Nigeria has produced lots of great women – but the woman on the 20 Naira note was one of the greatest, yet majorly unsung. You may call her one of the most enterprisingly creative women from northern Nigeria.
She’s a master potter whose pottery works were admired and are still admired globally to date.
She has a street Ladi Kwali Road in Abuja – named after her in Abuja.
From the village of Kwali in Gwari in northern Nigeria, Dr. Hadiza Ladi Kwali was born in 1925. Her pottery profession was largely influenced by the Gbagyi tradition. She blended the Gbagyi tradition with personal muse.
From making water jars and cooking pots, her stylised figurative patterns and creativities shone from Lagos to Abuja. The Elite of her time in Abuja formed major part of her clientele. One of them was the Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau – via whom, in 1950, the pottery officer of the then colonial government – Michael Cardew saw her work.
Her pottery romanticised Cardew who drew her close and showed her modern ways to do the pot-art in 1954. She joined Cardew’s pottery training center as the only female in Abuja.
She is the only woman on the Nigerian naira note — the Twenty Naira Note (₦20).
Thenceforth, she blended modern technique with local creativity.
She learnt the western techniques of pottery, like wheel throwing and glazing, and made dishes, bowls and beakers.
Then the world became her stage and work became famous. She became Nigeria’s first globally celebrated potter and in the late 1950s, her
work was shown to great admiration in London at the Berkeley Galleries.
In 1962, she became Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
1977 – an honorary doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1977.
In 1980 – the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award in 1980.
1981 – the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.
The great potter gave up the ghost in Minna on 12th August, 1984. She was 59 when she bowed to the lethal claws of death.
As part of her honour and legacy, The Cardew Pottery in Abuja was renamed after her – Ladi Kwali Pottery.