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Iniobong Umoh: This Legendary Nigerian Humour! Why are We Really Laughing?



Laughter“Why do Nigerians laugh? Why are we happy in the midst of the depressing circumstances in our country?” Why do we rush to share funny posts on our social page? Why do we feel compelled to share those funny videos and images? Why do we tag our friends to watch all the funny videos that are uploaded daily on Facebook?”

These are some of the questions that I have been asking myself recently.

I have come to the conclusion that aside from the fact that most Nigerians are naturally fun loving, a good number of Nigerians use humour as an escapist solution from the unpleasant realities on ground. Like the title of a book by Ayo Sogunro, “Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you”, the Nigerian system seems to be set up in a way that frustrates the lives and efforts of ordinary citizens. A recent example is the sim card re-registration process currently going on in the country. Just take a walk to any Gsm sim registration outlet and take a look at the crowd of subscribers trying to re-register their sim cards, you would clearly see frustration written on their faces.

I like humour a lot and I know you do too. We all like to laugh away our frustrations and sorrows. Have you taken your daily dose of humour today?

Humour abounds in various forms in this country. It is no respecter of class. Both the oppressed and the oppressor can be laughing at the same joke at the same time. People just want to laugh and unwind, and they would congregate to whatever source that provides this laughter. This is why the Nigerian humour is big business. Standup comedy is booming in the country. Comedians are multimillionaires, they perform in big auditoriums filled to the brim.  They are celebrity ambassadors of corporate organizations. They wine and dine with the high and mighty in the country.

Another form of the Nigerian humour that is rapidly gaining ground is written comedy. We have writers writing hilarious stories. We have satirists composing funny BBM and Whatsapp messages that are shared instantly by millions of users on social media platforms. Akpos jokes are still very popular.

One of the cardinal principles of humour is that it must have a target. There must be one unfortunate fellow who would be the butt of the joke. The Nigerian humour has a target. The target could be anybody, a group of individuals or any organization.

One of the individuals who has experienced how it feels to be the target of the Nigerian humour is Mr Obafaiye Shem, the proponent of the “My oga at the top” school of thought. The oga at the top saga came to the forefront in March 2013. Mr Shem, who was then the commandant of NSCDC Lagos State couldn’t tell the interviewers on ChannelsTV, the correct website of his organization.

The video got posted on Youtube and it went viral. I remember typing a transcript of the video for a blog.

“What is the website of the nscdc?” became the dominant question on the streets, “My oga at the top” became an expression used by Nigerians to greet each other and show deference to superiors. Deejays in clubs were mixing and spinning sound bites of “my oga at the top” on their turntables. Musicians used the expression in their music lines. Businessmen quickly churned out branded tee-shirts of “my oga at the top”. Mr Shem had to keep a low profile as the Nigerian humour was brutal and unforgiving.

The oga at the top saga fizzled out and the Nigerian humour settled on the Rivers state house of assembly crisis where the house mace was used as a weapon. Lawmakers were exchanging blows before the cameras. The video went viral and we all exceeded our daily dose of laughter watching the lawmakers chase each other in the assembly complex with Terry g’s ‘knock you akpako’ playing in the background.

The Nigerian humour train soon found a new target. Attention shifted to the then First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan and her many grammatical gaffes.

“My fellow widows”, “my husband is a good people”, “ok kontinu”, “Na only you waka come?”, “all this blood you are sharing dia riz God o” etc.

She never ran short of supply of humour. The humour merchants, satirists and cartoonists never had it so good. They never ran short of material during the Patience Jonathan years.

The national football team, the Super Eagles and a couple of its players have also been the target of the brutish and unforgiving Nigerian humour. “Super chickens, baba eagles, draw specialists” etc were some of the appellations angry fans used to describe the national team. The prominent players singled out for ridicule include, Ahmed Musa and Mikel Obi, who is often depicted as a snail.

One would argue that humour has contributed to the laxity and apathy of Nigerians over serious national issues. There are so many startling revelations and issues that would spark national outrage in some countries but in Nigeria, we quickly create memes and laugh them off. The Aluu 4 lynching of four undergraduate students attracted huge public outcry but the outcries all drowned in a sea of internet memes. We all laughed over the depiction of Aluu as a primitive and dark community where the sun never shines.

We have resigned to fate as we watch our collective patrimony being frittered away by few individuals. There is no amount of looted funds that will make us go mad and hop into the streets calling for revolution. We only make fun of the situation and everything gets swept under the carpet while we wait for the next scandal.

Our current president is currently having a taste of the Nigerian humour. The West Germany and President Michelle of West Germany jokes and memes are still in circulation. More of such is expected throughout the duration of this administration.

The Nigerian humour has its positive side. It can change the life of an individual for the better. This is clearly seen in ace actor Francis Odega’s sudden rise to fame and fortune. This long serving nollywood comic actor with average success is now an Etisalat ambassador with a lucrative contract.

Someone had posted a two minutes comic video starring the actor on instagram and the video went viral on the internet. The “hold hold up nigga, gerrara here mehn you know what im saying” video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. American celebrities like 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg also jumped on the bandwagon sharing the video and following the comic actor on his Instagram page. “Gerrara here mehn” is now the trending catch phrase and internet meme.

Francis Odega owes his present limelight to the Nigerian humour. If Nigerians didn’t find the video funny, they won’t have shared it with their friends. This is a classic example of how the Nigerian humour can change one’s circumstances.

I believe it is possible to use humour as a tool for engaging the citizens in advocacy for good governance. We citizens can use humour as a rallying point to hold our leaders accountable. We can use the humour platform to perform charitable acts for the less privileged ones in our midst.

We need to start looking beyond the caricatures, beyond the funny videos on our phones and start to think on how we can effectively utilize the Nigerian humour.

It is only then that we will be able to laugh at ourselves and at our country not out of frustration but out of genuine happiness.

Photo Credit: | Nsoedo Frank

Iniobong Umoh is a multi-contextual writer, story teller and brand content creator. He writes with a touch of humour, satire and reality.Email: [email protected] IG: @ini_leroi Twitter: @iniobong_


  1. Vann

    March 29, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    The issues in Nigeria and the way it affects us, are so depressing. I’m glad we laugh away our sorrows instead of crying or revolutionizing.
    To be fair, when it’s time to be serious, we are. So until it affects us past our breaking point, we’ll continue to laugh away our sorrows.

    • Iniobong Umoh

      March 30, 2016 at 8:25 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. mz titilitious

    March 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    On point! U can rarely see a depressed Nigerian. 🙂

    • Iniobong Umoh

      March 30, 2016 at 8:29 am

      On the contrary, there are lots of depressed Nigerians. It is only that we have mastered the art of masking our depression with humour.

    • Hephie Brown

      March 30, 2016 at 11:05 am

      errrrmmmm there are thousands of depressed nigerians! Mehn Gerrarahia! You’re one of those shey? The other day a friend said depression is “oyinbo problem in black man country” like what’s that! We are depressed and repressed and angry. In fact I wish I can be an advocate for depression(just joking?) But really, we need people to come forward when they are depressed and learn to seek medical help. That’s how one friend’s brother in law drank sniper(it was in the papers) and they arrested the wife for murder, saying the guy was too happy to have killed himself!!! Do you know how many relationships and marriages have scattered because the people in it are just depressed individuals?

      We constantly mask our pain with humor like the writer said. In fact as a writer in Nigeria, if you dont write humour, sex, relationship or gender equality, your market will not sell. Look at the favourite commenters on BN, they are popular because they are funny, i’m @whocare’s number one fan…We are constantly looking for escapes from reality.

      We need to learn how to be serious! I for one, I’m not so funny(except when i like you and i go all out to be silly). the president travelling upandan was enraging till i started seeing funny pictures of it and then i just got used to it.. At least if it is going to be humor, let it be constructive.. satirical humor, you know, the type they lock you in jail for? like charlie hedbo or whatever that french cartoonists are/do

    • Iniobong Umoh

      April 4, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      “In fact as a writer in Nigeria, if you dont write humour, sex, relationship or gender equality, your market will not sell.”
      Spot on Hephie!

  3. Carina

    March 29, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Some Nigerians are affected. Not everyone here in this country are happy. The economy is bad. Right now, I am not smiling.

    • Iniobong Umoh

      March 30, 2016 at 8:26 am

      Please try and try smile today. The economy will pick up soon 🙂

  4. Jagbajantis

    March 29, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    When the systems fails its citizens, or where there are is an oppressive socio-economic atmosphere, some people look for outs or coping mechanisms. It is part of human nature. Usually the arts or sciences get a boost, as the anguish and desperation gives rise to ingenuity if channeled right.

    I will give a small example. During the slave era in the USA, slaves hummed symphonies to themselves and broke into dances to cope with the back-wrenching field work. On Sundays at mass, they had choirs and a tradition of song, which is the author of soul music today. No one can deny that soul, rnb, hiphop artforms have provided a platform for Black Americans today.

    Nigerians have also used other coping mechanisms as a form of escapism from the difficulties of our country. I will name a few:

    – Party – Have you noticed the proliferation of alchoholic beverage companies. People are drinking more and harder liquor than the occasional pints of 33 lager, Gulder or akpeteshi our fathers used to have. Every day of the week, there seems to be one event or the other, for even the most frivolous of things. These people turning out and turning up at parties on the weekly – many of them are not even where they need to be in life. What are they then celebrating? Nigerians will party and bullshit, and party and bullshit. Just like Nero playing the harp while Rome burned

    – Social media escapism – Some people live a double life on social media, combing sites like BN under different monickers to project some fantasy lifestyle different from reality. It is a tough world out there

    Back to the topic, you mentioned comedy. Sometimes it is fine to laugh things off, pick yourself up when you fall and then have another go. I would rather that than a society where some brute grabs an AK-47 shakabula and proceeds to go haywire in a school or mall, just because he has been having issues. Laugh never killed anyone, except for a fatal overdose of laughing gas.

    However maybe we need to laugh a little bit less, but still laugh and do more.

    Those memes and comedy skits we create wont mean spit, unless someone harnesses them into a commercial viable product that can be monetized/franchised by Nollywood or Hollywood, thereby creating jobs. That is where we are falling short.

    • Iniobong Umoh

      March 30, 2016 at 8:27 am

      Great analysis.

  5. serene

    March 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Ini!!! I see you!!!!!!!!!

    • Iniobong Umoh

      March 30, 2016 at 8:27 am

      I see you too!

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