Social Studies Class: Who are the Icons on the Naira notes?

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Every day we work for money, spend money, think of money, in fact, dream of money. However, besides that boring Social Studies class, few of us have knowledge about the people pictured on the Naira notes. Hey, no judgement here. Let’s fill you in.

Five Naira Note

5 Naira note

If the Naira is a means of not letting past leaders fade into obscurity, then this guy is pretty much forgotten because when was the last time you saw a five Naira note? In our little effort to keep him ‘honoured’, you should know that the guy on the five Naira note is Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria. At some point, he was also the Foreign Affairs advocate for the country. Tafawa Balewa was instrumental in the formation of the Organisation of the African Union. He was assassinated in the January 15 coup.

Ten Naira note

10 Naira note

Me: Alvan Ikoku did so much for education in Nigeria.

99% of Nigerians: Alvan what? Who’s that?

Me: Uhm, the dude on the ten Naira.

The 99%: ooooh, that guy.

Me: face slap emoji

Although he’s been saving Nigerians from dying of thirst since forever, most people don’t know who Alvan Ikoku is or why on earth he’s on a Naira note.

Alvan Ikoku was an educationist, activist and politician. Through his effort, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) was recognized by the government. Thereafter several legislations concerned with education were amended. Alvan Ikoku also pushed the 1962 Education Bill of Rights, which made basic education free for all. An icon or not? So when next you buy a sachet of water, raise it in cheers to him.

Twenty Naira Note

20 Naira note

This note is adorned by the face of General Muritala Mohammed, one of the most controversial leaders Nigeria has ever had. No one is quite sure where to place him—good guy or bad guy. Here’s why: he was a brutal dictator who came to power on the back of a coup. He also influenced the events leading up to the Nigerian Civil War. On the other hand, Nigeria’s economy and foreign affairs improved in his tenure. He also began the process of moving Nigeria out of a military regime before he was assassinated. So maybe he was a good bad guy at the end of the day?

Honourary mention:

CBN must have said let’s do one for the girls. Behind the twenty Naira note, we have Ladi Kwali, the only woman on a Naira note. She was famous nationally and internationally for her pottery. Homegirl travelled across the world for exhibitions as far back as the 60s. Kwali received several national honours including the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM) and the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).

Fifty Naira Note

You’ve most likely heard your bus conductor say “enter with your waso.” This is because of the Wazobia theme of the fifty Naira note; Nigeria’s (sad?) attempt at fostering unity. It portrays the three ‘major’ ethnic groups: Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Wazobia literally translates as “come, come, come.” Wonder who or what we’re vehemently asking to come. Change? Yes, please.

One Hundred Naira Note

100 Naira note

Now here’s someone everyone knows. Perhaps it because, besides being on the hundred Naira note, there’s so much more attributed to him. He is still being referred to in politics today because of the legacy he left behind.

It’s only right that a university is named after him because Awolowo was an all-rounder who started out as a journalist, and held  degrees in Commerce and Law. He is well known for his participation in the National Youth Movement (NYM) and for becoming the first Premier of the Western Region in Nigeria. Awolowo was also the Minister of Finance at some point. He is referred to as Asiwaju Omo Oodua. Hey, don’t ask me to translate!

Two Hundred Naira Note

200 Naira note

Is it possible we have a knight on a Naira note? I don’t know but I’ve wondered what the ‘Sir’ in Sir Ahmadu Bello stands for. He founded the Hausa-Fulani elite party, Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which championed the cause of Northerners, ensuring that they were on equal footing with their Southern counterparts. It was him who forged the alliance with Azikwe’s NCNC to form the first indigenous government leading Nigeria to independence. He was the first and only Premier in Nigeria. When independence was won, he chose to remain the Premier of Northern Nigeria and instead created the post of Prime Minister for Tafawa Balewa. Was he a badass or what?

P.S: Sir Ahmadu Bello is actual royalty, born into the Sokoto Caliphate dynasty. Oh, yeah, he was also assassinated.

Five Hundred Naira Note


We have another journalist here: Dr Nnamdi Azikwe. Oh, you didn’t know that the first president of Nigeria was a journalist? Then you’re welcome. I’ll throw in another fun fact: Azikwe was multilingual, speaking three Nigerian languages.

Anyway, he made his transition into politics by co-founding the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay. This is very important because the NCNC, in alliance with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), led the country to independence. That’s why he’s referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism.

One Thousand Naira Note

1000 Naira note

CBN said what’s better than one head? Two heads! Especially considering how it’s double its predecessor, the five hundred Naira note. However, it’s two guys few people recognize. Let’s enlighten you.

So, CBN decided to honour two of their own here (Because why not? They literally make this money): Alhaji Aliyu Mai-Bornu and Clement Nyong Isong. The first guy, Mai-Bornu, was the first indigenous governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the second one, Isong, was his successor. Clement Isong also happens to have bagged a governorship position afterwards – a true career man.


Hope we’ve helped you on your journey to patriotism!


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