Alibaba and 40 Nollywood Ashawo is a play on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a Middle Eastern folk tale. Before anyone sues, the title does not suggest that the humor merchant patronizes Ashawo. Neither does it imply that this seedy business is a legitimate line of work in their neck of the woods.

I didn’t find it funny when this dean of comedy unloaded his anger on an unnamed actress. Her sin was proudly and publicly displaying a home she bought in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos. Alibaba raised three points to dispute her claim and, in the process, used a brush to tar female Nollywood actors. According to him, most of these actors do not earn enough to buy prime real estate. What they flaunt on social media are gifts from wealthy clients that they sell their services to outside the industry. He did not exactly say what those services were. But he gave dark hints about Dubai, and keys to VIP suites in hotels. He claimed to have witnessed when one key exchange took place between an aide and an actor. And he was offended when, days later, she proclaimed that hard work had given her a home in Lekki.

In Nigeria, anything is possible, including buying a house in Lekki from a Dubai trip. But even if it is this type of miracle that took place, is it your hard work, Ali? And is it not hard work?

His third point however makes sense, and I suspect that it’s here that he anchored his angst. What these wannabes do create a bad image for honest wheeler dealers in the industry, he said. They make it look as if the ones using their brains and talents to create wealth are also oloshos.

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Alibaba should calm down. He got it right, but he is wrong. Our problem is this yearning to represent Nollywood actors as if they are, or should be, standard bearers of public morality.

There are two sides to this issue.

The first is that, as it is in every other economic sector, there will be the good, the bad and the ugly among Nollywood actors. Therefore, when we see one or several actors in Dubai collecting penthouse keys from aides, their moral struggles cannot represent the cohort of female actors. That Alibaba recognizes genuine investors reaping dividends outside their primary occupation disproves the charges.

A secondary consideration is our tendency to morph the actor’s role into their off-camera identities. In their movies, actors play heroes and villains and receive appropriate rewards in those roles. In all cases, the villain stumbles and is humbled, the hero hailed and uplifted. Everybody knows that they are only acting the part. So why do some of us expect them to export the moral of the story into personal lifestyle choices? Why should they? Nobody gets a part in a movie because they walk the straight and narrow path. That qualification is for those who control the money.

Alibaba will do well to concentrate on those who control the money – in the industry and in society – because they are the villains. Those in the industry make it difficult for actors to live decently. Outside the industry, the fat cats tempt the actor to succumb to an indecent lifestyle. They can afford to engage in this exploitation because they also control the levers of government policy. They make it difficult for society to question sources of their unearned wealth.

The urge to proudly promote unearned income will disappear when tax authorities take notice of their public displays. And subsequently question their sources of wealth. Until we get to this point, let us recognize that there are no saints in Nigeria. And that, on the matter of who is hurting public morality, the actor is a victim and not the villain.

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