The Forgotten Story of Hafsatu, The Beloved & Eldest Wife of Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello Who Was Assassinated By Coupists While Protecting Her Husband From Bullets In 1966


In 1932, Sir Ahmadu Bello married Hafsatu, his first wife and young lover. Some records indicated he married Hafsatu when she was nine while another stated twelve. Hafsatu would later battle with childlessness – she never had a child for her him.

With time, he married two more wives, Kande and Amiru (divorced them in 1938) and later married Amina and Jabbo in 1940 and 1952 respectively. In 1952, his five-day-old son from Jabbo died and back in 1936, he had also lost a two-year-old son, Mohammed Tambari, from his divorced wife, Kande.


A devoted wife and committed lover, Hafsatu sacrificed her life for her husband. She paid the ultimate price after she used her body as a shield while attempting to protect her husband from the rude bullets of the rebel soldiers.

But who was Hafsatu? Her father was Waziri Maccido Abdulkadir and their clan is known as the Gidadawa (as it originated from Waziri Usman Gidado, a successor to Sheikh Abdullahi Dan Fodio as the chief adviser or assistant to the Sultan when the latter was chosen the administrator of Gwandu). Thus, there existed a very deep-rooted blood relationship between husband and wife.  

Their family played a very important role in the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate. By extensive intermarriages with the dynasty of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, they maintained solid family links with the Dan Fodios.

 In the polygamous setting she eventually found herself, she was the senior wife and she was so close to him (much more than the other wives) that she felt life would be totally empty and utterly meaningless without her first love by her side. This was what motivated her into throwing herself in the line of gunfire as the mutinous troops discharged their weapons with fury.


By the beginning of 1966, it was quite clear that the Sardauna was one of the most powerful figures in the country, and many believed that he was actually the most powerful, even much more powerful than the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, his party held sway over 29 million out of 55 million Nigerians.

Some soldiers who harboured this belief, led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, stormed his residence in Kaduna on the fateful evening in January, 1966. Nigeria would never remain the same.

Previously, on his way to Umrah (the Muslim lesser pilgrimage), he received a letter with threats to kill him. The letter was said to have stated: ”We have arranged to kill you and the Prime Minister (Alhaji Tafawa Balewa). The Sardauna was concerned and felt that the tip was from someone who wanted to save them. He directed that the letter be given to the Private Secretary who would then transfer it to the Security Unit for the appropriate action, but that was not to be.

The security provided was not water-proof. A devout Muslim, the Sardauna believed that giving his life in the service of Northern Nigeria was worth the sacrifice and that death was a certain end. He later said of the threat: ‘Don’t worry, continue to get useful information. I know what to do.

And so it was on 15th January, 1966. It was a calm Saturday, but it masked the tragedy that was about to occur. Armed soldiers arrived at his residence at Lugard House, Kaduna. They were not to have tea with the late Premier. They came with the gloomiest message ever, the message of death. By the next morning, around 2:00 am, the soldiers in Nigerian Army uniform had turned assassins.

As the gun-toting soldiers scattered the peace of the house searching for him, the Sardauna went into his quarters and announced to his family the coming of the unwanted guests. He told his family to stay away in safety but they would have none of that.

They all trooped behind him as he came out of the family quarters and in a matter of seconds, he was surrounded by the soldiers led by Nzeogwu who fired at Ahmadu Bello’s babanriga and immediately, blood sputtered from the point of impact through the beard on his face. Brave till the very end, he had faced the soldiers and introduced himself as the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region.

At that point, his first and eldest wife threw herself at him in a final embrace. She fell down as the bullets landed on her, she was in her husband’s embrace. As the Sardauna was laying her down, bullets also rained on him. The soldiers opened fire and by the time the claps of thunder emanating from the weapons died down, the Sardauna and his wife, Hafsatu, were dead. He was believed to have been killed instantly when a bullet penetrated his spinal cord. A lethal bullet lodged itself inside Hafsatu’s neck.

 In the ensuing pandemonium, family members tried to move his corpse from the site of impact but were not able to do so, and left it there till sunrise for proper arrangements. The soldiers did not leave until about the next morning. A bodyguard was also killed.

Two women later carried Hafsatu’s body from where she was killed to a bathroom, and very few people know of her story as till today. The mighty Gamji tree was cut down in his prime. The chaos of that day is yet to disappear till this day as the ghosts of those killed in that coup still loom large over the Nigerian nation.

Before his death, he saw Major Nzeogwu at his residence and inquired to know his mission to which Nzeogwu reported he was doing his duty checking the security facilities and installations. The Sardauna told him: ‘You must do your duty but my safety is in the hands of God.’ Later, Sardauna’s personal security detail, Sani One Minute became disturbed after he reported seeing Major Nzeogwu surveilling the residence on three different occasions.


 Following their tragic exit, both lovers were buried in well-maintained tombs in the Kaduna residence of the Sultan of Sokoto (the late Sardauna was a descendant of the famous Islamic reformer Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio). The graves are located in a relatively small room at the extreme end of the left hand side from the entrance of the large house which is located right in the heart of Anguwar Sarki in Kaduna North Local Government Area. The office and the official residence of the Sardauna and the Sultan Bello Mosque is just mere minutes from the Sultan’s house. The building still maintains its fine Islamic and traditional architecture.

The two tombs have been walled with that of the Sardauna being completely enclosed leaving just a small door to allow visitors have a peep into the enclosure. This was done in order to stop those who were fond of taking the soil from his grave.

Visitors from all over the north regularly stream to the tombs to pray for the couple. One of the most prominent and frequent visitors to the tombs is the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Mustapha Haruna Jokolo. He happens to also be a direct descendant of Sheikh Abdullah Dan Fodio, the younger brother of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio.

Nigerians should learn from the mistakes of the past and plan for a future devoid of errors.




  1. Calendar for the Year 1966
  2. What I Learned Writing The Biography of Sardauna’s Wife, Associate Professor Ladi Sandra Adamu, Daily Trust
  3. Sardauna’s Tomb: Where Is It? How Is It? By Shu’aibu Gimi, Daily Trust, 17th January, 2004.
  4. Hafsatu Ahmadu Bello: The Unsung Heroine by Ladi Sandra Adamu, Adams Books, 1995.
  5. Literature, History and Identity in Northern Nigeria by Tsiga, Ismaila A, Bhadmus MO.
  6. ‘Late Sir Ahmadu Bello’s wife shielded him from bullets’ by Nathaniel Bivan, Daily Trust, 30th of May, 2015.
  7. MT Safana Archives
  8. Araba Let’s Separate: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War by Ayuba Mshelia
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