On 8 June, a general election was held in Britain. Voters went to the polls to choose members of parliament from the 650 constituencies around the country. In a first of its kind moment, seven of the parliamentarians sent were of Nigerian origin. The Nigerian-based website Ventures Africa reported that “three of them won under Theresa May’s Conservative party while the other four won under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.”
The seven elected MPs and the constituencies they are representing are: Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden), Chineylu “Chi” Onwurah, (Newcastle), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Fiona Onasanya, (Peterborough), Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald), Kate Osamor (Edmonton) and Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden).
Back in Nigeria, the news was greeted warmly. Here is what the senior special assistant to the Nigerian president on foreign affairs and diaspora had to say:
Honorable Abike Dabiri-Erewa congratulates seven (7) Nigerian citizens on their victory at the U.K parliamentary elections. pic.twitter.com/IjilVe870c
— CorpersHub (@Corpershub1) June 9, 2017
However, some in the western African nation warned the Nigerian government against “appropriating the success of foreign citizens of Nigerian descent”:
Nigerians often appropriate the successes of foreign citizens of Nigerian descent. We celebrate these successes as our own understandably.
— Resistance is Futile (@chrisngwodo) June 11, 2017
Another Twitter user reminded that these MPs were not in the British parliament as representatives of Nigeria.
— Sir.Ariyo-Dare Atoye (@AriyoAristotle) June 11, 2017
Omalicha questioned the Nigerian-ness of these new MPs.
She ain't Nigerian biko. If she ever lived here, she won't be sweeping anything other than her house. https://t.co/42Tng96GMD
— Omalicha™ (@ree_nne) June 9, 2017
A British-based Nigerian university lecturer, Dr Adebisi Adewole, pointed out that the ethnic divisions that define Nigerian politics means it's unlikely that the winning MPs would've been successful in their country of origin. He wrote:
In Nigeria, they would have been asked, ‘Who knows your family?’ ‘Ah, you are Igbo and you have Yoruba blood with your mother known to have dated an Hausa man’, ‘You are a woman’ ‘You are too young’, ‘How much do you have?’, ‘Who is your godfather?’, You are Muslim’, and so on. No one would have bothered much about the question of competence for the job…
The same sentiments were expressed by a Dapo Rotifa in a post on Facebook:
Splendid! 7 Britons of Nigerian descent won seats to the parliament in the British elections. And as expected we're all adulating, as we're wont to do, the feats our ‘compatriots’ achieved in a foreign land. That's deserving. It gladdens my heart too….
Let's go back to our brothers and sisters who won elections in Britain and our celebration of that. Actually I have a problem with us on that. Let me put it into question even if rhetorically: why do we celebrate a feat outside our shores but find such sacrilegious in our land? The Osun man celebrating our Nigerian exploit in Britain will cry foul if an Oyo who has lived all his life in Ile-Ife wants to stand for election in Osun. Yes, you can say it's a different environment but when are we going to start to make our own environment conducive to recognize the commonality of our humanity?