The Nigerian entertainment industry is a thriving one. On the one hand, Nollywood has grown into one of the world’s largest contributors of films in terms of output, while, its own corner of the larger industry, Nigerian music is also doing amazing things, almost daily. Now, not only do Nigerians love and laud songs and films 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. The same can be said of Nigerian designers, contemporary artists and more. These are giant strides that have taken us a long time to achieve as a nation, and are certainly worth being proud of.
However, as is often the case when election season comes around, quite a number of celebrities and influential figures across the entertainment industry have risen up and taken to social media to declare personal political interest or, more frequently, support for their preferred candidates. At the All Progressive Congress (APC) political party primary election earlier this year, which produced Asiwaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the party’s presidential flag bearer for the 2023 Nigeria General Elections, a number of popular faces were in attendance — including but not limited to recognizable veteran actors Zack Orji and Gentle Jack, among others. While there is nothing inherently strange or unusual about this (after all, we each have the constitutional right to support, show up, and vote for any candidate of our choice), one would not be blamed for raising an eyebrow or wondering whether such public displays of support are paid endorsements or an early attempt to get into the good books of the person they think is “most-likely” to become the next president. Either way, it wouldn’t be the first time the Nigerian government and arms of the entertainment industry have been in cahoots, especially when both interests align. Stories of large donations and cheques signed by certain political leaders and groups to help ‘turnaround’ Nigeria’s entertainment industry have been heard, and will very likely still be heard as the election date approaches.
Yet, as we watch all the political drama unfold, and the air of apprehension rises over what kind of government the three leading presidential aspirants (Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and Bola Ahmed Tinubu) will bring in their wake, it is important to remember that this is neither a drill nor a rehearsal. Since the Nigerian entertainment industry as a whole will inadvertently be impacted by a government’s actions and policies, it is only fitting to worry about how the emergence of a new government will affect the trajectory of growth the Nigerian Entertainment Industry is currently on.
Here is what the presidential hopefuls have had to say so far:
While several celebrities have openly declared their support for Tinubu, some are yet to declare their affection publicly but have joined Tinubu’s trending catchphrase ‘E mi lo kan’ to show he is a candidate to support.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate, on his part, has hailed Nigerian Afrobeats stars Davido, Burna Boy, Wizkid among others for taking Afrobeats and Nigerian music to the global stage. In a widely shared video released on youth day (12 August, 2022), Tinubu said:
“Nigerian youths rule the world. From Grammy award winner, Burna Boy to Tiwa Savage, Davido, Wizkid, Tems and so many other fantastic artistes. Our music is moving people and making them dance in major venues across the world. They are our ambassadors of hope!”
However, no manifestos or agendas have surfaced that outline or describe any concrete plans for the industry.
Verdict: Despite garnering support from the likes of the Yoruba Actors, very little has been said about the entertainment industry in Tinubu’s camp. In the face of much bigger problems, perhaps it makes sense that industries such as entertainment and even the arts might take a backseat. Still, it cannot be denied that this industry already contributes over 2.3 percent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and as such, is worthy of (and in dire need of) government support.
Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate has spoken about the entertainment industry, particularly during the times of his previous presidential campaigns:
Music and film are important tools in shaping the image of a country. Most people have never been to US or UK, but their understanding is formed through film and music.
Nigerian music and film is important for our influence and diplomacy. https://t.co/FUdfwDVOnh
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) November 30, 2017
In the build-up to the 2019 elections, he was quoted as saying that if elected, he would implement policies that would foster the development of the entertainment industry and protect practitioners against piracy. The document highlighted the issues affecting the creative and entertainment industry including inadequate access to funding, intellectual property theft, piracy, uncoordinated distribution channels and lack of access to tax incentives, which were also listed as major issues.
Atiku pledged to “enact right policies and legislations that will provide the latest infrastructure, financial and business development facilities, as well as “provide specific finance and strategic support tailored to each segment of the entertainment industry”.
Verdict: Although not as much has been said about the entertainment industry by Atiku this time around, one would assume that his stance remains the same. At the very least, his outlining of various industry issues suggests that he has some understanding of the needs of the industry. Though one cannot say for certain that this would translate into tangible results if he were to win the elections.
Former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi has described the Nigerian movie industry as a “unifying factor that can help the country lead the world.” Speaking to the audience at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in 2016, Obi said the impact of Nollywood is glaring and can be used as an example of what film can do to Africa, describing the industry as a phenomenal export from Nigeria.
“I don’t think anything has impacted our contribution to Africa as much as Nollywood. It allows Nigerian actors to be able to tell our own stories, even our history. In today’s knowledge and creative economy all over the world, you can see our contribution.”
In more recent months, the Labour Party candidate has had less to say about the industry. But despite this, and the lack of a clear-cut public manifesto, Obi still has a few notable supporters backing him:
His track record of supporting the arts is also worth mentioning, with a number of well-known Nigerian writers acknowledging his efforts.
My brother, Peter Obi has always supported the arts. I had an idea ( and connections) for a writers house in Awka. Land was promised. Bureaucracy frustrated it and Obiano came in and killed it. I am also no longer at Brown. I am at Georgia College. Facts matter https://t.co/SAMgAR4CQJ
— chika unigwe (@chikaunigwe) August 9, 2022
Verdict: As with the other two candidates, Obi has done well in praising the entertainment industry but has said very little about how he plans to support and bolster it if he turns out to be Nigeria’s next president. He has also been spotted with a popular entertainer or two, like Femi Kuti, though it is not clear whether these sightings have anything at all to do with improving or supporting the Entertainment industry. One can only hope that more concrete information will be shared in the weeks to come.