2019 was the election year Nigerian celebrities really stood up to be counted


Everyone by now has heard the almost fantastical story of Banky W’s run for the Eti-Osa House Of Representatives seat. For those who haven’t, Olubankole Wellington, a musician and actor decided in October 2018 that he was going to run for political office. It shouldn’t have surprised that many people, considering Bankole has always been a quiet but steady presence at many of the citizen protests against government inefficiency. But Banky decided it wasn’t enough to voice his displeasure, the real battle was inspiring enough people to give him the mandate to change things from the inside out.

Bankole knew if his bid for political office would have a real impact, he needed to do it free of the strings and obligations that come with all our pre-established parties. He chose Modern Democratic Party (MDP), a new party formed by Bukunyi Olagbegi-Olateru (who in full disclosure is on the board for The Future Awards Africa), a party free of the taint of contemporary Nigerian politics. Bankole hit the ground running, announcing his bid for the House of Rep’s seat, and began actively campaigning. His bid was thrown a curveball when after months of tireless work, he was informed the Independent National Electoral Council (INEC) had messed up his party logo on their ballot papers and had no intentions of reprinting ballot papers in time for the elections. Bankole restrategized, taking the challenge and converting into a new wave of campaigning. At the polls, Banky was an underdog who was already dismissed because he was competing against Musiliu Obanikoro, a scion of a powerful Lagos family and a veteran with 30 years in political office. But he triumphed, winning a good number of polling units and putting up the fight of his life. The official results haven’t been announced yet, but it is clear that Bankole Wellington proved that it is possible to change the minds of Nigerians and challenge the status quo.

But Banky is only one in a wave of Nigerian celebrities who finally woke up to the fact that they wield inestimable power over millions of Nigerians and put that power towards encouraging civic responsibility. A beacon of hope is Omoni Oboli, who since 2011 has been vocal about her stance on politics after she lost her mother to poor healthcare. Every election year Omoni has come forward to be counted and put her influence and resources to use to ensure that as many people as possible remain enfranchised. During this year’s elections, she offered herself as a citizen volunteer at her polling unit, working with the INEC officials to ease the voting process and stayed till `12.45am the next day to ensure that votes at her polling unit were properly collated.

Falz The Bahd Guy, 2Face Idibia, Ice-Prince, Tiwa Savage and Toyin Abraham were all active at their polling units, participating in the process and showing the undecided citizenry that elections matter, even to celebrities. It was important to note that this cycle, celebrities stayed largely away from the political jingles and the endorsements of political figures who owe no real obligations to these celebrities to live up to the promises they sing on their behalf. Staying out of politicians pockets freed them to speak their minds on the state of the country and the mass exodus of Nigerians looking for greener pastures elsewhere. Some have followed the Omoni example and others, inspired by Banky W, eye political office. Many of our celebrities set a powerful example this election cycle, on the power of self-determination, the importance of citizen vigilance in the electoral process and the need to free ourselves from the patronage system that left previous musicians and creators unable to participate fully in the electoral process sans partisan affiliations.

I hope we only grow on this phenomenon.

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