Ireland’s first ever black mayor mulls over bid for Nigerian senate seat
2018-07-01 13:12:42 -
By Finn Hoogensen

Rotimi Adebari made history in 2007 when he was elected the first black mayor of a county council in Ireland. Now a decade on, and after spending several years outside of politics, Adebari is considering a campaign for the senate in his native Nigeria.

“It is actually people from my part of [Nigeria] that are inviting me to come and represent them,” says Adebari, who recently met voters from the Ogun West senatorial district at an event in Nigeria organised by the Young Progressive Party.

“It’s a big undertaking that I am still considering. I’m weighing my options at the moment.”

To become an official senate candidate, Adebari would need to be nominated by a political party. And it appears he has the support of the YPP, a new name on Nigeria’s political scene formed in January 2017.

Though Adebari has been away from politics for several years, he still holds the same goals that motivated him to seek office in Ireland, when he was mayor of Portlaoise Town Council. He says he wants to make a difference in communities and provide opportunities for others who are less fortunate. 

“I still have a strong passion to make a difference and continue to be a voice for people whose voices are never heard.”

If his campaign plans move forward, Adebari says he would seek to represent Ogun West, one of the least developed districts of his native Ogun State in Nigeria’s south-west, with a view to attracting development projects. He also wants to emphasise to people in Nigeria the importance of an education, believing a more educated society is a stronger one.

Engaging with the local community and learning about the issues they face are prerequisites for any politician, according to Adebari, who says he would maintain a close relationship with the people of his district and be an advocate for their needs. This is a lesson he learned from his experiences in Irish politics, and he adds that the support he is getting from Nigerians is similar to the call he received from the local Irish community in Portlaoise in 2004. 

Adebari originally came to Ireland in 2000 as an asylum seeker who left Nigeria to escape persecution over his Christian faith. After settling in Portlaoise, he became a popular local figure and was elected to the midlands town’s council in 2004, rising to the post of mayor after his successful application for Irish citizenship. He was the first African or black person to hold the position of mayor anywhere in Ireland.

As mayor, Adebari says, it was his mission to represent the whole Portlaoise community. This included ensuring there were opportunities provided to immigrants, and that the new communities could make positive contributions to the whole. He considers these efforts among his most significant achievements. 

“Migrants were seen as partakers in community building. We were formerly looked at as spongers; attitudes towards migrants changed for better,” he says. ​

Those in Nigeria urging Adebari to run for office are hoping he can bring about similar kinds of change to their own community. 

“If in the final analysis I decide to accept the call to serve, I will consider the call a great honour to be invited to serve in my country of birth,” Adebari says. “My motivation will be politics of making a difference, engaging with the community and be a voice for their issues in the senate.”
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