Do Nigerians know that the first mayor of Enugu city was a Fulani man? Enugu is the capital of old eastern Nigeria with majority of Igbo speaking people; therefore it is imperative to explore and understand how a Fulani politician became the mayor of the city. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s political machine made it possible for Alhaji Umaru Altine to become the mayor of Enugu.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Governor General and first President of Nigeria was by no means perfect in his political career but his faith in one Nigeria was unshakable, unquestionable and his quest for united and indivisible Nigeria cannot be compared to rest of his contemporaries.
According to Richard Sklar, an American political scientist who authored the the book “Nigerian Political Parties”, Mallam Umaru Altine who hailed from the old Sokoto Province of the defunct region of Northern Nigeria and who served as President of the Enugu Branch of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons(NCNC) was elected the first Mayor of Enugu in 1956.
“In my humble opinion, this again goes to show the kind of very elevated and futuristic politics played by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Premier of Eastern Nigeria and the most sincere proponent of Nigerian national unity of all time. It is a testimony to his impeccable credentials as the ultimate Nigerian that during his time in office, a Mid-Westerner and incumbent Oba Erediauwa of Benin (then Prince Solomon Akenzua) and a Northerner, the late Abdulaziz Atta, the Gowon-era Secretary to the Government of the Federation who died in 1972, both served as Permanent Secretaries of the Eastern Nigeria Civil Service,” as stated in the Beegeagle’s Blog.”
In the 1950s a Fulani cattle dealer leaves Sokoto for Enugu, wins the backing of Nnamdi Azikiwe, joins mainstream Enugu politics, and eventually becomes the first Mayor of the Coal City. Travelling through four Nigerian cities, and cross checking the tiny but significant details of a rare story, Weekly Trust explores the life and legacy of Enugu’s first Mayor.
“Nigeria never fails to shock. This power to shock in a positive sense is embodied in the life and career of Umoru Altine, scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, who, on a record two occasions, became the Mayor of Enugu, which lies deep in Nigeria’s South-East. He was the first ever Mayor of Enugu. Agu Gab Agu, one time Chairman, Enugu North Local Government invited the Umoru Altine family to Enugu in 2004 in his capacity as Chair of the local government. This was simply to celebrate the achievement of their late father. He tells Weekly Trust ‘Our history before that time did not reflect his towering achievement in terms of Nigerian unity. I was going to name a public institution after him, but time did not allow for that. ‘He says that a street was named after the late Mayor somewhere in the Coal Camp area of Enugu during the First Republic. Here is a political story, which also doubles as a Love epic, a war story, a tale of benevolent mentors, and a travel narrative as well.
Altine could have been Sultan
As a descendant of Uthman Dan Fodio, he could have been Sultan of Sokoto. But he preferred the world of trading, travel, adventure (he joined the army and worked with the railways) and politics (one account says he first contested an election in Tambuwal, Sokoto state), and he carved a niche for himself in these respects. He was handsome, was always well dressed, and people were magnetically drawn to him. In Enugu, he wore the Babban Riga, as well as a Turban. On other occasions he wore suits as the event demanded. He went to Church in Enugu if his duties as Mayor called for it, and went to do the kick off at stadia when occasion demanded. He was willing to adjust while retaining his identity. A noble, free and simple spirit is in evidence here. This Prince smoked loved Nsala soup with fresh fish, a popular meal of the Enugu Igbo, so says his wife, had a high sense of personal hygiene and had a good command of English. He never fell ill, so says Ma’Inna Altine, his Sokoto based daughter. He was fluent in Fulfulde and, to cap it all, he married an Igbo Lady.