200 million Comedians
In the last few days of May 2019, after a nationwide search that started with a viral social media campaign, the body of 26-year-old Adewura Lateefa Bello was found in a manhole. She had fallen whilst riding on a local mode of transportation, within the city called “OKADA”, the local motorbike and died as result of injuries she endured during a Lagos flash flood. I couldn’t wrap my head around the pain her family must have felt upon hearing the news, having to gain closure in such a manner and how the trauma and pain of falling into a manhole, during the rain, drowning in the overwhelming trash and mud of Lagos, must have been.
According to a research paper by Dr. Erica J. Armstrong and Author Kevin L. Erskine titled Investigation of Drowning Deaths: A Practical Review drowning in cold water is described as,
“…rapid cooling of the skin (cold shock), gasping, cardiac arrhythmias, skeletal muscle fatigue, and rapid loss of body temperature leading to hypothermia with loss of consciousness and multiorgan failure.”
Till this day, I can only imagine how much more painful drowning in mud and trash must have been. For the next few weeks, there was a massive push for accountability, primarily on social media, on who should be held accountable for Adewura’s death and like most social media agitations in Nigeria that go unattended, it disappeared in a few weeks, much like how it came. Onto the next trauma, we went.
During my long moments in the traditional Lagos traffic, I’ve always thought of Lagos as a zoo and people in sanitation services as the zoo keepers who clean up after the animals. Sweeping and shoveling trash after trash, God bless them. It is easy to say the Nigerian youth is an endangered species but the truth is endangered animals are protected by the government.
With a constant flow of scandals that seem more like a badly scripted, low-budget Nollywood movie, it’s hard to focus on the trauma each tragedy brings. From snakes swallowing £72,250 of government funds, to monkeys swallowing money. My friends and international colleagues are always in shock as to why Nigerians can allow these several mocking injustices to continue without any repercussions.
Nigerians have a secret weapon in coping with personal or national daily trauma, whether or not it makes the news. Nigerians are hilarious and incredibly entertaining and you’ll find that evident in the popularity of the music industry and its stars from Fela to Burna Boy. Comedy has been the coping mechanism of Nigerians from the beginning of time; Fela encapsulates this in his track “Suffering and Smiling”. We find a way out of the most bizarre trauma via comedy. Comedy as a coping mechanism is now administered via the internet with the rise of skits on Instagram, an unexpected outlet for Nigerians actually going head on with their daily trauma, on one side this new comedic venture is creating a means of livelihood for Nigerian youths 140 million strong (under the age of 30) out of a population of 200 million, whilst simultaneously distracting them from facing the issues at hand. 34.9% of Nigerian youths are unemployed so comedy and music have been a great avenue to alleviate this reality .
A study conducted by Kaye Herth, Dean Emerita, College of Allied Health and Nursing, Minnesota State University, Mankato in 1990 stated that,
“Hope may represent a powerful mechanism through which humor brings relief to patients, as evidenced in research addressing the impact of humor on terminally ill patients.”
The results of this study indicated that 85% of patients believed that humor helped them to deal with reality by empowering hope.”
This statement isn’t truer of anyone more than Nigerians. Nigerians are addicted to hope. Religion being the fuel for hope (or hope-ium) and the religious leaders fan the flames. It almost seems like the people who are the victims of this “drug trade” are the same defense mechanism for the same system that mocks their logic and monetizes their hope.
Nigerians are mostly purists who have the “i beta pass my neighbor” mentality which is the belief that religious houses are for the “pure” as opposed to it being a hospital for the sick to heal. This is largely due to the fact that Nigerians have mostly syncretized many of their traditional cultural beliefs and created a hybridized religion that still centers archaic ideas of arbitrary justice. In summary, Nigeria is a mental health issue for Nigerian’s home and abroad. Finding closure from individual trauma is almost impossible when your environment and habitat is the trigger.
What happens when the joke stops being funny to a country of 200 million comedians? When the skits don’t work anymore and religion and its retail “hope-ium” isn’t administered in regular doses anymore. Nigerians got a taste of this during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown where Nigerians were forced to take stock and face their country as it is. The #ENDSARS protests, fueled by incessant police violence, quickly turned into an emancipation movement going beyond issues of police brutality and delving into lawmakers’ salaries as well as the welfare of the police. This was the second protest in the space of 8 years that I joined, the first being the #OccupyNigeria protest in 2012 (not counting the several ones I participated in as a student of LAW in Obafemi Awolowo University). I’m not even 30 yet. Unfortunately, the government chose to suppress legitimate protests by ordering the killings of young people at the Lekki Toll. For the first time, a new generation of Nigerians got to see the leaders, religious and political for who they really are.
A lot of young people fell into depression and hopelessness after these series of incidents, myself included. The information overload from Twitter made me quit the platform totally.
A few days into the month of April a friend was arrested and taking to another state due to a complaint that his “London-used” phone got was previously used for fraud, a lawyer was contacted in the state to help secure his release, on the Saturday he was supposed to secure his release as was discussed after payment the previous day, his phone was unreachable for the whole day till 6pm where he called back apologizing that he was busy “chair-ing” a wedding at his church during the day. The show goes on.