Deja Vu: How the 2023 election is dividing Nigerian artists like it did in 2015

In an economic and social space that has been grasping for breath for years, the elections and the approach of D-Day are always scary.

But to use the word ‘pensive’ is to miss the complete picture as the 2023 general elections draw nearer. The days leading up to the decider have been stifling for the masses. For all the goodwill of the Naira redesign, its halfhearted execution has further robed the country, where employment stands at a staggering 33%, in a fit of rage: Naira is scarce, banks are shutting down digitally and physically, protests have broken out in some parts of the country, and fuel prices have soared.

“Fuel now sells for N300/litre against the official N165 and N185 – the new official pump price activated by oil marketers in January 2023”, Neusroom reported.

For those who will live through the austerity by looking away yet praying that their bank apps allow them to make payment transfers, those who can afford exorbitant charges to redeem Naira notes from POS operator stands, or those who can afford the 350 per litre fuel to run their generators through the night to avoid asphyxiating in their sleep due to the midnight heat, the election is to be taken by the scruff of the neck. And as it appears, it isn’t just us, the ordinary citizens, who are looking forward to choosing who holds our country’s destiny for the next four years, celebrities, too, have been airing their opinions, as divisive as ever.

Grammy-nominated Afrobeat artiste Seun Kuti and Peter ‘Mr P’ Okoye’s dirty fight on social media typifies such strong disparate ideologies and how the 2023 election is dividing Nigerian entertainers. Stong ideologies are good and it’s by civic right to vote anyone one chooses to vote, but theirs is a petty loggerhead that distracts their thousands of followers from the matters at hand and devalues them from the venerated perceptions of millions of youths who look up to them.

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It all started when Afrobeat artiste Seun Kuti described Labour Party candidate Mr Obi as an opportunist who won’t deliver Nigeria while throwing a subtle jab at the Peter and Paul duo.

“After Psquare don do enough shows for all the rich men and all the politicians of this country, na today Na Peter wan dey tell me to say him know what is good for Nigeria?”

“After they’ve played the game. They’ve hyped them up. They sit down with you coming to tell you today that they love you. Why didn’t they love you ten years ago? Ask Psquare why they didn’t love you 20 years ago when they were jumping up and down with PDP all over the place”, Seun Kuti said.

Angered, Mr P advised Seun to take a cue from his nephew, Made Kuti, and hurled that he had erased his father, the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s history.

“My God has blessed my destiny & I’ll 4ever remain thankful. I’ll surely keep you in my prayers. Learn from your nephew @Madekuti cos he is well guided and clean,” Mr P said, among other things.

Brymo’s attack on the Igbo’s is another example of how the 2023 election is dividing Nigerian entertainers. Brymo had publicly endorsed the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, and declared that Igbo presidency should be on hold while the group should be tested with vice presidency instead.

His declaration, which rightly faced widespread backlash, was not only risky but it was rash, and it should never have been said. The least we need as a people is a celebrity whose art is adored stoking the fires of division and rift between groups that have had a seemingly shaky relationship in recent times.

The division among these Nigerian entertainers brings back memories of the build-up to the 2015 general elections where celebrities encamped with different candidates, turning social media into an arena of assaults as they canvassed for votes – most especially at the presidential level.

For example, while YBNL CEO Olamide took sides with APC who had General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) as its candidate and even released two tracks for the cause – ‘APC Ese’ and ‘The Change We Want’, rappers like Naeto C, whose mom is a former Minister and ambassador under the PDP government and a chieftain of the PDP, declared support for PDP’s Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), performing his version of the song ‘10 over 10’ for the then incumbent president at his Declaration Ceremony held at the Eagle Square, Abuja on November 11, 2014.

Other stars who were on different sides of the divide were Ice Prince, M.I, 9ice, Desmond Elliot and Weird MC who associated with APC while celebrities like Bovi, Harrysong, Ibinabo Fiberesima, Ini Edo, and Kate Henshaw – among others – pitched their tents with PDP.

Some of the stars who were bold enough to publicly declare their support for Jonathan in the 2015 Presidential election, even when they were harassed, trolled and bullied on social media, based their decision on the Nollywood Intervention Fund initiated by the GEJ’s administration to empower the Nigerian movie industry. The initiative was unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.

Celebrities, just like the general public, have political opinions and affiliations and are not immune to the emotional and ideological divisions that can arise during elections. However, Seun Kuti and Mr P’s tirade is a needless and embarrassing show. The two stars can be likened to the proverbial character in the viral “70 years old man” meme as they keep dragging the names of their fathers through the dirt and debasing the repute that ought to come with a celebrity.

About 15 days to the election, instead of the 2023 elections dividing Nigerian entertainers, what our celebrities should be talking about is how the youths, who are the highest population of voters with 39.65 % of the total number of voters, can make their vote count; how first-time voters should go about the process of voting; clear explainers and logical credence to why they should vote particular candidates.

We missed the opportunity in 2015, the elections created divisions among our celebrities as they went the distance to canvass without going the depth to give logical explanations as to why a candidate should be voted for. Unfortunately, we are on the trajectory again where only a stitch in time can save nine.

There’s still time left for our entertainers to make responsible use of their platforms, especially when it comes to political matters. They must understand that their endorsement has a significant impact on their fans, and as such, be mindful of the messages they put out.

Ultimately, the goal should be to promote unity and not sow further division in an already polarised society.

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