Banky W, musician and filmmaker, who contested in the recently held National Assembly election to represent Eti-Osa constituency, Lagos at the House of Representatives, tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about his experience
What influenced your decision to go into politics? The reason I ventured into politics was because of my desire to impact and improve my community; the desire to do more than just talk, tweet and complain about government and the issues facing young people, and the desire to be a part of the progress we all seek. Most of us say we want a better country, but that’s where we stop.
Some people think that you should have started small, probably by contesting a post in the Lagos State House of Assembly. Do you agree with them? I think each person must decide on what their vision is, and how they want to approach its execution. For me, it wasn’t just about winning any available election. I actually went for the specific role in government that I felt I wanted to work in at this time if given the opportunity. The House of Representatives would give me an opportunity to serve the whole country as a federal lawmaker, and also to serve my local community because of the constituency development that each member of the National Assembly is responsible for. That dual role of impact at the federal and local levels is what informed my decision to attempt this race.
You weren’t elected at the end of the day. How do you feel about losing out? I feel very grateful, even in defeat, because of the things we were able to accomplish. Just by running the kind of campaign we ran, and winning some of the major polling units in our area, especially in places like Lekki, Agungi, Idado, Northern Foreshore, Badore, etc. Even in the places where we didn’t win, we were consistently placed in the top three right alongside the two major powers that be. And we did all this with a new, unknown party with no godfather or major sponsor and in the space of three months. It shows that we can compete. You have to remember that a lot of the voters were accustomed to just picking sides between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. We actually earned every single vote we got, and that’s something to be proud of. We also hopefully inspired our generation enough to know that it can be done and to participate in the future. We made it to the top three in just three months; imagine what we can do with four years of consistent effort? We may not have won the election in Eti-Osa, but we won something far greater. We won their hearts.
What lessons did you learn from the exercise? I learnt more in three months of doing politics than I have in some years put together. It was an enlightening, eye-opening experience. I learnt about people from all walks of life, and what drives them. I learnt about people in my community, from the grass roots to the top of the food chain; I learnt about their needs, issues, expectations, and dreams. I learnt about the problems in society and how I can continue to play my role in trying to fix them. I learnt more about being a leader, and what it takes to be a good one. I learnt so much in such a short period of time, that I don’t have space or time here to get into the details. I think I actually need to write some blogs about the lessons I learnt, in the hope that some will find them beneficial.
With your popularity as a singer, one would have thought you would have contested on a stronger platform but you opted for a relatively new party. Why?.
I was looking at the political landscape about a year ago, and I was a little frustrated that everyone around me seemed to only be focusing on the presidential and governorship elections. No one seemed to know or care much about the National Assembly seats, or even state Houses of Assembly. Even the “smaller” parties who really didn’t have the structure or ability to deliver the presidential mandate seemed to be mostly concerned with attempting it. And I felt that as a generation, we needed to dream big, but start small. So while I doff my hat to all the alternatives or young candidates running for President, I felt like we also needed to focus on the smaller races, focus on putting the brightest minds among us in government at lower levels and prove that we can break in at that level and build up from there. I had multiple conversations with Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi (National Chairman of the Modern Democratic Party), and we both agreed that we wanted to put the spotlight on the National Assembly; these legislative seats have so much power and responsibility, but very little-to-no accountability and transparency, because we aren’t really paying attention to them. We agreed that our strategy as a party would be to focus on entering government at the community level and building a movement that will allow credible like minds to do the same across the country; that way we can infiltrate the government and build up from there. MDP was the only party that saw things the way that I did.
Do you think you would have had a better chance if you had contested on the platform of one of the popular political parties? My goal was not to just win an elected office; my goal was also to inspire my generation to get involved. You see, there are millions of disenfranchised young people who are fed up and frustrated by our government and political parties. When we look at the numbers after every election, it shows us that the turnout, especially among young voters, is always very low. And it’s ironic to me because these young people actually have the numbers to sway any election in this country, from the presidential, all the way down. That power has always been with the people, but the people don’t bother to use it. There are actually always more people who do not participate than there are who are loyal to (or paid by) a particular party. And so my goal was to try and convince as many of those people who normally wouldn’t bother, to care again. Nigeria can only really change if and when the young people demand it, and get involved in making it happen. And I feel like we’ve sparked that movement with the race we ran. Our work has just begun. We must now continue to build the movement, and sustain the momentum.
You said you started your campaign about three months to the election. Why did you leave it that late? There were a lot of things to consider before making the decision to run. I had to consider the safety and security of my family first and foremost. I needed my wife’s permission, and I also needed to speak with my business partner and a few close friends and contacts for advice. I also had to give up certain endorsement deals and sources of income in order to contest, because corporate companies are not allowed to have you as an ambassador or influencer while you’re contesting for, or in, office. So I had to really decide if these were sacrifices I was willing to make and if this was the right time to make them.
Some people believe that desperate politicians would do anything to win, including using diabolical things like juju. Did you witness anything like that? I did have some very mind-boggling experiences, and I can honestly say that it’s sad how much of a do-or-die affair politics is to some people. However, that can never, and will never be me. If I’m ever going to get into office, it will totally be because of the grace of God, the will of the community, the strength of my vision and willingness to work hard for it. Anything outside that is simply not for me. We received some small diabolical threats, but I always believed that ‘greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world’, so I was never scared, not for one second because I knew God would always protect His own.
What was your wife’s initial reaction when you told her about your plan to go into politics? Her initial reaction was one of worry; she said politics in Nigeria is dirty and dangerous, and she didn’t want anything to soil my name or harm me. But I explained to her that it will always be dirty and dangerous if good people avoid it. Some of us need to get into the system to try and fix it, or it would remain rotten forever. And thank God she understood why it was necessary, and went on to support me every step of the campaign. How did she feel when she learnt you did not win? She told me that she had never been more proud of anyone in her entire life and that it was an honour for her to be on my side. And then she called me her hero which was quite emotional and still is.
At a point, you opened a GoFundMe account for your campaign. It came as a shock to people as you are perceived as a rich man. Why did you make that move? Anyone who was shocked that we embarked on a fundraising campaign has no clue just how expensive it is to run a political campaign. Even political godfathers and billionaires need to do different kinds of fundraising. Even Barack Obama (ex-US president) needed to crowdsource funds for his campaigns. In most societies, crowdsourced fundraising is a very necessary part of running a campaign. I think the people who are shocked here just don’t understand what it takes.
People believe that to make a headway in politics in Nigeria, you need a godfather. Do you agree with them? I think people probably feel that way because thus far, it’s mostly been only those with godfathers that have had any kind of success. I, however, believe that anything is possible with God and the will of the community on your side, and that is what I set out to prove.
You are very popular and can have any politician as a godfather. Why didn’t you opt for that? I think people need to realise that the two main parties and the godfathers in them are so powerful today because decades ago, they got together and built something. They didn’t just wake up with the most powerful structures in the country, they built them. And structures win elections. So if our generation is serious about wanting to succeed in politics, we must also invest in building our own structures. If we want an independent seat at the table of governance, we must bring our own chair.
As you didn’t win in this election, is that the end of your political aspiration? I can live with trying and failing at achieving a goal, but I cannot live with not trying. I said at the beginning of my race, and throughout the campaign that this was not a three months race. This is a lifelong commitment. We have started a movement that has shown the potential for success down the line; the key for us now is to sustain the momentum and continue to build the movement. Consistency is crucial. Our movement has just begun, and it will go as far as we are willing to take it.
Now that you have ventured into politics, don’t you think it would affect your music and acting career? To the glory of God, we released a movie titled “Up North” while we were in the middle of the campaign; I didn’t have the time to promote it as much as I ordinarily would have and it still ended up as one of the top three blockbusters of the season. I think that goes to show that people will only put you in a box if you let them; I don’t worry about politics affecting my career or businesses. I just try to do my best and give my all in everything I’m involved in. When you do that, eventually everything else will fall in line.
Or are you planning to quit entertainment for politics? I’m not quitting entertainment anytime soon and people can still expect to see and hear from me as a musician and filmmaker. In addition, EME as a media agency is doing fantastically well. In fact, ironically, the company has never been more successful than it has been in the last two years when we refocused our operations towards the agency space. So in music, movies, and media, I will always be here, by God’s grace. But I will also be doing a lot more work in service to the public, whether I am ever given an elected office or not.
Why did you have a political concert instead of a political rally? It is because the MDP is more of a movement than a party. We’re building something special here, and it is different from every other political platform in the country, so we must also do things differently.
How did you feel when you saw some memes on the Internet by Nigerian youths mocking you because you didn’t win? I read a quote once that said: “Small minds cannot comprehend big spirits. To be great, you have to be willing to be mocked, hated and misunderstood.” I know where I’m going, and I intend to spend all my time and energy working hard until I get there. I can’t afford to lose focus because of all the noise and distractions. Even when I’m being mocked, I’m at least doing something worth talking about, right? I’d rather be the person that’s always talked about than the person always talking.
What is next for Banky W? I intend to spend the next four years building the MDP movement in preparation for the 2023 elections. When I look back at what we did in just three months, I’m hopeful about what we can potentially achieve within the next four years. I believe that by the grace of God if we are consistent, we will be a lot more successful next time around. I also have more music, movies, and media projects in store, and a lot more as a businessman and family man to achieve.