- Star Actor-Turned-Politcian Hon. DESMOND ELLIOT
Not many took him seriously close to a decade ago when he first signified his intention to be a politician. Perhaps only very few gave him a chance. And you couldn’t possibly blame them. Desmond Olushola Elliot simply didn’t cut the picture of the conventional politician. He doesn’t talk like them, neither does he look like them. He was just perfect for the profession that had brought him unprecedented fame and fortune – acting. It was indeed quite a rude shock to many of his fans when he declared his intention to join politics and contest for a seat at the Lagos State House of Assembly representing Suru-Lere under the APC platform.
Many, including his colleagues, couldn’t believe he was walking away from acting, and at a time that he’d gotten to the very pinnacle of his career. Fast forward to 2017, and the story is different. The handsome actor has not only surprised everybody with the modest achievements he’s recorded within a short while, he has also proven everyone wrong by holding his own and coping quite well with the rigours of day-to-day politics. As exhaustive as the experience has been, he finds profound fulfillment in knowing he has used his office to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of people, including his Nollywood colleagues, who frequent his office everyday hoping he can be that effective link to government that they’ve been looking for. A couple of weeks ago, City People’s WALE LAWAL was a guest of the movie star cum politician. It was so nice to see that despite his elevated status as a Lawmaker, apart from the fact he’s added just a bit of flesh and looking even more dashing, little or nothing has changed about our Desmond Elliot. He is still the same humble, warm and down-to-earth personality we’ve always known to him to be. And yes, he still has that ever lovely smile on his face that has won him thousands of fans over the years.
How has it been transiting from an actor to a politician, specifically a Lawmaker, and not just one representing a small unit but one representing a constituency as big as Surulere?
It’s been an amazing experience. I’m one who is not too shy from challenges. It’s been highly challenging. It makes you go deep down into reasons why we’re into politics in the first place. Everyday I’m constantly reminded of the fact there’s a reason for my being in politics and that the mission is to serve people. The evolution hasn’t been too smooth but it’s been great. Every step of the way, I’ve had every reason to thank God and thank the people that made it possible. I have had great support from my leaders, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, who has taken me in like a brother, really, and helped me learn the ropes. The politicians, if they never gave me a chance before, now I am loved. And then the electorates, they’ve been very understanding. They see me and they talk about issues regarding the constituency and I listen to them and happy about the fact that things are going quite well between us.
The first time you mentioned you were going to go into politics was as far back as 2010 in an interview I had with you. What was the motivation at the time, considering you had gotten to a point in Nollywood where everything you touched literally turned to gold and yet you walked away from it all?
You won’t believe this. I’ve had the desire since the 90s. My desire for politics began when late MKO started his campaign. That was when I ever got interested. I was amazed at how a man that was from the Western region could be so loved and accepted throughout the country. He was one of the richest men in the world but he could actually relate with anybody and everybody.
He got me interested in politics. And this sparked off my interest in political matters and this spurred me into wanting to be a part of politics and bring my quota into making Nigeria great in terms of service. So, in 2006, I started to make the necessary moves. With the help of former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomole, I met my national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A formal introduction was done right there in Benin and Asiwaju handed me over to Sunday Dare to always keep in touch. From there, I started meeting governors, telling them of my ambition.
I drew close to a lot of governors at that period and that endeared me more. I just believe God it happened at that right time in 2015, which was some six or seven years after I’d started. But at the end of the day, there’s been no regrets. Even now, more than two years after, I’m still learning the ropes. It’s interesting, its challenging, very tiring, but truth is, if you see it as fulfilling what your heart desires, then it won’t be like work to you. Yes, you feel your body telling you that you’re really tired, but at the end of the day you feel happy that at least, you have been able to make one person smile.
You feel good that you’ve been able to solve a problem and represented your people well. It has even made me develop a different concept as to how politics should go. Now, I’m beginning to see more need why younger generation should get involved in politics. It doesn’t necessarily mean being in the Assembly, it could be in other areas of policy making. But it’s been a good race so far.
What was the reaction you got from immediate family members, starting with your wife, when you announced you were going into politics?
Okay, early year 2000, I’d told my wife already about my desire to go into politics. When I met Asiwaju in 2006, I told my wife and she saw how excited I was. She didn’t really take me seriously, but she supported. It was when I started staying up late in 2013 to 2014, meeting with leaders to speak to them about my aspirations, and then I get home late in the night. I would start explaining to my wife about who I met, what they said, then, she began to take me serious from that period. In 2015, I had a family meeting with my mum, my brothers and my sister, and there and then I told them of my intentions and what I wanted to do. And of course they gave their support.
Tell us about your background. Tell us about Mum, Dad.
My father was Engineer Emmanuel Bamidele Elliot, born to Yoruba parents. He’s from a place called Olowo in Lagos Island. In 1955, they moved from Lagos Island to Surulere and settled in Gbaja. My father and family have been in Gbaja since 1955 and we’re still there till this very moment. My Dad is late now but his elder brother, Pa Elliot is still alive. I still have my brothers and half brothers and we’re great together. My father had two wives, my mum being the second, she is Delta-Igbo, from a place called Ilah, same place where Steven Keshi is from. They’re very wonderful and we’re quite close. I grew up in the north, in Jos.
I had my primary, secondary and part of my university life in Jos. I attended St. John College, Jos, I went to a place in Pankshin called Plateau College, Sharam, then I went to Air Force Primary School, Jos. And my wife is from Akwa Ibom, so you can see that I am North, South, East and West, you can see that I’m a typical and complete Nigerian and it flows through my veins.
Having all these extractions around me has helped me love and appreciate people, understand ourselves as Nigerians and see that we’re so different, yet perfectly unique. I’ve come to appreciate every tribe and tongue, and really, all of these have helped form part of who I am. For a good part of my life, I’ve been known as Sola, it was when I was getting into the movie industry that I decided to adopt the name Desmond because my last name is English as well.
What part of your background would you now say prepared you for what you’re doing now?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. The fact that I grew up in Jos is one, but more than any other thing I think it’s the desire. I was a keen follower of the presidential elections then and was watching the whole MKO campaign keenly. For some reasons it got me interested. He got us hopeful for a better Nigeria, I am still hopeful for a better Nigeria. Personally, I do not think the victory and the development we’re looking for is in the hands of the old generation. I do not think so. Right now, we’re just patching things up, I strongly believe the future and success of this country is in the hands of the younger generation.
When I say, younger generation, I’m not saying that during the election year they should just come out and say they want to run for presidency, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that we need to start grooming a lot of young people, from 20 year olds, 25, year olds, 35 year olds, into the workings of government so that you can give them a 4 to 8 year plan.
And after 8 years, you’ll be amazed at what they’re going to bring out. I believe this is something we have to start putting in place for the young people to be ready to take over. The only thing I feel the older ones owe this country right now is the responsibility to groom the younger ones to become mature enough to take over the reins of government. They can bring in fresh ideas that we actually have but do not have collectively as a people. It is very possible because we’ve been failed many times by the old ones.
I’m currently studying a man called Bode Thomas. I love studying people. I’ve studied Akintola, Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa. Every time I read Awolowo’s story, I hear about one guy called Bode Thomas who opened a Law firm and died at a relatively young age. So, I tried to go on You tube to see his face, I couldn’t get it. I Googled him and found he was born in 1919 or 1918 as some people say, to a wealthy family. He was a very intelligent man.
He died in 1953, way before I was born, but when you read about his story you get inspired. He was a very young man who stood his ground and fought to be the best he could be. We need to groom a lot of Bode Thomases. We need to groom a lot of Awos, a lot of Saudana of Sokotos, a lot of Tafawa Balewas to take up that baton of leadership.
I’m hoping that one of the things I will be able to achieve in life is to groom some of these younger people. I’m 43 years old now, I’m already getting to the old generation (laughs). I’m not old but I’m getting to that generation. But, sincerely, I can’t wait for the day Nigeria will produce a 30 year old president that has been around the corridors of governance for like 8 years, somebody who understands what it means to lead people.
Apart from the late Chief MKO Abiola, who are the other political and non political figures who also influenced you?
It goes without saying, look at the man called Asiwaju. Yes, MKO was the one that started it, but when you look at the way Asiwaju operates, you will see clearly that this is a man with a vision. He’s not about himself, he grooms people. I mean, for instance, I am not from the royal family or connected to the Asiwaju family in any way, he just saw the consistency in me and thought, okay, let me give this young boy a try. Let’s give him that platform and see what he can do.
If we have two or three of this kind of man, things would be a lot better. And this is somebody who doesn’t look at you and say you’re an Igbo man, a Yoruba man or Hausa man, once you have what is needed he gives you the maximum support that you need. We need such kind of people.
I think we do have a few others like him but we need a whole lot more. These are the people that when they get to the helm of affairs, they sacrifice themselves to groom the younger generation because they have realised that legacy is what’s most important. Today, everyone is talking about Lagos and the developments that have taken place, if he didn’t start the foundational process we wouldn’t be where we are today. There are so many people too numerous to mention that have influenced my life, even in the movie world. Where do I start from? Is it Fidelis Duker? Is it Lancelot Odua Imasuen? Is it Andy Amenechi? Is it Emem Isong? These are all people who have influenced me greatly one way or the other.