Written by Eromo Egbejule of Ynaija, enjoy!
On a quiet January day, a Medview Airlines plane was preparing to take-off from Terminal 2 of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, destination, Abuja. Passengers were seated, but the business-class section was conspicuously empty. On recognizing actress Eniola Badmus who was sitting contentedly in economy class, one of the air hostesses asked her to move over as it were, to ‘higher ground’.
Nearby, a budding actress (we want the name na) who by a freak coincidence, had been cast in Obi Emelonye’s Last Flight to Abuja was watching quietly. She then politely beckoned the hostess and asked to follow suit for a short period to – believe it or not – take photos there. Stunned, the airline staff agreed, well aware that the images were going to be used to create the illusion of an arrival in the big league.
There are no prizes for guessing correctly where the images will end and how they will be framed, complete with a matching hashtag – #FirstClassThings maybe – for the viewing pleasure of social media users.
“It was shocking”, says Lorenzo Menakaya, also an actor, who was aboard the same flight. “I just took one look at her and knew there was only one place the pictures would end up – Instagram”. Hers could be excused as “one of those things people do just for Instagram”, says Ade Akanni, an industry watcher. ”People take pictures with other people’s property, wording the caption so carefully it conceals the fact that it isn’t theirs and so they can claim, ‘But I never said it was mine’. You know?”
For others there is depth in purpose. That is why a singer, May D, in November 2013, went as far as authorizing a statement about him acquiring a mansion for
N150m, when in reality he had only leased one-half of the duplex.
“Many of these people lie,” says a travel agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Harrysong claims he was born in London but his passport was a virgin one when it was submitted to me two years ago. “I was on the same flight with Omotola returning from Italy some time ago,” he continues. “After flying in toilet-end economy seats, she went through business-class exit when we landed at MMIA.”
It turns out that incidents like those described are the norm, rather than exception in an industry where ‘packaging’ – Pidgin English parlance for the struggle to seemingly appear better than one’s current standing – is a way of life. It rests on a fine line between faith that things will get better and anxiety that they will not.
As a result, water is made to look like wine and stone is polished to resemble bread. It is customary – expected even – for celebrities to strut around like landowners of Earth and live like royalty, regardless of whether living like this is above their means. For them and their ilk, ‘fake it till you make it’, has graduated from being just a street slang and evolved into a motivating mantra.
“Artistes loan cars, clothes, money they can’t pay back and everything else just to attend events or to show off on social media and impress fans,” says Fola ‘4lah’ Folayan, on-air personality at Naija Info, Lagos, and founder of DearArtisteTM, an artiste career development blog. Fola stresses that modern Nigerian artistes have taken the phrase too literally. “We have seen those things backfire and it’s just a colossal embarrassment,” she added.
“What we actually call packaging, is professionally known as branding,” she explains. “Branding is an especially powerful marketing tool for artistes because it’s all about communicating their music to the people they want to attract. In the process, the artiste’s image (look, outfits, mannerisms and language) online presence, event appearances and more will have to be packaged to appeal to his target audience.”
“Truth is celebs the world over fake it,” argues popular blogger, Lateefah ‘That1960Chick’ Ayoola. “There are fake relationships created by PR machines, fake marriages, fake drama, even fake babies; all done by massive PR teams in an effort to keep the public talking about their client. It’s all about having a public image and keeping people talking.”
In the end, so much money and effort is spent on faking it, that inconsistencies arise and the practitioner ends up the worse for it, having to spend more to maintain the status quo. Those who genuinely have the assets are of course doubted.”
The society is to blame, says Frederick Aroro, a regular commenter on Linda Ikeji’s blog: “Who loves a broke, starving artiste?”
The gospel according to Linda Ikeji
Pop culture blogger and snoop-a-holic Linda Ikeji has over the years become the Bible of Pop for celebs and wannabes, their fans, foes and onlookers across Nigeria. All cadres of citizens refresh her blog by the hour for hot gist, sizzling rumours and a progress report on the Who’s Who in Nigeria.
“If you submit a proposal to a client for publicity and he does not see Linda Ikeji on it as a publicity outlet, he’ll smile and tell you: ‘I’ll get back to you’ and never contact you again because to him, you are not serious”, posits Seun Oluyemi, a consultant with YNaija TV.
Accordingly, she has – and other bloggers too – been accused of fuelling the habit of ‘packaging’ with a random post every now and then attributing arbitrary prices to any luxury item associated with a celebrity, for the viewing pleasure of the gullible public.
4lah defends the tribe: “Bloggers have nothing to do with this in my opinion; after all it’s their job to blog. So they see photos and hear stories and they blog as long as traffic is guaranteed”.
“Sometimes Linda Ikeji can say something is worth this and it doesn’t mean it actually costs that amount”, comedian and singer, Tunde Ednut pointed out in a polemical interview on YNaija’s talk show, Rubbin’ Minds in December 2013. He simply reinforced the beliefs of many in the know.
Ms. Ikeji has herself been accused of inflating the price of a 2011 Infiniti FX35 SUV which she claimed to have bought for N8 million – and which true to type, she blogged about. Investigations reveal that a brand new model sells in the range of $38,084 – $42,600 (N6,207,681 –N6,943,787).
This leads us to another question. Was Linda Ikeji cheated by her car dealer? Or was she simply practising an art she has so elevated?
In recent years, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai, has become the new Mecca for Nigerian celebrities who desire a vacation. Its posh hotels and classy malls beckon to prospective customers, who have simply given up, and keep answering its calls.
Linda seems doubly fascinated by the city – which she has previously visited – and a number of celebrities who have holidayed there appear hooked as well.
In January 2014, Enugu-based actress, Chike Ike holidayed there and the (free) coverage accumulated enough footage to shoot a biopic on her, complete with a sequel Nollywood-style. Ms. Ike who inundates social media with pictures during her trips – claiming to ‘educate them’ as many have never been abroad – is one of Linda’s favourites and a rumoured close friend.
The blogger also dedicated a few posts to the ‘low-key’ white wedding ceremony that superstar 2face and his beau, Anne Idibia decided to have in the city dubbed “The City of Gold”. However, there was little coverage on the blog – and on most mainstream media – of the behind-the-scenes activity of the multitude that thronged there.
One of the guests, a former manager of an in-demand superstar, told this reporter, “You know how Nigerians can gatecrash. Everyone wanted to show face, just to belong and lay claim to being in 2baba’s inner circle or brag about being able to sponsor themselves to Dubai for just a weekend. Only about 200 guests were allowed into the main venue of the wedding. If I call names of those who were bounced, you’ll be shocked.”
A survey of trending images released from Dubai during that period confirms some personalities had photos taken strategically outside the building and in the hotel lobbies and hallways before and after the wedding, but none during the actual gig. “They did watchman outside,” continues our source. “2face’s people warned some of them from Nigeria, but pride didn’t allow them stay back. Everybody wanted to do ‘Awon Dubai chillin’.”
Entertainment magazine, HipHop World, documented the gatecrashing afterwards. “Quite a number of people gave out their invites to friends who were overjoyed to attend even if they didn’t know Annie ad 2face personally. They made it worse by coming with other friends who were equally not invited.”
It also spotlighted the tussle to get on the luxury boat conveying guests to a private island for the reception, writing: “It wasn’t easy even for 2face and Annie to get onto their own love boat. Two-time senator, Florence Ita-Giwa, tried to get in but she was pushed back.”
Perhaps the most salient reason for passing off as being equally rich and famous stems from the desire to keep up with the Kardashians’ Joneses. From time to time, it is commonplace for entertainers and their posse, to bump across colleagues and brag about their appearance or status and jokingly diss their comrades’. So it becomes imperative that everyone buckle up or pretends to, so as to prevent a repeat occurrence.
The celebrity wars also take another dimension intermittently as a string of other celebs stoop to indict their own; from TV personality Uti Nwachukwu – whose relationship with newbie Saeon is viewed with a level of suspicion reserved for grand publicity stunts – to Port Harcourt supremo, Duncan Mighty, seen posing with a Phantom Rolls Royce he “borrowed” for a video shoot.
For so long, it was assumed that pop-star duo, PSquare were the owners of a private jet in which they appeared to always be lounging in and taking pictures of. Granted, they did not precisely say –or tweet – that they owned one but, and quite importantly, they created the illusion that they did. Like a bolt from the blue, in that December 2013 Rubbin’ Minds interview, Tunde Ednut revealed that the twins did not own a private jet. The aircraft they were seen lounging in is, according to Ednut, the toy of multimillionaire Togolese footballer, Emmanuel Adebayor, a good friend of the Okoyes.
“Even almighty PSquare get intimidated too”, sneers Akanni.
“60-70% of the things we see are majorly hype. We know those who have and those who are just hype”, Ednut declared with a note of finality, ending with lyrics better than any his music career has churned – “its show business; show your business or fake it till you make it”.
Some arrogate their family property to themselves too as is the case of Davido (real name, David Adeleke) whose fleet of cars do not all belong to him directly but to his billionaire father who owns a car dealership. According to a family insider, the elder Adeleke is very controlling, even locking HKN letterhead papers in his bedroom so the label operations are verified by him and ensuring his boy stayed in school to eventually graduate. “He passes off his father’s cars as his because he can use them sometimes and ‘my papa thing na my thing’.”
Doctoring the spin
A lot of the blame has been pushed to the door of modern-day publicists who take advantage of the naiveté of a public that continues to be influenced by what they see in the media. It is publicists who conveniently ‘leak pictures to the press, wire money to blogs and attach pictures in mails with subject headers using the templates: “XYZ spotted drinking pure water on a yacht”, “XYZ spotted with ABC: are these two dating?”
“I think it’s time PR people become professional and learn the tools of the trade properly”, says 4lah.
Every press release announcing a rising act’s signing to a record label reflects the usually vague words “multi-million naira recording deal” with “a house and a car” following not far behind. ‘Endorsement deal’ is another phrase flung about too carelessly by brand managers even for a five-second cameo of the subject in an ad campaign for a product. All of this is to boost perceived status and drive appearance fees, already hefty or not, even higher. It is, of course working.
There are certain events, Akanni says, where a high-profile act, say Ice Prince is low-key headlining pro-bono or for a quarter of his usual fee, either for the sake of friendship or to boost his resume more (yes!), there are C-list acts who perform at the same gig and – urged on by their management – tweet, “Just turn up on stage; we getting paid”.
“In kind?” he asks.
The extra mile
4lah recalls a popular act visiting her at a home a while ago. When it was time to leave, he didn’t have enough money to even get a cab back to the mainland where he lived.
“I convinced him it would be a cheaper ride back home if he just took an okada,” she narrates. “So I walked him to the junction and he had to use a white face towel which he carried with him to cover his face all through the walk to the junction and on the bike. When I told him he looked ridiculous, he said he had to do that because we are on the island. This is someone who displays ‘dollars’ on Instagram and hires expensive guards and security to attend events o!”
Arrangements also exist – Akanni swears by his ancestors – between some celebs and companies (not telecom) to ‘sign’ and announce endorsement deals that pay nothing. All that matters to them is the tag ‘brand ambassador’. For the associated brand, free publicity is the attraction.
Others equally go the extra mile, putting themselves and their family honour at risk.
Five Star Music – which has so many serial PR gaffes that it qualifies to be a bull carrying its’ own china shop around – is home to singers KCee and Harrysong, alongside ace producer Del B who leads a silent life. While KCee denied his marriage to …, his wife of…years, his label-mate last month was at the centre of a controversy after a magazine interview in which he claimed that his parents were siblings. When the backlash blew over, he backtracked.
“Some artistes, even veterans go to places like Egypt and Hungary, pushing drugs in the name of performing. To who abeg? Places like that have only Igbos who don’t listen to Fuji or watch Yoruba films.” Nevertheless, tabloids celebrate their tour and the cash flows in after any such trip, so all stays well.
Will there be an end?
Lateefah says, “My major issue with the fake lifestyle many celebs portray is that there are young impressionable minds that look up to them and believe it’s real. They believe all I have to do is sing like XYZ and I will also be buying a Swarovski-encrusted Bentley! I wish these fake lifestyles came with a disclaimer but sadly they don’t.”
These youngsters are mostly stans who will defend their favourites till the end of time; Nairaland and the comment sections of blogs are enough proof. A few dissenting voices however find time to ask questions like: Where is 2Shotz’s Bentley; was it bought to never be driven? Is D’banj still on G.O.O.D Music? How come every other Nigerian celebrity is a UN Peace ambassador?
“No matter how much we deride the “faking it” lifestyle”, she concludes, “as long as the media continues to report on it, we as a collective are feeding the monster and it is not going anywhere”.
The brief enjoyment of first-class seats and publicity rush will ultimately die down, but this monster remains and could return to hunt these very celebrities as the internet, unlike human beings, is immune to amnesia. Up-comers in the industry ought to take note.