After carving a niche for himself in Nollywood, Desmond Elliot, in 2014, veered into politics and contested for a seat at the Lagos State House of Assembly to represent Surulere state constituency 1. In this interview with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS, he speaks on how lack of funds has affected his performance, lessons since joining politics, piracy and plans for his constituency. Excerpt:
When was the last time you went to location?
Two days ago, I was still at a location and I am going there today too. Usually, on weekends, I find time to go to locations, because my company still produces, regardless of my new office. We produce for clients, we produce for Africa Magic, but my job is to oversee things. I have people who handle things; we are filming as I speak to you, but I am here in the office.
Coming from a different background; how do you describe the whole political experience?
It was tough in the first one year. Tough, because I needed to settle in and get used to the expectation of the people. It became so challenging for me. Things started to fall into place few months ago. I later told myself that I could not do more than certain things, but it is still a learning curve for me.
Has there been a time you felt venturing into politics was a blunder?
There has never been a time like that. Have I been depressed before? Maybe! But I have never regretted going into politics. When there are many projects to be done and you cannot not embark on them because you are restricted by funds, it makes you feel bad.
The financial drawback has not stopped us from trying the best we can within our capabilities. On social networks, I share things I have been able to get involved in or put in place.
It does not matter how I did it; the most important thing is that the projects are going on. My job is to do the jobs; people are not interested in how I do them
Since Lagos is perceived to be rich in terms of revenue, how come funding remains a major challenge?
I am a legislator; I am not an executor. I am speaking for myself right now. I have so many ideas and there is so much I want to achieve in office. But in trying to achieve them, one needs funds. These are not projects one’s salary can achieve; it is only when you have corporate partnerships. But what you get from them, it is either they have budgeted what they would use their funds for or they do not have funds because their businesses are not thriving.
So, you are right to say the economic situation also has a heavy toll on legislators, because we cannot partner with corporate organisations and you cannot go to individuals either. When the ‘so called’ big man is trying to service debts, how do you expect him to be of help? The situation we found ourselves at present has made things worse.
Will you say you’ve done enough for the constituency you represent?
At all, I have not even started. But I still do projects. Instagram (a popular social media platform) will show you more; visit my page. I try to engage those people who are at that level and I also go to different communities. Last week, I was in Rasaq Balogun and Alaka, both in Surulere, where I met with the youth. I was in Alaka as late as 9pm speaking with youths.
How did you finance the projects you’ve done?
It does not matter how I did it; the most important thing is that the projects are going on. My job is to do the jobs; people are not interested in how I do them. And there are legal ways to achieve it. Yesterday (Sunday), I was at Oriental Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos, till 9pm for an important meeting.
Why were you so angry when a lady accused you on Twitter for not delivering on your promise to give good electricity?
The lady said I promised I would bring power to Ogunmola Street, Surulere, and I have not fulfilled it. I said I was not PHCN and there was no way I would have promised that. I only said I would try and at that point, I had actually tried. I would have loved it if she had commended me for the renovated roads and say I should not forget the electricity challenge. I influenced the renovated roads in Surulere.
Since they put me there, I do not mind what they say. When the replies were coming in, I knew it would be news because it looked like an attack.
The whole of Surulere, Lagos, do not have what we can call substation. We are borrowing light. My part of Surulere is getting light from Mushin, the places close to Yaba get from Mainland and people in Bode Thomas get from Ijora, Orile axis.
But I am working closely with the Commissioner for Energy and the state government to bring a power sub-station to Surulere; it is a huge project. The commissioner himself has visited the place and this is solely my project. I am sure you know all this bureaucratic thing in government, but once we get the permit from the state, I would now concentrate on the Eko Distribution Company.
Piracy is a big issue in the Nigerian entertainment sector and it has been hard to curb. Now that you are a lawmaker;what have you done to fight it?
When it comes to piracy, first thing you must understand is that it is a cabal. It has taken out a lot of independent producers from the market as well as marketers too. It is unfortunate for us that over 70 per cent of people consuming films are in Lagos, but the issue of piracy falls under the exclusive list. It could only be deliberated upon by the National Assembly. From the state Assembly, we cannot do much, but I am doing my best already.
Have you sponsored any bill yet?
The bill I discussed with Mr. Speaker is slightly related to piracy. But we are not calling it piracy law or bill. If I let things out now to the media, it would let the cabal regroup. But I can tell you off record and you must promise not to put it out.
We hope that before the end of this 8th Assembly, the part would be passed into law. Obviously it has to do with piracy, but we are not calling it piracy bill. It is to get people off the street and to have a synergy between the regulatory bodies in Lagos State and the film industry.
You once secured a mini-flat apartment for a woman in your constituency but she later rejected it; what went wrong?
This lady for many years have been sleeping outside. But I was shocked when I heard she got a generator for a borehole I erected. I planned to get a generator some days later. For every borehole I have erected in my constituency, I always get a complimentary generator to power it.
What she did was quite touching and I told my team that we must pay her back in a big way. So, I got the apartment so close to where she does her work and I furnished it as well. It was to say thank you. But she turned it down, because of her personal belief, not because Elliot gave her the place. I have always known her as one who does not live in a house.
Members of the CDA, the chairman and my mother even went to her, but she turned them down. At the end of the day, you cannot force someone who does not want something when there is nothing more to it.
When people were saying it was a misplaced priority, I did not understand. These are the same people who would ask what you’ve done. I did something and they called it a misplaced priority! What should have I done?
Didn’t you feel bad about it?
No, I didn’t. Neither was she upset. She said if she stays in a house, something bad will happen to her. The issue is not about the apartment; it is about her belief, which is not my business. I just did not think she should be living under the borehole.
What are the lessons you’ve learnt in politics?
Nigerian youths love to say whatever that comes out of their mouths and I will not blame the youth for their reaction. I blame our parents, because we do not have morals anymore.
I am in my 40s; looking at the way I was trained while growing up, I would not come out and say all sorts of things to people who are even older than me. We are not as much as the Americans and have equal access to the internet too, but when you see the way they respond to issues, you will understand that ours is out of frustration and lack of good home training. So, I am not blaming the man who goes out there and insult everyone.
The day I said I would never take whatever people say to me seriously again was when Goldie died. When I read comments, someone said “she was terrible as an act in real life and she would be worse in death.” The internet is open to everyone to say anything.
You now wear more of native clothes; is it right to say politics has changed your lifestyle?
It affected me more positively. Before now I have modelled for Yomi Casual, so you will not say politics made me this way. But it became more pronounced when I came into politics. Whenever I go now, I prefer to do traditional wears.