Yemi Mobolade – Mayor of Colorado Springs
By Femi Olugbile
On the 6th of June 2023, a 44-year-old Nigerian-American was sworn in as the 42nd Mayor of Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States of America. His name was Blessing Adeyemi Mobolade.
He had been a Nigerian most of his life, and only became an American since 2017.
In a city where the demographics showed that the largest segment of the population was made up of ‘non-Hispanic whites’, and where the population of black people was only a little above five percent, any betting person would have predicted confidently that the chances of a black immigrant who was less than ten years an American citizen becoming the Mayor were very slim indeed. In addition, the city had a reputation as a ‘solid Conservative’ bastion.
Born in Lagos to a father who worked for ExxonMobil and a schoolteacher mother, Yemi was second of four siblings. He started his education in NIgeria, and only travelled to the USA at the age of 17 years. There he enrolled at Bethel University, a private Christian educational institution in Mishawaka, Indiana. He graduated in 2001, and enrolled for further studies, eventually earning Masters’ degrees in Management and Leadership, and in Divinity.
Settling in Colorado Springs in 2010, he quickly made his way into business and public recognition in the small, iconic city.
Colorado Springs is more than one mile above sea level, and is located seventy miles south of Denver, the capital of the state of Colorado, on the eastern edge of the Southern Rocky Mountains. It has a population of almost half a million people. There are a lot of military installations and personnel in the area, and the military and defence contractors handling their projects are responsible for forty percent of the local economy. The city is home to two Space Force bases as well US Space Operations Command. There are Army Divisions and an Air Force Academy.
Manufacturing industries for high-tech and complex electronic equipment are second only to the military in their importance to the local economy.
There are many tourist attractions in the city, and tourism is a major source of employment and revenue.
Some of these facts, and the possibilities they portend, must have influenced the decision of the young Nigerian entrepreneur and fervent pastor to move from Indiana to Colorado Springs in 2010. He met and married his wife Abbey along the way, and they began to raise a family.
The Nigerian applied himself with equal zest to Evangelism and Business. He established a Pentecostal Church, and found a niche in the hospitality industry, becoming co-owner of two restaurants.
As his business profile grew, so did his public visibility and civic participation. In time, he became the Vice President of the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Council. From that vantage point, he promoted the growth of business and worked to attract new business to the city.
He was already insinuating himself into the political landscape of his adoptive city, despite his lack of affiliation with Democrats or Republicans, the two big parties that appeared to hold America by the jugular. His wife Abbey also hit a popular cord with the public. A white American he met in Indianapolis, who had worked as an English teacher and as Intensive Care nurse, she was now a full-time nurse educator.
American politics at all levels in the past decade has been characterised by a bad-tempered polarisation in which public exchanges are filled with diatribe and invective. A ‘third way’ option of running for elections as an Independent is not generally believed to be a viable route to electoral success.
The Nigerian moved deftly to advance his political credentials. He kept the focus on himself, his ideas, and his track record in business and building social cohesion.
He decided, at length, to run for the office of Mayor as an Independent.
That he went on to win the election is now a fact of history.
The self-belief and derring-do which Yemi has displayed in his short political life so far has attracted commendation from across the globe. To many Nigerians, it is another tale of a ‘home boy’ who has made good.
But does Nigerian ‘own’ Mayor Yemi Mobolade, or any of the other young people of Nigerian provenance, such as Kemi Badenoch, or any of the many highflyers in Medicine, Information Technology and Engineering who are making waves in faraway places? Does the country have a right to celebrate their achievements and claim them as its own?
The Nigerian political scene is what it is, with deeply embedded deficits in ideas, morality and credibility, and with manifestly faulty recruitment practices. A liberal-minded pastor and restauranteur would probably be laughed off the stage if he tried to contest to be Local Government Chairman in his original home-state. Kemi Badenoch, a Conservative whose deeply ingrained passion for stability and law and order resonate with many in the silent majority, would not get anywhere in her father’s homeland without a ‘godfather’. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how Nigeria could possibly profit from the energies of similar homegrown change-makers, who undoubtedly abound, unless a deliberate, determined effort is made to create space for them.
That process of change does not have to result from a monomaniacal un-introspective ‘entitled’ handover-to-me-at-all-cost mentality deriving from a well-meant but badly managed EndSARS movement. Rather it could be a reflective drive to populate the political space at all levels with well-reasoned argument driven by passionate young souls, devoid of hubris and invective.
If the world has learned nothing from recent history, it has learned that impactful ideas can come from left or right or middle, and rigid ideological labels are not the sine qua non they used to be.
Perhaps it is enough just to ‘keep it real’, and congratulate the new Mayor of Colorado Springs, wishing him well.