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How much electoral weight do Nollywood stars carry?

How much electoral weight do Nollywood stars carry?
August 05
12:22 2022

Or put another way: Do Nollywood stars carry any (real) electoral weight? In other words: Do Nollywood stars have any real political value? These questions and their other iterations have become pertinent as the 2023 elections draw near. Especially also because there are now more Nollywood stars vying for political positions some of which are generating heated debates. The more recent declarations come from two Nollywood actresses who are deputy governorship candidates contesting in the elections next year: Award-winning actresses Funke Akindele and Tonto Dikeh. Funke Akindele is running on the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP platform while Tonto Dikeh is running on the African Democratic Party (ADC) platform. While Tonto is running on the same ticket as Tonte Ibraye, the ADC Rivers State governorship candidate, Funke is running with Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran (popularly known as Jandor) who’s the governorship candidate for Lagos State.

Why politics you may be tempted to ask. These two Nollywood stars have advanced varying reasons why they’re turning to politics. According to an interview granted by Tonto to Politics Today hosted by Seun Okinbaloye on Channels TV, she likened her philanthropic work as a celebrity to her having always being into politics. Also, that she’s been involved in active politics in the last couple of years liaising between the Buhari government and the youths. This was a little confusing because the federal government is led by the All Progressives Congress, APC, which Ms. Dikeh’s ADC ought to be in opposition to. It would’ve been okay to say she changed parties, but she insisted she wasn’t affiliated with any political party at the time. So, does that still count as her being in politics all those years.

Anyway, she did assure her doubters that she has never failed in leadership roles: running her foundation, motherhood…Well, for what it’s worth, the choice belongs to the voters in Rivers State.

Funke on the hand has had a lot to say. She said her entry into politics is “a more significant facet of humanitarian service.” She was also on Channels TV’s Politics Today to justify her acceptance of the deputy governorship ticket. Essentially, her decision was based on her desire to reach people on a much larger scale. From all indications, Tonto Dikeh and Funke Akindele are helping to attract attention for their principals-the governorship candidates but that’s only the half of it. Visibility is one thing, substance is another.  A lot more work still needs to be done so their messaging can sound more authentic and less vague.

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Nonetheless, for reasons which may not be farfetched, chief of which is Lagos being more visible, Funke Akindele’s emergence would appear to have generated more debate, at least on social media platforms. On one of such platforms that I belong, even normally neutral people had an opinion on Funke’s decision to be a deputy governorship candidate. On one hand, there are those who say she doesn’t have the needed experience to be a deputy governor in a state like Lagos. Although it’s difficult to see how unqualified she can be if one takes a cursory look at past Lagos deputy governors. They’ve not exactly stood out and what’s more, they don’t have the kind of name recall Funke has. Conversely, you have those who attempt to say Funke has achieved too much for herself as an actress and entrepreneur to relegate herself to the role of a deputy governor which is at best a ‘spare tyre.’ Talk about damning with faint praise. Then of course, there are those who grumble about how Ms. Akindele is delusional in thinking that she can transfer her huge fanbase into votes. Their argument is that her fans are spread across the country, the world even, so not all of her famed 20 million fans are going to be voting in Lagos State.

Meanwhile, one would’ve expected Tonto Dikeh’s entry into politics to have drawn more debate considering that Ms. Dikeh has been a very controversial figure before now. However, it’s helpful to note that Rivers State is not Nigeria. This means that no matter what people from outside the state think of her or her chances, that has no real effect on Tonto’s chances. I must say that I’m surprised how some people have taken all this to heart. Of course, the obvious likelihood is the fact that Funke and Tonto are women because they are not the first Nollywood actors to venture into politics. What’s the big deal anyway? Are they the first Nollywood stars to aspire to political office? Another Nollywood actor Desmond Elliot has been a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly since 2015 representing Surulere Constituency 1 in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. In the same upcoming elections in 2023, musician, actor Bankole Wellington (Banky W) is running under the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, for the House of Representatives to represent Eti Osa constituency. This is his second run because he’d contested under the Modern Democratic Party, MDP, in 2019 for the same post but was unsuccessful. Anyhow, as far as I know, there wasn’t much controversy with these male Nollywood stars’ participation in politics.

Be that as it may, the question asked in the headline still stands: 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, Henshaw slot. 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 a Nigerian state governor to serve as PR 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.

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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.

Onoshe Nwabuikwu, AIRTIME columnist is a renowned TV/Film critic, and Film scholar. She also has experience in Advertising as a senior Copywriter and Corporate Communications as Communications consultant. Email:[email protected]

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