What do you know about Nigerian heroes and their contributions? Read interesting facts regarding the life and achievements of the past leaders who played a significant role in the history of our country.
PAY ATTENTION: Сheck out news that is picked exactly for YOU ➡️ find the “Recommended for you” block on the home page and enjoy!
Each country has founding leaders who make significant contributions to its development. The heroes and heroines in Nigeria and their achievements made it a great nation, worthy of a place among the most developed countries in Africa.
Top Nigerian heroes and their contributions
The world honours Nigerian heroes for their painstaking work and leadership qualities. They fought for independence, human rights, democracy, and justice for their people. Here are the names of past heroes in Nigeria and their contributions to the country:
1. General Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon
PAY ATTENTION: Subscribe to Digital Talk newsletter to receive must-know business stories and succeed BIG!
- Born: 19 October 1934
- Age: 87 years (as of September 2022)
- Birthplace: Kanke, Northern Region, British Nigeria
- Spouse: Victoria Gowon (1969-present)
- Children: 3
- Previous office: Nigeria's head of state (1966–1975)
Yakubu Dan-Yumma 'Jack' Gowon was born in a small village of the Ngas tribe (Plateau State). He spent his childhood in Zaria and got higher education at the Warwick University of the UK.
Yakubu joined the Nigerian army in 1954 and received a Second Lieutenant position after training. His accomplishments as Nigeria's foreign minister (1966 – 1967) received praise from all communities in Nigeria.
General Yakubu headed the Nigerian Federal Military Government from 1966 to 1975. The Nigerian Head of State migrated to the UK in 1975 due to an attempted military coup organized by Murtala Mohammed. He came back to Nigeria to serve under President Shehu Shagari.
Gowon and his wife, Victoria, have two sons, Ibrahim and Saratu Gowon. A DNA test revealed Musa Jack Ngodadi was also his son in 2016.
2. Ahmadu Bello
- Born: 12 June 1910
- Birthplace: Rabbah, Sokoto, British Nigeria
- Assassinated: 15 January 1966 at Kaduna, Nigeria
- Age: 55 years (at time of death)
- Spouses: Amiru Fadima (1936–1938), Hafsatu Ahmadu Bello (1932–1966)
- Children: 5
- Previous office: Premier of Northern Nigeria (1954–1966)
Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello is one of the most outstanding Nigerian fathers of the nation. He engaged in political activities for over 30 years and was the premier in the Northern Nigeria region for around two decades.
The legend and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa played significant roles in the fight for Nigeria's independence. Sir Ahmadu Bello was killed on 15 January 1966 during the coup d'état organized by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (a Nigerian Army officer).
Ahmadu Bello University was named after him, and his portrait is on the 200 Naira banknote. Ibrahim married twice and has five children.
3. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
- Born: 25 October 1900
- Birthplace: Abeokuta, Nigeria
- Assassinated: 13 April 1978 at Lagos, Nigeria
- Age: 77 years (at time of death)
- Spouse: Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (1925–1955)
- Children: 4
- Previous offices: The Oloye of the Yoruba people (chieftaincy title)
Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was one of Nigeria's premier female leaders and feminists. She was known as ‘the mother of Africa’ because of her human rights activism.
Ransome defended the rights of women and condemned the military government for human rights violations. The lady was elected to the Western House of Chiefs and acted as an Oloye of the Yoruba nation.
Funmilayo had membership in the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon and was the first Nigerian female to ride a motorcycle and drive a car. She was among the founders of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Students Union.
Kuti and her husband, Israel, had four children, Fela Kuti, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Dolupo Ransome-Kuti, and Beko Ransome-Kuti. She was thrown out of the window of a commune belonging to her son in 1978 and died from her injuries.
4. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
- Born: 16 November 1904
- Birthplace: Zungeru, Nigeria
- Died: 11 May 1996 at Enugu, Nigeria
- Age: 91 years (at time of death)
- Spouses: Uche Azikiwe (1973–1996), Flora Azikiwe (1936–1983), Ugoye Comfort Azikiwe
- Children: 9
- Previous offices: President of the Senate of Nigeria (1960), President of Nigeria (1963–1966)
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe is one of the famous names of Nigerian freedom fighters. He was the first president of Nigeria after independence from Great Britain.
People affectionately called him ‘Zik.’ When Azikiwe spread African nationalist ideas while working as the editor of a Ghanaian newspaper. He came back to Nigeria and organized the West African Pilot in 1937 to promote nationalism in Nigeria.
Nnamdi created the Nigerian and Cameroons National Council in 1944 with Herbert Macaulay. In 1946, he was appointed to the post of secretary-general in the National Council and elected to Nigerian Legislative Council.
Zik was the first Nigerian to join the Privy Council of the UK and the 2nd/last Governor General (1960 – 1963). After Nigeria was proclaimed a republic in 1963, he became the first Nigerian president.
Dr Nnamdi Azikwe had nine children and was married to Ugoye Comfort Azikiwe at his time of death. He died in 1996 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu and was buried at Zik's Mausoleum in Nkpor, Nigeria.
5. Kudirat Abiola
- Born: 1951
- Birthplace: Zaria, Nigeria
- Assassinated: 4 June 1996 in Lagos, Nigeria
- Age: 44/45 years (at the time of death)
- Spouse: Moshood Abiola (1973–1996)
- Children: 7
Alhaja Kudirat Abiola actively participated in the movement for democracy in 1994 and supported the oil employees during a successful 12-week strike that weakened the military government.
Breaking: Former Ogun state governor Ibikunle Amosun officially declares for president, joins 2023 race
In 1995, Abiola took part in the procession for freedom organized by democratic institutions together with supporters of Chief Anthony Enahoro.
She was a true fighter for democracy and inspired many people. Kudirat was named woman of the year two years in a row (1994, 1995). She was killed in 1996 while her husband, Moshood Abiola, was being detained by the Nigerian Government. The couple had seven children.
6. Chief Anthony Enahoro
- Born: 22 July 1923
- Birthplace: Uromi, Nigeria
- Died: 15 December 2010 at Benin City, Nigeria
- Age: 87 years (at time of death)
- Children: Bella Enahoro
- Spouse: Helen Enahoro (1954–2010)
- Previous offices: Editor at the Southern Nigerian Defender newspaper
Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro is one of Nigeria's past heroes. He was an active supporter of democracy and anti-colonialism, and the youngest editor of the newspaper ‘Southern Nigerian Defender’ in 1944. He took the job at age 21.
Anthony was involved in the fight for Nigerian independence. He was a student leader and organized objections. As a result, the colonial authorities imprisoned him twice for insurrection and publishing satirical papers.
Enahoro is considered the father of the state, for he was the first Nigerian to organize the movement for independence in Nigeria in 1953. Chief Anthony Enahoro died in 2010.
7. Margaret Ekpo
- Born: 27 July 1914
- Birthplace: Creek Town, Nigeria
- Died: 21 September 2006, Calabar, Nigeria
- Age: 92 years (at time of death)
- Spouse: Udo John Ekpo (1938–2006)
- Children: 2
- Previous office: Member of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly (1961)
Margaret Ekpo was among the first female political figures in the country's first republic. She fought for women’s rights in Nigeria and was a local and nationalistic political figure in Aba city.
The lady had a membership in the Nigerian and Cameroon National Council. In 1950, Ekpo and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti opposed the murders of anti-colonial protest leaders at the Enugu coal mine.
Ekpo was nominated by the NCNC to the regional House of Chiefs in 1953 and organized the Aba Township Women’s Association in 1954. As a result, the number of women's votes exceeded the number of men’s votes in a general city election in 1955.
Margaret won the seat in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961. She had two children with her husband, John Udo Ekpo, and she died in 2006.
8. Chief Obafemi Awolowo
- Born: 6 March 1909
- Birthplace: Ikenne, Southern Nigeria Protectorate
- Died: 9 May 1987 at Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria
- Age: 78 years (at time of death)
- Spouse: Chief Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (née Adelana)
- Children: 5
- Previous offices: The first premier of the Western Region
Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo was one of the leaders who fought for Nigeria's independence. In 1950, he organized the Action Group political party to spearhead the end of British domination in Nigeria.
Obafemi Awolowo was the first premier of the Western Region. He refused the position of Finance Commissioner and vice chairperson of the Federal Executive Council in 1971 to oppose military rule. Awolowo died in 1987.
9. Herbert Macaulay
- Born: 14 November 1864
- Birthplace: Lagos Colony
- Died: 7 May 1946 in Lagos, Nigeria
- Age: 81 years (at the time of death)
- Spouse: Caroline Pratt (1898–1899)
- Children: 2
- Previous offices: Founder of the National Democratic Party of Nigeria
Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay initiated Nigerian nationalism to unite people from all origins. He also established the Lagos Daily News to spread nationalism ideas countrywide.
Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe created the National Democratic Party of Nigeria political party in 1922. He was the premier national president of the Nigerian and Cameroon National Council in 1944. Macaulay died in 1946 and was buried at Ikoyi Cemetery, Lagos, Nigeria.
10. Hajiya Gambo Sawaba
- Born: 15 February 1933
- Birthplace: Nigeria
- Died: 14 October 2001 in Nigeria
- Age: 68 years (at the time of death)
- Spouse: Abubakar Garba Bello
- Children: 1
Hajiya Sawaba was an influential political and public figure in Nigeria and an adherent of the Northern Elements Progressive Union. She joined politics at age 17.
Gambo was an element of the political struggle fight that at last led to an independent Nigeria. She was a low-educated lady and was forced to marry veteran Abubakar Garba Bello at age 13 during World War II. He left and never returned after her first pregnancy.
Sawaba and Hamidu Gusau dissolved their marriage due to violent fighting. Her struggles in life inspired her to fight for African woman’s emancipation.
Hajiya also advocated against African customs like under-aged marriages that oppressed women. A general hospital in Kaduna and a hostel at Bayero University in Kano are named after her.
11. Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed
- Born: 8 November 1938
- Birthplace: Kano, Northern Region, British Nigeria
- Assassinated: 13 February 1976 in Lagos, Nigeria
- Age: 37 years (as of the time of death)
- Spouse: Ajoke Muhammed (1963–1976)
- Children: 6
- Previous office: Nigerian Army's brigadier general
The list of celebrated Nigerian nationalists and their contributions is incomplete without General Murtala Ramat Muhammed. He was one of the Nigerian military leaders. People called him "Monty of the Midwest."
The Nigerian general led the 1966 counter-coup that overthrew Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi's military regime. He became a Communications Commissioner in 1974 while still fulfilling his military obligations.
Although General Murtala Mohammed’s powers did not last long, his administration specified a new path for the country and strengthened the sense of duty and patriotism. He increased the number of states in Nigeria from twelve to nineteen in 1967.
Murtala also established a Commission of Public Complaints which provided honesty to society. Gen. Murtala Mohammed was killed in 1976. His portrait is on the N20 banknote, and an airport in Lagos was also named after him.
12. General Matthew Obasanjo (RTD)
- Born: 5 March 1938
- Birthplace: Ibogun-Olaogun, Ifo, British Nigeria
- Age: 84 years (as of September 2022)
- Spouses: Esther Oluremi (1963–1976), Lynda (ex-wife, deceased), Stella Abebe (1976–died 2005), Mojisola Adekunle (1991–1998 (deceased), Bola Alice (wife)
- Children: 6
- Previous offices: Nigeria's Head of State (1999–2007), Federal Minister of Defense (1976–1979)
You have to talk about General Olusegun Aremu Okikiola Matthew Obasanjo (Rtd) when mentioning Nigerian heroes and their names. He is one of the great figures of the second generation of post-colonial African leaders.
Obasanjo's Pan-African efforts enabled Nigeria to transition to representative democracy in the 1970s and encouraged it to cooperate with other countries in Africa. He was the Federal Minister of Defense (1976–1979) and the country's Head of State (1999–2007).
13. Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari
- Born: 25 February 1925
- Birthplace: Shagari, Nigeria
- Died: 28 December 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria
- Age: 93 years (at time of death)
- Spouses: Amina Shagari, Hadiza Dawaiya, and Hadiza Shagari
- Children: More than 3
- Previous offices: President of Nigeria (1979–1983)
Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari was titled Turakin Sokoto in 1962. He briefly worked as a teacher before entering politics in 1951. Usman was elected into the House of Representatives in 1954.
He held several powerful cabinet positions between 1958 to 1975. For instance, he was the Federal Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning (1971–1975) and the Federal Ministry of Interior (1962–1965).
Usman also served as the President of Nigeria (1979–1983). He made industry, housing and transportation, agriculture, and education his major goals during his administration.
He also saw a rapid growth of the capacity of the Nigerian Armed Forces and tried to create ties between Nigeria and African-Americans during his visits to the US. Shehu died in 2018 at National Hospital - Abuja.
14. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
- Born: December 1912
- Birthplace: Bauchi, Nigeria
- Assassinated: 15 January 1966 in Lagos, Nigeria
- Age: 53 years (as at the time of death)
- Spouses: Hajiya Zainab (Divorced 1966), Hajiya Jummai (Divorced 1966), Hajiya Aisha (Divorced 1966), Hajiya Laraba (Divorced 1966)
- Children: 1
- Previous offices: Prime Minister of Nigeria (1963–1966), Prime Minister of Nigeria (1957–1963)
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa taught at Bauchi Middle School and was an Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration (1933–1945) before joining politics.
He was elected to the Northern House of Assembly in 1946 and the Legislative Council in 1947. He was a vocal advocate of the rights of Northern Nigeria. Tafawa became Nigeria's first and only Prime Minister upon independence and retained the position in 1963.
15. General Sani Abacha
- Born: 20 September 1943
- Birthplace: Kano, Northern Region, British Nigeria
- Died: 8 June 1998 in State House, Abuja, Nigeria
- Age: 54 years (at the time of death)
- Spouse: Maryam Abacha
- Children: 10
- Previous offices: Head of State of Nigeria (993–1998)
Abacha's administration increased Nigeria's foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by 1997. He also reduced the external debt from $36 billion to $27 billion within that period.
Sani died in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja on 8 June 1998 in the State House. He was buried on the same day as per the Muslim tradition and without an autopsy. It is believed that foreign diplomats, including US Intelligence analysts, poisoned him.
Who are Nigeria's past heroes?
The contributions of heroes and heroines in Nigeria are highly appreciated. They relentlessly fought for people's rights during and after the colonial era. The top 10 legends in Nigeria are:
- Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
- Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
- Herbert Macaulay
- General Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon
- Hajiya Gambo Sawaba
- General Murtala Ramat Mohammed
- Chief Obafemi Awolowo
- Margaret Ekpo
- Chief Anthony Enahoro
- Kudirat Abiola
Nigerian heroes and their contributions led to independence, democracy, political and economic expansion, and more. The lives of some of these great individuals were the price of a bright future for Nigeria. We must treat them with due respect.
Legit.ng also shared a list of 10 reasons for military intervention in Nigerian politics. Nigeria has experienced several military coups since it gained independence.
These military interventions in Nigerian politics have had positive and negative impacts on the economy, the nation's cultural cohesiveness, and more.