The Famous Five Plus One

This article is the first of a meta-series on Nigerian Independence, ethnic nationalism and fiscal federalism. To receive subsequent articles from the series straight to your mail, click here.


When you think about Nigeria's independence in 1960, what names come to mind?

Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello? We thought so!  They are often referred to as the 'founding fathers' of Nigeria for their significant role in leading independence. Chances are that Tafawa Balewa and Herbert Macaulay are also mentioned. In this article, we discuss the famous five plus one - who we think is not talked about enough!


herbert macaulay

Herbert Macaulay

Grandson to Africa’s first Anglican Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther and son to missionary, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Herbert Macaulay was born on November 14, 1864. He spent his early years in Lagos State, where he was born, until he relocated to the United Kingdom in 1890 to study civil engineering for three years, on a government scholarship. Jack of all trades and master of all, Macaulay was also an architect, musician, politician, surveyor and a journalist.

A nationalist at heart, Macaulay was vocal against the discrimination and inequality that ensued between the Europeans and indigenous people in the civil service. He led the campaign against the British colonial rule in Nigeria; creating two channels for voice and accountability - a newspaper and a political party. The newspaper, The Lagos Daily News, was the first daily paper in Nigeria. Putting power in the hands of Nigerians, the paper was employed to keep Nigerians abreast on the injustices of the colonial government.

Following the amendment of Clifford Constitution in 1922, Macaulay founded the first political party in Nigeria - Nigeria National Democratic Party. He advocated for political freedom and the protection of rights of Africans; joining forces with Azikwe in 1944 to create the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons in support of indigenous leadership. Man of many firsts, Herbert Macaulay drove the nationalisation of civil service and private entities in Nigeria. He is thus regarded as the father of nationalism for his political contributions to the independent state of Nigeria.


Popularly known as Zik of Africa, The Great Zik, or simply Zik, Nnamdi Azikwe was born on November 16, 1904. Though of Igbo descent, he was born in Zungeru, Niger. Prior to attaining tertiary education in the United States, he received earlier stages of his education in different parts of the country. This played a huge role in his initial efforts for a unified Nigeria. Culturally aware and au fait with Pan-African movements, Azikwe became a prominent figure in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in the 1930s and an advocate against the imposed inferiority of Nigerian civil servants under the colonial rule.

More prominently, he fought for the solidarity of the Nigerian people - founding a newspaper in 1937 named The West African Pilot. In 1944, he co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay with a focus on attaining self governance for Nigeria. Noteworthily, he opposed the lack involvement in nationalist voices in the 1947 Richards Constitution and at initial stages, the regionalisation of Nigeria. He likewise drove the idea of a unitary state, giving precedence to a central government authority prior to the intensification of ethnic rivalries in the 1950s.

In 1959, Nnamdi Azikwe was elected as the first ceremonial governor of Nigeria, with a coalition between the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and NCNC. He was later elected as the first president of the first republic in 1963. Though the plan for a single entity Nigeria was riddled by partisan politics in years preceding and succeeding his appointment. Azikwe is recognised for the attempt, however temporal, to foster a common Nigerian identity; spearheading the fight for nationalism and self governance in Nigeria.



Ahmadu Bello

Born on June 12, 1910, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello was a lineal descendant of Usman Dan Fodio - the founder of the Sokoto caliphate and a revered Fulani Islamic scholar. At 23, he returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, and commenced his political career - in which he strongly advocated for the protection and preservation of Northern interests and culture. In 1938, following his unsuccessful bid for leadership as the Sultan of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello became the Sardauna of Sokoto. In subsequent years, he established the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) - formerly known as Jammiyyar Mutanen Arewa - alongside Tafawa Balewa.

He also served as northern and regional representative in the House of Assembly in the 1950s, and a minister of community development. Initially averse to subregional government and in favour of the indirect rule of the British colonial government, Ahmadu Bello opposed the notion of self-governance. However, after the enactment of the Lyttleton Constitution in 1954 which established regionalism and the federal system of government in Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello was selected as the premier of Northern Nigeria

Converse to the fight for a unified Nigerian state as led by Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello led the campaign for the “northernisation” of the civil service through the NPC, and was an early exponent of federal principles and sub-regional government in Nigeria. In 1959, he won the parliamentary elections under the auspices of NPC. In the same year, he was appointed a Knight under the British monarch of Queen Elizabeth II, acquiring the honorary title of ‘Sir’. Popular among many nationwide, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello’s style of leadership was distinct. It involved a hybrid system of traditional, Islamic and western facets of governance.



Charismatic and gentle, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa hailed from the North Eastern region of Nigeria. Contrary to other Northern leaders and aristocrats, he was born 1912 into a low-income household. The early years of his education background comprised of Quranic education and western education in Northern Nigeria. Subsequently, he trained as a teacher in Bauchi, and was certified as a teacher In 1933. Years later in 1945, he received a scholarship to further his education at the University of London’s Institute of Education; where he was influenced by the individual liberty and political freedom observed in United Kingdom.

Prior to departing Nigeria, he founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle in 1943 to facilitate policy and institutional reforms in Nigeria. On his return, he worked under the education unit for the colonial administration before venturing into politics. He was also the vice president of the first Northern trade union - Northern Teachers’ Association. Together with Ahmadu Bello, he founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) with the interests of the Northern people at the centre of its mandate. Similar to Ahmadu Bello, he was elected in the Northern House of Assembly as a representative and voice for the locals in Northern Nigeria, in 1947.

Subsequent to his role as Minister of Works in 1952, Tafawa Balewa served shortly as the Minister of Transportation. He was then appointed as the first prime minister of Nigeria, for reasons including the fact that he did not belong to the ethnic majority that ruled NPC, and also, his divergent background and impeccable sense of patriotism for Nigeria. As with the other founding fathers, the music changed from “building a nation” “that stands well upon firm foundations” as he occupied his position as prime minister, and the northernisation of the civil service became his prime agenda.


An indigene of Ikenne, Remo in Ogun State, Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909. He obtained his primary and secondary school education, and first undergraduate degree in Teaching in Ibadan. In the interim, he practiced being a reporter, trader, and clerk. He was also active member of the Nigerian Youth Movements in the 1930s. In the mid 1940s, he then pursued a degree in commerce and law at the University of London, United Kingdom.

Fondly referred to as Awo, Obafemi Awolowo founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and two years later, the political party Action Group (AG) - both of which were predominantly Yoruba, and centred around the emancipation of Yoruba culture and people. Following the Lyttleton Constitution which instituted Nigeria as a federal state, Awo was elected as the premier of the western region of Nigeria. Notwithstanding, Awolowo continued to advocate for a national and centralised government, and a one-state Nigeria.

Allegiant to Pan-Africanism, he expressed his growing political clamour self governance in Nigeria; calling for the immediate halt to colonial rule in Nigeria. In 1959, Awo contested against Tafawa Balewa of the NPC party for the position of prime minister, and lost. Leading the opposition and falling prey to ethnicism and tribal conflicts that crept into politics, his focus was altered from a unified state to a federal state, vetting for indigenous regional government. Awo was also known for his 'democratic' socialist policies; including the nationalisation of industries. He was likewise found guilty for appropriating 5 million Naira of state funds for the promotion of political activities for the Western region.



Mother to political activist and pioneer of Afrobeats, Fela, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK) was a brave and relentless political activist. Born on October 25, 1900, she studied music and domestic science in the United Kingdom in the 1920s, and later became a teacher in her hometown, Abeokuta, on returning to Nigeria. She was the known as the first Nigerian woman to drive a car and ride a bicycle. Most importantly, for her role in enforcing female rights in Nigeria. In 1944, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union - formerly Egba Women’s Union - putting literate and illiterate women at the forefront of politics.

Otherwise known as the Mother of nationalism and Mother of Africa, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a prominent member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) co-founded by Azikwe. She was instrumental to the negotiation for self governance and independence in Nigeria. Also known as Lioness of Lisabi, FRK was vocal against the imposition of arbitrary tax, quotas on trading and other injustices of the British colonial rule. She also led the battle for the abolishment of unfair and discriminatory taxation for women. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti fought against the political exemption of women, with the objective of “raising the standard of womanhood.” She also founded the Nigerian Union of Teachers.

Sources used: A History of Nigeria by Toyin Falola and Matthew Heaton, here; Blackpast Online Encyclopedia: Ahmadu Bello, here; Britannica: Obafemi Awolowo, here; The Lioness of Lisabi: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti by Sokari, here.