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2023: Celebrities Influence In Politics: Is Fame Enough To Translate To Electoral Votes?


Funke Akindele

Ahead of the 2023 election, the Nigerian political space has witnessed a lot of dynamics, with various political parties handing a-list Nollywood stars their party tickets.

This is coming amidst the call to have more youths and young people in significant positions because the country seems to be recycling leaders who move from one political party to another.

However, there is an assumption that celebrities lack knowledge of politics and that the political arena should be left to ‘professionals.’

The question of who are these ‘professionals’ comes to the fore when we consider the various career choice of most Nigerian public officers before they ventured into politics.

In this article, Naija News looks at the influence of celebrities in a political party and if fame is likely to translate into votes and victory in the political space.

In an exclusive interview with Naija News, political and social commentator Olukwu Bienoseh Mattew opined that being in the entertainment industry is a choice an individual decides for a career and ought not to be a hindrance if one chooses to venture into politics.

He claimed that the entertainment industry is no different from other professions, and the area a person decides to build a career is not dependent on academic qualification.

Mattew cited the case of Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, a medical doctor by profession, his predecessor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a doctor; Speaker of the House of Representative Femi Gbajabiamila, a lawyer and Ahmed Lawal, who is also a lawyer by profession.

He said: “I think that being in the entertainment industry is a choice an individual decides for a career. I don’t think it should be a hindrance as to if that person decides to venture into politics. We have seen the likes of the current governor of delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa,  Emmanuel Uduaghan, who is a medical doctor, the current speaker of the house of representatives Femi Gbajabiamila is a lawyer, Including the senate president Ahmed Lawal.

“So it is not sufficient to say because someone is coming from the entertainment industry, that person should be vilified. If you take it beyond the shores of Nigeria, the current president of Ukraine is from the entertainment industry. Look at the president of Liberia, a footballer.”

In contrast, a public affairs analyst, Ayodele Elijah, claimed the political space in the country is occupied by those that have been in the game from the beginning of this current political dispensation, and it would not be easy to make an entrance.

Elijah said the presence of a celebrity in a political party would only increase the publicity but most likely will not get the needed electoral value or translate to victory.

Speaking on the case of Nollywood actress and the Lagos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Deputy governorship candidate, Funke Akindele, Elijah expressed doubt that the mother of two would be able to win the Lagos East Senatorial that has five local governments under their control.

He also said it would be challenging for the African Democratic Congress (ADC) deputy governorship candidate in Rivers State, Tonto Dikeh, to use celebrity influence to beat the likes of former minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi in the Ikwerre Local Government.

He said: “We have about 1.7 million voters in Lagos East senatorial District, and we have big politicians across that senatorial District, we have an incumbent senator from that east and from Epe/Ikorodu axis where Funke is coming from, so will be difficult for PDP at the moment.

“Tonto Dikeh as deputy governorship candidate, she is a big name celebrity, and she’s well known all over the places, Ikwerre born celebrity but don’t forget we have people who have been in the political space in the Ikwerre land like the former minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.”

Mattew shared a different opinion as he expressed confidence that Funke could translate her fame to electoral victory, pointing out some of her achievements in the entertainment industry due to her competence.

He emphasized that on the 16th July Osun State election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leveraged the popularity of Nigerian singer Davido to win the election.

He said Davido, who is a nephew to the Osun State governor-elect, was a visible factor throughout the campaign period as he used his music and influence to campaign heavily for his uncle and brought many people on his side, especially the youths, who could relate to his type of music.

He said: “If you take a look at the Osun election, you will agree that Nigerian popular musician Davido invariably played a pivotal role in determining the victory of his uncle who was the PDP candidate in that election, he has huge followers, he was ground in Osun and people were happy to identify with him and the political party he identifies with.

“When APC saw that PDP was leveraging the fame of Davido, they went to call portable. Whatever the Entertainers do resonates among the youth, and they have a way of carrying the youths along and bringing them to a rallying point. Look at the process of voter registration currently. The people in the entertainment industry are the ones driving the process. Before now, you hardly see youths file out to register, but they are coming out to identify with the electoral process.”

On using a celebrity to compliment an already weak ticket or party in the case of Lagos State, Mattew said the political dynamic and narrative of election is gradually changing, and the more the youths see the transparency in the electoral process, the more they would engage in politics.

On his part, Elijah added that the call for young people to be in leadership positions would take time before it becomes a reality because of the elders who have dominated the political space.

Nollywood actor Okiki Bakare who also spoke to Naija News said fame should not be used as the winning factor in the election and being a celebrity should not limit an individual from exploring other areas of interest.

He said: “Fame isn’t enough, but the people who go for these may have the background, understanding and education for it.

Being a celebrity in one area shouldn’t limit you from venturing into other interests but it shouldn’t be used as the only winning factor! Let’s be practical, let’s analyse and vote responsibly.”