- How Nigerians use comedy on social media to make best of their bad situation
BY KATE HALIM
‘NAIJA no dey carry last! As fuel no dey and marriage must hold…See a fueless convoy.”
That was the caption of a comic image about a new Nigerian couple being conveyed to the wedding venue for the solemnization of their exchange of marital vows on two decorated horses-the groom, a palfrey brown, albeit dour-looking mule and his beautiful bride, in her immaculate wedding gown, incongruously seated on a weak steed, at the height of the nationwide petroleum scarcity. The horses were led by two casually dressed youths through a dirt road.
The photograph, posted on Facebook by veteran broadcaster, Soni Irabor, has since gone viral on other social media sites including Whatsapp, Instagram and several blogs triggering ripples of laughters, guffaws and chuckles among many internet users across the world with its witty, if not mischievous message.
Why? The humorous image and the accompanying caustic bite, are a sad commentary on the inability of the country, reputed to be the 8th world’s largest producer of crude oil, to provide sufficient supply for motor traffic on which modern transportation, and commuting by the citizenry particularly in this part of the world, depend, to the extent of reducing the joy of probably the most important day for a marrying couple: That of being seen riding in posh and festooned automobiles with glittering ribbons and the exotic inscription advertising their new status, “Just Married.”
Of course, what drives the humour and import of the message home is that this is 21st Century and not medieval Europe, when the practice of using the animals for such ceremony was in vogue.
And even where royalty such as the British and Spanish monarchies that have retained the custom till date chose to use it, they often lend it prestige by having the horses harnessed to and draw some exotic carriage bearing the wedding parties. The fb post could, therefore, be seen as not only a caricature, but also a sharp censure and scathing satire of the shame of a nation and the failure of its leadership.
And for a long time now, that has been the pastime of many active Nigerian internet users-creating, purveying and consuming such funny, but instructive materials that mirror affairs in the Nigerian society. Worldwide, there are over 1.59 billion monthly active Facebook users. 1.04 billion people log onto Facebook daily. A huge and vastly growing number of Facebook users are active and consistent in their visits to the site, making them a promising audience for these messages.
WhatsApp, on the other hand, boasts of 500 million users, with 80 per cent of this population using it daily; Twitter -284 million and Instagram 200 million. A recent public opinion poll conducted in the week of February 15, through telephone interviews of 1,000 randomly selected phone-owning Nigerians aged 18 years and above, representing the six geopolitical zones in the country, reveals that Facebook is Nigeria’s No. 1 social media platform, with about nine in 10 respondents (of the 63 per cent who use social media) stating that they own a Facebook account.
The trend has particularly gained more ground in recent times, as more and more people have found it a popular source of amusement to ease tension and fend off depression in face of the general economic distress in the land.
Although many people, especially men, have resorted to clubbing or going to watch football matches or entertainment shows, more and more have found it cheaper and more convenient latching onto the various social media platforms to feast on these free hilarious, bizarre jokes, satire, sarcasm and drama, thanks to an army of resourceful, ingenuous and highly creative web users, who packaged the fare in videos, photographs, graphics, cartoons,, and narratives, as a strategy for coping with the gloom of fuel scarcity, epileptic power supply, a very harsh weather and economic crunch.
The major attraction, Saturday Sun investigations revealed, is the capacity of these artistic works to entertain and chastise at the same time. They make you laugh and tend to induce deep, critical thinking in the readers and viewers.
And the subjects and issues are as diverse and spontaneous as they occur in the polity. For instance, hardly would an event be in the news than these commentators go to work with their witty cracks, pictures and videos, poking fun at the characters involved and Nigerians themselves thus eliciting laughters that leave their audience in stitches. They range from mis-governance, failed public agencies’ services, religious debauchery, social ills, corruption (419), kidnapping and other violent crimes as well as political and economic themes.
For instance, the funny picture of the horse- riding newly wedded couple is only one in dozens of comic memes on the embarrassing fuel shortage debacle. There is another interesting photograph of a man who hurriedly rushed out from the bathroom naked and mounted his motorbike on hearing that PMS is being sold at a nearby filling station. In his apparent haste and desperation, he forgot to put clothes on!
In yet another, a young man, weeping bitterly, is seen being consoled and held from ‘committing suicide by a group of village women after discovering that his aged grandmother had poured away the 50 litres of petrol he spent fortune and hours on queue at a filling station to purchase from a jerry can, in order to use the container to fetch rain water!
There is also another depicting a fierce-looking Alsatian dog being used to guard a jerry can of petrol filled container.
Sometimes these memes come with political undertones as in a picture of a guy who received severe beating and was bruised at a filling station. A caption underneath it explains the cause of his fate. it reads thus: “When you mistakenly shout ‘Sai Baba’ on a petrol queue.’’ The message projects the anger, potential or real, borne and nursed by Nigerians against the inability of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to deliver on its many campaign promises, especially, on ending the fuel crisis and assuaging their suffering.
Another critical post made a strong case for the popular mini power generating set, known as ‘I better pass my neighbour’, used mostly by low income earners, to have a place among the national symbols on the Nigerian Coat of Arms for being more reliable than the state-licensed private power generating/supply agencies. Its caption reads: ”After 55 years of tireless service, generators deserve a place in our coat of arms, a sad reminder that the nation has not got it right with constant power supply.
Apart from pictures, there are also humorous narratives including one in which some in-laws demand specified amount of fuel as bride price from a suitor intending to marry their daughter and another, where a society wedding held in Osun State was reportedly well attended by guests who drove to the venue from various parts of the country at the peak of the fuel crisis. It turned out that many of them having only few drops of petrol in their vehicle tanks, braved the odds and managed to come only on the strength of promisory notes by the hosts in form of fuel vouchers for a measure of fuel redeemable at a petrol depot in town after the weddding party!
Sometimes, the parody goes to reflect the fallen standards in key sectors of the national life, such as a photograph showing a grave spelling error in the signboard of the National Board on Technical Education conspicuously displayed on top of an area office in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Instead of “Board’, the word read “Baord!”. The poser, is if an agency meant to regulate education could commit such grave mistake and continue to display this without any attempt at correcting it, even long after it was spotted by discerning public, what is the fate of the institutions under it?
Passing similar message is another post of a painting of a giraffe on a school wall, which is erroneously described as a mouse. Besides provoking laughter, the matter shows how low education has sunk in Nigeria and it’s a warning to parents who indiscriminately patronize fee-paying private schools all in a bid to prove they too belong to the special class, without thoughts about the quality of such educational institutions.
Another national issue that received the attention of creators and consumers of these funny jokes was the national wage crisis in which many bankrupt states were unable to pay their workers salaries for upwards of between five and eight months! The agony of the hapless workers and the attendant effect on work attitude, ethic, public service and implication for national development are captured in this satirical skit involving an Osogbo teacher and his pupils. In the encounter, the poor teacher, who was owed several months salary arrears, engaged the pupils in a quiz session, asking them a series of simple questions to which they gave wrong answers. For instance, to the questions: “Who is the President of Nigeria?” The young ones replied: “Lamido Sanusi.” “Who composed the National Anthem?” They answered: “D”Banj and Tu Face.” “What is 2+5?” Chorussed the urchins: “25” etc. To each wrong answer, the teacher egged his poor charges on with “ correct”, “Excellent”, “Perfect” etc, until the end, when he added the ironic clincher; “This is how you will remain until Aregbesola pays my salary!”
Still, some of the works are sometimes used to celebrate unexpected fortunes and successes as well as inspire hope amid the despondency that seems to have seized the land. At the same time, they stress the need for perseverance and industry. For instance, the instant fame and luck that fell on the bread-hawking turned celebrity, Olajumoke, through T.Y. Bello’s magical lenses, which saw the Osun State young wife and mother’s beautiful pictures drawing “waohs” from fans after being posted on Facebook, got this reaction from Nigerian online creative geniuses. Few days after the lady got corporate endorsements from some bluechip firms and scholarship to train in hairdressing and beauty therapy, a popular public figure posted a shot of himself dressed in similar cloth that shot Olajumoke into public limelight, going about local neighborhood, hawking bread, with an eye out for T.Y. Bello. A cheeky caption to the photograph aptly censured this apparent cheap and opportunistic ploy at hitting similar luck, reminding the character that he would need to do more to catch the attention of the famous photographer.
During the Ese Oruru kidnap saga that provoked nation-wide angst and outcry, up popped on Facebook, this famous cartoon showing a poor rural farmer and his wife taking their little daughter, probably aged five, to the school. The couple had the young girl sandwiched in between them, with the fierce-looking father armed with a sharp machete leading the way, while his wife took up the rear with a lethal pestle, as if going for war. It is another commentary on growing child abuse and an indictment of the police and security agencies to protect victims and bring offenders to book. Underneath ran the caption: “ Make I see person wey go kidnap my daughter now.”
Because Nigerians enjoy these posts not only for their entertainment, but also didactic values, it is not surprising to see many Nigerians using it as a laughter tonic to break the spell of melancholy rather than allow it weigh them down. In most cases, one could almost bet that a large percentage of users found giggling while browsing the internet, on their smart phones, irrespective of age or gender, are savouring some of these servings. Some almost forget that bills are waiting to be paid, while they excitedly entertain themselves, passing around these funny memes and jokes.
Observers note that this probably explains the high level of “Never say die spirit” of Nigerians, despite the bleak times. Indeed, a study has listed Nigerians among the happiest people on earth.
A clinical psychologist, Patricia Chiegboka, observes that laughter remains the best medicine for hard times and may have even helped in keeping the population of Nigerians susceptible to mental health, down. Her words: “Certainly, laughter unites people, and social support has been shown in studies to improve mental and physical health. Indeed, the presumed health benefits of laughter are numerous. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain and conflict. Stress and pain can be reduced through laughter. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring people’s mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.’’
According to her, therefore: ‘Nigerians creating avenues to relieve tension and laugh during hard times is a good sign that they are facing their challenges with hope. It reveals the strong will to keep keeping on until things change for the better.”
Her views are corroborated by a cross-section of Nigerians who spoke to Saturday Sun on their experiences.
Mr. Wola Dopemu says he reads and views these jokes as a way of keeping happy in the face of bad situation in the country. “We don’t have a choice but to make a joke out of our many problems before we go crazy. There is nothing wrong with what people are doing with these memes and pictures,’’ he adds.
Mrs. Yinka Jubril, who runs a frozen food business says epileptic power supply often ruins her mood, because it affects sales. However, she finds solace in these funny memes because, as she confesses, they always make her laugh and that she almost forgets her struggles to put food on the table for her family daily. ‘’The one about the generator taking a spot in Nigerian’s coat of arms got me thinking about our power problems. It was funny but we are feeling the pains. We need to call our leasers to order even as we laugh at our problems,’’ Jubril remarks.
But Ebele Igwemba, said the continued production and enjoyment of these funny messages hold negative implications for the citizenry and the nation, as they tend to encourage complacency. She remarks that she no longer finds them funny anymore as they do nothing to promote positive affirmative action in Nigerians to tackle the ills so identified. “All we do is laugh about these issues without taking appropriate actions to end our man-made problems in Nigeria. If only we would deploy the strength and vigour with which we share these funny pictures to making our leaders accountable and compelling them to do the right thing, things would have been better by now,” she says.
Another Lagos resident, Mr. Bawo Ogun says these jokes, humour, innuendos, sarcasms provide Nigerians with a temporary relief from the harsh realities of life by refreshing them, making them ready to face their realities.
‘’Well this mentality is the reason why our leaders lack accountability and integrity and some of us as well. Nigerians take everything as a national comic relief no matter how many lives are lost, affected or inconvenienced. Nigerians suffer a lot, but we should put a stop to the mentality of suffering and smiling while our leaders continue to embezzle money here and there. We must therefore, be frank about our national issues, come together as one no matter the tribe and fight corruption and the many ills in our society.’’