A particular ‘Nigerian’ story has been all over the news channels and the social media in the United Kingdom lately.
The individual in question is actually a Briton, a bright young lady who by dint of hard work and a readiness to work for other people has risen to a very prominent position in the British establishment. She once told the press, not in joke but in earnest, that her aspiration was to become the first black female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Her name is Fiona Olayinka Onasanya.
Fiona was born in Cambridge, United Kingdom thirty-five years ago, to Nigerian parents – Frank and Pauline Onasanya. Her parents’ marriage broke up when she was still quite young, and she was brought up, along with her younger brother Festus, in the custody of her mother.
From all accounts she was very bright, and very ambitious. She attended the University of Law, the University of Herefordshire and the Netherland School.
She graduated as a lawyer, but she quickly let it be known that her main interest was in politics and public service.
She was active in her local community.
In 2013, she was elected as a councillor in Cambridgeshire County.
She worked relentlessly, and such was her activism in the cause of the deprived and downtrodden – mostly working class black and white people, that she became deputy leader of the Labour group in the council. She contested for nomination as the Labour candidate for Mayor in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough but lost the election.
That disappointment was to prove only a minor blimp on her screen.
In 2017, she was elected as Labour Member of Parliament for Peterborough.
The sky, it seemed, was the limit for Fiona. It was during this period that she made the enthusiastic statement about her ambition to become the first black female Prime Minister of Great Britain. Of course, the full description of that distinction, if it were to happen, would have been ‘the first black female British Prime Minister of Nigerian extraction.’
But tragedy was to strike just as Fiona’s star appeared to be shining brightly in the firmament.
It came in the most innocuous of shapes. Her car was caught by traffic cameras – not once but twice – driving above the prescribed speed limit in a part of town.
Anyone who is familiar with driving in the UK would know that negotiating the narrow winding roads in built up areas is not one of the greatest delights of living in the country. At peak hours, the traffic can be maddeningly slow. When the road is clear, there is a temptation to hurry. While breaking speed limits is not exactly the rule, it is not exceptional either. Unfortunately for ‘speed-breakers’, Britain is the most camera-saturated society in the world. Almost every street corner or traffic pole carries a camera that is able to catch an offending car and photograph the culprits, and many carry speed-measuring devices.
Punishment for such an offence is usually in the form of a fine. For repeat offenders, the driving license may be suspended.
Embarrassing for a Member of Parliament, but not the end of the world.
Then Fiona lied.
She was not in the car on both occasions, she averred to the Police, despite all the evidence they had to the contrary.Her brother Festus, in a bid to help her, was prepared to perjure himself and take the rap for one of the incidents.
She had boxed herself into one of those corner-situations where the British Law would throw the book at you, whether you were Duke of Edinburgh or Member of Parliament.The real crime was not now the speed, but the lie.
On December 19, 2018, Fiona Onasanya, MP, was found guilty of perverting the course of Justice. Last month, she was sentenced to a three-month prison term.
She had achieved the sort of fame she had never dreamed of, becoming the first sitting female Member of Parliament to be sent to prison.
Embarrassed, the Labour Party expelled her from their ranks.
Fiona is still a Member of Parliament, and she is struggling to hold on to the post – for one thing, the salary of seventy-five thousand pounds a year helps to pay her bills. But all the signs are that she will be recalled by the people of Peterborough, who had enthusiastically elected her not too long ago, if she fails to resign.
Her political career is in shambles.
The gulf between the prevalent societal values in the UK and Fiona’s Nigerian ‘homeland’ can be deduced from contrasting Fiona’s story to the hypothetical story of a member of the Nigerian
House of Representatives who commits a traffic offence, or even a more grievous offence in Abuja or Lagos. If the police tried to arrest him, his party, his pastor or imam, and the people of his village would be up in the arms. The social media would be full of wild conspiracy theories. The investigating Police officer in charge of the case would suddenly be posted to Damaturu.
There is one more unsavory Nigerian Diaspora story to be told here. It is the story of Kate Osamor, the daughter of Labour peer Baroness Osamor of Tottenham in the London Borough of Harringey, and of Asaba in the Republic of Nigeria (her full title!). Kate the daughter was until lately the International Development Secretary in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, and Labour Member of Parliament for Edmonton, North London. She employed her son Ishmael as a clerk in her office.
It emerged from the Press that Ishmael had been caught with drugs by the Police and given a community sentence. Accosted, Kate lied that she knew nothing of her son’s offence or sentence. On cursory investigation, it was revealed that she had actually written to the Judge during the trial, pleading for leniency on his behalf.
Kate has since stepped down from the Shadow Cabinet but is still holding on to her position as a Member of Parliament. She has been protesting, in typical Nigerian fashion, that the charges against her were ‘politically motivated’.
Respect for core values and a firm discouragement of impunity sharply demarcate successful, functioning nations from failed and desperately dysfunctional nations, such as Nigeria. The stories of Fiona and Kate, and how differently they might have fared in their homeland Nigeria, help to clarify how far Nigeria would have to travel in defining its values, in getting its people to accept and take ownership of them, and in enforcing them, before it can begin to call itself a modern nation, in the true sense of the word.
Femi Olugbile is a Writer and Psychiatrist.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org’