Civic responsibility is not cosplay. When your brand claims to be politically conscious, you should show up when it counts.
As millions of Nigerians gathered at the polls to decide the country’s fate during the 2023 presidential elections, some singers who’ve built their identities around fixing Nigeria were nowhere to be found. It’s one thing to sing about the struggles Nigerians go through. It’s another thing to actually do something about it, especially when that thing is voting — or encouraging others to.
Following the events of 2020 — the year we protested for our lives while some people in government hoarded Indomeeen meant for COVID-19 palliatives — I wasn’t surprised when, as early as 6 a.m., most Nigerians were already at their polling units ready to exercise their civic duty and protect their mandate. One of those early birds was Nollywood actress, Omoni Oboli.
Not too long after Omoni’s post on social media, Nollywood started showing up en masse with posts from actors like Jemima Osunde, Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha, Kate Henshaw, Rita Dominic, Toyin Abraham, Stan Nze, Adesua Etomi and Adunni Ade. These actors didn’t just show us they were voting, they also provided situation reports on their various polling units, encouraging their over 40 million combined followers to go out and vote.
But while Chioma Chukwuka was getting attacked by thugs trying to snatch ballot boxes and Omoni Oboli camped at her polling unit till 6 a.m. the next day, our self-proclaimed African Giant, Burna Boy, was nowhere to be found. And our best export since crude oil, Wizkid? Well, Machalla was in Ghana, attending the funeral of a music producer’s mum, which might be good enough reason to not be in the country, but to not talk about the election?
It’s easy to dismiss Burna Boy and Wizkid’s absence from the polls; they’re just two votes out of 93.4 million registered voters. But then there’s the question of their reach. These two men have a larger social audience than most Nollywood stars who showed up at the elections and talked about it combined.
Leading up to the 2023 elections, some of these actors and musicians like Falz, Davido, Ladipoe, M.I and Zlatan spoke about PVC collection, urging their fans to equip themselves with the only permissible weapon for the elections. Meanwhile, Burna and Wizkid refused to disrupt their perfectly curated social feeds with election information.
Other singers like Tiwa Savage, Don Jazzy and Rema were also quiet (Tiwa put up a post after voting had officially wrapped up wishing Nigeria a peaceful election). These musicians aren’t known to be silent on social issues. After all, Burna called out Coachella, and Wizkid also attacked Reekado Banks for attempting to promote music during #EndSars, all on Blue Ivy’s internet. So why keep quiet now?
Imagine Wizkid not showing up after this:
Singling out Wizkid and Burna Boy is intentional, and their selection runs deeper than surface-level social media reach. Wizkid’s first international claim to fame and one of his biggest hits to date isn’t Essence; it’s Ojuelegba. The 2014 semi-autobiographical hit narrated Wizkid’s journey from shopping demos to becoming one of the biggest stars of his generation.
Ojuelegba wasn’t just Wizkid’s story; the song presented a certain level of hope that if this random guy could hustle his way out, then maybe it’s possible for the rest of us too.
Similarly, Burna Boy’s transition from “underrated” to international superstardom came in 2018 with a little song called Ye. Sampling Fela’s 1977 classic, Sorrow Tears and Blood, Ye positioned Burna as the voice of the people, a narrative he’s continued to push internationally from African Giant to Love, Damini.
These two, more Burna than Wizkid, have each benefited from posturing as messengers of the Nigerian experience — good and bad. So you can’t blame the people for expecting them to show up somehow when the going gets really tough.
In a very on-brand move, Wizkid has remained silent in the face of the warranted social media drag. Meanwhile, Burna has decided to be defensive and condescending — something we’ve gotten accustomed to.
Although I don’t have hard evidence to prove that celebrities showing up at the polls can influence voter turnout in Nigeria, it’s not far-fetched to imagine many people would’ve pulled up to the Ojuelegba polling unit in Lagos if they thought there was a slight chance their fave would be there.
Research shows a direct relationship between celebrities encouraging people to vote and actual voter turnout in countries like America. In 2018, vote.org recorded 65,000 new registered voters after Taylor Swift endorsed a political candidate and asked her fans to vote. The same organisation recorded a 1500% increase in voter engagement after a similar Kylie Jenner post in 2020. So even though Nigeria and most other African countries don’t record data like this, celebrity culture can influence voting culture.
That being said, going out to vote is a civic duty, and the decision shouldn’t be forced. But we should look at the bigger picture.
Music has held Nigerians together generation after generation, reflecting our collective struggles and hopes for the future. It was music Fela used to hold the military accountable during his time, and it was music that fueled the #EndSARS protests.
As Afrobeats dominates the “world” it’s been trying to reach for years, our faves must remember where the sound came from. There’ll be no “Afrobeats to the world” if Nigeria goes to shit. And when you claim to be about civic responsibility, you should show up when it counts.
Check here for live updates on the ongoing presidential and legislative elections.