These Nollywood stars-turned candidates have 50 million social media fans between them. Will these convert to votes?

The call for more female participation in politics appears to have  received a boost from the least expected quarters, as no fewer than three gubernatorial candidates have picked female running mates in the race towards the 2023 polls.

The trend of Nollywood’s foray into mainstream politics started with the men, notably in Lagos when Hon. Desmond Elliot entered the race in 2015 to represent his constituency, Surulere 1 at the state’s House of Assembly.

Many others such as Richard Mofe Damijo, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, Femi Adebayo and many more, have enjoyed political appointments in their various states. The women have not been left out with Ini Edo, Mercy Johnson-Okojie, Hilda Dokubo and others, also enjoying appointments.

But in the race towards the 2023 general elections, the stakes have just been raised, and so has the bar; but what are the chances?

 In Lagos State for instance,  the opposition PDP has, for the very first time, picked a female running mate,  and they picked an actress. 

In Rivers State,  Tonto Dike was announced as the deputy governorship candidate under the African Democratic Congress, a less known party; while Caroline Danjuma has emerged as the deputy gubernatorial candidate for the African Action Congress, AAC, in Akwa Ibom.

They have done well in their own fields – Emeka Rollas President,  Actors’ Guild of Nigeria,  AGN,

Emeka Rollas debunked figures recently proffered by the PDP presidential candidate,  Alhaji Atiku Abubakar saying that only 10 per cent of Northern youths have internet access, saying it is not from the right source.

“Also understand that before the age of Internet, they were streaming Nollywood films. The people who are internet-savvy  will be following the Internet, others will be following offline because they watch these actors on tv.”

He said that most successful actors are not trained theatre artistes.

” A whole lot of them must have had different careers when they left school, but maybe there were no jobs or something. And having excelled in their chosen professions and seeing the influence of social media globally, it became a priority for most political parties to want to take advantage of this, and then you cannot say that they won’t do well if they have done well in their chosen professions.”

“A whole lot of them also have administrative acumen and they have plans of how to better the lives of their immediate constituents or Nigerians at large. It depends on the political party that decided to pick actors as their running mates and what they want to achieve.”

A trend

Rollas described it as an experiment which, if successful in 2023, is likely to become a trend.

“Be rest assured that over 10 or 15 states will follow suit, but for now, I cannot tell you it is a trend. We are equal to the task, having had these people succeed in their chosen fields. 

“When Jega introduced university professors at INEC, he left it for the next person to take over and they’re still running on it, Jega being a professor himself.

 He believed it was a means of showing credibility. So at least, we will have credibility and all of that.”

Hailing  the development as a welcome one, he expressed the belief  that it is one way by which Nigeria will begin to appreciate actors and influencers, adding that people are beginning to stereotype actors.

A boost for the industry

“Right now, we see seriousness being introduced. They will definitely begin to understand the immediate environment which is a lot of hard work. Funke Akindele cannot be deputy governor in Lagos State and the Nollywood industry will suffer lack of  infrastructure and equipment in the state or suffer welfare problems.

The same way, Tonto Dike cannot be deputy governor in Rivers State and then actors in Rivers State will suffer any form of intimidation by government or lack the needed infrastructure. The same thing with Femi Branch who happens to be the vice- president, South-West of the Actors Guild of Nigeria and now is taking up a new responsibility of going in as deputy governor. There is no way that he will be in that state and Nollywood will suffer.

“Maybe as they are coming up now, they need to advocate for Nollywood and get the things we need in terms of infrastructure, government support and advocacy in some of those states.”

Conversion to votes, another issue

But investment banker- turned stage producer and serial entrepreneur, Joseph Edgar is not as enthusiastic. 

Asked whether the votes of the Buga generation would count in favour of the celebrities in 2023,  Edgar analysed said that youths in major cities such as Lagos and Port Harcourt , Kaduna and Kano would probably come out to vote for the Third Force.

“What we are going to see is scattered voting. For the rest of the country, the majority will still go and vote for the existing parties.  That Buga generation is in the urban centres.”

Examining the correlation between social media following and likelihood to get votes, he argued that politics is a different ball game

“Conversion is the problem. It is one thing to have 15 million followers  but don’t forget those people don’t live in Lagos. If she can convert 5 per cent of that into votes, she will be the governor of Lagos. I don’t see it happening. Followers are fleeting.

“For Funke, her type of acting is the one that resonates with the barely literate and the literate who just want to relax and have fun. Those would not see her as a credible candidate.

“For the illiterate, she would have to compete with experienced politicians, according to Edgar.

“ I don’t think she herself is taking herself seriously, or any of the other two. I don’t care about their personal lives but they are not grounded in politics and have not sent strong signals that they understand the issues at stake. Desmond Elliot has gone through political tutelage and has contributed a lot

“This (Funke)is someone that has just come out of a very public divorce.

“This appears to be a recurrent decimal with all three actresses. Earlier in the year,  as though in preparation for her political career, Caroline Danjuma came out about her 2016 divorce.

Taking to Instagram, the former Nollywood actress revealed that her divorce from Mr. Danjuma made her feel like a failure and that she held herself responsible for not creating a perfect marriage and blamed herself for mistakes they both made during their marriage.

For Tonto Dike, things were a lot messier between her and her ex, Olakunle Churchill, while Funke Akindele has taken a more mature approach to her recent estrangement from Abdulrasheed Bello,  better known as JJ Skillz.

While Tonto and Caroline are A listers in their own right, all eyes are on Funke of Lagos.  Edgar proffers a reason: “Lagos is the 5th largest economy in Africa. Lagos has some of the most sophisticated voters in the country.  I think it’s just a comic approach to 2023”, he added.

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