February 8, 2023

The phantom of politics in Nigeria is transiting to the virtual realm. This presents a notable, yet overdue, development in the country’s political sector…

By Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo

While transiting from music to movies, or contesting in a reality show to becoming a movie star is applaudable and broadly permissible, Nigerians seem to be uneasy with the sudden transition of veteran Nollywood star and producer, Funke Akindele to politics. There is only little doubt about Akindele’s ability or qualification to run for office, as many Nollywood actors have held political positions before now. Desmond Elliot was appointed as a lawmaker in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Surulere Constituency in 2015, and Ini Edo was appointed as the Special Adviser to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State on Culture and Tourism. We can name many other examples. However, because of the sensitivity of the role of the deputy governor, and being a candidate of one of the two major parties in Nigeria, Akindele’s case is different from her other colleagues, such as Richard Mofe-Damijo who served as Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, and Mercy Johnson who was appointed in 2017 as a senior special assistant on entertainment, arts and culture.

Also, screen stars, Tonto Dike, and Carolyn Danjuma, have revealed that they would be contesting in deputy governor positions in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. This revelation came after Akindele announced to the public that she was running alongside Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran, known as Jandor, in the upcoming Lagos State gubernatorial election. This revelation was met with both positive and negative reactions by Nigerians.

Nollywood has been an important part of the political structure in Nigeria, not just in its creative portrayal of the country’s political system in film, but, in recent times, in its direct or indirect involvement in politics. In Nollywood, celebrities have used their influence and social positions to campaign for their parties of interest, as seen in previous years when some celebrities had come out to campaign, and their participation was viewed as an endorsement of the APC government in Lagos State, and Labour Party in Anambra State.

The Nigerian entertainment industry is influential, as has managed to earn the country global recognition in the last few years. Its dominance runs wide, and it has been a great source of recognition and revenue generation for the country. Noting their relevance, Nigerians no longer underestimate the influence of both the artists and the industry on the happenings in the country. In the first quarter of the year, the Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and Nigerian music producer, Samklef, blamed Nollywood for fueling the ritual killings by young men in the country. Actors have also influenced both protests and campaigns with their involvement. Their involvement, most of the time, rubs off on their loyal fans who live to walk every path as their idols.

Indeed, the news of Akindele’s decision surprised many Nigerians, many who thought it to be a publicity stunt for a new movie. The possibility of the trio, Akindele, Dike and Danjuma, becoming deputy governors is not impractical. It is only comparable to the cases of Ronald Reagan, an American actor who became the 40th president of the United States of America, and Volodymyr Zelensky, a reality TV show actor and comedian who played the role of the Ukrainian President in a Ukrainian TV comedy series, and became the President of the country in reality in 2019.

The confidence of the three Nigerian actors, however, is not far-fetched, as the emergence of younger politicians is a step toward a possible political revolution following the force of Millenials to take power from the older generation of politicians. The younger generation makes up a higher percentage of this new group, and will also be active participants in the coming elections. The phantom of politics in Nigeria is transiting to the virtual realm. This presents a notable, yet overdue, development in the country’s political sector.

Many have fought the government for a change, and most people, especially in the entertainment industry, have made a direct or indirect call for better governance. Some, through their films, have exposed the happenings in politics, and others have done so through their music. We experienced the likes of the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti (“Zombie“), Falz (“This is Nigeria“), and Burna Boy (“Monsters You Made” & “20.10.2020“). In Nollywood, movies like Your Excellency, King of Boys 2, and If I am President which give an insight into the political tussle of power between the young and old generation, give in-depth interrogations of the country’s political system, and how far the people’s vote can go to fix the nation.

Since the state-wide protest in 2020 took a turn on October 20th, 2020, culminating in the Lekki toll gate Massacre, the younger generation in Nigeria has created, amongst other things, the need for virtual awareness and campaigns in politics. The youths are reinventing politicking. In a recent, striking development, as deduced from Akindele’s interview with Channels TV, the number of social media followers of an individual is now a factor in measuring their chances of being elected. This might ultimately signal the end of the traditional methods of visiting communities to campaign and knock on the doors of potential voters are over. However, come 2023, Nigerians will get to know if virtual politics is as resourceful as the previous methods. Still, scarred by the manipulative acts of politicians as seen in the past, electorates are unsure of the intentions of even these thespians venturing into politics.

However, due to repeated complaints from the populace, politicians are growing more circumspect, and are making intentional efforts to make room for younger minds who will be more enlightened, amongst other things, on the workings of virtual politics. What is yet unclear is the personal motive or driving force in this thespian-politician transition process. Is this just a case of over-exaggerated social relevance, deduced from the strength of their social media followership, or are they truly inspired by the current state of things in the country, and are prepared to impact the nation positively?

As a Nigerian living in Nigeria for most of my life, I have heard of bad governance and witnessed some. However, year after year, it only gets worse. It is almost like the country has been plunged into a cauldron of dreadful rulership, or plagued with regrettable decision-makers. Many have lost hope in the electoral processes, and have disregarded the proper use of their voting power, by either selling their vote or outright non-participation in the voting process.

The takeover by Nollywood may not have received the best public acceptance, but it has made notable moves in engaging the citizens in the airing of their opinions and possibly in the exercising of their civil rights of voting and being voted for. This is most likely the political revolution Nigerians have long prayed for.

 

 

Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo, a film critic, beautician, and accountant, currently writes from Lagos State, Nigeria. Feel free to drop your opinion in the comment session below, and connect with her on Twitter @Glowup_by_bee.

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