Behold! Nigeria’s Heroes And Phenoms

By on September 28, 2014



Herbert Samuel Heelas Macaulay popularly known as Ejongboro, roundly described as the father of Nigeria’s nationalism and independence was a man of towering intelligence. He was a clerk, civil engineer, architect, surveyor, land inspector, journalist, musician, nationalist and politician. Macaulay was born on November 14, 1864 in Lagos State. His parents, who married in 1845, were Sierra Leonean Creoles (called Saros) and he himself was a grandson of the famed Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop of the Anglican Church and linguist. He went to the United Kingdom in 1890 on a government scholarship. Upon his graduation and return to Nigeria in 1893, he worked with the colonial government, and later resigned to establish a private practice in Lagos. Subsequently, he began a campaign against colonial rule and discrimination. In 1922, he founded the Nigeria National Democratic Party, which won all the seats to the Legislative Council. He later became the first President of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons which he co-founded with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1944. Herbert Macaulay died in Kano on May 7, 1946 while leading the party on a nationwide campaign tour. He opposed every attempt by the British authorities to expand their administration, declaring such moves were detrimental to the interests of the Nigerians who would inevitably be forced to pay the bills in taxes. Through his anti-colonial activities, Macaulay rose to pre-eminence in Lagos politics

Like many educated West African leaders of his era, Macaulay fought primarily to protect the rights of Africans rather than for the creation of a self-governing state.


Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909 in Ikenne, Remo, Ogun State. He had his primary school education at St. Saviour’s School, Ikenne, and at Imo Wesleyan School, Abeokuta. He attended Wesley College, Ibadan in 1927, and much later the University of London. He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.) and Bachelor of Laws by the University of London. He was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple on November 19, 1946.

Back home from Britain, Awolowo formed the cultural group known as “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” in 1949 and a political party, the Action Group, (AG), in 1951 also known as Egbe Afenifere in the western part of Nigeria as part of the social programme for the emancipation of Yoruba race. His party won the first elections ever conducted in Western Nigeria. As a result of that victory, the AG formed the first elected government in the Western Region and Awolowo became the Leader of Government Business and Minister for Local Government in 1952. In 1954, Awo (as he had come to be fondly known) became the first Premier of the Western Region. His party won the elections again in May 1956 and Awo retained his position as Premier. He voluntarily gave up that position when, on December 12, 1959, he was elected into the House of Representatives where he became the Leader of Opposition in Nigeria’s central legislature.

He stood up stoutly against mediocrity and drift in government, and began to define alternative channels along which Nigeria’s government should go. While he was in London, Awolowo moved to a position of prominence in the struggle for Nigerian independence. In 1945 he wrote his first book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, in which he was highly critical of British policies of indirect administration and called for rapid moves toward self-government and Africanisation of administrative posts in Nigeria. He also expressed his belief that federalism was the form of government best suited to the diverse populations of Nigeria, a position to which he consistently adhered.

He died on May 19, 1986.


Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello was born on June 12, 1910. His great-grandfather was Sultan Bello, son of the revered Usman Dan Fodio who founded the Fulani Empire. He was the first premier of the Northern Nigeria region from 1954-1966. He was one of the prominent leaders in Northern Nigeria, alongside Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, both of whom where prominent in negotiations about the region’s place in an independent Nigeria. After returning from England, he was nominated to represent the province of Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly. As a member of the assembly, he was a notable voice for northern interest and embraced a style of consultation and consensus with the major representatives of the northern emirates: Kano, Borno, and Sokoto. As the movement for independence from the British Empire gathered momentum, Bello emerged as a strong advocate of federalism as the system of government that in his view was most suitable for Nigeria. The Northern People’s Congress, which he led, was able to win the pre-independence 1959 parliamentary elections. He worked hard to unify the peoples of Northern Nigeria. He is considered to be a founding father of the modern Nigerian nation state, which was formed on October 1, 1960. Despite his popularity and political support, Bello chose to remain in the North instead of accepting the post of Prime Minister, which would have required living in the South. He was a strong advocate of a federal system, which he believed was best suited to Nigeria’s needs. He combined traditional leadership qualities with knowledge of Western governance. He was assassinated on January 15, 1966.

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Regarded as a gentleman patriot by many of his contemporaries, Sir Tafawa Balewa was born in 1912 in the North Eastern Region, Nigeria, of a humble background. He attended a Quaranic School. For his Western education he attended Bauchi Provincial School, where he was described by his teachers and classmates as a shy and quiet student. Later, he attended Katsina Teacher Training College, where he graduated with a third class certificate, performing best in English. He later became a teacher and headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. Between 1945 and 1946, he received a scholarship to study at the London University Institute of Education, where he received a teacher’s certificate in history.

On his return to the country, he was quoted as saying that 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.” That may have fuelled his patriotic zeal for a better and united Nigeria.

In 1943, he founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle, an organisation interested in political reform, and was elected vice-president of the Northern Teacher’s Association, the first trade union in Northern Nigeria in 1948. He later became the first Prime Minister of Nigeria.

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Fondly renowned as ‘Zik of Africa,’ Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe an elder statesman, outstanding journalist, sportsman, politician and scholar was born to Igbo parents on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru, in Northern Nigeria. Azikiwe was a close friend and mentor to Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Incidentally, both men, who eventually became President and Prime Minister of their respective countries, attended the same college in the US: Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Zik later became the first President of an independent Nigeria in 1963, a position he held for three years.

Zik ventured into politics with the same passion and commitment to his pan-African and nationalist ideals. With Herbert Macaulay, he co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, and later became the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946.

After losing successive elections to Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group, Zik became the leader of the opposition to Awolowo’s government in the Western Region in 1951.

He however became the Chief Minister and then Premier of the Eastern Region in 1952 and 1954 respectively. With these key positions, Zik’s prominence grew, just like his quest for national unity.

Zik died on May 11, 1996 at the age of 91.

On his death, the New York Times noted that “As a lawyer, political scientist, journalist, political activist, President and for many years Nigeria’s elder statesman, Dr. Azikiwe towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country.”


Samuel Ládòkè Akíntólá popularly known as “S.L.A.” was born in Ògbómòsó on July 6, 1910. He was a politician renowned for his great oratory skills. He held the title of the highly revered Aare Ona Kakanfo XIII of Yorubaland. Akintola was a teacher in the 1930s and early 1940s. He left teaching to study Public Administration and Law in England and returned to Nigeria in 1950’s a qualified lawyer. Upon his return, he teamed up with other educated Nigerians from the Western Region to form the Action Group (AG) under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. As the deputy leader of the AG, he did not serve in the regional government headed by its premier Chief Awolowo, but served as the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives of Nigeria. At the federal level, he served as Minister for Health and later Minister for Communications and Aviation. He with his colleagues in the AG was a thorn in the flesh of the colonial masters. Akintola was killed in the bloody coup of January 15, 1966.


Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Mother of African nationalism was born on October 25, 1900 in Abeokuta, Ogun State. She was a teacher, political campaigner and women’s rights activist. Ransome-Kuti’s political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, as well as to her being regarded as “The Mother of Africa.” She was a very powerful force advocating for the Nigerian woman’s right to vote. She led the women of the Egba clan on a campaign against arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the Egba king Oba Ademola II in 1949. She was the mother of the activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician, Beko Ransome-Kuti, and Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti. She was the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car and ride a bike. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women’s rights in the 1950s. She founded an organisation for women in Abeokuta, with a membership tally of over 20, 000 individuals spanning both literate and illiterate women. She also oversaw the successful abolishing of separate tax rates for women. In 1953, she founded the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies which subsequently formed an alliance with the Women’s International Democratic Federation. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti campaigned for women’s votes. She was for many years a member of the ruling National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons party, but was later expelled when she was not elected to a federal parliamentary seat. She was one of the delegates that negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British government.

She died on April 13, 1978.


Chief Anthony Enahoro was born on July 22, 1923. He was one of Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists. Educated at the Government School Uromi, Government School Owo and King’s College, Lagos, Enahoro became the editor of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, Ibadan, in 1944 at the age of 21, thus becoming Nigeria’s youngest editor ever.

He later became the editor of Zik’s Comet, Kano, 1945-49, also associate editor West African Pilot, Lagos, editor-in-chief Morning Star, 1950-53. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s attempt to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 failed. His motion was rejected by Parliament and the northern MP’s actually staged a walkout as a consequence of the attempt. The successful movement of the motion for Nigeria’s independence did not take place until 1958. After Enahoro’s initial attempt in 1953, Chief S.L. Akintola attempted to move the second motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1957 and though his motion was passed by Parliament it was not acquiesced to by the British colonial authorities and it therefore failed. The successful moving of the motion for Nigeria’s independence did not take place until August 1958 and this was done by Chief Remi Fani-Kayode. Fani-Kayode’s motion was not only passed by Parliament but it was acquiesced to by the British. His motion had called for independence to be granted to Nigeria on April 2 1960 and though it was passed by Parliament and acquiesced to by the British a slight amendment proposing that the month of independence should be moved from April 2 to October 1 was proposed by a fourth motion to Parliament by Sir Tafawa Balewa in 1959 and it was passed. As a consequence of that Nigeria gained her independence in 1960.

Akanu Ibiam

Akanu Ibiam was a missionary. He was also appointed governor of Eastern Region. Born in Unwana, Afikpo, Ebonyi State in 1906, Ibiam, who was son of a traditional ruler later assumed same position.

Besides attending the Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar and King’s College, Lagos, he was also at the University of St. Andrews where he read medicine.

Other positions he held included president of the Christian Council of Nigeria, principal of Hope Waddell Institution and president of the University College of Ibadan.

There was a report that during his visit to Northern Rhodesia, workers in a cafe meant for whites refused to serve him.

Before Nigeria’s attainment of independence, Ibiam served in the legislative and executive councils, Eastern Regional House of Assembly including local government. When Nigeria gained independence, he became a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

After the military coup of January 1966, he was succeeded by Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu.

Michael Imoudu

Foremost labour leader, Pa. Michael Imoudu, was born in 1902 in Edo State. He was a great advocate of good welfare for workers. There has been no labour leader after him that possesses his kind of zeal for a better life for workers.

Imoudu’s radical stance on labour matters was uncommon. His joining the People’s Redemption Party was to further deepen his ideologies in advancing workers’ cause. He was an ex-President of the Railway Workers’ Union which he formed. While he was imprisoned for fighting for workers’ rights, he mobilised prisoners against the anti-poor policies of the colonial government. They went on hunger strike. His contributions to the struggle for independence were unique. In 1945, he led other union leaders to protest against the British colonialists to give workers living wages so as to douse the aftermath of the Second World War on workers. He died at the age of 102 in 2005.

Mallam Aminu Kano

A consummate nationalist, politician, administrator, activist and teacher, Mallam Aminu Kano was born in 1920 in Kano. He attended Katsina College, where he earned his teaching certificate. He also attended the University of London’s Institute of Education, at the same period Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was enrolled in the school. Later he became a teacher at the Bauchi Training College,

During this period, Aminu Kano’s reformist ideas were forged, as he engaged in several political activities and spoke about issues he was passionate about. He started a socialist movement in North in opposition to colonial rule while in his early 20s.

For decades, he was an influential figure in national politics and was regarded in some quarters as the Mahatma Gandhi of Nigeria because of his passion for the enhancement of fundamental human rights, social justice and equity.

He became the head of the teacher training centre in Maru, Sokoto and was also the secretary of the Northern Teachers Association in 1948. He also founded an organisation to improve the quality of Koranic schools in the north.

In 1950, he co-founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union and was very influential in the politics in the Northern region, alongside notable names such as Maitama Sule.

He died on April 17, 1983.

Margaret Ekpo

Margaret Ekpo was born in Creek Town, Cross River State in 1914. She was an activist and a leading female politician during the First Republic in Nigeria. She studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin Ireland. Her resolve to make sure women enjoy unfettered economic and political rights saw her unionising market women.

Ekpo, who married to a doctor, later joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons to propagate the rights of women. It was on record that she also joined forces with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti the protest against the unjust killings at coal mine in Enugu.

For her doggedness and firm belief in fairness, the NCNC in 1953 appointed her to the regional House of Chiefs. One of the groups she established was the Aba Township Women’s Association.

Her political stature was so robust that market women believed so much in her. This also led to an increase in the number of women voters in Aba compared to male voters.

When she was elected into the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961, she further used the platform to advance the rights of women and their participation in politics.

Ekpo’s name is vital among the actors during the country’s early political history and struggle for independence.

Jaja Anucha Nwachukwu

Jaja Anucha Nwachukwu, born on January 1, 1918, was among the influential voices that left a foot print on Nigeria’s journey to independence. He was called to the Irish bar association – Kings Inn – in November 1944. He graduated BA legal incience and was LL.B Prizeman in Roman Law, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. He was fully involved in Nigeria’s constitutional conferences and struggle for independence from Great Britain. He returned to Nigeria in 1947 and in the same year, he joined the NCNC, and was elected the Party’s Legal Adviser and Member of the National Executive Committee. He soon got involved in the nationalist agitation of that period and was a favoured lecturer at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. Between 1959 to 1960, he became the first indigenous Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria. From 1960 to 1961, Wachuku served as first Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York, as well as Federal Minister for Economic Development. He hoisted Nigeria’s flag as the 99th member of the United Nations on 7 October 1960. He died on November 7, 1966 at the age of 78 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu.

Remi Fani-Kayode

Babaremilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode, was born on December 22, 1921. He attended King’s College, Lagos after which he went to Cambridge University (Downing College) in 1941. At the British Bar examinations, he came top in his year for the whole of the British Commonwealth and he was called to The British Bar at Middle Temple in 1945. He was later appointed Queens Counsel in 1960 (he was the third and youngest Nigerian ever to be made Q.C). He also held the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria   in 1977 (he was the third Nigerian to be made a SAN).

He was a leading Nigerian politician, aristocrat, nationalist, statesman and lawyer. He was elected Deputy Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria in 1963 and he played a major role in Nigeria’s legal history and politics from the late 1940s until 1995.

Fani-Kayode played a major role in the struggle for Nigeria’s Independence. In 1952 he, together with Rotimi Williams, Bode Thomas and a number of others, were all detained by the British colonial authorities for the very active and passionate role that they played in the struggle against the British. He died in 1995.