Nigeria 2023: Is the second time the charm for Banky W?

By Jide Taiwo

Posted on Thursday, 23 February 2023 16:00, updated on Friday, 24 February 2023 15:56
Olubankole Wellington - known more popularly as Banky W (photo supplied by campaign)

As Nigerians gear up for the country’s general elections on 25 February, most of the attention has been on the presidential poll. But on the same ballot, Olubankole Wellington - known more popularly as Banky W, the moniker he went by as a music artist and record label executive - is running for a seat in the National Assembly.

Now 41 years old, he has been a prominent presence in Nigeria’s entertainment scene for the past decade and a half.

He is an accomplished musician with four albums to his credit, and as an exec, the gem in his crown is that he was the one who introduced the now-global Wizkid to the world: his EME label was home to the young star from 2009 to 2014.

Banky W is also famously married: his wife Adesua Etomi is a star herself, an actor who has featured in some of Nollywood’s biggest films, including The Wedding Party, where the couple starred together. As far as beloved figures go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more loved pair than Banky and Adesua.

However, Wellington is on another mission now, one that could come to define his legacy more than his successes in entertainment: he’s running to become the representative of Eti-Osa Federal Constituency, a district in Nigeria’s commercial centre in Lagos which comprises the affluent neighbourhoods of Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island, as well as the less prosperous communities that surround them.

Different type of election

The 2023 elections in Nigeria are shaping up to be unlike any other in the country’s history. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the total number of registered voters stands at 93.5 million.

While that does not necessarily determine the eventual turnout (only 34% of registered voters turned out in 2019), observers say there are elevated levels of participation – primarily driven by the youth population who make up 48 million out of the total eligible voters.

“There’s been a reawakening of sorts in the whole political process and what is driving that is youth participation,” says Abisola Alawode, Multimedia Lead at Zikoko Citizen, a vertical of youth-centric media outlet Zikoko.

In the aftermath of the END SARS protests of 2020, a large section of Nigerian young people were jolted into action with the realisation that bad leadership is at the core of all the issues that plague the country and that it can only be changed when they get involved.

That rise in participation may very well be what gives Wellington the edge.

Having run in 2019 on the platform of the Modern Democratic Party, a fringe party that was eventually deregistered in 2020, he finished third. This time around, he joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party that was in power between 1999 and 2015.

“I think he realised when he ran on MDP that those little parties are not capable of winning on big stages that matter,” said Alawode, who has spent considerable time monitoring the various campaigns this cycle explains. “Small parties do not have what it takes to get more people to see your vision and buy into it.”

Fractured old guard

Perhaps the most compelling factor in this election cycle is how fractured the old guard is. On the macro-scale, previous alliances that have won elections have disintegrated and several candidates have had to fight for themselves.

In Wellington’s party the PDP, warring factions have scarcely concealed their leanings and in some cases, have campaigned against their party’s flagbearer. It’s no different from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) where members have openly antagonised one another.

This in turn has further strengthened the resolve of many potential voters to cast their ballots for individual candidates, rather than across party lines as is typical in Nigerian elections.

To Kunle Lawal, Executive Director of the Electoral College in Nigeria, this is a positive transformation, since more people are now realising they can vote across different parties on the ballot. “I think we’re heading towards a better democratic climate where people are starting to have a particular candidate for a particular aim,” he tells The Africa Report.

“You might be settled for someone [from a political party] as president but the senatorial candidate from the party might not meet your needs,” he adds.

Serving the people

The House of Representatives is often perceived to lack the gravitas that the Senate or Presidency possesses. Many times, in fact, even legislators themselves appear not to understand what their roles are in the federal system of government that Nigeria practises. It’s not uncommon to see senators and representatives being accused of mismanaging funds meant for constituency projects.

“Constituency projects are non-constitutional … and it’s the poor level of political literacy that causes this problem,” Lawal says. “The electorate is not educated and about 64% of those in office do not know the jurisdiction of their offices.”

The effect of this is that representatives spend more time fixing roads than their constitutional duties of making and amending laws, as well as executive oversight.

That has been the main campaign messaging of the incumbent Babajide Obanikoro who points to construction, bursaries and distribution of laptops as examples of his achievements in office.

Wellington’s political career comes after his many years of community service. Alawode shares his observation from being on the campaign trail with him. “He’s been able to strike a chord within the community even after his 2019 loss at the polls. During the Covid lockdown period, he was a visible sight with the Lekki Food Bank initiative that gave out free food and people remember. He’s in the minds of people and now that he’s seeking their votes, it’s almost natural for them to vote for him.”

The candidate himself insists the outcome of the election will not sway him one way or another, telling Alawode: “Worst case scenario I don’t get there this time either, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ll still continue to serve my people and the community.”

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