Hajia Gambo Sawaba was born in Zaria, Kaduna state, in 1933 to parents Ghanian parents, Fatima and Isa Amarteifo. Her name from birth was Hajaratu Amarteifo but she was born after a set of twins and so was nicknamed Gambo, the nickname never left. Her father was a native of Ghana, while her mother was from Nupeland.

Being a child, Gambo Sawaba was mostly described as stubborn and straightforward. Personally, she affirmed that she often went out looking for fights, although she stated that it was her means of protecting the weaker people she knew.

Gambo also showed a soft spot towards mentally challenged and generally less privileged members of society.  She attended “The Native Authority Primary School in Tudun Wada”. Her education was cut short due to the untimely death of her father in the year 1943, and then her mother in 1946.

Hajia Gambo Sawaba became a politician when she was 17. At that time, Northern Nigeria was under the control of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which had the backing of the Emirs and British Colonial Authority.
Gambo belonged to the opposition group the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), which she joined in Zaria when a local branch was formed.

The party held secretive meetings to hide their activities from the authorities. NEPU’s initial message was to relinquish power from the elites and provide support to the less privileged. They were anti-colonialism and anti-corruption.
Gambo was made a women’s leader at Kaduna’s Sabon Gari branch. At some point, she traveled to Abeokuta to meet female activist, and mother of singer Fela – Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Gambo had read about her successful protest against the taxation of Egba women.

A few months later, Gambo became well known. At a political lecture in Zaria, she climbed on to a podium and spoke out in a room full of male contemporaries who were scared to speak their minds. She continued to raise her profile by going door-to-door and meeting women who had limited access to attend political activities because of their gender.

She campaigned against the marriage of underage girls and the use of forced labor. She was also a great advocate of Western education in the North. She died of natural causes in October 2001 aged 71.

In 1953, she organized an inaugural meeting of the women’s wing in Kano city.
In July 1958, during NEPU’s second congress, the women’s wing decided to join up with the Nigerian Women’s Union, which was under the leadership of Ransome-Kuti


At just 13, Gambo was married off to Abubakar Garba Bello, a World War II veteran. At the time she became pregnant with their first child, Bello disappeared, never to be heard of again. The child was named Bilikisu. A few years later, Gambo remarried Hamidu Gusau. That marriage was full of violence. Both parties often had disagreements that degenerated into violent fights because Gambo could dish up a good fight and apparently so could Hamidu. The two eventually parted ways and Gambo would try marriage twice more.


  1. Gambo was said to have been sent to jail about 16 times in her lifetime. Usually on trumped-up charges and was often brutalized by the police.
  2. In 1953, she organized an inaugural meeting of the women’s wing in Kano city.
  3. In July 1958, during NEPU’s second congress, the women’s wing decided to become a part of the Nigerian Women’s Union, which was under the leadership of Ransome-Kuti.
  4. During the second republic, Gambo became a member of the Great Nigeria People’s Party and served as a deputy chairman.
  5.  In the 70s, she was involved in small-scale trading and later worked as a contractor.
  6. All through the first republic, she kept up with her political activities sometimes suffering humiliating punishments from opposition thugs. She supported women’s right to vote and was eventually elected leader of the national women’s wing of NEPU.
  7. She was a supporter of the Northern Elements Progressive Union during the Nigerian First Republic

Source: Nigeria Galleria

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