By Dare Babarinsa
So, Rishi Sunak is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sunak is the first person of Asian origin to become the PM of that great country.
After the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill, the great Prime Minister of Britain, was very reluctant to receive Mohandas Gandhi at 10 Downing Street, dismissing him as a “half-naked kafir.”
Gandhi, the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, was noted for his simple dressing in his native shawl, with the simple slippers on his feet. He came with a staff, like Moses, entering the palace to confront Pharaoh, as he was received by the king at Buckingham Palace. Now one of Gandhi’s sons is sitting behind the desk of Churchill. History has a way of presenting us with great ironies.
Sunak is the son of Indian immigrant parents who came to the United Kingdom to seek for better fortune. His grandfather had worked in East Africa where many Indians were engaged to build the East African railway.
Many Indians later settled in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and their descendants are still there till today. However, during the reign of terror of Ugandan dictator, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, he expelled thousands of Indians. I don’t know what Idi Amin would have thought about the twist of fate that has elevated an Indian man to the pinnacle of power in the once mighty Britain.
The rise of Sunak had been meteoric. In 2015, he was elected into the Parliament to represent Richmond (Yorks) on the platform of the Conservative Party, one of the two great parties dominating parliament. The other is the Labour Party. He had come to politics with a lot of initial advantages. He is highly educated and very wealthy. He had studied philosophy, politics and economics at the Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. He later obtained the Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Stanford University in the United States. He was at Stanford as a Fulbright Scholar and that gave him some leverage.
But Stanford was to mean more for him than just academic laurel. It was while in that university that he fell in love with Akshata Murty, daughter of an Indian billionaire, N.R. Narayana Murthy. Their marriage changed the fortune of Sunak, making him one of the richest men in the UK. He worked briefly with some blue-chip companies before finding his way into politics as a member of the Conservative Party. He has the money to finance his political ambition and the freedom of action that only good money can bring. Today, he and his wife are rated as the 222 richest couple in the kingdom. They are said to be worth at least 730 million pounds sterling (N511 billion).
The irony would not be lost on King Charles III, when he called on Sunak to go and form the government. The Prime-Minister is the most powerful politician in the realm. He exercises his powers on behalf of the king, to appoint all members of the cabinet. He is the Head of Government and exercises all the powers of that office including the power to order troops into battle. Britain is a member of the G7, the community of Western industrialised countries. Despite the loss of empire and the declining role of Britain in the international community, the country remains a world power. Sunak is arguably the most powerful Indian man in the world today. He has proved his worth in previous cabinet positions he held. He was the First Secretary of the Treasury from 2019 to 2020. He was also Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to this year.
Prime Minister Sunak is coming to power at time of great challenges for the UK and the world. The pressure on the world economy has been worsened by Putin’s war in Ukraine. Britain, like Nigeria, is facing unprecedented unemployment and energy crisis. Gone were the days when London controlled the world. Now, London has to shiver whenever there is a sneeze from Washington D.C, Moscow or Beijing. Remember that once upon a time, until 1776, the United States of America was a colony of the United Kingdom. Today, UK is like a poor cousin to the American giant.
The elevation of Sunak is a giant leap for the British. He is the first non-Christian to become the British Prime-Minister. He holds fervently to the Hindu faith of his forefathers. I wonder how the British would have reacted if he is an Osun worshipper from Kwara or Ekiti states of Nigeria. Few weeks ago, some Muslim fanatics gathered in front of a house in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State, intent on expelling a self-confessed Osun priestess.
To these fanatics, Ilorin is an Islamic City and any religion that would exist in the city must be the one they can at least tolerate. They think worshipping Yoruba traditional deities is not acceptable, despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship. In Offa, also in Kwara State, some fanatics also demolished the ancient statue of Moremi, an Ile-Ife queen and heroine, who was a native of Offa. Such fanaticism has no place in a civilised society. Therefore, Prime Minister Sunak would openly display his faith without any fear.
There is a lot for us to learn from this development in the UK. We have seen that giving opportunities for minorities and allowing them level-playing field is profitable for every polity. That was what Nigerians experienced before blatant ethnicity crept into our public life. In the not so distant past, the first African Divisional Officer (DO) for Ekiti during the colonial era was Jerome Udoji, an Igbo, who in his later years, became a board room czar. Today, someone from Osun State cannot be made the Vice-Chancellor of any state university in Yorubaland except that of Osun State. Yet, when a Nigerian is made the VC of a British or American university, we all applaud. If the truth must be told, we are a society of hypocrites.
But we are still a society of the young and the restless. Our population is made up of mostly youths. But which 42 year old man or woman in Nigeria would have acquired enough experience and clout to want to be governor or president? When the young Yaya Bello emerged as Governor of Kogi State, it was purely by the accident caused by the death of Abubakar Audu, who would have emerged as the governor.
When Sunak was born in 1980, President Muhammadu Buhari was then a Brigadier in the Nigerian Army. Forty-two years later, Buhari is President and Sunak is Prime-Minister. The next President of Nigeria should consciously promote the rise of young people to position of responsibilities. It is time we allowed those who own the future take charge of it.