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Umaru Altine, The First Elected Mayor Of Enugu by AyakaDunukofia: 7:58pm On Mar 17
Premium Times Opinion

Umaru Altine, a cattle dealer, had left the Sokoto province to sojourn in Enugu. There he married an Igbo Lady, Esther, and was president of the Enugu branch of the youth wing of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). He was a completely detribalised Nigerian.

Benjamin Cardozo, an American jurist and philosopher, has said, “history, in illuminating the past, illuminates the present and in illuminating the present, illuminates the future.”

The story of Nigeria is a deep, intriguing and enchanting metaphor. Its glorious past sharply contradicts its current political conundrum. A Fulani man from Sifawa in the Sokoto Caliphate, Mallam Umaru Altine, was elected as the first mayor of the city of Enugu, the heart land and heart beat of the Igbo nation, in 1952. He was in office till 1958.

Enugu is the capital of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria.

Umaru Altine was a product of Dr. Azikiwe’s political nationalistic and cosmopolitan outlook. He was a pan-Nigerian. His faith in one Nigeria was unshakable and unquestionable. He was Altine’s guide, pathfinder and mentor.

As a descendant of Uthman Dan Fodio, Altine could have equally emerged as Sultan of Sokoto, one day, but he preferred the life of trading, travel and adventure. He had earlier joined the Army and worked briefly with the Railways.

He had also played politics in the Tambuwal District of the Sokoto Province, before his eventual sojourn in the coal city of Enugu. He was handsome, always dressed impeccably and had a magnetic aura.

In Enugu, he wore the popular babariga, with a turban, and on some occasions he wore suits, as the functions of office, demanded.

In Enugu, he went to church, when his duties as mayor demanded this, and he also went to do the kick off at stadia as mayor, whenever invited.

Without losing his identity, he smoked, loved the native Igbo Nsala Soup with fresh fish, and according to his wife, Esther, he had a high sense of personal hygiene and good command of English, Fulfude, Hausa and Igbo languages.

Umaru Altine’s feats would have been unattainable, but for the encouragement and supports of the NCNC leader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was a consummate politician, and a cosmopolitan and urbane pan-Nigerian.

Azikiwe wanted to use Altine’s story, or his entry into Enugu politics, to teach a lesson and tell the story of a Nigeria that could only grow, and prominently too, without ethnic, religious or tribal divides.

Azikiwe’s life had equally been chequered. He was born on November 16, 1904 in Zungeru, in present day Niger State, to Obed-Chukwuemeka Azikiwe and Rachel Chinwe Ogbenyeanu. Obed was, at the time, a clerk in the British colonial government.

Zik started his elementary school education in Zungeru, and ended up in Onitsha where his father had sent him, in order to learn, understand and speak his indigenous Igbo language. He later attended Hope Waddell Training College, Calabar and ended up at the Methodist Boy’s High School in Lagos, for his Secondary education.

In Lagos, he courted the friendship of children of prominent Yoruba aristocrats like George Shyngle, son of Egerton Shyngle; Francis Cole and Ade Williams (a son of the then Akarigbo of Remo). These connections were, thereafter, of immense benefits to his political career.

Azikiwe travelled to America for his University education and obtained various degrees from Howard University in Washington D.C, the University of Pennsylvania and Colombia University, respectively, before returning to Nigeria in 1934.

He became an active member of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the foremost nationalist organisation in the country then, and supported Adeniran Akisanya, as the NYM candidate, for a vacant seat in the Legislative Council in 1941, which had been vacated by Sir Kofo Abayomi, who resigned from his position to pursue further studies in Ophthalmology in the United Kingdom.

The leadership of the NYM had supported Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw man, to succeed their former president, Kofoworola Abayomi. Azikiwe, disappointed by this choice, resigned his membership of the NYM and accussed the leadership of disdain for the Ijebu members.

In the Western Region, Umaru Altine had a soul mate in Emmanuel Ebubedike, an Igbo man from Ozubulu town, in present day Anambra State. He was the honourable member representing Ajeronmi/Ifelodun/Badagry Constituency in the Western Region House of Assembly.

Interestingly, Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and a host of other youths supported Ernest Ikoli, against the choice of Adeniran Akisanya by Dr. Azikiwe.

Akisanya, bemoaning his subsequent loss, described Awolowo and Akintola as “misguided youths.” He later became the Odemo of Isara. Zik became a co-founder of the NCNC in 1944 and its secretary general in 1946, with Dr. Herbert Macauley as the president. Dr. Azikiwe took an active part in Lagos politics and his newspaper, The West African Pilot, was very prominent during that period.

The militants in the Zikist Youth Movement, as led by Osita Agwuina, were Raji Abdala, Kolawole Balogun, M.C.K Ajuluchukwu and Abiodun Aloba, whose pen name was Ebenezer Williams.

In the politics of Lagos and its environs then, the Igbos and Zik’s acolytes held sway. Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (Penkelemesi), Chief Theophilus O.S Benson, Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, Chief Olu Akinfosile, and Chief Richard Akinjide, were distinguished and notable Yoruba politicians in their life-times, and were equally close confidants of Dr. Azikwe. T.O.S Benson (who later became Nigeria’s first minister of Information) had earlier won the Yaba Federal seat for the NCNC and in 1964, he ran again as an independent candidate, to defeat his former constituency secretary, Maduagwu Moronu, an Oba man of the Igbo nationality, as a candidate for the Yaba Federal seat.

Zik won a seat to the Western Regional House of Assembly, representing Lagos, and would have been the first premier of the Western Region in 1952, as he was already coasting home to victory, if the Action Group had not boosted its memberships with the support of the Ibadan People’s Party, the Ondo Improvement League, the Otu Edo People’s Party and other splinter groups, to secure a majority in the Western Region House of Assembly, following the advent of the Macpherson Constitution of 1951.

The Ibadan political maverick, Adegoke Adelabu, Dr. Olorunimbe and T.O.S Benson, were his ardent supporters. As a result of this loss, Zik returned to the Eastern Region, and by displacing the Ibibio man, Professor Eyo Ita, who was majority leader of the Eastern Region House of Assembly and leader of government business, he succeded Ita. With the election of 1954, Zik became premier of the Eastern Region.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe became the governor general of Nigeria on October 1, 1960, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa being the prime minister, and he was the first Nigerian appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and the first president of Nigeria in 1963, when the country became a federal republic.

In Enugu, a Northerner, Babasule was equally prominent in politics about this time and was president of the Stranger Elements Movement in Enugu. He synergised and supported Altine’s cause.

In 1956, a group in the NCNC had also presented D.T Inyang as a candidate to run against Altine, in the election to the Municipal Council. Inyang was easily trounced by Altine to continue in office as mayor of Enugu Municipal Council. Interestingly, he won re-election as an independent candidate. He was also, at that time, still very close to the Sultan Sadiq Abubakar of Sokoto, who went on to reign for 50 years (1938 to 1988). Umaru Altine had grown up in the Sultan’s Palace.

On November 10, 1956, Umaru Altine was elected as president of the NCNC branch in Enugu without any opposition. He was in office, comfortably and confidently, until 1958.

In the Western Region, Umaru Altine had a soul mate in Emmanuel Ebubedike, an Igbo man from Ozubulu town, in present day Anambra State. He was the honourable member representing Ajeronmi/Ifelodun/Badagry Constituency in the Western Region House of Assembly. In May 1962, he was the member, who on the day of the crises in the House of Assembly, prominently pitted his support for the continuation in office of Samuel Lodoke Akintola as premier of the Western Region.

The crises that erupted on the floor of the parliament eventually led to the dissolution of the parliament and government of the Western Region, followed by the setting up of the Majekodunmi Emergency Administration between May 29 and December 31, 1962 by the federal government and the Tafawa Balewa administration.

Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, aside from being a member of the Senate of the National Assembly, was also Tafewa Balewa’s friend, confidant and private medical doctor.

Ibadan, as a result of its rising growth, economic development, and its accommodating nature, became a colony of large migrant populations. The Igbos settled in Mokola, Ekotedo and Inalende in the early 1920s, whilst Sabon-gari was planned in 1917 and completed in 1920. The overcrowding of Sabon-gari, originally meant for the Hausas, had led to the development of Mokola, to settle Nupe and Igbira migrants from northern Nigeria. The late Waziri Nupe, Alhaji Bello Muhammed Bagudu, grew up and settled in Mokola, Ibadan, until in later life when he relocated to Bida. He was a member of Ibadan Municipal Council in the 1950s. His son, Senator Isa Mohammed, who also grew up in Ibadan, attended Igbo Elerin Grammar School, founded by the late Ibadan monarch, Oba Odugade Odulana. He was a senator representing the Niger Central Constituency of Niger State in the National Assembly, between 1999 and 2007.

As an interesting corollary, a non-Ibadan native, J.M. Johnson (1912-1987), born in Lagos of Lafiaji/Brazilian extraction, returned to civil life in Ibadan after the Second World War and became a bank clerk and later a business man. He eventually joined politics, through which he got elected into the Ibadan District Council and later became the first and only non-indigene to serve as chairman of the council.

From his political life in Ibadan, Johnson became a federal minister in 1956, and served in Internal Affairs, Labour, Social Welfare and Sports ministries. He also acted twice as prime minister in the NCNC and NPC coalition government. He was instrumental to the first World Boxing Title fight in Africa, which took place in Ibadan, Western Nigeria, between Dick Tiger and Gene Fullmer at the Liberty Stadium in 1963. In the same year (1963), he retired from politics by declining to contest in the general elections.

Nigeria is a very complex country. Our problems did not start yesterday but about 1894. Lord Lugard came here as Major Lugard and he was not originally employed by the British government, but by charter companies. He was first with the East Indian Company, then with the Royal East Company, and thereafter the Royal Niger Company. It was from the latter Company that he transferred his services to the British government.

According to Agu, “our history before that time did not reflect its towering achievements in terms of Nigerian unity. I was going to name a public institution after him, but time did not allow for that…” But Gab was glad to note that, “a street was named after the late mayor somewhere in the coal camp in the city of Enugu during the First Republic.”

The interest of the Europeans in Africa and indeed in the enclaves later known as Nigeria was purely economic. Even till date. Nigeria was created out of territiroes that were British spheres of interest, for business.

In 1898, Lord Lugard formed the West African Frontier force, initially with 2000 soldiers. He then became an imperialist.

When Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force, about 90 per cent of his recruits were from the Middle Belt in Northern Nigeria.

His dispatches to London between 1898 to 1914 were quite interesting. A number of these dispatches led to the amalgamation of 1914. The Order-in-Council was drawn up in November 1913, and this was signed and came into force in January 1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things, which are the root causes of significant problems in Nigeria, yesterday and today.

Mary Shaw, a journalist, was Lugard mistress, and she actually suggested to him, in the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, the name, Nigeria.

The British needed railways, from the Coast to the North of the country, in the interest of British business. The amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern protectorates became of crucial importance to this business interest. Benin was conquered in 1896. This made the creation of the Southern protectorate possible on January 1, 1900. Sokoto was not conquered, until 1903. After the conquest, the British were then in a position to create the Northern Protectorate. Unfortunately, what the British amalgamated in 1914 was the administration of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, and not the people.

Obafemi Awolowo once called Nigeria “a mere geographical expression”, while Sir Ahmadu Bello called the country, “a mistake of 1914.”

In the furtherance of British economic interest, the colonial administration started railway services from Iddo, Lagos in 1896 and the line got to Ibadan in March 1901, when the Dugbe Train Station was opened. And from there, the rail line went North, exiting at Nguru, in what was known as the Lagos to Nguru line.

As a result of the discovery of coal in Enugu in 1906, by an engineer, Mines Albert Kitson, the British developed a city port, known as Port Hacourt in 1906, and developed a rail line from there to Enugu, for the evacuation of coal from the Enugu mines, back to the port, for onward shippment to the United Kingdom, in 1913.

As at 1956, there were about 8000 miners in Enugu. Then coal was like crude oil, as an essential economic commodity. There are hardly any miners in the coal city presently.

The Port Harcourt rail line traversed Enugu and ended or exited at Kaura Namoda in Maiduguri.

Port Harcourt was actually named after Lord Lewis Vernon Harcourt, former Secretary of State for the colonies (1910 to 1915). Both Lagos-Nguru and Porthacourt-Kaura Namoda rail lines have a total span of 3506 kilometres of narrow rail track.

In fond memory of the first ever mayor of Enugu, Umaru Altine, Agu Gab, in his capacity as chairman of Enugu North Local Government, invited the Umaru Altine family to Enugu in 2004, to celebrate the achievements of their late father.

According to Agu, “our history before that time did not reflect its towering achievements in terms of Nigerian unity. I was going to name a public institution after him, but time did not allow for that…” But Gab was glad to note that, “a street was named after the late mayor somewhere in the coal camp in the city of Enugu during the First Republic.”

Alhaji Umaru Altine, certainly deserves more.

Despite the history of its birth in 1914, its hiccups and challenges and leadership deficits, coupled with its inability or refusal to restructure, despite strident and trenchant calls, Nigeria has certainly come to stay. And in the fondest memory of pan Nigerians like Mallam Umaru Altine, there may be need to re-echo with relish and undisguised affection, and deep nolstagia, Nigeria’s old National anthem:


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Re: Umaru Altine, The First Elected Mayor Of Enugu by immortalcrown(m): 7:59pm On Mar 17
E too long. I no read am finish because I no go use am pass exam.


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Re: Umaru Altine, The First Elected Mayor Of Enugu by Nobody: 8:05pm On Mar 17
I didn’t read, it’s too long.

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