By Donu Kogbara
PASTOR Onimim (Nims) Obunge is a quintessential gentleman who proudly describes himself as a Kalabari from Rivers State. He also proudly describes himself as a Londoner, having been born 56 years ago in the capital city of the United Kingdom to a career diplomat and educator – Ambassador D.D. and Lady Emma Obunge.
Because his father was later posted to Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Republic of Benin and Central African Republic, Obunge went to several foreign schools. But he also went to Federal Government Colleges (Warri and Port Harcourt) in Nigeria and studied political science and international relations at the University of Jos.
This combination of pan-African and European education turned him into a Naija Home Boy who also happens to be a citizen of the world. Long story short: Obunge – who has been based in London with his wife (who is from Edo State) and two children since 1987 – finds it easy to relate to people from different cultures and has decided to offer his cosmopolitan mindset to Londoners who want change.
Obunge has thrown his hat into the mayoral contest ring – the election will take place on May 6. Because London is multicultural and liberal compared to the rest of the UK, ethnic minority votes are important and non-White candidates can do very well in London. The current mayor, Sadiq Khan, is an Asian Muslim.
I voted for Khan in 2016 but I’m rooting for Nims this time around, not just because he is my friend and brother, but because I know that he is kind-hearted, passionately committed to social justice and intellectually capable of managing the complexities surrounding a great city that is inhabited by superstars as well as paupers.
However, I’ve been very worried about Nims’s chances because he is running as an Independent; and when I met him a couple of days ago at his campaign headquarters in North London, the first question I asked was why he thought he could beat candidates who are not only being sponsored by rich and powerful mainstream political parties but potentially as attractive to Black and Brown voters as he is.
Khan, a senior member of the British Labour Party, is going to run again, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservatives are fielding Shaun Bailey, an IT graduate who has Jamaican roots. Nims smiled and shrugged when I challenged him (somewhat testily!) for (suicidally, I felt at the time!) “choosing to be on your own.”
He pointed out that he has been a deputy lieutenant for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Lieutenant for Greater London. As the sovereign’s representative in his or her area, the Lord-Lieutenant remains non-political and does not hold office in any political party. Usually a retired local notable, senior military officer, peer or business person is given the post as an honour.
It is their foremost duty to uphold the dignity of the Crown. In so doing, they seek to promote a spirit of co-operation by supporting voluntary organisations and the wellbeing of their counties. Nims told me that the non-partisan Deputy Lieutenant role had accustomed him to being politically objective and non-aligned. And you know what?
The more I talked to him about his past achievements and mayoral manifesto, the more I believed that he can trounce his formidably well-funded rivals, despite having one hand tied behind his back.
Nims may not have big bucks or an efficiently-oiled party machinery behind him. But he has been an immensely influential activist, community leader and spiritual guide to individuals from various racial backgrounds for over three decades. He has won several awards for battling gun and knife crime in London.
He has supported entrepreneurship. He has chaired the London Criminal Justice Board Advisory Group and worked in Multi-Faith and Inter-Government agency settings to assist and advise communities that have to contend with huge socio-economic fragilities.
In 1993, Nims founded the Freedom’s Ark Ministry in North London and specialises in collaborating with Christian organisations to prayerfully seek solutions to the crisis of youth violence and other societal challenges in the London Borough of Haringey.
He also launched the Peace Alliance to tackle local knife crime. Today, The Peace Alliance works nationally with key statutory agencies such as the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police.
Most impressive of all his activities, perhaps, is his high-risk willingness to provide employment for ex-convicts. People who have been imprisoned for violent criminal offences have, thanks to mentoring from Nims, been able to turn their lives around.
He speaks inspirationally in prisons, tries to understand what’s going on in the hearts and minds of prisoners and uses the information he gleans to persuade youngsters who are heading in the wrong direction to think again and embrace less self-destructive options.
Meanwhile, four times a week, Nims and his partners – the Peace Alliance, the Felix Project and the Freedom Ark – launched the Community Food Hub as a direct response to hunger and food poverty in the community in which they operate. Their noble mantra is “no hunger, no waste”. And I was there when they were getting ready to provide food to local folks who need help.
It was a very touching experience to watch Nims and his wonderful volunteers arranging a safety net for those in need. They feed between 50 and 100 families per week.
Fingers firmly crossed that London elects this compassionate man as its mayor. If not, Nigeria could sure use his big heart, sharp mind and great ideas.