It was in the year 1956 and a man had emerged as the first Mayor of Enugu Municipal Council. Well, that would not have come as any news if not for the man in question, Mallam Umaru Altine who was an ethnic Fulani cattle dealer from the Old Sokoto Province of the defunct Northern Nigeria. In fact, his own kids were raised in the house of the late Sultan of Sokoto. He grew up under the reign of Sultan Siddiq Abubakar III who was the Sultan for 50 good years (1938-1988).
Mallam Umaru Altine also raised some of the Sultan’s children at the Ungwar Sarki residence, in line with the traditions of the Sultan. He would later migrate southwards where he came under the heavy influence of the late nationalist, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was his mentor. Azikiwe gave Altine immense support and played a very significant role in his emergence as the Mayor of Enugu.
Before he was elected the Mayor by fellow councillors, he was President of the Enugu Branch of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) Youth Association, a post to which he was elected in May 1953 with the support of the Igbo middle class who were mainly businessmen, civil servants and professionals. This fact was noted by Richard L. Sklar, an American political scientist who wrote the book, Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation, in which he described the situation:
‘A majority of official party candidates were elected, and Malam Umaru Altine was chosen by them as chairman of the council’. In 1956 Enugu was elevated to the status of a municipality.
He also explained that Altine was one of the militant supporters of Azikiwe, in charge of the youth faction. In 1954, the Udi-Nsukka-Agwu United Front (UNAUF), a body of indigenes nominated their candidates to stand for elections during the Enugu Urban District Council Elections against Altine’s branch of the NCNC. The party leaders’ candidates won and they elected Altine.
In 1956, the status of Enugu was upgraded to that of a municipality. It is noteworthy that before the first municipal elections, the party leaders tried to unite the two factions but the executive branch committee of the party refuse to endorse the six former councilors for the race because they were backed by the Udi-Nsukka-Agwu United Front (UNAUF). The wrangling paved way for the NCNC which won the elections with 15 seats while UNAUF went with 10. Altine had won. He became the first Mayor of Enugu.
On the 10th of November, 1956, at a meeting of the NCNC, Umaru Altine was elected as President of the party branch without any opposition. His vice was Dr. G.C Mbanugo, a well-known non-Udi medical doctor who was also the Chairman of the Eastern Region Finance Company.
By the April of 1957, Altine’s support had dropped and the leadership of the Enugu Municipal Council had to be taken over by Mr. LBC Ezechi, a trader from Udi. Under the law of the Eastern Region Local Government then, the chairman (called the Mayor) was elected every year by the councillors. On the hand, the local councils are elected every three years. Following this loss, the NCNC ordered all its councillors to resign with immediate effect, and seventeen of them did. Azikiwe had just returned from the Constitutional Conference in London in August 1957 and made attempts to put the house back in order (Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation by Richard L. Sklar).
Altine was not the only prominent Fulani politician in Enugu as at that time. There was also another fellow cattle dealer, Alhaji Baba Sule, who was later the President of the Stranger Elements Association, a faction of the NCNC formed by non-Udi elements after the mayorship of Altine. Analysts at that time say that Altine’s emergence was to make the NCNC appealing to all Nigerians, especially the northerners.
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