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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.

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