King of Boys: The Politics of Power and Female Representation
King of Boys: The Politics of Power and Female Representation
King of Boys: The Return of the King is the first Nollywood original series to debut on Netflix. Released on August 27th, this political thriller is a continuation directed and produced by Kemi Adetiba in 2018. It follows the story of Eniola Salami – a very powerful businesswoman and an influential political figure who is now vying for the seat of Lagos state governor. In the opening scene we see Eniola in the airport – after a five-year self-exile – back in Nigeria after a governmental pardon in full glare of the press.
Eniola Salami is the eponymous King of Boys who – before her exile – headed a table of gang lords operating in the underbelly of Lagos. Against this backdrop, and with the star being a female powerhouse, not common in high political office, the narrative seemed unrealistic and one doomed to fail. However, with Kemi Adetiba’s skill of storytelling we kept watching, waiting for the other foot to drop. Our skepticism is justified: In Nigeria’s 22 years of democracy, no female governor has ever been elected, despite over 70 women contesting in the last gubernatorial election, and only 19 of its 469 National Assembly members are Women. Women leaders, when they exist, are often in the minority and their acceptability is low. This has become normalised. Despite representing 49% of the population, Women have very limited access to the decision-making process in governance, law-making, corporate management or administration. Illustratively, 44.82% of the Nigerian labour workforce was female according to the World Bank in 2020, yet an insignificant percentage hold leadership roles. Nigeria has one of Africa’s lowest rates of female parliamentary representation and ranks 180 of 193 countries globally.
However, Eniola Salami had a good race ahead of her, and spoilers ahead – she won the election. A major tactic that helped Eniola secure votes and increase her likeability in the eyes of the electorate was her relatability. She held rallies with the youth and market Women, ate their food, spoke their language, and did not shy away from press rounds with journalists. Eniola – who is a well-spoken individual, employed the use of simple English and rich Yoruba sprinkled with proverbs whilst talking to the electorate, and it was done in such a way that it didn’t seem performative. Moreover, Eniola went as far as dining privately with the female head of the market before soliciting their support for the election. She capitalised on the inaccessibility of her opponent, who was also the incumbent governor. Involving the youth in the election process and working at a grassroots level definitely gave her an advantage.
The political climate in Nigeria is fraught with many negatives, from electoral violence, godfatherism, self-interest and corruption
Good governance requires campaigning and activism working alongside organisations entrenched in local issues – people who constitute the biggest percentage of the populace. Socioeconomic challenges arise when these are not achieved as is the case in Nigerian local governments right now, and this is apparent with the increase in poverty and insecurity. Grassroots involvement requires intense advocacy of the people and adequate laws and constitutional reforms. Local councils in Nigeria have their roles spelt out in the 1999 Nigerian constitution – all enacted to increase development in the grassroots, bringing governance closer to the people. However, the 774 local councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) created in the country has fallen short of expectations, and local government system are incapable of overseeing the activities at the grassroots. While a big part of this is due to the lack of financial autonomy by local governments, significant blame lies with the government failing to prioritise the needs and interests of the people.
This is one of my favourite things about the show: the existence of a female villain we could root for – even though she is ruthless and unhinged
The political climate in Nigeria is fraught with many negatives, from electoral violence, godfatherism, self-interest and corruption. Eniola was not spared this either. Being an influential Woman with significant power and authority, she made unpalatable and shady deals with many corrupt men – even going so far as being smuggled into the president’s villa and threatening him to support her ambitions. She didn’t hesitate to lie, coerce or manipulate to get what she wanted. And this is one of my favourite things about the show: the existence of a female villain we could root for – even though she is ruthless and unhinged. Eniola is by no means perfect or agreeable, neither is she very likeable. Her character demonstrates that Women do not have to be perfect to be worthy of respect – a message preached in feminism.
Kemi Adetiba did not outrightly make feminism the overarching theme in King of Boys but triumphing above misogynistic stereotyping was apparent in many scenes, such as when the president demanded she should have sought his permission before announcing her political ambition to the world, or her reaction when her campaign team mentioned she’d do better with a husband, and even when her opponent’s wife tried to intimidate her.
Nigeria is not the best place to be a Woman. From poverty, harmful cultural practices, the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, economic inequality, misogynistic laws, to political exclusion
Eniola’s win, however, does not translate to Nigerian reality. Political representation of Women is still abysmally low, and this trickles down to student politics as well. The vice-president role is reserved for a female student, and it is unthinkable for her to want to run for president of the Student Union. In fact, while watching the show, I was reminded of what my friend had to go through while gunning for the position of senate president of the Student Union legislative council. She had risen through the ranks in the legislative council from a representative of Faculty of Health Sciences to Deputy Clerk, then Clerk and was now vying for the highest seat. The votes were conducted in-house and blind, so she had to personally solicit support from various representatives. She had more experience and competence than anybody else – even her opponent, yet the representatives were reluctant to pledge their votes purely based on her gender. Women are labelled stubborn for the same reason men are termed assertive. Unlike Eniola – my friend went on to lose the election by a large margin. She later withdrew from the representative council and delved into entrepreneurship. Which prompts the question, how many Women have been deprived of representation owing to gender bias? Would she have won if there had been more women overall in the house voting?
Many barriers and biases such as these continually conspire against Women’s inclusion in leadership roles in Nigeria. The barriers – which includes stereotyping, sexism, partisanship, institutional mindsets are often systemic and demands progressive policies and governmental programmes to overhaul. Unfortunately, gender equality is totally ignored or paid lip service in many parts of Africa, Nigeria included. Broadly speaking, Nigeria is not the best place to be a Woman. From poverty, harmful cultural practices, the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, economic inequality, misogynistic laws, to political exclusion, there is very slow progress in achieving gender parity and cementing Women’s rights in the country. Women – due to lack of representation, historical precedence and self-limitation – are sometimes not interested in politics. And even when interested, they are limited by funding, lack of education or resources to mobilise and campaign. Education is the single most important predilection to success, and it forms a basis of social capital which has been documented to catapult men into places of power and wealth. Yet Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, with 62% of them being girls.
Despite this, Women are very involved in Nigerian politics. It is the perfect illustration of behind a successful man, is a Woman. As perfectly exemplified in the King of Boys series, they work to canvass for votes in the background: as wives, as mothers, as Women leaders in the party wards and communities, doing whatever it takes to ensure the re-election of their husbands, sons and party members. They are the real ‘afobajes’, drawing on their networks and connections to move the political ambitions of their sponsors.
Thankfully, Nigerian Women in privileged spaces are increasingly taking up the mantle of Women’s rights and advocacy to increase parliamentary and governmental representation for Women in the face of historical suppression. Odunayo Eweniyi and Damilola Odufuwa through feminist Coalition are championing equality for Women by focusing on education, financial freedom, and representation in public office.
While King of Boys could do with a little more fine tuning, specifically sharper dialogue and production, it got two things right: the costuming, and holding up a mirror to the Nigerian political scene.
Written By: Mariam Adetona – a writer and medical student at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She writes across genres and you can follower her on Twitter and Instagram
Header Image: Netflix