You don’t expect to find politicians at music shows like The Headies. Mostly because it is generally thought that politics is serious and music is flippant. And yet, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, graces the 2022 Headies held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Knowing how different he is to the hall full of music-making people, the governor makes a great effort to blend in. He chucks the stern raiment of political office for the laid-back garb of youth. He wears black blazers, flat-soled Vans, and a gold-plated neck chain that has him looking less like an uptight politician and more like the suave owner of a Hip Hop record label.
Had he attended The Headies’s last event held February last year, the governor would have exuded anything but Hip Hop cool. He would have had to brave Bovi’s sartorial protest. As the Lekki Toll Gate shooting was still fresh trauma at the time, that comedian had the image of a blood-streaked Nigerian flag imprinted on his shirt, his way of protesting the events of the infamous October 20, 2020. The only major politician who attended Headies’s last event was Desmond Elliot, and on Twitter he received more curses than any one man can handle.
But time puts trauma out of focus. And so in 2022, the governor could partake of a young people’s fête without scrutiny. Eventually he is called on stage to deliver a Headies plaque to the eventual winner of the Album of the Year category. An absent Wizkid wins it for his Made In Lagos album. A present Sanwo-Olu has the presence of mind to not let the moment pass without fitting in some political self-promotion.
First, the governor thanks the show’s organisers. Then he remarks that the show is taking place in America in order to showcase Lagos and Nigeria to the world, the world being a synonym for America. The usual bromidic bureaucrat-speak ensues. The manifesto comes later in his speech. The governor calls out the names of Nigerian pop stars—P-Square, Tuface, and Wizkid—and says, “there’s still thousands that your government will still be supporting”. There’s the sense that that sentence is missing a condition: if you vote for us next year.
If you doubt that the governor is on a self-campaign mission, then consider this non sequitur: “it’s no coincidence that I’m the 15th governor also hosting the 15th Headies”. The hall’s other occupants cheer this verbal chicanery. But when the clear morning of reason replaces the fog of excitement, one sees that it is, indeed, a coincidence that he is the 15th governor. Is it also not a coincidence that I woke up today at 9am on the 9th month of the year?
Of course, the good governor may not be cynical, but it’s hard to not interpret it so when elections are only a day’s trek away. A common joke online goes that forthcoming elections cause Nigerian politicians to find a renewed interest in roasted plantain sold by the roadside, and to schedule appointments with their tailors—time to sew whatever young people are wearing these days. The former, to show they are in touch with the working class; the latter, to appeal to the country’s largest demographic. Sanwo-Olu ditches the plantain but embraces the youth.
Will the youth return his embrace? Hard to say, but a certain young musician named BNXN, while on stage at The Headies, asks the governor to help finance the transportation of his newly won Bentley—the prize for winning the Next Rated Artiste category—from Atlanta to Lagos. An event meant to celebrate Nigerian music becomes a marketplace for seeking political favors.
I won’t begrudge the governor for promoting himself or for trying to remedy the damage done to his political career by the Lekki Toll Gate shooting. But must he do it at The Headies? Should the Headies allow their platform to be converted to a soapbox? No. Although I know how hard it is to deny the governor a speaking opportunity, given the Lagos State Government has a hand in putting the show together.
This political detour may seem like a minor issue, but considered along with the other organizational failures—the show fails to begin on schedule, for one—what we have is a show that does not give you an experience that is tautly whole and wholesome. Sure, it remains a show about music, but only some of the time. When we are not waiting for awardees to come on stage, we are waiting for the projection screen to come alive. Live shows fail when they veer off topic or when they make the audience wait. The Headies is guilty of both.
It’s also guilty of bad jokes, and Anthony Anderson, the night’s host, has many—like his condescending African stereotype gags. His rhythm, as well, is often out of kilter with that of his co-host Osas Ighodaro. But in spite of this—the crude politicking and the technical failures—there are certain moments of joy.
A masquerade saunters on stage during Flavour’s performance, a sight that may inspire curiosity or bemusement. And during his speech, after picking up the plaque for Record of the Year, Patoranking makes a dad joke that lands—unlike many of Anderson’s. Patoranking dedicates his award to Tom, Dick, Mary and finally, his children. He says that he knows his kids are watching the show back in Nigeria and tells them to go to bed because tomorrow is a school day. Funny man. But he needs not worry. Being kids, which means all things politics must bore them, the governor’s self-campaign—and the other organizational misfiring—must have long put them to sleep.