“After more than 25 years of fighting as part of the League’s big family, I’m about to start another great adventure,” Toni Iwobi wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
“I’m ready, friends.”
A resident of Spirano, in the northern-Italian region of Lombardy, Mr Iwobi was born in Nigeria and migrated to Italy on a student visa 38 years ago.
He settled in Italy and went on to marry an Italian woman and start his own IT company there.
The 62-year-old began his political career with the League as a municipal councillor in Spirano in the 1990s.
In his more recent role of leading the League’s national committee on immigration, he helped write the party’s anti-migration platform, which outlined measures to: make it easier to deport migrants; to use economic incentives to get countries to agree to repatriate their nationals from Italy; to refuse to take in migrants rescued by NGOs from the Mediterranean; to renegotiate EU agreements that oblige Italy to house migrants that arrive here while their application to stay is processed; to threaten withdrawal of the right to seek asylum or benefits if migrants commit a crime or break the rules of the reception centre where they’re housed; and to stiffen existing requirements for the children of immigrants applying for citizenship to include a test on Italian “language, culture and traditions”.
While his political stances may come as a shock to many given his own experience as a migrant, Mr Iwobi claimed that he does not have an issue with immigrants who come to Italy legally and seek to integrate into Italian society, like he did.
Campaigning with the slogan “Stop Invasion”, Mr Iwobi said his problem is with what he refers to as “the clandestine invasion”, or people who seek to settle in Italy illegally.
Former centre-left MP of Congolese origins, Jean Leonard Touadi, expressed his concerns about Mr Iwobi’s participation in the League.
“I have always been struck by Senator Iwobi’s Stockholm Syndrome [as he] acted as a loudspeaker for his captors’ anti-African proclamations,” he said.
Despite being one of the League’s very few black members, and belonging to a party whose leader has been known to make contorversial comments about non-Italians and Muslims, Mr Iwobi insists that the League isn’t racist.
“Racism means thinking yourself better than others, while in the movement I find many firm positions, but also a lot of respect,” he told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Responding to news of Mr Iwobi’s election on Tuesday, the League’s leader Matteo Salvini echoed the new senator’s statement, declaring: “Racism is only on the left.”