British-Nigerian Princess Elizabeth Bright is the current Labour Councillor of the Eastbrook Ward of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Elected into office in 2018 at the age of 22, she is the youngest Councillor the borough has ever seen.
She is a recipient of the Universal Peace Federation(UPF) 2018 Young Achiever Award, recognition and celebration of her significant impact in grass-root politics in the UK. Princess holds a first-class Bachelors degree in Accounting and Management from the University of Westminster and is an AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) Level 2/3 Certified Accountant.
In this interview, she talks about her political journey and delves into her dreams, hopes, and aspirations for the future of the Nigerian youth.
How did you get started in politics?
I got started in politics from about the age of 11.
I was living in Hackney with my family, and my mum was campaigning to become elected as Local Councillor in the Haggerston Ward.
I saw what my mum was doing and I said to myself,
“Wow, this is really interesting!”
I see myself as a born leader. That is why I walk in that Mellor. When I was in university, I was a Senior Student Ambassador. In secondary school, I was Deputy Head Girl. I have always been able to advocate for people, so I brought these skills into politics.
When my mum was campaigning to be elected, out of all my siblings I was the young and diligent one who was on doorsteps, speaking to residents and letting it resonate,
“I’m out here campaigning for my mother.”
There were a lot of high rise buildings in Hackney at the time, and I would walk up to the top of the stairs when the elevators weren’t working. I didn’t even see it, because I loved campaigning.
My mum was elected as Councillor, and years after she was appointed Civic Mayor, the first citizen of the Borough in Hackney. Then she chose me to be her Official Consort. That is where the tangible experience really kicked in. I was with her when she was representing the Borough locally, nationally and internationally. I saw what it meant to be an icon.
In 2013, we moved into another area of London. I saw a newspaper cutting that said: “We are looking for Young Leader of Havering”. Young Leader essentially is an elected official that represents all of the young people in an area.
I filled out the application and went to the interviews. I also got a group of young people who would be my deputies. We put down our manifesto, documenting everything we wanted to achieve for Havering. We wrote about how we wanted to see a reduction of gun and knife crime and an increase in youth participation in politics. We put down so many facts for our manifesto, then Election Time came.
Our team went around to schools, rallying young people. All the experience I had gained from being my mum’s Consort, being mentored by her and seeing her do things first hand really helped.
I won that election and became Young Leader of Havering. I was in office for two years, working closely with Members of Parliament (MPs) and Leaders of the council. I went to events and organized summits for young people because effectively I was there to represent them. I sat in on police consultative groups and discussed how we could make things safer for young people.
As young people, we have always complained about our voices not being heard, and how we are not at the decision making tables.
I thought to myself, “This is where I am going to make a difference. I am going to be Young Leader for two years and there will be a difference in Havering”.
I was in the office for two years and I achieved a lot of things that I can look back and be happy about. However, leaving office did not stop me from the passion I had to get involved in local politics as a Councillor.
Shortly afterward, we had a bye election in London and I was campaigning for my MP, Jon Crudas . He saw how I was selflessly serving and speaking to residents in his constituency, making sure that he was re-elected as MP for Dagenham and Rainham.
When you serve other people, you ideally become served. When I was campaigning for him and getting more young people out to do the same, he made some comments I will never forget.
He said, “ Wow Princess! There is a way that you have changed the notion and atmosphere of the young people in Barking and Dagenham. I see that fresh young person that wants to serve the community in you.”
Thereafter, during Nomination Season, my name topped the list of young people put forward to run for Ward Councillor. Councilors and MPs nominated me, because of how much serving I had done. When you want to get somewhere in life, you need to go through some tests so people can trust you.
My MP trusted me to get young people out to campaign for him. He won his election, and because of all the experience I had gained year on year, he helped me. In 2018, I was elected as Councillor.
Within one year of being elected, I was appointed Chair of the Audit and Standards Committee within the council.
TI has been able to bring my finance background into my work as Local Councillor and it has made things work for me. As Chair, I see how we spend money and I can scrutinize the budget and internal controls of the council. This is what makes me more effective. It is not just speaking to residents, but also making key decisions that will affect our future.
I always say that local politics is the grass root of national politics. When we get things right at the local level, it makes them easier at the national level. This is why I have always focused on trying to understand the needs and wants of our residents at the local level.
You have attained notable achievements at a very young age. How do you get your voice heard in a space dominated by older and more experienced counterparts?
From a very young age, I had already known what my calling is. That calling has always been to be a voice in the community, to be heard. God is the one who has ordained me to be a voice and not a noisemaker. I really do thank God, because since I was young this calling has been on me. Because of this when I speak at events and gatherings, I speak words of wisdom.
When I am at an event and I am asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I don’t say a word. Sometimes it is better to speak less, so when you do speak, people know you speak the right words.
When I was in school and in university, I was always using my voice the right way. I have attended many courses in Public Speaking and how to deal with difficult conversations. I call myself an intergenerational councilor. I am not a counselor for just young people. I am a councilor for the elderly, the homeless and everybody who needs help.
One thing I say to young people when their counterparts are much older and more experienced than them is READ. Personally, I love to read because reading gives me knowledge and knowledge is power. When I read, I read to gain and understand, especially when it comes to politics. You need to understand local party policies and be aware of what is happening at the local and national levels to be able to answer residents who may have queries. If I don’t read, that is not possible.
I also pray to God, and I say to Him,” Direct my thoughts and let me speak Words of Wisdom.”
Since I have been elected I have been on several panels to discuss situations and talk about general politics. I use social media a lot, so when I am at a speaking event, I tweet and post on Instagram and Facebook. People listen in and respect comes. It’s all about building the knowledge and experience so people trust you enough to call on you to speak.
What are your long term aspirations?
Whenever I get asked this question, I always have to sit down and think about it carefully to make sure I’m actually answering the question correctly.
Politics is the long term goal. I have always wanted to get involved in politics from a very young age, and now I am at the starting point as a Local Councillor. There are so many more levels higher up that I am going to aspire to, without a shadow of a doubt. This is just the beginning of my political career, that is for sure.
I might go back home, enter politics in Nigeria and change the narrative. I definitely want to continue to make a difference locally and back home as well.
One of my main long term aspirations is to step up an NGO in Nigeria, to give back to my home. There are so many talented young people in Nigeria, and I would like to set something up to help them ignite that light within them. I would like to go back and birth young politicians and entrepreneurs, share my story and show them that anything is possible.
What is it like working and living as a Nigerian in the diaspora?
I was born and raised in the UK. I have gone through the schooling system and I know how the system works.
To be fair, I don’t really see things as much different being a Nigerian out here. If I’m honest, Nigerians in the diaspora are doing very well for themselves. We are taking up positions in Politics, Banking, Medicine, Engineering and so many other fields. We have a good name for ourselves here in the UK, so I am very proud to be Nigerian.
I represent everywhere I go. When I am at speaking engagements or being interviewed by newspapers, it is always the first thing I mention. I am a Nigerian to the core, and I am proud of it. I love my Nigerian food and music. The culture is amazing, beautiful, loving and it is still within me.
Nigeria is close to my heart, I must say. While I was campaigning to be Councillor, I was able to connect with some young people back home. The kind words of exultation they sent to me really touched me. When I was elected, the news really hit Nigeria so fast. I had a lot of Nigerians writing articles about me, and really proud of what I was doing.
I am one of many. Many of us are out here achieving smashing records, and this is just the beginning.
How do you reconnect with home?
I say with all my heart, that a river that forgets its source runs dry. I am Nigerian at heart, no matter where I am and how far I go. I will always remember my roots as a young Nigerian Yoruba lady.
I believe in the New Nigeria, and I reconnect with Nigeria by trying to engage with young people.
When I was elected, a lot of young people reached out to me through my social media. I even spoke to the President of the Education Students Association of Nigeria. I gave him advice concerning the summit they were organized to showcase their skills. I mentored them. I have always wanted to go back to Nigeria and really give some of my counsel face to face. Most of the advice I give is over the phone but I am still getting there.
I travel back a lot, for weddings and to visit close friends and my extended family. I really love the culture.
I also use my time and effort to instill belief in the New Nigeria among young people. Nigeria is a great country, irrespective of what people may think or say. I see hope and a new generation of young people taking Nigeria forward. I want to be part of that movement.
I try to keep in touch with the young people I have met through my political career, engage with youth organizations and stay more abreast with what is happening at home. I think I have done quite well in terms of reconnecting. I want to make more of an impact back home, and that is what I am is to do.