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Faces Of Nigeria’s Firsts

Not all Nigerians have dragged the country’s name in the mud; some have been worthy ambassadors of the nation in various fields of human endeavour. Here is an attempt to put the spotlight on the heroic works of some Nigerian-born pioneers, innovators and inventors in the spheres of politics, media, medicine, law, aviation, entertainment, sports, literature, business and more.


First Lawyer from Western Nigeria
The first lawyer produced by Western Nigeria was Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams who was called to the English Bar in 1879. He was born on July 14, 1855, in Sierra Leone to the family of Alex Charles Williams and Nancy Johnson Williams. He was believed to have come from Ijesha land.
Sapara Williams once said, “The legal practitioner lives from the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.”

First Lawyer from Eastern Nigeria
 The first lawyer from Eastern Nigeria was Sir Louis Mbanefo who was called to the English Bar in 1937 after graduating in law.

First Lawyer from Northern Nigeria
Abdul Ganiyu Folorunsho Abdulrasaq (SAN) was the first lawyer of Northern Nigeria origin. He hails particularly from Ilorin in Kwara State. Born in Onitsha, in present-day Anambra State, he speaks Igbo as fluently as he does Hausa language, and even Yoruba language too. He was once the president, The Nigerian Stock Exchange. He was also the Nigerian ambassador to Cote d’ Ivoire during the First Republic. He began his university education at the University of Ibadan (then University College) in 1948. He was a member of the 49-man constitution drafting committee which produced the 1979 constitution as a draft.

First Doctor from Northern Nigeria
Dr R. A. B. Dikko (1912-1977), born in Zaria, was the first to emerge from Northern Nigeria. He attended King’s College, Lagos, and the University of Birmingham. He was also the first graduate of a western university to emerge from the region. Dr Dikko was a founding member of Jamiyar Mutanen Arewa, a socio-cultural organization which later became an integral part of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the ruling party in the Second Republic.
Dr Dikko worked as a civil servant and later became permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Nigerian division, in 1960. In 1967, he became federal commissioner for mines and power, as well as for transport in 1971. That was during the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon. She was married to Comfort Miller, daughter of Walter Miller, the same Christian missionary who tutored him.

First Medical Doctor from Eastern Nigeria
The present political entity known as South-Eastern Nigeria had its first medical doctor in the person of Dr Onwu from Afa, Udi, in present-day Enugu State.  After him was Dr Okonkwo from Ufuma, Orumba, in today’s Anambra State. The third Igbo doctor who became the most popular because he joined politics was Dr Akanu Ibiam who graduated from a Scottish University in 1935. He was a medical missionary and also served as governor of the Eastern Region. He was born on November 29, 1906, and died in December 1995. He was born in Afikpo, in what is now Ebonyi State. Dr Ibiam attended King’s College, Lagos, and University of St Andrews where he graduated in 1934. He was admitted as a medical missionary of the Church of Scotland, a role which influenced him to establish Abiriba Hospital between 1936 and 1945.

First Medical Doctor from Western Nigeria
He was Dr Nathaniel King who graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1875. He was born on July 14, 1847, in Hastings, Sierra Leone, to the family of Reverend Thomas King who worked with Bishop Ajayi Crowder to translate some Cathecism books and some portion of the English Bible into Nigerian languages.
Dr King came back to Lagos in 1878 and resumed work at Church Missionary Society (CMS) where he was paid 50 pounds per annum until in January 1882 when his annual salary got an upward review to the tune of 75 pounds. He died on June 12, 1884. In his medical practice, he proved that African medical practitioners could be as competent, diligent, passionate and respected as his European counterparts.


Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (November, 1904-1996)
Popularly known as “Zik”, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first president of Nigeria. Following political independence in 1960, he was the governor-general of Nigeria.
Zik was also the first president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 1963 when Nigeria became a republic and 1966 when the first military coup led by majors Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna and other young army officers brought to an abrupt end the First Republic and ushered in the first military government. Zik died on May 11, 1996.

Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Dec 1912 – January 15, 1966)
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first and only prime minister of Nigeria. Originally a trained teacher, Balewa became a vocal leader of Northern Nigeria, as one of the few educated people in the region at that time. He was also an international statesman who was widely respected across the African continent as  one of the leaders who played a prominent role for the formation of Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as African Union (AU).
Balewa was at a time nicknamed “the golden voice of Africa” because of his oratory. He was born in Bauchi to a Bageri district head in the Bauchi divisional district of Lere. He started his early education at Quaranic School in Bauchi and, like most of his contemporaries, attended Katsina College for further education and soon acquired his teaching certificate.

Sir Ahmadu Bello (June 1910-January 15, 1966)
was the first premier of the Northern Region from 1954 to 1966. He was the Sardauna of Sokoto and one of the prominent leaders in Northern Nigeria alongside Tafawa Balewa, both of whom were prominent in negotiating the region’s place in an independent Nigeria. As leader of the Northern People’s Congress (the ruling party at the federal level in the First Republic), he dominated Nigerian politics throughout the early part of Nigerian federation and the First Republic.
Sir Bello was born in Rabbah, Sokoto State. Son of a district head and heir to the Sokoto Caliphate, his grandfather was Sultan Bello, founder of Sokoto and son of revered Shayk Usman Dan Fodio. He got his early education at the Sokoto Provincial School before proceeding to Katsina Teachers’ Training College and later became a teacher.

Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi:
Major General Ironsi was the first military head of state in Nigeria, having taken over power after foiling the January 15, 1966, coup. However, his administration was soon truncated in a counter-coup led by some army officers from northern Nigeria on July 29, 1966.
Ironsi was born to the family of Maazi Ezeugo Aguiyi on March 3, 1924, in Umuahia-Ibeku in present-day Abia State. He enlisted into the Nigerian Army on February 2, 1942, and excelled in military training at Eaton Hall, England.

Herbert Macaulay
Herbert Macaulay was the first Nigerian to establish a newspaper. He established the Daily News in 1926 which strategically operated from Lagos as a way of engaging the colonial masters from a close range. The paper, apart from being a medium of communication, was a weapon against the Europeans who colonised Nigeria from Lagos as the administrative base. However, due to some challenges, Daily News stopped operation later.

Obafemi Awolowo
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the first person in Nigeria to establish a television broadcasting station, The Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), in 1959.

Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf
Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf is a political scientist by training but a journalist by profession. She is the first female editor from Northern Nigeria. She worked with Triumph newspaper and later New Nigerian newspaper before floating the now rested Citizen magazine with other veteran journalists of Northern origin.  

First Nigerian scientist to discover a cure for Trypanosomiasis (from Northern Nigeria)
Professor Andrew Jonathan Nok, born in 1962, was the first black African and, by implication, the first Nigerian to find a cure for the sleeping sickness called Trypanosomiasis. He discovered the DNA vaccine for the disease which is very common in tropical sub-Saharan Africa, affecting both man and livestock, especially cattle.
Professor Nok hails from Nok town in southern Kaduna in the present Kaduna State, Nigeria. In recognition of his achievement, Nok, a professor of Biochemistry, received the German’s Alexander Humboldt Foundation’s George Forster prize early this year in Europe as the first Nigerian and indeed black African to do so.
The big lesson to learn from Nok’s invention is that he had all his education in Nigeria. Nok’s success story is so tied with the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where he had his first, second, and third degrees. He also had his elementary and secondary education in Nigeria. And this goes to show that academic excellence elsewhere in the world can be obtained in Nigeria also. The erudite scholar, a father of three, is now the director, Centre for Biotechnology Research and Training, as well as dean, Faculty of Science, ABU, Zaria.

First Nigerian scientist to produce a Supercomputer (from South-Eastern Nigeria)
Philip Emeagwali (born in Akure, Nigeria, on August 23, 1954) is a Nigerian-born engineer and computer scientist/geologist who was one of the two winners of the 1989 Gordon Bell prize from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his invention and use of a connection machine supercomputer to help analyse petroleum fields. He is the first Nigerian to have achieved that feat in computer technology. He is a native of Onitsha Ado in Onitsha, Anambra State.
Emeagwali used 65,000 processors to invent the world’s fastest computer which performs computations at 3.1 billion calculations per second.    

First Nigerian scientist to manufacture a car (from Western Nigeria)
Professor Ayodele Awojobi, while serving as a lecturer at the University of Lagos, successfully converted his own family car, an Opel Record, from right hand drive to left drive. He tinkered further with motor engines when he acquired an army-type jeep and proceeded to producing a second steering wheel machinery adjoining to the pre-existing engine at the rear end so that the vehicle was able to move in both forward and backward directions with all four pre-existing gears. This gave birth to the hybrid vehicle which he christened Antonov1.
Awojobi is the first Nigerian and the first African to be awarded a Doctor of Science (D.Sc) in Mechanical Engineering at the then Imperial College of Science and Technology, now known as Imperial College of London, a degree exceptionally and rarely awarded to a scholar under the age of 40.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the first Nigerian to attain the position of managing director of the World Bank Vice President for the Africa region. This World Bank and Economics magnate was born on June 13, 1954. She is also a former minister of finance, and later foreign affairs at different times before the current tenure now as minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy.

Dr Usman Goni
Dr Usman Goni, an ABU-trained electrical engineer from from Fika, Yobe State, was the brains behind the initiation and execution of strategic consulting projects for major investment concerns such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and GE Capital, as well as Bain & Co., Vulcan Ventures and WorldCom Corporations. He has been involved in the research, development, implementation and operations of wireless network technologies for second generation (2G/2.5G) as well as third generation (3G) systems. He has also participated in various technical due-diligence projects as well as provided detailed strategic investigation of wireless network operations in the Asia Pacific region.

First female Pilot in Nigeria
Captain (Mrs) Chinyere Onyenucheya Kalu, MFR, is an andigene of Akwete-Ndoki community in Ukwa East local governmment area of Abia State. She is now the rector and chief executive of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), formerly known as Nigerian Civil Aviation Training Centre, Zaria.

First female Military Pilot in Nigeria
Blessing liman: Blessing Liman became the first female combatant pilot not only in Nigeria but in the entire West African sub-region. 
Born on March 13, 1984, Blessing is an indigene of Zango Kataf local government area of Kaduna State. She attended the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Kaduna State. Blessing was commissioned as a combat flying officer through the Direct Short Service Course 2010/2011 cadets of the 325 Ground Training Group at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Kaduna. She enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force in July 2011 and was commissioned on December 9, 2011.

Prof Wole Soyinka
Prof Wole Soyinka was born on July 13, 1934. A prominent Nigerian writer (a poet and playwright), he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 -- the first Nigerian and, indeed, African to be so honoured with the prestigious award. In 1994, he was designated UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication.

Nwankwo Kanu
Christian Nwankwo Kanu is the first Nigerian skipper to have won an Olympic gold medal for Nigeria at the Olympic Games (1996) which took place in Atlanta, USA. He is also acclaimed as the most decorated African and, by extension, Nigerian footballer in history having won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA cup medal, three F.A. Cup Winners medals and two-time African Player of the Year Award, among others.

Rashid Yekini
This goal poacher is the first Nigerian to score a goal in the World Cup. That was in 1994 in USA.

Chioma Ajunwa
Chioma Ajunwa is the first Nigerian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in an athletic event at the World Olympic Games in Atlanta, 1996.

Agbani Darego
Agbani Darego, who was born in 1983, is a Nigerian model best known for being crowned Miss World in 2001, a feat she achieved at the age of 18. She is signed to Next Model Management and is currently pursuing modelling career in Europe. Before now she has modelled for the renowned Oreal Cosmetics.

Aliko Dangote
Alhaji Aliko Dangote is a world-class businessman. He is the first Nigerian to emerge as Africa’s richest man. He is also the first Nigerian to appear in Forbes Magazine having hit the $25 billion mark to qualify as the 20th richest man in the world. Dangote is from Kano State.

By: Paul Chima, Adah Abah

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