Johnson Situ is a Labour Councillor in London. He speaks about his transition from Finance and Economics into Politics and how the Nigerian government can engage Nigerian youths abroad to get involved back home.
Please tell us about yourself
My name is Johnson Situ, I am a Councillor, elected in 2014, and I represent Peckham (the best place in the world!). I also sit on Southwark’s cabinet group, particularly with responsibility for business, culture and social regeneration.
What does your duties include as a Councillor?
Firstly, as a Councillor I represent Peckham ward. There are three of us that represent the ward and primarily we address any concerns raised by residents as well as general concerns. The second part of my role I would say is acting as a community leader and ambassador for organisations right across the ward. I’ll say the final part of my work as a Councillor is contributing towards policy making in the council; there are 63 Councillors right across the borough and come together through our Council Assembly which is essentially the elected governance body.
How did you get into the role of a Councillor and what challenges did you face on the way?
I have had family involved in politics, but I did not necessarily want to go into politics or become a Councillor. I remember being in university, and I initially wanted to get into Finance and Economics which I studied, but halfway through I realised that I did not necessarily want a career in that field. After university, I was fortunate to start a career in International Development as well as setting up a campaign (UVote) which identified that a lot of young people, particularly around 2011/2012, were not registered to vote and were not engaged in the voting process. I with others set up a campaign to get young people voting especially leading up to mayoral elections and we hosted a number of events which raised a lot of awareness. After the success of the campaign, I got more involved in the Labour party.
I have been quite fortunate that in my relative short time in politics, any challenges I have personally faced have been by- in large manageable. , but getting myself used to the role and most importantly appreciating that there are a lot of challenges that the community face on a day to day basis has really struck me and made me to appreciate the fortunate position I am in to be able to support and help in my small way and represent my ward.
What made you transition from a financial field into a career in politics?
Most people will appreciate that nowadays when you get a degree, it’s almost like a foundation in that you take a number of transferable skills along with you. It wasn’t that I woke up deciding that I didn’t want to work in the financial sector but as I went through the course, I couldn’t identify what career I could have in it and I didn’t see how I would be inspired by it. After I finished university I initially looked at a number of areas to get involved with, particularly in International Development, then I went volunteering for a few months in Malawi which sparked my interest in the economic development of international development, as opposed to other areas such as humanitarian aid and emergency relief.
What advice would you give to others wanting to become a cabinet member?
I would advise more generally for those wanting to go into politics: firstly, know why you’re doing it. As with all things, there is a lot of hard work that goes into it. As it is a vocation, not really a career in a sense, what is required for you is substantial as you’re representing your community, your friends and your neighbours and there is a lot of responsibility that goes with that. Knowing why you are doing it is very important.
Secondly, understand that with politics and community service, what you think you enjoy doing is not necessarily what you will end up doing, and where you think you will be most helpful, is not necessarily where your skills will be most beneficial.
I would say the final thing would be to be a people person, be happy talking to people and recognise that everybody is different and what they bring to the table is different. Recognition of this difference will allow you to appreciate where people are coming from when they present challenges.
How would you encourage the Nigerian government to mobilise engagement with the young Nigerians in the UK with the aim of giving back?
It’s funny that you mentioned that as I just came back from a trip to Nigeria and I was able to meet a really good organisation that does some amazing stuff in getting entrepreneurs ready to grow enterprises and also supports them with space. For policy makers in Nigeria, a good way to get Nigerians in diaspora to contribute to activity back home is to make it [Nigeria] more accessible. When I say accessible, I mean to engage with organisations like yours and the Nigerian High Commissions here, and inform them of key areas that Nigerians in diaspora can get involved.
There is a rising surge of young Nigerians in diaspora that are starting to get connected with the country. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s a good thing because it means that we are able to share talent and skills. It is also a good thing because as they say ‘if you don’t know where you are coming from, you don’t know where you are going’, so for people in the diaspora, they can get a closer appreciation of where they are coming from and how to move forward by getting a closer link to Nigeria.
Do you think it is important for young Nigerians abroad to be connected with each other and what benefit do you think this will be of?
I think it is really important for sharing skills and experience. Nigerians in diaspora have all sorts of skills sets which might be helpful, not just for giving back, but for the career development of others. It’s also important culturally because when we come together we are able to showcase the Nigerian culture and burst some of the myths that are usually associated with the culture.
What more do you think needs to be done to connect young Nigerians in diaspora?
More stuff like what the Nigerian Networking Community is doing; bursting myths, connecting people with one another, not just for personal development, but potentially addressing issues in Nigeria, getting more involved with the culture, but also having fun at the same time.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5 years?
Always the tough one for last! I’m not sure in respect of a position, but what I would say is that there are a number of challenges that we face across Peckham, Southwark and London and I hope I can continue to contribute to addressing them that in whatever way that I can while learning.