Tuesday, August 07, 2007
It is all a white lie, isn't it?
Rotimi Adebari made history recently when he was elected the Mayor of Portlaoise in the County Laois, Republic of Ireland. He is the first black man, the first non-Irish to be so honoured.
But his claim of having fled Nigeria as a result of religious persecution has turned out to be an event not known to history, both oral and written.
Adebari, a Christian, had claimed, on his arrival in Ireland in 2000, that he fled Nigeria because of religious persecution in his village, Oke-Odan in Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State.
THISDAY checks have revealed that no harassment of Christians took place in Oke-odan in Yewa in 2000, the time of his departure. There was no fighting between Muslims and Christians as he claimed.
Indeed, the town is predominantly Christian, with a handful of devotees of traditional African religion.
But there was an event that took place in Oke-Odan that same year: a devastating flood that rendered residents of the area homeless such that they had to seek shelter in adjoining villages.
Foreign news agencies also gave Adebari the tag of a “popular Nigerian”, but the 43-year-old man was relatively unknown before his mayoral election.
The sleepy town of Oke-Odan initially received the news that one of their sons was made a Mayor in the Republic of Ireland with indifference, but now, many villagers identify with his achievement.
Indigenes of the town who spoke to THISDAY on the condition of anonymity (“We don’t want to be seen as bringing him down”, a villager said), revealed that Adebari travelled out of Nigeria in 2000 in search of “green pasture”.
They said he might have sought "fake asylum” in Ireland using religious persecution as a channel to achieve his aim.
A chief, who also pleaded anonymity, said he could not recollect any religious persecution at that point in time, "except he (Adebari) is claiming persecution from traditional religionists, which is not to the knowledge of anybody in Oke-Odan, not to the knowledge of the traditional ruling council".
Adebari's story, as narrated by different media in Ireland, goes that he travelled to Ireland with his wife and two boys in 2000, and claimed asylum on the basis of religious persecution, citing bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in his homeland.
His application was rejected because of insufficient evidence to show that he had personally suffered persecution, but he gained residency because his third child, another boy, was born while he was still in Ireland.
By then, asylum-seekers flocked to Ireland in part to gain European Union citizenship on the basis of having a child born in the country. Ireland in 2004 stopped granting citizenship to foreign parents of an Irish-born child, a law that had been unique in Europe.
Adebari said he had trouble finding work at first - in part because of an Irish law that bars people from working while they were seeking asylum.
He volunteered at a local tennis club, helped found a lobbying group for unemployed people in Portlaoise and ran for office, winning a council seat on his first try in 2004.
Back in Adebari's hometown, THISDAY discovered that some groups in Oke-Odan, are already making moves to persuade Adebari to come home and contest the 2011 Governorship election in the State as a result of his new status as a Mayor in Ireland
These groups, according to findings, are hinging their campaign for Adebari on the fact that the West senatorial district has not produced the governor of the state since its creation, as well as the belief that Adebari's experience in Ireland as a Mayor would come handy in making that dream of producing the governor a reality.