All hail The chieftain
Published 25/08/2007 | 00:00
IRELAND'S first elected black mayor has been granted a chieftain's title in his Nigerian hometown.
Rotimi Adebari, who made history in June by becoming the first ever black and non-national mayor of an Irish town, was decorated with the honour during a recent trip to his native country.
Mr Adebari has sternly denied rumours, however, that he is being actively headhunted to return to Nigeria to stand as a candidate in upcoming state elections.
"This is home now," said Mr Adebari in Portlaoise town yesterday, where he lives with his wife and four children.
"I'm not going to contest any election in Nigeria at any time," he said.
"I've lived in Ireland for seven years now and this is home for me and my family. I don't think I'd be able for politics in Nigeria anyway, it's a very different system to the one we have here," he said.
Mr Adebari was responding to a recent report in the Nigerian daily newspaper 'This Day', which claimed members of Mr Adebari's hometown were planning to lure the 43-year-old back to run as governor for the state.
The Mayor of Portlaoise told the Irish Independent that the first he heard of any such interest in him was when he saw the 'This Day' article and believes it is likely to be just some local political mischief-making.
Mr Adebari also lashed out at the paper's claim that he told "white lies" about having suffered religious persecution in his hometown of Oke Odan as part of his application for asylum to Ireland in 2000.
"I never claimed there was a religious crisis in the town where I came from," Mr Adebari told the Irish Independent.
"I left Nigeria because of a personal religious crisis within my own family," said Mr Adebari, who was brought up a Muslim but converted to Christianity over 10 years ago.
"It would be quite rare in my town, like a Catholic becoming a Protestant in Ireland, and it brought about a bitter, inter-family, religious crisis which forced me to leave," he said.
Mr Adebari, whose application for asylum was refused in 2000, said he "was very disappointed" when he read the article.
"I thought if a journalist in Nigeria was to go to the trouble of writing about me they should at least get their facts right and make some effort to contact me for a comment," he said.
"I arrived in Ireland claiming asylum on grounds of religious persecution. My application was rejected but I received residency in Ireland on the basis of an Irish-born child," he said.
The controversy surrounding the Portlaoise Mayor's political ambitions and religious background in Nigeria did little to sour his recent visit to the country where he was surprised with the highest honour conferred on him by the king of his hometown.
"I was told there'd be a small civic reception but the town was packed," said Mr Adebari, who had travelled to Nigeria with his wife and two youngest children to attend the funeral of his father-in-law earlier this month.
"I was completely taken by surprise. I was conferred by His Royal Highness King Oba Oluwarotimi Fagbenro with the chieftain's title," which he says translates as 'Exceptional Son of the Town'.
"It is a very distinguished honour," he said.