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    Monday, 27 February 2017

    Attending All African Parties Is A Challenge For Me As Mayor – Nigerian Born First African Mayor Of The Royal Borough Of Greenwich, Cllr. Babatola

    Cllr. Olu Babatola. Photo - naija magazine online
    IN London, I headed to Greenwich for the interview with the first African Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, The Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr. Olu Babatola. I have looked forward to this meeting.

    On arriving the council chambers, I, well, we, were warmly ushered into the visitor area. I came with my 2 girls, who were also eager to see the Mayor. 

    While waiting for the appointed time, I was busy coaching them on how to properly greet the Mayor when we finally meet him – 'remember to stand up, bow, speak up' and all – you know parents and our ‘over-activity’ sometimes (well in the eyes of our children).

    As this was happening, I noticed a lanky unassuming man walk pass through the visitor area into an office. There were no security and protocol officers chasing away people in the name of making way for ‘the oga’, so I barely noticed him. Coming from Nigeria, where ‘you must know the oga by force by fire’, who would notice the ‘lanky unassuming man’?

    Shortly after, this ‘lanky unassuming man’ walks up to us to greet us – the girls and myself. He is older than me, so instinctively, I got up to greet him. 

    He stretches out his hands to my girls and says, ‘Good afternoon, I’m Olu’

    ‘No way, you can’t be the Mayor’ I said to myself. Quickly recovering from the shock, I put up a grin and greeted him. He noticed I was shocked. Allowing me to recover, he says. ‘I will join you shortly for the interview’.

    ‘What! That’s the Mayor himself’. I thought. I knocked myself a couple of times. As a media practitioner, I should have engraved his picture in my mind, so that when I see him, I will instantly recognize him. I didn’t do that. 

    ‘But he didn’t have the retinue of aides I expected’, I said to myself, obviously looking for some kind of justification and consolation. 

    How many times are our assumptions and perceptions flawed?

    I remembered the story of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor who was reputed to always 'close' the CBN anytime he was entering or exiting the building. Even lifts, all the lifts, were for his exclusive use. And how many can he use at a time? And examples abound of such reckless leadership in Nigeria.

    Surely, there is a lot of lesson on humility and transformative leadership from The Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr. Olu Babatola.

    Finally, we settle down for the interview but not before he gives us a short guided tour of his council chambers.

    The Worshipful the Mayor, Cllr. Olu Babatola talks about his background, his journey to becoming Africa’s first Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and general advice to the Diaspora.

    Tell us abit about your background, and growing up.

    My name is Olu Babatola. I was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, some few few years ago (laughs). I came to this country (England) about 30 years ago. I did my studies, and got into politics, and here I am. I was elected as a Councillor, representing Thamesmead Mooring Ward, which is the Greenwich side of Thamesmead in 2014. In 2015 I was elected a Deputy Major, and here we are now in 2016/17. I’m nearly finishing my one year term as the Major of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which is an honour for me, it is a privilege to serve the community that I live in. 

    How has it been living in the UK, the challenges?

    It’s been up and down, but we give glory to God that we are surviving.

    Any highpoints?

    As my daughter said in my inauguration speech that I wouldn’t have dreamt of being where I am now. It’s been up and down. The challenge is when you are bringing up kids, teenagers in this country. You face a lot of challenges. So far so good. My family and I are okay.

    Take us through your journey to becoming a Mayor

    I’ve always been interested in politics. I joined a political party. You have to be a member of a political party, then be elected as a Councillor. After that, you present yourself to be the Deputy Mayor. One good thing about the Royal Borough of Greenwich is that we have a Deputy Mayor for one year so that you are able to shadow the Mayor, and then the following year you become the Mayor.

    What is a typical day in the life of Mayor of Royal Borough of Greenwich?

    (Laughs) That’s a long one. Every Mayor dreams of having a Royal Visit in their Borough. Luckily, I have had 2 so far – I’ve had the Countess of West Sussex, and the Royal Princess, they’ve come to the Borough. 

    I will give you a particular day, sometime ago, I can’t remember the day now. I had 5 events; I was going from one event to the other, checking the time so that I’m not late. In the car to the last event, I told everybody, ‘look where I’m going now, I’m not going to drink or eat anything there’. When I got there, I told them I’m not eating. And the people said, ‘Is it because our food is not good enough?’. This is one of the challenges you have been the Mayor.  When they offer you something, you will endeavour to take it. 

    Something again. You know it’s not every time you are happy, but you get to an occasion, you need to show that you are happy to be there. 

    (On the day I had the 5 events), I was picked up by 9am and did not get home till past 11pm. This is not a daily routine, however, sometimes it could be daunting. I always come to the town hall, at least 2 hours minimum a day.

    What’s your take on the contributions of the Diaspora to the UK?

    I believe everybody is doing their bit…, they do their normal jobs. So far so good. The Royal Borough of Greenwich is encouraging people from ethnic minorities to come out and do something for the community…and the community as well is doing its bit to support.

    Tell us abit about the charities you work with

    As a Mayor, you allowed to have about 2 charities. One should be within the Borough, while the other you can choose. I chose a charity called Africans Unite Against Child Abuse. The reason I chose them is because they look to prevent the problem African parents and children face in this country due to culture, religion and upbringing. 

    There are certain things within our (African) culture we think is okay, but by (UK) law is not okay. One of the focus is FGM (female genital mutilation). I know that is a problem within the African community. Whatever money we raise, we use that to prevent that (FGM) from happening. 

    One thing about FGM is that by the time you know it, its too late. What this charity is trying to do is to recruit students age 12 from schools and enlighten them. Parents are told that if they take their children to Africa and commit FGM, when they return to the UK, they will be arrested and prosecuted. We like to enlighten parents on this. 

    I also have Archway Project. It is a youth club and education centre for young people. It provides training and support that is accessible to all.

    What is your greatest challenge as a Mayor?

    It’s attending all African parties (laughs). Because I am the first African Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, everybody wants me in their churches, their parties. I need to make a balance between what I do, where I go because of my position. I have enjoyed it, it’s been interesting. I have attended a lot of African events.

    What will you miss at the expiration of your tenure?

    Waoh! I don’t know really. The way the Royal Borough of Greenwich functions, if you are no longer the Mayor, you are a past Mayor. If there are events the Mayor or Deputy Mayor cannot attend, the past Mayors may be able to attend them…Probably sitting down here is what I will miss.

    Final thoughts

    Put yourself forward. If you look at the history of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, for the Borough to elect an African to be the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, it is a credit to the Councillors who have put me there. I want to advice (the Diaspora community), to put ourselves forward, to behave properly. Don’t allow anything – your culture, your background, colour, or disability - to stop you from achieving your goal.

    NMO Commentary: A very big thank you to everyone who sent in question(s) as requested. While some of the questions were not asked for some diplomatic and protocol reasons, we appreciate your time and support to Naija Magazine Online (NMO). 

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