Nigeria 2023: Can Dele Momodu convert 2.6m followers into voters?

By Akin Irede

Posted on Thursday, 17 February 2022 17:42
Publisher Dele Momodu (rights reserved)

Publisher of Ovation International magazine, Dele Momodu, has for the last 30 years interviewed and dined with world leaders, monarchs, billionaires and some of the most influential people in the world, earning him over 2.6 million followers on social media. The veteran journalist now believes he can use his wide network and social media presence to become the next President of Nigeria in 2023. Is it enough?

He has a profile which many crave. A look through his social media pages shows him having a chat with the Queen of England. In another photo on Wikipedia, he is seen shaking hands with former United States Presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton. This is the sort of journalism Momodu has practised since he left the defunct African Concord magazine some 30 years ago.

Momodu was a media adviser to the Presidential campaign of the late MKO Abiola, the billionaire businessman and acclaimed winner of the 12 June 12 1993 election which was controversially annulled by the military regime. After getting wind of his imminent arrest by the General Sani Abacha junta, he escaped through the Nigeria-Benin Republic land border disguised as a farmer, making his way through to Togo, Ghana and then the United Kingdom where he eventually set up his Ovation International magazine.

It was while in exile in the 90s that he teamed up with other pro-democracy forces like All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, Bola Tinubu; the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi. Around the same time, he helped found ThisDay newspaper in Nigeria, becoming its pioneer editor.

Momodu’s style of celebrity journalism was new to Nigerians.

He met with several successful Nigerians in the Diaspora and did exposés on their fabulous and ostentatious lifestyles while also running a public relations firm with big clients like Globacom boss, Mike Adenuga, who is the third richest man in Nigeria; and former President John Mahama of Ghana. He was given exclusive access to private parties of the rich and famous, providing exclusive content long before the advent of social media.

In 2011, he ran for President on the platform of the National Conscience Party, a small party which lacks a presence in most of the states. He lost woefully in that poll, garnering just 26, 376 votes, taking the 11th position among 20 other candidates.

New strategy

Last month, Momodu declared his intention to contest the Presidency as a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). “I learned a lesson. You can only win a Presidential election as a member of the PDP or the All Progressives Congress ”, he says.

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At least 10 others are believed to be running for President in the PDP including former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State. So, how does Momodu plan on winning the party’s ticket, much less the main election? Can he match the financial stamina of wealthy members of the party?

“What Ovation has done for me is to give me leverage and a network that is unparalleled in Nigeria. Ovation has operated in over 60 countries. I am not a local champion. The top five richest people in Africa, I have done business with them in the last 20 to 30 years. I know their needs, I understand their frustrations. I can tell you Dangote also suffers in Nigeria despite being a big brand.

“He has invited me to his operations in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia and others. There are not many politicians that understand business,” he says

Momodu claims he already has the support of the youth, the largest demographic in Africa’s most populous nation, because of his investments in entertainment.

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“We’ve spent millions promoting the music of the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido. I know the needs of Nigerians,” he says.

“I am one of the biggest politicians on social media. I handle my social media accounts- Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I have a direct followership of 1.6 million followers on Twitter alone, 746,000 on Instagram and about 300,000 on Facebook. I have everything I need. I have content. Before Donald Trump contested, what did he have? Content,” Momodu adds.

MKO Abiola approach

The veteran journalist also plans to emulate the successful Presidential campaign of his mentor, MKO Abiola, which had the ‘Hope 93’ slogan.

He argues that like MKO who won a Presidential election without ever holding any political office before, he could also pull it off in 2023 with his ‘Hope 2023’ campaign.

On how he plans to raise funds for a Presidential campaign that could gulp over $1 billion, Momodu adds, “Nobody spends his billions on elections. You take donations. Jonathan and Buhari didn’t have money. I have access to funds if the party gives me the ticket, I will be one of the biggest Presidential candidates ever in Africa. I am a global brand operating in over 60 countries on five continents.”

Momodu has now erected billboards and put up posters in several parts of the country. He was well received by the national chairman of the PDP, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, who promised to provide all contestants with a level playing field. Momodu also paid homage to the traditional ruler of the Benin kingdom and has continued to seek endorsements nationwide.

Can Momodu break out?

Although a household name, analysts argue that success in Nigerian politics goes beyond fame. Momodu has no strong base in the party that can rival the structure of sitting governors and that of Atiku or Rabiu Kwankwaso. Social media followership has also not always translated to real life votes in Nigeria. Besides, critics also believe his Presidential campaign is only a ruse to get compensation like a political appointment or patronage from the next government.

Kamilu Fage of the Political Science Department at Bayero University, tells The Africa Report that social media followers in Nigeria does not provide a basis for political support. He adds that past experiences have shown that many on social media are not eligible to vote.

“Social media could count but it would not be enough to win you an election. Polls are not determined by social media. A lot of people on social media also do not vote. So, even if a person has 10 million followers, there is no evidence that he will win. There are people on social media that are not qualified to vote,” says Fage, who is a former vice president of the Nigerian Political Science Association.

Similarly, Saleh Dauda, a professor of International Relations at the University of Abuja, believes that Nigeria is not ripe for such leadership changes because people still vote based on religious and ethnic sentiments rather than competence.

“Buhari had 12 million votes for years but never became President until 2015. So, having over two million followers on social media is certainly not enough. I wish Nigeria chose leaders based on competence but as the country is, it is still being held captive by primordial sentiments. However, miracles do happen in politics,” says Dauda

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