The late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first and only Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. An intelligent man with a seductive voice, he was to meet a violent on the 15th of January 1966 when he was overthrown and murdered alongside other leaders in a military coup. As Prime Minister, he was based in Lagos and the exact circumstances of his death remain controversial till date. However, what is clear was the discovery of his dead body.
After the coup had been executed, no one could really say accurately the whereabouts of the Prime Minister of the nation. Aged just 53, Balewa was kidnapped at the beginning of the military revolt and he was the subject as a major widespreach search.
It was not until the 22nd of January 1966 that his bloated and decomposing body was found by a motorist near a pool where village women were doing their washing. Two corpses were found actually. Another body was lying nearby and both had reached advanced stages of decomposition.
24 hours after the heartbreaking discovery 27 miles outside Lagos, his remains were packed and taken to his family home at Bauchi, 750 miles from Lagos where hundreds of mourners wept uncontrollably at his funeral. The star of their lives was gone and their light extinguished forever. A six-man delegation was sent to represent the military government of the Muslim northern Nigeria, the homeland of the late premier.
As his corpse arrived by air, it was accompanied by two senior police officers, and it was a few hours after the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan. Balewa himself was a Muslim and the region’s military governor, Major Hassan Katsina cancelled the traditional ceremony that normally followed the ending of Ramadan and called for special prayers for the late prime minister instead.
On the turbulent African continent, Balewa was considered one of the best friends of the West and he was especially close to Britain. The military government issued a statement that confirmed that Balewa’s body had been found but it was silent on how he died. The announcement simply expressed deep regret at the death of ‘this great son of Nigeria’. It then ordered that flags be flown at half staff for 72 hours.
Balewa had been kidnapped on the 15th of January alongside the Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, and was for a while believed to be a hostage. Later, the Finance Minister was found shot dead. Following their killings, Major-General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi took over as Nigeria’s first military head of state. Balewa had been prime minister since 1957, three years before Nigeria became independent. A devout Muslim of humble birth, he was from the small Gere tribe in northern Nigeria and worked hard to unify a nation that at that time, had 250 tribes. His death was one of the factors that eventually sparked Africa’s bloodiest conflict of that era – the Nigerian Civil War in which millions lost their lives. Watch him speak below:
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- Overthrown Lagos Chief, 53, Is Buried, Body Found Near Nigeria Capital, Chicago Tribune, Sunday, January 23, 1966.
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