From giving politicians endorsements during elections, a number of Nigerian celebrities are now running for political offices. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report takes a look at their chances in next year’s general elections.
Several Nollywood actors and actresses have thrown their hats into the ring for various political positions in the forthcoming 2023 general elections. While many Nigerians on social media have applauded their decision to step into the political arena, others are skeptical of their ability to provide solutions to the country’s numerous problems.
Funke Akindele, a Nollywood actor and producer of the most financially successful Nollywood film, Omo Ghetto the Saga, was recently announced as the running mate to Olajide Adediran, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) candidate for the 2023 Lagos state governorship election.
“I am not unaware of the cost of this assignment on my vibrant career, which I must now necessarily put on hold. My resolve is that no sacrifice is too much for the actualisation of the urgent mission to rescue our people and our dear state,” Akindele said.
According to her, the development is an opportunity for her to help liberate and improve the welfare of the people of Lagos, especially the deprived youth, women, and girl-child. She called on the youth who are eligible to vote to use the numerical strength to their advantage.
Bankole Wellington, Afro-beat singer and actor, popularly known as Banky W, won the PDP primary ticket for the Eti-Osa constituency for the House of Representatives ahead of the 2023 elections. Following the controversy with his challenger, Sam Aiboni, another primary was conducted two weeks after the first, and Wellington won again, polling 24 votes out of 29 votes cast by the delegates.
Tonto Charity Dikeh, an actress, singer, and humanitarian and an indigene of Obio-Akpor, a local government area in Rivers state, was surprisingly picked by the governorship candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) for the governorship election in Rivers state as his running mate. The move also generated mixed reactions. While some described it as the “right move,” others believed that the actress “is too controversial” to lead the people of Rivers state.
Tuoyo Ideh, a former Big Brother Naija contestant, will be contesting for the position of member of the House of Representatives representing Warri Federal Constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Speaking with this reporter, a political analyst, Clement Angulu, said although being famous and ranking high on number of social media followers is not the same with political fortune, entertainers can make an impact if given the opportunity.
He said, “Many would argue that celebrities should not involve themselves in politics simply because entertainers should entertain and leave politics to the ‘professionals.’ That is assuming that celebrities are uneducated about the politics and political arena that they want to play in, and do not know what they are talking about.
“This is an unfair assumption as many celebrities are passionate about the subject and want to see the right changes made. But a celebrity can make the needed electoral impact, when such a celebrity understudies in a political party first before delving into the space.
“Mabel Oboh is a good example of notable celebrities that got into the space firstly by being African Democratic Congress’ (ADC) publicity secretary in Lagos state and worked closely with the party’s national body. She made a remarkable impact in Edo gubernatorial election 2020 by coming fourth position under the umbrella of ADC.
“On the other hand, Yul Edochie’s gubernatorial entrance with the ADC was not that of a good example, although he contested and got minimal votes. It could be presumed that he delved into contesting for the governorship position, relying on his fame without much grounding in politics. Fame will open doors for celebrities, but there is an exciting and downside part to it. The downside of it is that it most likely won’t translate to votes in the political space.”
Electoral value vs popularity
However, an investment banker-turned music producer, Paul Akor, told this reporter that being an entertainer and a politician is a different ball game.
“How much electoral weight do Nollywood stars really carry? Is being an actor or actress enough? If that were the case, actresses like Kate Henshaw who contested in the 2014 elections for House of Reps (Cross River State) would’ve had an easy ride. Yet, even after spending a lot of money, with her so-called popularity she did not win the election. Although it would appear as if it’s far easier for Nollywood stars to be used as influencers than for them to use that influence for their own ambitions. This may explain why some presidential candidates are using actors and actresses to push their message. Zach Orji has been roundly bashed for his video message talking about his support for APC presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu even as it’s not clear how much electoral weight Mr. Orji brings to any political campaign.
“Regardless of their real or imagined electoral value, Nollywood actors have been hired by many governors to serve as publicists for their governments; think Mercy Johnson in Kogi state, Okey Bakassi in Imo state, and many others. And because proper assessment and measurements are not our strongest suits, no one has yet quantified the contributions of these people.
“As for the Nollywood stars taking part in next year’s elections, we’ll just have to wait and see whether their celebrity status will be an advantage,” he said.
Similarly, Silas Shawolu, a former chairmanship candidate in Karu local government area, said political parties who handed their tickets to celebrities because they are popular on social media may be heading for defeat.
According to him, “Political parties need to wake up and do what has to be done. Certainly, any party that complements an already weak ticket with a celebrity, thinking it will get the needed electoral value, clearly does not understand how volatile Nigerian voters are.
“Yes, it will increase the publicity but most likely won’t get the needed electoral value and so cannot translate to victory. A strong political gladiator can comfortably work with a celebrity, but it won’t work if a weak politician in the eye of the electorates throws a celebrity into the mix.”
He said, “On the international scene, we have seen Anold Schwarzenegger, who was governor of California, USA. This is a strong character blending with political weight. He is one of many. On the local scene is singer Banky W, actress Tonto Dike, Desmond Elliot and many others.
“How the entertainers-turned politicians are faring is common knowledge. So parties, irrespective of the expected gains, must make people go through the work as party men before handing them tickets. With the recent push by political parties handing celebrities tickets instead of its loyalty to party members or statesmen, the political parties are derailing and are also moving towards the wrong direction — certain defeat.
“The question is, are celebrity fame and political fame the same? How does it impact the electorates? Are some political parties getting it wrong? Only a few will ever get to know how the parties arrive at some choices.”
However, an Abuja-based upcoming artiste, Uchenna Azubuike, popularly known as Golden Prince, said entertainers are Nigerians and they have the right to vote and be voted for.
He also said there is nothing wrong with entertainers who openly endorse candidates.
“Are they not human beings? They have the right to vote and be voted for. They are Nigerians, educationally qualified, and mature enough to know right from wrong. It then depends on the electorate. Do they think these people are the right people to actualise their expectations? If yes, they can vote for them.
“I have not done that because it is not my style. However, people who know me know who I am supporting. Publicly endorsing a candidate is the choice of anyone who decides to do that. Whether the person is doing it for money, or so as to be noticed in exchange for pecuniary gains, I don’t know.
“For the entertainers that have endorsed candidates, I don’t know whether they were paid or not. One cannot force anybody to support one’s candidate. Politics is a game. We all have reasons for supporting particular candidates. If my reason for supporting any candidate does not appeal to anyone, that does not give them the right to castigate me,” he said.
He said further that, “It is just that there is a general feeling of rage and anger across the land because of all the things we’re going through as a nation. Some people believe that when one endorses a particular person, one is doing a disservice to the nation, going by what we have on ground. The bottom line is that politics is a game. Anyone can play it, but they should not insult others in the process.
“Everyone has a right to do whatever they want within the ambit of the law. If one is a fan of someone and one feels one’s role model is not doing well, one has the right to criticise such a person. For example, if I feel that as a deputy governorship candidate, I can bring a lot to bear if I am in public office, why won’t I do that? No matter what one does, some people will be against one. That is the way of the world. One needs to have it at the back of one’s mind that not everybody will be for one. While some people criticise these entertainers/politicians, others applaud them.”
Likewise, another young artiste, Suzy Eres, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, slammed critics of celebrities who have decided to join the political scene. She said those mocking her colleagues for joining politics as hypocrites.
According to her, whenever a tragedy happens in any part of the country, Nigerians usually call on celebrities to lend their voices to the situation. She said although celebrities are no longer merely lending their voices but also getting active in politics, many Nigerians are mocking them for the move.
“Some of you Nigerians are hypocrites. If anything goes wrong in the country, maybe it is a case of kidnap or killing, you all will be clamouring, ‘where are our celebrities?’, ‘they are not talking now’, ‘they’ve paid them,’ blah blah blah.
“But now these celebrities call you people all the time to come to your rescue. They are not only lending their voices, they are also getting involved. Then you guys changed the story. ‘Eh, do you think this is Nollywood?,’ ‘Is this a joke to you?,’ ‘Is politics a joke to you?’
“What exactly do you people want? If you can use your own voice, your own hand and speak to the government to listen to you, you are not coming out to participate in any of the political activities going on in Nigeria. The celebrities you have been calling for years are now getting involved, and you’re making it a joke,” she said.
The actress said further that she is “super proud” of her colleagues joining politics, especially women contesting as deputy governors.
“I am super proud of every celebrity out there, especially the females coming out to be deputy governors because they want to tackle the problem from where you think it hurts.
“Forget the fact that they are entertainers; all the people that are coming out, the likes of Aunty Funke Akindele, Tonto Dikeh, and Caroline, are educated.
“They are respected people in their society. The same people that have been calling them over the years are now saying shey you think say na Nollywood we dey do for here?’”