nigeria’s post-independence government. Although he is no more alive, his legacy lives on. His face graces the ₦200 note, and The Ahmadu Bello University of Zaria was named after him as well as many notable streets in major Nigerian metropolis. Aside that, Bello’s greatest legacy was the modernization and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904 – 1996)


Chief Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of the leading figures of modern Nigerian nationalism. He was the first President of Nigeria, from 1 October 1963 to 16 January 1966. He also served as the second and last Governor General from 1960 to 1963. He attended Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar and Methodist Boys High School Lagos before attending Howard University, Washington DC and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Fondly referred to as Zik, Nnamdi promoted pro-African nationalist agenda while he worked as an editor for African Morning Post. He became the first Nigerian to be named to the privy council of the United states.

While working as the editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe promoted pro-African nationalist agenda. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1937, he founded the West African Pilot which was a tool used to promote the cause of Nigerian nationalism. The newspaper had as it motto “To show the light and let the people find their way.” He founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944 alongside Herbert Macaulay and he was made the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946.

Following the declaration of Nigeria as a republic, Dr Nnamdi fought relentlessly for an independent but unified Nigeria. His unforgettable hard-work has led to several places being name after him. They include the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos and Azikiwe Avenue in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His legacy also lives on as long as Nigeria’s ₦500 note exists because his portrait is on it.

In 1979 and 1983, he contested the presidency of Nigeria under the umbrella of the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) which he founded.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909 –1987)


Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo was a nationalist and a statesman who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement. He is most notable as the outstanding first premier of the Western Region but was also a successful federal commissioner for finance and vice president of the Federal Executive Council in the Civil War. Awolowo was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance, and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959.

Beginning from the eve of independence, Awolowo led the Action Group as the Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament. Although he didn’t win the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections under his Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), he had the second highest number of votes. He introduced free primary education and free health care in Nigeria and also built the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan. Unlike most of his contemporaries that were assassinated, Awolowo died a noble death at his Ikenne home on 9 May 1987, at the age of 78. He is the man on round glasses that is seen on the ₦100 naira note.

Herbert Macaulay (1864 – 1946)


Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus is the grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop of the Niger Territory who returned to Nigeria after being sold to slave merchants. Herbert was a nationalist, politician, engineer, architect, journalist, and musician and is considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism.

Macaulay was a strong opponent of British rule in Nigeria. In 1919, he argued successfully for the chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London and as a result, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. Thus made the British Council to be mad at Macaulay and jailed him twice. Macaulay became very popular and on 24 June 1923, he founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the first Nigerian political party. He later died in 1946 and was the face of the defunct ₦1 note.

Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923 -2010)


Chief Anthony Enahoro was born on 22 July, 1923 and was one of Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists. He became Nigeria’s youngest editor ever at the age of 21 when he became the editor of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, Ibadan, in 1944. Chief Enahoro joined the struggle for Nigeria’s independence in the early 1940s acting as a student leader and leading protests. He was on two occasions jailed by the colonial government for sedition and writing satiric articles. In 1953, he became the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence and is usually referred to as the father of “Nigeria State.” His motion was however rejected and a successful motion did not come till 1958, the motion was made by Chief Remi Fani-Kayode. He died on December 15, 2010.


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