Ahmadu Bello was born in Rabah (in Sokoto State) on the 12th of June 1909. His father was the Chief of Rabah and a descendant of the great Muslim scholar and jihadist, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in the 19th century. Ahmadu Bello started his education in the Sokoto Provincial School before proceeding to the prestigious Katsina Training College.
On completion of his studies at the Katsina College in 1931, he was appointed a teacher of English Language at the Sokoto Middle School. Following the death of his brother who was the District Head of Rabah in 1934. Ahmadu Bello was appointed to succeed him. Being a descendant of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, he contested for the position of the Sultan of Sokoto when the seat became vacant in 1938 but lost the position to Siddiq Abubakar III. However the new Sultan Abubakar appointed Ahmadu Bello to the exalted traditional position of the Sardauna of Sokoto, a high ranking member of the Sultan’s Council. This was how Ahmadu Bello became the Sardauna of Sokoto.
In the 1940s, Ahmadu Bello joined the Jamiyyar Mutanen Arewa, an association of northern educated elites who were seriously concerned about colonial rule and the future of their people and country. Ahmadu Bello was one of the prominent and vocal members of the association who piloted its affairs and gave a sense of direction. His leadership qualities were further strengthened when he went to England in 1948 to study Local Government Administration. His trip to England and study broadened his political horizon. The Jamiyyar Mutanen Arewa transformed into Northern People’s Congress (NPC), a political party in 1951 with Ahmadu Bello as its leader.
Ahmadu Bello participated in the re-drafting of the Richards Constitution and was appointed regional Minister of Works and later the Local Government and Community Development. In 1954, Ahmadu Bello became the Premier of the Northern Region. Having become a key player at the centre of politics in northern Nigeria, the major concern of Ahmadu Bello was how to address the numerous problems confronting the region which included:
- Educational backwardness.
- Lack of adequate civil servants of northern origin in the regional service.
- Widespread poverty.
- Poor agricultural infrastructure and development.
He realized very early enough that in order to provide effective leadership in northern Nigeria, he must strive to unite the diverse people in northern Nigeria and position them and the region in the competitive development struggle in Nigeria. He was so concerned and passionate about the development of the northern region that when his party had majority of the seats in parliament, he forged an alliance with the NCNC but declined to head the federal government as the Prime Minister. Instead, he asked the deputy leader of the NPC; Mallam Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to step in as the Prime Minister of the country while he remained at the helm of affairs in northern Nigeria. He subsequently embarked on a number of measures to unite the people and develop the region:
- He adopted a northernisation policy which brought together all northerners and united them as brothers and sisters as well as partners in progress.
- He brought Muslim and Christians together and treated them fairly and justly in the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and northern regional service.
- Awarded scholarships for studies within and outside the country to all qualified northerners irrespective of religion and ethnic group.
- Facilitated the appointment and promotion of all qualified northerners to the regional and federal civil services.
- Built and supported schools all over northern Nigeria.
- Established the Bank of the North to fight poverty and encourage the development of the region.
- Established a university in Zaria; the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
Ahmadu Bello died on 15th January, 1966. Today, there are several things named after him including a university, stadium and streets in major towns and cities. His portrait is on the two hundred naira note of the country.