Nigeria has had its fair share of activists and leaders who not only fought for our independence – which eventually became successful in 1960 – but also fought for the survival and continuity of the nation even after. Heroes like Wole Soyinka & Yakubu Gowon, who are still alive today, and the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chinua Achebe, and Mary Slessor, who even though are all dead, will never ever be forgotten for the many great things they did for Nigeria.
While we celebrate new-age heroes like Dora Akunyili and Fela Kuti, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember 10 of the best heroes & heroines whose contributions and patriotic acts to the development of Nigeria will never ever be forgotten.
Hajiya Gambo Sawaba:
Hajiya Sawaba was born in 1933 and was a strong Nigerian politician and activist. Her being a supporter of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) means that she was part of the political struggle that eventually won independence for Nigeria. Despite being a woman with low education and forced into an early marriage, she managed to make an impact in the struggle for the emancipation of the African woman. She was part of the struggle to liberate women from African traditions that were not in favour of women.
Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello:
Sir Ahmadu Bello was born on 12th June 1910, in Rabbah Sokoto. Considered as one of the most prominent leaders in early Nigeria, and went into politics in 1934. Sir Bello became the first premier of the Northern region. Alongside Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, he took active roles in the struggle for an independent Nigeria and is commended for his efforts to modernise and unify the different tribes of northern Nigeria.
On 15th January 1966, he was assassinated in a coup that toppled Nigeria’s post-independence government. Monuments of him include; his face on the 200 Naira note and the Ahmadu Bello University named after him.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Born on 25 October 1900 in Abeokuta, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti stood out among women of her time as a prominent leader. She was a women’s rights activist who fought against the military government over unjust practices and abuse of human rights. She was also the mother Fela Anikulapo Kuti one of the greatest musicians and post-independence freedom fighters to have come out of Nigeria.
Her political activism led her to be regarded as “The Mother of Africa.” She was one of the women elected to the native House of Chiefs, serving as an Oloye of the Yoruba people. She was also a ranking member of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon as well as the first Nigerian lady to drive an automobile in Nigeria. She died from injuries sustained when she was thrown from a third-floor window in her son’s compound.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
Born on the 16th of November, 1904 in Niger state, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of the leading figures of modern Nigerian nationalism. He was fondly referred to as “Zik” and became the first president of Nigeria (post-independence). 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 its 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 was made the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946. He was later elected to Legislative Council of Nigeria the following year. He was the first Nigerian to be named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and he also became the Governor General on the same day. Zik became the second (but first indigenous) and last Governor General from 1960 to 1963 and the first president of Nigeria, following the declaration of Nigeria as a Republic in 1963. He fought tirelessly for an independent and united Nigeria.
Herbert Macaulay was the grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther and he was born in 1864. He is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism since the movement was under his influence in the 1920s. He started the nationalist movement because of the belief that the people of different backgrounds living in the British colony of Nigeria needed to come together as one. He founded the Lagos Daily News to promote the nationalist movement. He was the first Nigerian to establish a political party in 1922, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). He became the first national president of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) – a party he co-founded with Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1944.
His monument is a statue at Sabo. Yaba Lagos state as well as the longest street in Lagos which spans 5.13 km.
Margaret Ekpo was born in Creek Town, Calabar and was a Nigerian women’s rights activist who was a pioneering female politician in the country’s first republic. She played major roles as a nationalist politician in the Eastern Nigerian city of Aba. She was a member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and was nominated by the NCNc in 1954 to the regional House of Chiefs in 1953. In 1950, she alongside Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti protested killings at an Enugu coal mine. The victims were leaders protesting colonial practices at the mine. She established the Aba Township Women’s Association in 1954 and by 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in the citywide election. In 2001, Calabar Airport was named after her and she later died in 2006.
Chief Anthony Enahoro:
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.
Kudirat Abiola was born in 1951 in the Northern city of Zaria, Nigeria. She took an active part in the pro-democracy movement in 1994. She was actively involved in moving and sustaining the oil workers twelve-week strike against the military. The strike successfully weakened the government and was the longest in African history by oil workers. In December of 1995, when the pro-democracy groups decided to march for freedom in Lagos, she joined the likes of Chief Anthony Enahoro at the forefront. She deified military decree banning political associations and was an inspiration to many. She won ‘Woman of the Year’ in both 1994 and 1995. Her life was cut short by assassins on June 4, 1996.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo:
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909, in Ogun state. He was one of the pioneer leaders that fought for Nigeria’s independence and he introduced free education in the western region in 1955. He also helped to found the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa, the mythical ancestor of the Yoruba-speaking peoples), an organization devoted to the study and preservation of Yoruba culture. He was also the founder of the political party Action Group in 1950, a party that called for the termination of British rule in Nigeria. In 1954, he became the first premier of the Western Region. He resigned his position as Commissioner of finance and vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council in 1971 to protest the government’s continuation of military rule. He died on May 9, 1987, and was buried on June 6, 1987.
Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed:
This list cannot be complete without making mention of General Murtala Mohammed. He was one of Nigeria’s military rulers and he was born on November 8, 1938, in the ancient city of Kano. He took his first political appointment as Commissioner for Communications in 1974 which he combined with his military duties. Although his stay in power was short-lived, his administration gave the country a new sense of direction, duty and patriotism. Among his contributions to the development of Nigeria is also his creation of 19 states out of the 12 carved out in 1967. He also set up a Public Complaints Commission which gave probity to the public. He was assassinated at the age of 37 on February 13, 1976. His portrait adorns the 20 Naira note and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos is named in his honour.