For the first time ever, Nigerian-Britons have secured seats in the UK parliament. In the first serious attempt last Thursday, three emerged victorious in the UK’s toughest elections in more than three decades. Chuka Umunna (Labour), Helen Grant (Conservative) and Chi Onwurah (Labour) won their constituency seats while Kemi Adegoke (Conservative) and Abbey Akinoshun (Independent candidate) were unsuccessful.
The trio contributed to a record number of ethnic minorities now in the UK parliament, up from the previous 14 to 27, exceeding predictions by analysts. In addition, there were also a number of firsts. Labour candidate Shabana Mahmood is the first Muslim woman to be elected, in Birmingham Ladywood constituency. Nigeria's Grant is the first black woman to represent the Conservatives in parliament. Onwurah is the first African woman to win a parliamentary seat, in Newcastle Central, and Priti Patel became the Conservative Party's first Asian female MP, winning Witham in Essex to become one of 19 Asian MPs.
In Streatham district, Umunna who swept to victory said he was “humbled” by winning a close fought contest. Standing for election for the first time, he took the seat with a 3,259-vote majority. He hauled a massive 20,037 votes, beating his nearest rival, Lib Dem candidate Chris Nicholson, who received 16,778 votes. “I was born and bred in this constituency and the fact that so many of my neighbours, close friends and people I know in the community and that I am tasked to represent them is something that makes me deeply humbled. I know our party will do everything we can for the residents of this fantastic place.” Umunna is a leading organiser of the Black Socialist Society (BSS) and vice-chairman of the Streatham Labour Party in south London. He called the victory "a quite extraordinary night." Born in London of mixed Nigerian, English and Irish parentage, he went to school in Streatham and Catford. He obtained a degree in English Law and French Law and spent some time at the University of Burgundy, before attending Law School in Nottingham.
One of the two Nigerian female Conservative party victors, Helen Grant broke down in tears and hugged her husband after clinching the Maidstone and Weald seat. Grant is a solicitor who was brought up by a single mother on a Carlisle council estate. Grant beat Liberal Democrat rival Peter Carroll by 5,889 votes, despite earlier predictions that the contest would be more closely fought. The turnout was 69.1 per cent. The mother-of-two admitted she had a hard act to follow in replacing her predecessor, the popular Conservative stalwart Ann Widdecombe, who stepped down after 23 years in Parliament. “Ann has been a great friend to me and she’s an amazing woman” she said. “I can’t wait to step into her shoes and be the MP for this amazing constituency. Her husband Simon simply said: “I am just so proud of her.” The full results for Grant’s Maidstone and the Weald constituency are: Helen Grant (Tory): 23,491. Peter Carroll (Liberal Democrat): 17,602. Rav Seeruthun (Labour): 4,769. Gareth Kendall (UKIP): 1,637. Stuart Jeffery (Green): 655. Gary Butler (National Front): 643. Heidi Simmons (Christian Party): 131.
Chi Onwurah, the third successful Nigerian-Brit was born in Wallsend, grew up on Hillsview Avenue in Kenton and went to Kenton School before studying Electrical Engineering in London. ‘’I have lived in many different cities around the world, without ever for a moment forgetting where I am from: Newcastle. My values and beliefs were formed in Newcastle based on the people I grew up with and my own experiences” Onwurah said. ‘’My maternal grandfather was a sheet metal worker in the shipyards of the Tyne during the depression. My mother grew up in poverty in Garth Heads on the quayside. In the fifties she married my father, a Nigerian student at Newcastle Medical School. In 1965 I was born, whilst they were living in Gosforth where my father had a dental practise. I was still a baby when my father took us to live in Awka, Nigeria. But two years later the Biafran Civil War broke out bringing famine with it and, as described vividly in an Evening Chronicle article in 1968, my mother, my brother and sister and I returned as refugees to Newcastle, whilst my father stayed on in the Biafran army. This early experience of the impact of war on ordinary families left me with a strong sense of my own good fortune in living in a peaceful parliamentary democracy where it is possible to bring about change without taking up the gun or the sword’’.
Onwurah went on further: ‘’I am not a pacifist, I believe that the United Kingdom is worth defending and fighting for. But we do live in a democracy and, increasingly, there are international institutions at the European and global level to enable us to pursue and defend our legitimate interests through debate and discussion. I have enjoyed a career in engineering since I graduated from Imperial College in 1987. I have worked in hardware and software development, product management, market development and strategy for a variety of manly private sector companies in a number of different countries – UK, France, US, Nigeria and Denmark. During this time I also studied for an MBA from Manchester Business School and gained Chartered Engineering status. As an engineer I specialised in building out infrastructure in new markets and standardising wholesale Ethernet access. I have always campaigned for the causes I believed in. As a student I campaigned against the Federation of Conservative Students at Imperial College. Later I was very active in the Anti Apartheid Movement, and spent many years on its National Executive, and that of its successor organisation, ACTSA. At the moment I work as a systems analyst for the RBS Group. I studied Computer Systems Engineering (M.Eng) at Sussex University, graduating in 2003 and I’m a Chartered Member of the British Computer Society. In 2009, I completed my LLB in Law at the University of London (Birkbeck). I wanted to better understand the law so that in the future, I could become a better legislator helping to make it and change it for the better in future. I was born in Wimbledon in 1980 and moved back there in 1996 after schooling in Nigeria. I’m a school governor at St. Thomas the Apostle College in Southwark and the Jubilee Primary School in Lambeth’’.
Victor Adebowale currently holds the highest political office by a Nigerian in the UK having been appointed as people's peers. The title was gazetted as Baron Adebowale, of Thornes in the County of West Yorkshire. Adebowale was born to Nigerian parents Ezekiel & Grace Adebowale and was educated at Thornes House School, Wakefield and the Polytechnic of East London. He began his career in Local Authority Estate Management before joining the housing association movement. Adebowale has an honorary PhD from the University of Central England in Birmingham, an honorary doctor of letters from the University of Lincoln, an honorary PhD from the University of East London and most recently an honorary doctor of the university from the University of Bradford, where he is involved with their Centre for Inclusion and Diversity, in December 2007. He is an honorary fellow of London South Bank University and Honorary Senior Fellow in the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham. In 2000, Adebowale was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honour List for services to the New Deal, the unemployed, and homeless young people. In 2001, Adebowale became one of the first group of people to be appointed as people's peers and the title was gazetted as Baron Adebowale, of Thornes in the County of West Yorkshire on 30 June. On 12 December 2008, Adebowale was installed as Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.
In May 1999, Nigerian born Lola Ayorinde, became the first black Mayor of the south London Borough of Wandsworth. Ayorinde had lived in the borough at that time for over 25 years. Wandsworth, with a population of 266,000, is one of the most affluent boroughs in Britain. Ayorinde was deputy Mayor between 1996 and 1997. Representing the Conservative Party, she served in various local committees. ''Becoming the Mayor of Wandsworth was beyond my wildest dreams,'' Ayorinde had said. ''It was a cherished privilege and honour to serve’’. She has since relocated to Nigeria and has been involved in a social campaign to stop ritual practices associated with burial of monarchs in Yorubaland.