The Nigerian entertainment industry is a thriving one. On one hand, Nollywood, the colloquial name for the country’s film industry, has grown from a rather obscure one into being recognized as the world’s third-largest contributor of films in terms of output. According to un.org, Nollywood produces about 50 movies per week and generates an impressive $590 million annually, putting it behind the United States (Hollywood) and India (Bollywood). In its own corner of the larger industry, Nigerian music is also doing great things. There was a time it was such an uncool thing to listen to or publicly proclaim love for songs made by Nigerians, but that reality is far behind us; now, not only do most Nigerians love and laud songs made by Nigerian artists, the international audience, too, can’t seem to get enough of these talented individuals who are now being celebrated for their immense talents and financially rewarded for their hard work. These are giant strides that have taken us a long time to achieve as a nation, and it is only fitting to worry about how the emergence of a new government may/not hamper the trajectory of growth the Nigerian Entertainment Industry* is currently on.
Side note 1: Although music and movies may be seen as forebears, the entertainment industry is much larger than just these two.
The People vs. Celebrities
Regular Nigerian citizens and celebrities are typically at odds during election season. This is probably because the average Nigerian sees the average celebrity as a sell-out, especially when said celebrity is fiercely endorsing a candidate different from their expectations. What happens is that, off the top of their heads, people expect celebrities to altruistically use their large, cult-like followings to drive messages for good governance over personal stomach-infrastructure. But most times, this reality doesn’t play out as expected. This is the reason why if a celebrity appears to be supporting a candidate who isn’t widely accepted by the masses, it doesn’t matter if it’s out of genuine belief in such a person’s candidacy, people tend to think they’ve been bought. Here’s a recent example as seen in the news.
This happened at the just concluded All Progressive Congress (APC) political party primary election, which produced Asiwaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the party’s presidential flag bearer for the 2023 Nigeria General Elections. The event saw a lot of people in attendance, including but not limited to recognizable veteran actors Zack Orji and Gentle Jack, among others. While this isn’t an automatic indication of anything in particular as anyone has the constitutional right to support, show up, and vote for any candidate of their choice, an uninformed person might be forgiven for thinking out loud that such a public show of support can be equated to either that arm of the industry being bought already or an early attempt to get into the good books of the person they perceive is “most-likely to become the next president”.*
Side note 2: In no way is this a declaration of support for any of the aspirant’s candidacy.
The Government + Celebrities
Such frolicking isn’t new. In fact, past (and present) Nigerian governments are well-recorded as having shared some form of common interests with celebrities of the entertainment industry on issues that border finance, governance, political power grab, to mention but a few. A notable example was when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) and then presidential aspirant Muhammadu Buhari both enlisted the help of top Nigerian musicians and actors into their campaign teams to help de-market each other in the eyes of the general populace. Other examples include a ₦3 billion package offered by the GEJ admin to ‘help’ turnaround Nigeria’s movie industry back in 2013, and in 2021, when the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu presented cheques worth ₦200 million to 37 filmmakers under a special interest-free loan scheme.
What happened to the bulk of these monies and how they were either spent or reimbursed is a conversation for another day; the main idea here is that the Nigerian government and arms of the entertainment industry have been known to get into bed from time to time, especially when their interests align. This isn’t a new thing and with the advent of election season proper, I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of it. Yet, the air of apprehension rises over what kind of government whoever wins out of the three leading presidential aspirants (Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and Bola Ahmed Tinubu) will bring in their wake, and how much the Nigerian entertainment industry as a whole will be impacted by their potential government’s actions and policies. This is a question I’m hoping these celebrities (and by extension, the rest of the populace) bear in mind before declaring their support for any of the aspirants. Do your own research, look beyond the peripheral stuff and listen to these people speak about their plans for the industry and for the nation as a whole before making a decision.
Use Your Ears, Heart, and Head
Campaigns haven’t properly begun yet, but it is expected that as party primaries round up, manifestos will soon start to roll out, and Nigerians can begin to fully understand what each of the aspirants are bringing to the table, if elected. A popular saying goes thus, “in every twelve there must always be a Judas”. So while the sell-outs within the regular people and the celebrity sphere of the Nigerian populace may decide to trade common sense, facts and a stronger assurance of a brighter future for ephemeral personal gains, the remaining eleven are reminded to look beyond the shiny stuff and assess these guys (and the rest of the aspirants) away from the usual talks of providing good roads, security, electricity, etc., to how capable they truly are to lead this nation at such a dire time like this.