Nollywood actor-turned-politician, Desmond Elliot, who represents Surulere Constituency 1 at the Lagos State House of Assembly, in this interview with Ademola Olonilua, talks about his life as a father, politician and actor.
You have been a legislator for over two years. How has the experience been?
For me, it was tough in the first year. I say it was tough because I needed to settle and get used to the reception and expectations of people. At first, it became very challenging for me but things started to fall into place a few months ago. It is the learning process for me.
Has there been a time you felt venturing into politics was wrong?
There has never been a time like that. Have I been depressed? Maybe! But I have never regretted contesting for this position. I feel depressed when there are so many projects to be done but restricted by funds. When you have different programmes you plan to execute and you do not have the funds, it could be painful. The financial setback has been very severe and it has affected the execution of so many things we would have loved to do. That is not to say that we are not trying the best we can within our capabilities. On my social networks, I have decided to show most of the things I have been able to get myself involved with.
But Lagos is perceived to be a rich state in terms of the revenue it generates. How come funding is a major challenge?
I am a legislator; I am not an executor and I am speaking for myself right now. I have so many ideas and there is so much I want to achieve in this office but in trying to achieve them, you need funds. Unlike some years back when you could meet companies for support, the economic situation in the country does not permit that anymore. These are not projects that you can embark upon with your salary and achieve set goals. It is only when you have a corporate partnership that you can achieve these goals but when you meet them now, what they say in most cases is that they have budgeted what they would use their funds for or they don’t have funds at the moment because business is not thriving.
So, you are right to say the economy also has a heavy toll on legislators because we cannot partner with corporate organisations and you cannot go and meet individuals either because the so-called big man is trying to service debts as well, so how do you expect him to be of help? The situation we find ourselves in at present has made things worse.
So would you say you came to office at a bad time?
Well, I won’t say the timing is bad. It brings me to the subject of encouraging a lot of the younger ones to be interested in politics. If the youths are showing interest in politics today, in the next 10 years, they would not only become experienced but they will also know what to do when in power.
For instance, Lagos State is going through a situation whereby the funds are limited but because the governor has nothing less than 30 years in civil service, he knows what it takes to manage money. He knows the working of the civil service and as a result, it is easier for him to manage what he has. The kind of resources we have now could have led to what we call a mismanagement of funds, but we are all managing the situation well. All that you see today is because of the management skills of Lagos State governor.
We should not start to learn about politics at the age of 40; it should have happened 15 years earlier and before one is 40 years old, one would be in a position to handle executive works. It should not be a case of trial and error.
But people believe that today’s youths are asleep considering the fact that many past leaders ruled the country in their youths?
You cannot compare the past and the present; both times are totally different. We just got independence and everything started afresh. Nigerian youths are fond of saying there are no opportunities. But for me, I do not think anyone will stop you from doing community work. If the light is faulty, as a youth, go to PHCN on behalf of your community. So it is not only through a political platform that you can make a change.
Do your colleagues in the House of Assembly take you seriously due to your background as an actor?
First, I think there is a mutual respect among us, but of course, they joke with me a lot. They call me ‘film boy’. Sometimes when I am about to go off protocol in dressing or so, they would tell me that I am bringing in my film world to the gathering. But they would let me know nicely. At times too, I try to crack a few jokes when necessary. What we do is a very serious business anyway.
On my Instagram page, when I post pictures of the empowerment programmes or community works I embark on, the likes are very few but when I share a picture of my dressing or that of me and my colleagues in Nollywood, the likes are many. This shows the lack of interest of youths in politics. It does not mean that entertainment is not as important as politics. But to carry my people along, I post pictures of both my entertainment and political life. I cannot wait to see a Nigerian president that is 51 years old.
What are some of the nicknames your colleagues in the House of Assembly have given you?
They call me the ‘moving star,’ not movie star, that is the most popular one. They also call me the actor, Schwarzenegger; in fact, there is nothing that they have not called me.
Piracy is a big issue in the Nigerian entertainment scene. Now that you are a lawmaker; what have you done to curb the menace?
When it comes to the issue of piracy, the first thing you must understand is that it is a cabal. These pirates have successfully sent some independent producers and marketers out of business. Although about 70 percent of movie consumption and production is in Lagos, the issue of piracy falls on the exclusive list and it can only be deliberated upon by the Federal Government. From the state assembly, we cannot do much but I have been working on it already in my own little way and have been in discussions with the Speaker of the house.
What is the worst thing someone has said to you on the internet?
There are many, but I don’t take them seriously. I only listen to the very germane and constructive ones. Of course, people would insult you every day but I don’t take it to heart. For instance, anytime I go to the House of Assembly and I take a picture and post, the next thing I begin to read is that I have joined ‘them’ to wear babariga. People complain that I no longer wear trousers and suits. They said I was showing flamboyance.
I am in the Lagos State House of Assembly, and I wished I had caught up with wearing traditional attire a long time ago but for me, it started about six years ago and I think it is a beautiful thing. I am mostly dressed in native attire not only because I am in the assembly but whenever I go abroad, people appreciate it. I only wear shirt and trousers a few times. It is a thing of pride for me to represent where I come from.
How have you been able to juggle your role as a legislator with being a father and an actor?
Already, my children have called me twice in the office today and it happens like this daily. My wife is not around now, so I am their dad and mother for now. From here, I would go to the movie location to supervise what they are doing and I have told my driver to bring my kids there too. That is one way I hang out with my children.
When was the last time you went to location?
I was at a movie location a few days ago. Usually, on weekends, I find time to go to locations because my company still produces, regardless of my new office. We produce for corporate bodies, individual clients, Africa Magic, among others but my job is to oversee the affairs of the company. I have people who handle things; we are filming as I speak to you but I am here in the office.
How do you relax?
I cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema to see a movie. When I spend time with my family, I relax that way. For instance, after I finish from the House of Assembly, I go to a movie location to see how my company is doing and I spend time with my colleagues. That is a form of relaxation. Sometimes they tease me that the place is no longer my constituency, that I should leave them but we all laugh. From there, I take my children home and we talk during the journey.
How often do you find time to take your family out and probably cook for your wife?
I don’t cook for my wife, I am sorry. I wish I could. I cannot cook and I also do not have the time. I try my best.
Is it that you cannot cook for your wife?
No, it is not that I cannot cook for my wife but I cannot cook. My wife is a Calabar woman and she is very skillful in that area. So what I do is that once in a while, I go to the kitchen and boil water. I try my best but for the kids, they need my attention, so I try very hard to give it to them. It is always good to have a conversation with your children.
Do you find time to attend their school functions and do homework with them?
I try. It is quite difficult but this is a question you could have asked my son. We had a conversation a few days ago. I go to their school as often as I can and anytime they have activities involving parents, they ask him if I would attend. He always tries to make sure that I come but I don’t make every meeting. My son, Desmond, communicates actively so I ask him questions and we talk a lot more than his twin brother. His twin brother is more reserved as far as there is enjoyment for him.