When the Lagos State Peoples Democratic Party deputy governor candidate, popular actor Funke Akindele, appeared in media interviews recently, her performances were awful. Like a typical Nigerian politician, she got on air without much understanding of the role she had taken and what it required of her. Her performance was so mellow that some people suspected the All Progressives Congress sponsored her candidature to legitimise their prearranged victory. She came across as detached from the reality of the people she aspires to lead. During her Channels TV interview, she mistook her huge social media following for a political base. I will give it to her that internet popularity is a form of political capital in the digital age, but if those e-followers are what her 2023 expectations are based on, then she has not yet started.
Akindele underestimates the challenges ahead of her venture. She is running for office in a state where some powers and principalities, the shadowy governing authorities and their agents in all cadres of its bureaucracies, might confront her at some point. Relatively prosperous, Lagos funds the activities of the political class that brought about this present darkness. What is boastfully called the APC political “structure” that buys electoral victories is merely a euphemism for the resources extracted from Lagos. They cannot afford to lose that state because many career politicians and their thuggish accomplices will go into oblivion overnight. From when Akindele was first nominated, they would have assessed her to determine the level of threat she poses. After her first interview, some of them must have breathed a sigh of relief. They will wait again to see if she takes herself seriously enough to demonstrate apprehension of issues and highlight intelligent solutions. If that happens, they will bring out all their resources: money, media, and ready team of paid hacks with expertise ranging from the intellectuals who dispense highfalutin stuff to the ones who spew crass contents.
Despite her woeful media performances, I still view her candidature as savvy. She is accomplished and can hold her own. Compared to the APC counterparts, she is not the one whom one godfather would run a derisive eye over and say, “Without me, eleyi will not be occupying this position today.” While I am not a great fan of Jenifa, the comedy that launched Funke Akindele’s career—or even much of what constitutes comedies in Nigeria anyway—I respect her work ethic, entrepreneurial acumen, and the artistic vision that brought her this far. From her early days on television as a young actor, she has become a content mogul. Despite the scandals in her personal life, including the one that landed her in the courts during the COVID 19 lockdown, she keeps raising her head above circumstances. If the factors that qualify one for leadership is hard work and forbearance, Akindele has passed several times. Now, she should extend the resolve to her new venture into politics.
A plus, she has brought more attention to the governorship race than any politician who has dared to run against the APC in Lagos. A popular figure like her has visibility and she ought to take judicious advantage of the unpaid media exposure by exuding seriousness and preparedness in her public engagements. She is not the first actor to ever run for office, but her nomination got much attention. Some of the noise was blatant misogyny from people who could not wrap their small minds around a woman with marital issues still pursuing a career in public office. For a society perennially obsessed with marriage like Nigeria, her audacity to stand up to run for public office must have rankled their patriarchal impulses. From our social media discussions to religious pulpits, one can hardly find any topic that animates the Nigerian society outside marriage. A woman running for political office shortly after separating from her husband must seem to them as pushing it.
If Akindele can hire a team of experts in politics, economics, and culture to prepare her for electioneering, her candidature might be the boost Lagos politics needs. The state politics, now entirely ceded to the APC political machinery and machination, has entered a state of ennui. The process has no surprises, and the outcomes have neither shine nor joy. For a state with such a vibrant heartbeat, its politics is rather dull because everything happens within APC’s internal politics. Once the candidates for various offices are announced, virtually everyone knows where the cards will fall. Unfortunately, the opposition party in Lagos has been unable to muster the force it takes to dislodge the APC establishment. Those who have stood up to the power architecture at various levels have mostly faltered before the vice-like grip machinery that keeps the APC in power. Lagos politics need revitalisation, and the Jandor/Akindele ticket might be perfect for the moment.
Even Lagosians seem to have given up trying to energise their own elections and virtually surrendered to their fate. Despite their humongous population, their elections witness poor voter turnouts. In 2015, Akinwumi Ambode of the APC polled 811,994 votes to beat Jimi Agbaje of the PDP who had 659,788. By the following election in 2019, the total votes cast statewide were less than one million. The APC candidate, Babajide Sanwo-olu, got 739,445 votes while Agbaje got 206,141. None of the other four candidates in the 2019 race polled up to 5,000 votes each. Nobody knows the actual population of Lagos State, but some estimates put it around 20 million people. If that figure is close enough, then the current governor and his deputy hold the mandate of less than five per cent of the entire state. That percentage is too marginal to reflect the popular acceptance that the elementary principle of democracy prescribes. The question now is what would it take to appeal to the 95 per cent plus who either did not vote for the current governor or did not even vote at all?
There is a vast segment of Lagos demographic that has either grown apathetic or must have lost interest in the process because the outcome has been so heavily scripted and therefore, there is no point wasting time voting. Such people’s votes are ripe for picking, and Akindele’s public profile might just put her in the right place to begin doing so. It will take a lot of hard work to signal her seriousness, but it is not impossible to convince people. Lagosians are not like the people of Osun State; they are unlikely to vote a belly dancer into an important office. There is a lot more at stake for Lagos and its economy, and people will not merely give their mandate to someone so lacking in self-restraint that he cannot hold still for even 60 seconds as soon as the music starts playing. Lagos has a concentration of a demographic that will be mostly convinced through diligence and intelligence.
For future interviews, Akindele needs to learn that though the problems of Lagos are apparent, the solutions are not cheap. Much of her responses to interview questions came across as simplistic and lacking a basic understanding of the structures of governance in Nigeria. I almost gave up watching her when she started talking about free education and free uniforms on Nigeria Info 99.3FM. After all these years, you have not learned beyond these ‘almajiri’ and populist policies? Rather than promising to tackle the symptoms of larger and complex problems, their team needs to draw up a map that will conceptually capture the internal dynamics of Lagos politics and demographics, highlight institutional weaknesses and infrastructural deficits, and draw out comprehensive solutions.
Running for office is not a task one person takes on alone. One needs the help of friends who will provide expertise, feel the pulse of the people and provide feedback on strategies, and above all, ensure that one’s blind spots do not become myopia. Akindele needs such a collective to ensure she does not come out of this experience demystified and diminished but stronger and wiser. I know the magnitude of the task ahead is intimidating, but no power in this world is undefeatable. You only need to find its weaknesses, and doing so requires confrontation. Right now, Akindele is non-confrontational. But without drawing out a Goliath to the public arena, how else do you get to haul a well-timed missile at its cranium?