Lights, Camera, Politricks! The rise of Nigeria’s political actors

In the realm of Nigerian politicking, all the world’s a stage. It has repeatedly been referred to as the theatre of the absurd by the media and indeed it is and more, of

Titanic proportions; of Godfathers; of (political) stars warring. Anything and everything goes. It seems fitting then that the newest trend in this world is art (ist) imitating life – that the new class of politicians are not grassroots strategists or party leaders but entertainers – actors and actresses, mostly – masters of the make-believe industry. Is their rise to be regarded with any close attention? Is

this more than a very long take in the continuously screening motion picture that is Nigerian statecraft?

Desmond rides a horse while raising the APC flag. PHOTO: Actors Facebook page

Desmond rides a horse while raising the APC flag. PHOTO: Actors Facebook page


The trend first struck oil, during the election seasons of 2007 and 2011, and in between. In 2007, Tony One Week, an actor and a one- hit wonder musician surprisingly threw his hat in the ring for House of Assembly elections in his native Anambra. He did not get past his own party primary elections, which was now newly-minted opposition:

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In 2009, Nollywood’s quintessential leading man, Richard Mofe Damijo was appointed by Delta State as the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism. In 2011, Nigeria’s answer to Aretha Franklin, Onyeka Onwenu sought to become

Chairman of her local government area, Ideato North, Imo State. She lost. Onwenu would later be appointed as the Executive Director of the National Centre for Women Development. In the same year, Tony One Week, under the tutelage of the old Action Congress of Nigeria (now coalesced into ruling party, All Progressives Congress) won the same ticket he didn’t have a fighting chance to contest, four years before – the Idemili North constituency seat. Soon after, he became the Minority Leader in the Anambra State House of Assembly. It’s interesting to note here that in Tony One Week’s tenure, he faced a recall, a vote of no confidence after claims of gross inefficiency by his constituents. Mofe-Damijo is seen by some as a man of half-measures, putting in motion many laudable initiatives to promote the culture and entertainment sector of Delta State but losing steam along the way, reportedly diverting its funds to other ‘matters of state’. Between the three ex-entertainers,

Onyeka Onwenu

the industry had barely gotten its foot in the door. 2015 was the year of the plot twist.

Arguably, the new entertainer-cum- politician wave, circa 2015 started with President Goodluck Jonathan’s ostentatious courting of the entertainment sector. He hosted dinners, feted and pampered them at the presidential residence; conjured up ceremonies where he gave them awards; donated hundreds of millions of naira to a dedicated Fund to develop the sector. Soon, in them he found keen supporters who were going out on a limb to endorse his re-election campaign, who were suddenly very vocal

about where their electoral loyalties lay; their view on politics and the state of affairs. The opposition party at the time, APC, also cashed in, literally and figuratively, wooing their own set of entertainers who in return made soundtracks for their TV adverts, radio jingles; some even reportedly cold called voters who had not yet made a decision on whom to press their thumbs to, on the ballot paper. Of course the influence of these entertainers was well- calculated. Celebrity updates is the religion of the social media-faithful and theirs is a large flock. The parties had captured the hearts and minds of a young generation via their worshipped pop idols.

Soon though, in these celebrity supporters blossomed electoral contenders, of course whose allegiance lay with different camps. Singers, 9ice, Kenny Saint Brown, Tony Tetuila; actors, Kate Henshaw, Desmond Elliot, Clem Ohameze, Jibola Dabo, Kenneth Okonkwo, Bob Manuel Udokwu, Funke Adeyisan, Yemi Solade; comedian, Julius


Agwu; media entrepreneur, Dayo Adeneye – and Honourable Tony ‘One Week’ Muonagor, running for a second term – all vied for a ticket to electoral office. All but Desmond Elliot and Hon. Tony ‘One Week’ Muonagor did not make it over the party primaries hurdle. The latter eventually lost his re-election bid, leaving Elliot the last act standing. What happens now?

This remains to be seen. History, as seen above shows actors aren’t any better at governance than non-entertainers. There is however a long-time niggling issue, many would hope Elliot can play a role in addressing

– piracy. In Nigeria, this is the oldest antagonist of every artist and Lagos, where Elliot has now been elected to make laws for, at the State House of Assembly, is one of the largest hotbeds where this crime thrives. Recently, his colleagues, Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan spearheaded a peaceful march against the crime and met with the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola who proposed that stakeholders of the industry work together with the government to begin the formulation of a draft law that can be presented to the National Assembly. Elliot is in pole position to oversee such an initiative. Currently, there are no strong intellectual property laws that protect creative artists and punish offenders justly. Also, the existing labour laws do not formally recognize & cover creatives – acceptable remuneration standards, work benefits, conditions are determined at the whim of the employer. Elliot who has likely walked in shoes that pinch before ascending to fame, on whose

Tony One Week

wings he arrived at his new station in life can definitely relate. His law-making/decision- influencing powers would be much required here too. Should he peradventure fail at all else but make some inroads with these two major drawbacks for the industry that moulded him, he’ll likely be seen as a hero, much like the ones he has played many a time, on screen.

In the realm of Nigerian politicking, all the world’s a stage. Hopefully, the men and women (actors) are not merely players.

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