The election season is almost over in Nigeria and political jingles will soon cease renting the air. Until then, the usual suspects huff and puff as they jostle for the limelight of public attention.
Elections in Nigeria are typically colourful for many reasons – the promises made by candidates; the achievements adduced as reasons for votes and the social media bants amongst others. They also throw up personalities – the old guard reasserting their relevance and upstarts who scream, “away with gerontocracy”! This time around though, other personalities have jumped into the fray. The political stage is playing host to crooners, thespians and comedians – and not just as brand ambassadors or endorsers. The Glitterati, banking on the power of their personal brands are determined to actively trade them for political equity.
Abolore Adigun (9ice), Desmond Elliot, Kate Henshaw and Tony Tetuila to name a few are towing the footsteps of their western counterparts – Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood as they make the transition from big screen and stage to Government house.
A famous example of an entertainer turned politician is Arnold Schwarzenegger of the Terminator Trilogy fame. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, in which he served from 1990 to 1993. He was Chairman of the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under Governor Pete Wilson and in 2003, he won the recall election against Governor Davis to become the Governor of California. Schwarzenegger was then re-elected in California’s 2006 gubernatorial election, to serve a full term as governor, defeating Democrat Phil Angelides, who was California State Treasurer at the time. However, his approval ratings hit an all-time low of 27% in 2009 and 22% when he left office in 2011, with a state budget deficit of $28 billion.
Another example of an actor turned politician is Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan initially chose a career in entertainment, appearing in more than 50 films. While in Hollywood, he served as president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. In 1964, he began his political career as a Democrat. He announced in late 1965 his campaign for Governor of California. Ronald Reagan accomplished in 1966 what US Senator William F. Knowland in 1958 and former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon in 1962 had tried: he was elected, defeating two-term governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, and was sworn in on January 2, 1967. Shortly after the beginning of his term, Reagan tested the presidential waters in 1968. He was re-elected Governor in 1970. Reagan became president in 1981 and served for two terms. His approval ratings in 1988, shortly before he left office, were at 63%.
So, can personal branding readily translate to political success? Here are a few considerations:
- The political system must be mature enough to give political neophytes a shot. The rules must be clear and celebrities must meet the requirements.
In 2001, Wyclef Jean, a Haitian rapper, musician and actor established “Yéle Haiti” a charitable organisation known legally as the Wyclef Jean Foundation and incorporated in Illinois. The foundation became active in the aftermath of 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne, when it provided scholarships to 3,600 children in Gonaïves, Haiti with funding from Comcel. On August 5, 2010, he announced his bid to run for President but on August 20, 2010, his bid for candidacy was rejected by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council. He was turned down because he did not meet the residency requirement of having lived in Haiti for five years before the November 28 election.
- Making the leap to politics takes a lot of planning no matter how strong a personal brand is.
Voters need to buy into the ideas and promises of celebrities. Volunteers must be organised and political apparatuses set up.
- Celebrities must have a clear and working knowledge of the issues and challenges faced by their would-be constituents.
To succeed in politics, Nigerian celebrities will need to address all three of the foregoing considerations and add a big dose of tenacity to garner the political equity required to successfully run for or perform well in office.
Sometimes, celebrities are called upon to play the role of technocrat and not politician like Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD), in the role of Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State or Weird MC, vigorous campaigner for Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State and a Special Assistant for Culture and Tourism.
In conclusion, a strong personal brand is potent political equity and is an incredible asset if parlayed alongside other political structures.