There is a general belief universally that perception oftentimes can become reality. And better still, the notion that movies can mimic life and vice versa, is also not a rarity across the world.
The notion above would likely come to pass in Nigeria when the trio of Funke Akindele, in Lagos, Tonto Dike in Portharcourt, and Caroline (Hutchins) Danjuma in Akwa Ibom, who are movie actors, become deputy governors in their respective states, in the manner that Volodymyr Zelensky, a reality television show actor, who acted as president in a Ukrainian situation comedy, truly became the president of Ukraine in reality in 2019.
Before Zelensky, Ronald Reagan, a movie star, had become the 40th president of the United States of America, USA in 1981.
So also did Arnold Swarzenegger – a bodybuilder turned movie star end up as the 38th governor of the state of California in the same USA, in 2003.
Most recently, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the USA (2017-2021), was the host of a popular reality tv show, The Apprentice, after which he ran for the office of the president and thus played the role of undisputed leader of the world for four years.
Prior to the present situation in Nigeria, the drama in politics in our clime was confined to colorful and melodramatic goofs or gaffes like the one credited to the likes of Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (Ambassador Plenipotentiary), who is known for his bombastic grammar such as man of timber and calibre, Iroko and Obeche – the last two words being names of tree types that he added to ignite humour.
Another source of political humour back in the days is the speech attributed to Barkin Zuwo, one-time governor of Kano state, who in response to a reporter’s question on the type of mineral resources that can be found in his state, reportedly listed Coca-Cola and Fanta, which is a gaffe, as the reporter was actually making inquiries about solid natural mineral resources.
That made him a butt of jokes in both the political circles and the larger society.
On why there is student unrest,(crisis like riots by students), the same Barkin Zuwo is said to have responded thus: “how can students rest when they are sent to school to read and not rest?“
How can we forget sir Adegoke Adelabu, the strong man of Ibadan politics, nicknamed PENKELEMESl?
He became the butt of jokes after he was believed to have mispronounced ‘peculiar mess’ as PENKELEMESI?
Remarkably and evidently, humour arose from the goofs and gaffes made by politicians from all the three major tribes – lgbo, Yoruba, and Hausa/Fulani.
While the humour offered comic relief, which is a necessary ingredient for reducing the tension associated with politicking, whether the attributions are correct or figments of the imagination of fertile minds is a different kettle of fish.
Not until the commencement of the 2022/2023 political season, little or no real political drama had been witnessed since the return of multi-party democracy in Nigeria in 1999.
Except, of course, for the political musical chairs that happened between 2013-14 when a coalition of opposition political parties – CPC, ACN, ANPP, splinters of APGA, and PDP coalesced into one party, APC, with the sole objective of ousting then ruling party at the center, PDP.
Nearly eight (8) years after that massive cross carpeting phenomenon that created a political ruckus, the next evolution appears to be the unfolding incursion of Nollywood into the political milieu as our country counts down to the 2023 general elections.
And the potentiality of blending Nollywood into politics is signposted by the emergence of Funke Akindele, as the deputy governorship candidate for the main opposition party, PDP in Lagos state.
Of course, the Nollywood actress needs no introduction in the world of entertainment.
But in politics, she is yet to, and only about to cut her teeth.
Just as l was trying to come to terms with that reality, having been informed by reliable sources that it is not a practical joke, l learnt that another Nollywood thespian, Caroline (Hutchins) Danjuma, has thrown her hat into the ring as the deputy governorship candidate for African Action Congress, AAC in Akwa Ibom state.
And before l could regain my consciousness or wrap my head around the stunning revelation, another giddying news came from Rivers state. And it is to the effect that Tonto Dikeh, the Nollywood ‘enfant terrible’ has also become the deputy governorship candidate of the African Democratic Congress Party, ADC in the state.
While the emergence of Ms Danjuma and Ms Dikeh, as running mates to the governorship flag bearers in Akwa Ibom and Rivers states respectively was digestible, (simply because the parties that are featuring them are fringe and it can be assumed that those parties are just fulfilling all righteousness), fielding Ms Akindele by the PDP – the former ruling party at the centre and currently the main opposition party in Nigeria, beats my imagination.
That is simply because it defies established political calculations that Lagos, which is the political base of APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would be surrendered to his total dominance, rather than working towards splitting the votes in favour of the flag bearer of the main opposition party, PDP, Turaki Atiku Abubakar.
Relying on basic instincts, pushing candidates that have the capacity to win the votes of Lagosians in order to erode or weaken Bola Tinubu’s and strengthen Atiku Abubakar’s chances in Lagos would have been the prime goal of PDP strategists.
Had that been the case, rather than being experimental by fielding two newcomers in politics, tried and tested candidates could have been put on the ballot to square off with the incumbent governor.
That is simply because Political wisdom dictates that PDP’s Turaki Atiku Abubakar needed to make sure that his party literally puts forward its best foot, so that some voters in Lagos can be swung to the side of PDP, especially if it leverages on the strategy of consolidating the previous gains made by its candidates in Lagos state.
That line of thought is underscored and validated by the fact that the former Vice President, who was PDP’s candidate in 2019 is being allowed to take another shot at the presidency in 2023, with the hope that he would capitalise on the gains (about 13m votes) which he had garnered when he contested for the presidency in 2019.
So why the 2019 governorship and deputy governorship candidates of PDP in Lagos state are not offered a similar opportunity, do not add up, for an election watcher like me.
Also, the new data from the Independent National Election Commission, lNEC, reveals that, of the over twelve (12)million voters recently registered countrywide in the current wave of voter registration, which suggests keen interest by Nigerians in the political process via the massive acquisition of Permanent Voter Cards, PVC, Lagos state is home to a lion share of newly registered voters.
As an aside, while the new voting reality of a new class of voters who are mainly youths represents a threat to Tinubu’s continued supremacy in Lagos state politics, it is an opportunity for Peter Obi and his Labour Party, LP, which is enjoying magnetic attraction to youths, and to some extent, also useful to Atiku Abubakar, who also enjoys youth followership.
In fact, based on statistics from INEC, Lagos and Kano states, where the bulk of the new registrants reside, constitute the key voting blocs in Nigeria, as they are home to the largest number of both old and newly registered voters in our country.
Incidentally, they are also both APC-controlled states where PDP and other parties are patently weak.
So, for the reason of pragmatism, the PDP ought to have paid more attention to who becomes the gubernatorial and deputy gubernatorial candidates in the state by ensuring that they pack the political power or possess the clout to make significant impact in a state considered to be APC power base in the past 23 years, which is since the return of multi-party democracy in Nigeria.
For context, can you imagine the APC in Delta state fielding Great Ogboru, a notable politician as governorship candidate and the show biz impresario, Ali Baba, whose real name is Atunyota Alleluya Akpobeme, as deputy governorship candidate, on account of the fact that Ali Baba has huge social media following, so it has the hope of winning delta state governorship contest?
Keeping in mind that just as Lagos state has been in the grips of APC since 1999, delta state is equally, lock-stock-and barrel, a PDP enclave, how can untested hands defeat the incumbents that are entrenched?
In my estimation, the scenario described above makes the gambit of fielding two inexperienced candidates for the gubernatorial elections in Lagos state an extraordinarily calamitously flawed predilection and evidence of the vaulting ambition of PDP in APC home base.
On the other hand, it may be argued that the PDP did its due diligence, as such it knows what we the skeptics probably cannot see from afar.
And that is that no matter who is fielded, the PDP has no chance in APC controlled state.
Hence it dumped its gubernatorial candidate in the past two election circles, (2015 and 2019), Mr Jimi Agbaje for Dr Olajide Adeniran, better known as ‘Jandor’, who is the convener of the popular Lagos4Lagos Movement and currently trading barbs with Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Like two pugilists that are already in a ring and about to engage in a boxing duel, both the incumbent and the PDP challenger are looking like two bulldogs snarking before tearing at each other’s jugular.
The replacement of the former candidates with the new pair could also be that the PDP believes that the new team could literally pull a rabbit out of the hat by surprising skeptics like us.
But whatever the case may be, pundits are averring that the opposition in Lagos state is not formidable enough to rattle the incumbent governor, (my good friend), Sanwo-Olu, who is having a double wammy of good fortune.
The first good fortune is that by God’s grace he has been deemed as worthy of a second term (in a state where it has become an anathema) by his principal, APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.
Secondly, he also has the good luck of facing an apparently weak challenge from the PDP, whose gubernatorial candidate and running mate are not tried and tested in the politics of Lagos state, having not won any political party elections from the wards, local government councilorship, chairmanship, as well as state house of assembly levels, how much more governorship.
The probable reason that the aforementioned movie actors are being fielded in those high offices is attributable to the notion that politics in Nigeria seem to have pivoted from analogue to digital levels.
That is reflected by the seizure of Nigerian political space by Gen Z (youth generation) also known as netizens, who are railing against old generation politicians with a view to outwit them in the political game of the 2023 general elections.
The dramatic development is evidential of the fact that our democracy is undergoing a significant political revolution, which is courtesy of the changes wrought on the system by the electoral act 2022 – transparency and fidelity – which have been conferred on the process of recruiting politicians in Nigeria.
Impliedly and fortuitously, the confidence that going forward, votes would count in political parties’ elections, has given fillip and wings to the desire of former skeptics that were giving a wide berth to party politics due to its murky and opaque nature, to jump into the fray.
And it is also emblematic of the fact that the world of make-believe is gradually morphing into the existential reality of life in Nigeria.
It is even more jarring that the leadership of our beloved country has descended so low to the extent that Nigeria can now be likened to a comedy show such as “Fuji House Of Commotion”, a local television comedy that featured ace comedian, Kunle Bamtefa, where the fictional family is constantly embroiled in commotions.
That such riotous and rancorous atmosphere is the current reality rather than the exception in our beloved country, is gut-wrenching.
As such, no matter how odd, any group of Nigerians that are patriotic enough to harbour the ambition of helping to salvage our country is, it should be welcomed.
That is the prism from which the incursion of Nollywood into politics is being processed by me and l presume other open-minded Nigerians.
God forbid that Nigeria finds herself in a situation whereby it is fighting a war with a comedian such as my good friend Ali Baba, Okey Bakasi, Mr Macaroni, and even Mr Ibu as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces in the manner that Zelensky is leading his country, Ukraine in the war being waged against it by Russia.
In such an unlikely event whereby fantasy becomes reality, l would be damned, if the aforementioned comedians do not do as well as the Ukrainian President (former comedian), Zelensky is doing as Commander-ln-Chief, C-In-C of the Armed Forces of his country.
By all accounts, Zelensky, the comedian turned president has effectively managed to turn the war between his country and Russian into an image and narrative of the biblical David and Goliath contest with Ukraine as the David and with humungous Supper Powers support to the booth.
Given the success so far recorded by Zelensky, perhaps if we had one of our comedians in Aso Rock Villa’s seat of presidential power, Nigeria might not have been experiencing the current atrocious rate of insecurity of lives and properties rapidly dragging the country to the ignoble conflict levels comparable to the atmosphere of brute obtainable in Afghanistan; neither would there be the overwhelming existence of the pang of hunger and starvation presently ravaging our compatriots owing to the inability of our leaders to steer the ship of state away from the rapids which it is heading dangerously towards.
As we are all aware, our country is presently literally being held on tenterhooks, if the requisite action is not taken to stop the ship of state from heading towards the precipice, there could be a shipwreck of catastrophic proportions.
After all, it is generally believed that solutions to complex issues can sometimes be found in ordinary people and in simple or odd places.
With respect to the phenomenon or as the case may be, the phantom of politics in Nigeria transiting into the orbit and in the virtual realm as being contended by its purveyors, it is such a striking development that the number of followers of an individual on social media handles is now being used to determine the electability of political office seekers.
That is as opposed to the traditional and erstwhile system of physically wooing the electorate via good deeds – perceived or real – and knocking on the doors of potential voters by those seeking elective public offices.
Anyway, when the 2022/23 electioneering campaign season officially commences in September, we would know for real whether politicking virtually is real politicked or mere ‘politricks’
Invariably, those who have made it possible for the movie actors to become deputy gubernatorial candidates believe, wrongly or otherwise that there has been a paradigm shift in Nigerian politics such that the platform has been transferred from normal space to the virtual world.
That is likely why the social media follower-ship of the three thespians under reference which runs into millions are the criteria for choosing running mates to the gubernatorial candidates in Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom as opposed to capacity.
Take for instance the data below concocted to create the impression that social media follower-ship can be translated into political strength for political office candidates and with which they intend to win the election in 2023.
(A)Mrs Funke Akindele – 15.5m followers
(B)Ms Tonto Dikeh-7.5m
(C)Asiwaju Bola Tinubu-103,000
(D)Mr Peter Obi-168,000
(E)Turaki Atiku Abubakar-434,000
(F)Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu-600,000
Going by the figures above, if Funke Akindele’s 15.5m followers are matched against Bola Tinubu’s 103,000 and Atiku Abubakar’s 434,000, and Peter Obi’s 168,000, she would win the 2023 elections if she were to decide to contest for the presidency against the APC, PDP and LP presidential front runners, Tinubu, Abubakar and Obi respectively.
But, l am of the view that such permutations have no bearing with reality, basically because online followership of celebrities by Nigerians cannot be equated with real-life followership of politicians that translates into votes following the conduct of elections by the lndependent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Anyway, in fairness to the movie stars who l commend for their confidence and boldness in putting themselves forward for public office contests, and perhaps taking the lead from other climes, particularly the USA, where a plethora of those in the entertainment industry have transformed into politicians, and also due to their patriotic zeal of wanting to serve, it could be argued in favor of Nollywood actors that the world of politicians, even in Nigeria has really never been too distinctive from what obtains in moviedom.
That is simply because the activities of politicians all over the world, in most cases, are make-believe.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that it is often alleged that when they are campaigning to win over the electorates, politicians pretend to be the angels that they are not in order to gain the confidence and possibly love of voters.
That is also what movie actors do when they are manifesting their roles to keep their audience enthralled and captivated into seeing them as who they are really not.
Arising from the above, it is safe to conclude that both political actors and movie actors are often deliberately presenting images of who they really are not, to capture and retain the imagination of their audiences in the real world and in movie theaters.
And the underlining reason for such assessment is that just as political actors regale the electorates with fantastic promises that they plan not to fulfill, the movie actors thrill their audiences with the false prowess that makes them look like super humans.
And it is a mindset or belief amongst members of the public about politicians that is reinforced by the aphorism: “campaign in poetry and govern in prose”, which is a phraseology that was first used by one time governor of the state of New York, Mario Cuomo, to illustrate the failure of some politicians to keep campaign promises.
Relatedly, some movie actors often assume the characters that they play in the flicks in which they act, and more often than not, they fail or forget to return to reality.
Take, for instance, the late Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, etc.
Put differently, political actors and movie actors are pretenders to who they are not.
So they can be said to be different sides of the same coin and it is the reason that most Nigerians may not be able to continue to separate one from the other.
And the country now appears to be on the cusp of witnessing both the world of political actors and movie actors blending into the same in the firmaments of politics.
Arising from the above scenarios, could the three referenced thespians that are aspiring to become deputy governors in Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom be victims of exaggerated self-importance arising from their social media following or they are filing a void that they have identified in the political space and feel they should step up to the plate?
Until the elections are held and called next year, we may not know for sure what is the driving force or the motivation for the three damsels from moviedom, to get into the murky water of politics.
Could their adventurous move from show biz into demagoguery be backed with a realistic assessment of the prevailing political environment in our country buoyed by the electoral act 2022 which has conferred fidelity on the electoral system and sparked the interest of more Nigerian youths, or just a whimsical feeling?
After all said and done and in tandem with the wise crack “the more the merrier” as l had stated earlier, the incursion of Nollywood into politics is welcome, especially since it is associated with glamor which would spur more Nigerians, especially Gen-Z or our youths of voting age, into getting involved in exercising their civic responsibilities of choosing their preferred leaders via the ballot box.
And l can not wait to see the outcome of the PDP experiment in Lagos state which in my view would be a litmus test for Nollywood incursion into politics in Nigeria.
So, I am holding my breath!
***Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in the Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.
To continue with this conversation, please visit www.magnum.ng