Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Demola Ojo
The snap election called by United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May last Thursday may have come and gone, but its outcomes are still reverberating across Nigeria. The excitement has to do with the victory of seven candidates of Nigerian descent.
The Nigerian-Britons who recorded the historic feat are Chuka Umunna (Labour) representing Streatham, Helen Grant (Conservative) and Chi Onwurah (Labour). The others are Kemi Badenoch representing Saffron Walden, Kate Osamor representing Edmonton, Bim Afolami representing Hitchin and Harpenden, and Fiona Onasanya representing Peterborough.
Grant is the first black MP from the Conservative Party while Onwurah is the first African woman to win a parliamentary seat in Newcastle Central. Umunna is a leading organiser of the Black Socialist Society (BSS) and vice-chairman of the Streatham Labour Party in south London.
Records show that Nigerian participation in British public affairs and governance date back to Olaudah Equiano, known in his lifetime as Gustavus Vassa, a prominent African freed slave in London who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. Later on, a significant number of Nigerians studied in the UK before the country became independent in 1960.
Records at the Institute for Public Policy Research show that Nigerian scholars rank among the high performers in the United Kingdom. However, 2010 was the first time British-Nigerians secured seats in the UK parliament. The historic trio were Umunna, Grant and Onwurah.
Prior to 2010 though, Nigeria has had a relationship with Britain dating back to colonial times when the country was administered by Britain until she gained independence in 1960. Civil and political unrests in Nigeria contributed to many migrating to Britain in the 1960s but it was not until the 1980s that the population of Nigerians seeking residence and British citizenship increased significantly.
The number rose further during the military dictatorship of the mid-1990s. By the time the British Nigerians were elected in 2010, the population of Nigerians living in the UK had reached the one million mark, out of the total British population of around 65 million, making Nigerians one of the thriving minority nationalities that form Britain’s robust ethnic diversity.
This significant population has produced a unique identity known as British-Nigerian, which is used to describe British people of Nigerian descent, or Nigerian people of British descent.
Meanwhile, the importance of the MPs’ achievements to Nigeria’s image was conveyed via a congratulatory message by the Nigerian government. A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Foreign Affairs Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, applauded the “unique feat as evidence that Nigerians anywhere in the world will continue to excel and make the country proud.” She said, “We wish them the very best and believe they will continuously serve their constituents with dignity and diligence.”
Here is a brief profile of the seven elected MPs of Nigerian descent.
Chinyelu Susan Onwurah, 52, is the current Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, having been appointed to both posts in September 2015.
Born to Nigerian parents in Wallsend Newcastle in 1965, she studied Electrical Engineering at Imperial, College London.
Her family relocated to Awka, capital of Anambra state, when she was a baby, but following the breakout of the Biafran civil war, her mother returned Chi to Newcastle, while her father enlisted in the Biafran army. Before venturing into politics, she worked in the private sector in Nigeria, UK, France and Denmark.
In 2010, she contested under the Labour Party and got elected as the member of parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne central, replacing the previous Labour MP Jim Cousins, who decided to step down. She is Newcastle’s first black MP.
Osamor was born to Nigerian parents in 1968 and grew up in Haringey. Her mother Martha Osamor, who came to Britain when she was young, was a political activist and a member of the Black Sections in the Labour party in the 1980s.
Osamor was educated at Creighton comprehensive school and read Third World Studies at the University of East London. After graduating, she worked for The Big Issue, a magazine sold by the homeless. She then worked for 15 years in the NHS, and was a GP practice manager before becoming an MP.
In the 2015 General Election, Osamor was selected as the candidate for Edmonton following the retirement of its Labour MP Andy Love. She worked for the National Health Service (NHS) for 15 years and is a trade union activist, a women’s charity trustee and a member of LP’s national executive committee. She funded the NHS, opposing its fragmentation and standing up to government cuts the centrepiece of her campaign. She has lived in north London her whole life.
Aged 37, Badenoch has been a member of the parliament since September 2015. She is the GLA conservative’s spokesman for the economy and also sits on the transport committee as well as policing and crime committee.
Badenoch joined the Conservative Party in 2005 and since then has been active in Conservative politics. In 2010 she stood in the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency and came third behind the Liberal Democrats.
Two years later, Badenoch stood for the Conservatives in the London Assembly election where she was placed fifth on the London-wide list. The election saw the Conservatives win three seats from the London-wide list, so Badenoch was not elected.
Three years later, in the 2015 general election, Victoria Borwick, was elected to Parliament and subsequently resigned her seat on the London Assembly. The fourth placed candidate on the list, Suella Fernandes, had also been elected to Parliament and declined to fill the vacancy. Badenoch was therefore declared to be the new Assembly Member.
Badenoch was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Saffron Walden constituency in last week’s general election.
Prior to the assembly, Kemi was a director at the Spectator Magazine and before that an associate director at Coutts & Co. She holds two degrees in engineering and law, from Sussex University and Birkbeck College respectively. She is currently a board member for the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life and for nine years was a non-executive director for a London housing association.
Her other areas of interest include engineering and technology, social mobility and integration. She provides regular mentoring to women who wish to pursue careers in technology and has spoken at several conferences including the global TEdX speaker series.
Umunna, a Labour party politician, has been a member of the parliament for Streatham since 2010. He was the shadow business secretary from 2011 to 2015. Prior to his emergence as shadow business secretary, he was a member of the treasury select committee.
Ummuna had his primary education at Hitherfield in Streamham, south London, and became deputy head boy at the Boys’ Independent Senior School, St Dunstan’s college in southeast London during his secondary level. He went on to study English and French Law from the University of Manchester, where he was awarded with an upper second class LLB.
He was adopted as the Labour party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for streamham in 2008 and polled a majority of 3,259 votes at the 2010 general election to become an elected member of parliament for streamham.
His Nigerian father, Bennett, died in a road accident in his homeland in 1992. His English mother, Patricia, is a solicitor and daughter of Sir Helenus Milmo QC, the Anglo-Irish high court judge.
Afolami, who works as a corporate lawyer, comes from Crowthorne, Berkshire. His father is a Nigerian consultant doctor who works for the National Health Service. He was educated at Bishopsgate School, Eton public school and Oxford University where he studied modern history. He was also vice president of the Oxford Union Society.
He was then a political adviser at the House of Commons and worked in corporate law before moving onto finance as a senior executive at HSBC.
The father of two is also a school governor and has mentored teenagers. He lives in Northampton and has previously contested the Lewisham Deptford seat in 2015, where he achieved 15 per cent of the vote, gaining 7,056 votes in a Labour stronghold. He is described as an ‘astute public speaker’.
He was quoted after the election as saying: “I’m feeling completely over the moon to be the new MP for Hitchin and Harpenden. It’s such a great feeling. I’m completely honoured. I would like to pay tribute to my opponents who fought a fair and democratic fight.”
Onasanya, who ran on the platform of Labour Party, is a solicitor and local councillor. She was until her election the deputy leader of the Labour group on the Cambridgeshire county as well as its councillor.
A woman with a tall dream, Onasanya is aspiring to become Britain’s first black female prime minister. In an interview before the election, she revealed that she never set out to be a politician.
“Well, I never intended to become a politician. The secretary for a political party was in earshot of a discussion in a local pub with a friend about the London riots and asked if I’d considered politics. My response was simply “no!”. I was not interested as law had been my focus – I’d never studied or even considered politics. The gentleman gave me his card and suggested I look into what his party was about and if I felt their ethos was something I agreed with, to become a member and come to some meetings. So I did! That was the start of my journey.”
Grant, a Conservative Party politician, has served as the Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald since 2010. The fifty-five year old has served as the parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice as well as the parliamentary under-secretary of state for equalities.
Born on September 28, 1961, to a Nigerian father and English mother, Grant is a solicitor. She grew up in a single-parent family after her parents separated and her father migrated to the United States. She was raised in Carlisle where she lived on the city’s Raffles council estate with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Her political career kicked off in 2004 under the Labour Party, where was asked by a senior local party figure to consider becoming a local councillor, but she rejected the idea and joined the Conservative Party two years later, claiming that the Labour party showed little interest in her and left her feelings disillusioned. Grant is the first black woman to be selected to defend a Tory seat and her election in 2010 also made her the Conservatives’ first female black MP. She received her first government appointment in 2012, and played dual roles of undersecretary of state for justice, and undersecretary for women and equalities.