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Sa’adu Zungur: A catalyst for change

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Sa’adu Zungur was a poet, journalist, social critic, Islamic scholar, and nationalist. He was among early scholars in northern Nigeria, who called for the reform of the society through education during colonial rule. He kicked against colonial rule and British imperialism. He was noted to have led the first protest in the north against native authority for denying people their rights.

Born in 1914 in Ganfuwa in Bauchi, Zungur in 1929 attended Katsina Higher College and in 1934, became the first Hausa man to attend the Yaba College of Technology, where he studied pharmacy. Leaving the college, he taught at Kano School of Hygiene from 1930 to 1940 before moving to Zaria School of Pharmacy, where he became the head in 1941.

While in Zaria, Zungur spearheaded the formation of the Northern Nigeria Youth Movement (NNYM), which later changed to the Zaira Friendly Society and later the Northern Provinces General Improvement Union (NPGIU). In 1949, NPGIU became the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the party that was in power after independence.

Zungur, a democratic humanist, in later years, relocated to Bauchi, where he founded the Bauchi General Improvement Association (BGIU) in 1943, with other elites.

The association served as an avenue for him to express his radical views. He opposed the emirs’ autocracy and the British indirect rule system. He advocated that Islamic and Western education should be merged for the people’s benefit and the country’s betterment. He kicked against women discrimination and called for a pan-Nigeria, where the north and south should live and work together in unity.

BGIU changed to Northern Elements Progressive Association (NEPA) in 1946. The association was banned in 1949 because of its strong views against the colonial government and the emirs who supported them. However, some of its members, including Zungur, came up with another party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in 1950.

NEPU modified its objective by working to totally emancipate the less privileged — Talakawa — from the domination of a privileged few by reforming existing autocratic political institutions. NEPU was the first political party in northern Nigeria. It became the main opposition party after the region was granted self-governance in the 50s. In the First Republic, it maintained a steady alliance with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) against the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) that was at the centre.

In 1946, Zungur led the first public mass demonstration in the north against Governor John Macpherson. He was the chief correspondent of the Northern Province of the West African Pilot Newspaper. He was also a member of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) and in 1948, became the party’s, General Secretary. He was among NCNC’s delegate to London to demand self-determination for Nigeria. His association with NCNC gave way for the emergence of United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), an alliance between NCNC and NPC.

Sa’adu Zungur was a catalyst for change in northern Nigeria and a unifier of regions that make up Nigeria.

Zungur suffered prolonged illness and died in 1958. And although not much of him is known in the Nigerian political history, some streets, roads, and buildings bear his name in some states in the North.


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