Some may see these peculiar behaviours as a by-product of the social media era where visibility often equates to relevance, thus sponsoring a narrative where the need to be seen or heard undermines rational actions.
By Emmanuel Okoro
As the earth began a new orbit around the sun, and our enthusiastic shouts and text messages of “Happy New Year 2023” echoed among friends and loved ones, we waited for the unfolding of the year with bated breaths and high hopes. And frankly, the year promised innovation, progress, and ground-breaking feats, and this has particularly been underscored by brilliance in the Nigerian entertainment industry. For instance, the quality of music releases was on par, as well as the films that debuted on big screens.
However, something else quietly bubbled beneath the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head – sheer absurdity, or as the Internet succinctly terms it, peak foolery. From the bustling streets of Lagos, the chic avenues of London, the upscale lanes in Abuja, to the vibrant scenes in New York, there’s no denying that some Nigerians have been involved in some cringe-worthy and facepalm moments that could rival even the most mortifying episodes to ever be caught on screen. We are not talking about typical run-of-the-mill gaffes, but moments that resulted in head scratches and “Did that really happen?” comments. In some of these unforgettable moments, common sense took a sabbatical, and “vibes” became the order of the day. The year 2023 is one for the books, and by books, I mean the comedic and wincing sections.
We kick off this run-through with the African Giant himself, Burna Boy, who somehow always finds himself in the tabloids. But this year was like his 2019 single, “Different” – as if on a quest to outdo himself the previous year. The spectacle began on the 1st of January at his “Love, Damini” concert in Wondaland, Lagos where despite the show being billed to commence at 6 pm, Burna Boy graced the stage at 4 am the next day. Instead of offering an apology, he launched into an accusatory tirade, claiming that the audience had labelled him a murderer after a shooting incident in 2022. To crown it all, he concluded his rant with now classic slur: “Na God go punish una!” to the annoyance of the audience who had spent their hard-earned money on his pricy tickets to see him perform. But that wasn’t the most shocking bit. When Burna began the set with his verse on Asake’s “Sungba”, the majority of the audience who had been annoyed started singing along. This reaction is telling of the self-worth of Nigerians at the receiving end of oppression, who simply do nothing about it.
But Burna Boy’s saga didn’t end there. By mid-March, he found himself embroiled in another controversy during an interview with activist, Chaka Bars. Burna Boy, as a champion of Pan-Africanism, was posed this question: “Why is it so important for the [Black] diaspora to come home [to Africa]?”, to which he responded, “The Chinese-American has a base. He knows he’s from China. The Italian-American knows where their grandparents came from in Italy. They know the first person from their family to come to America and start that line to make them Italian-American. [The] same goes to everyone else except the African-American.”
At face value, the statement appears profound. But when viewed under careful lenses, it falls flat. This comment somewhat dismisses the foundational history of Blacks in the US, overlooking the involuntary migration through the slave trade and Africa’s involvement in it. Thus, while people from other parts of the world willingly migrated to the US, it wasn’t the same for African Americans. Burna Boy is perhaps not as aware of the political history of the Black race as he claims to be and probably should’ve sat that one out.
Perhaps the most notable of Burna Boy’s absurdities this year was during his media runs for his seventh studio album, I Told Them…, when he met up with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in New York. The interview seemed to be flowing smoothly until he made this puzzling statement: “90 percent of them [Nigerian artistes] have no real-life experiences, which is why most of [the] Nigerian music or African music or Afrobeats as people call it, is mostly about nothing, literally nothing. There is no substance to it — like, nobody is talking about anything in it. It is just a great time. It’s an amazing time.”
Burna Boy, currently Africa’s biggest act, holds a position that comes with responsibilities. He is a major representative of an entire industry with cross-continental appeal. Being placed in the spotlight to discuss the affairs of African music is not just a rare privilege, but also a unique opportunity to advance its agenda. Declaring that Afrobeats lacks substance was more than an unwise statement on such a significant platform, especially as the world, for the first time, is being introduced to the genre on a huge scale. And perhaps it is important to note that Afrobeats and Afro-Fusion (his claimed music genre) are essentially the same. So it begs the question, which artistes is he referring to? While the majority of his colleagues have maintained radio silence in response to this blunder, Burna Boy’s gaffe has the potential of undoing decades of hard work and sacrifices in spotlighting Afrobeats at this level.
The proclivity of the average Nigerian to be unnecessarily talkative seemed to reach new heights this year. At every turn, there was a Nigerian “content creator” marketing a course promising a seamless work visa process for migrants to Sweden or Canada, or masquerading as a guide for fellowships, student visas, and scholarships for Nigerians.
This situation might have gone unnoticed if not for a BBC interview with YouTube influencer Emdee Tiamiyu, who was asked why Nigerian immigrants apply for student visas. While the question seemed innocuous, Tiamiyu’s response bewildered many Nigerians: “People are looking for alternatives. They want to escape Nigeria. The student route is more like an answered prayer. It is a big bracket that’s able to take a lot of people – the ordinary people. We’re beginning to see that a lot of people just hide behind the studentship. So, the student thing is not real, it’s not like they need the degrees.” This is particularly an absurd statement to make, as Nigerians remain one of the immigrant groups contributing to the boost of the UK economy, as a result of relocating for study. However, chunking it down to the “Japa” syndrome was ludicrous.
Almost immediately, the UK government initiated dependant visa ban policy restrictions on student visa routes to control net migration. Starting from January 2024, foreign immigrants are prohibited from bringing family members to Britain, unless for postgraduate research courses. This development prompted questions of whether the restriction had been in the works or if Tiamiyu unwittingly (and that’s putting it mildly) embarked on a mission to sabotage the aspirations of hopeful Nigerians.
Well, two truths can co-exist.
In another shocking turn of events, Big Brother Naija Season 7 winner, Phyna, went on the With Chude podcast and dropped a statement that shook the Internet for days. “There’s no woman that can say she hasn’t done an abortion once or twice”. It wasn’t just an uncouth thing to say, it also raised conversations about Big Brother Nigeria carrying out IQ checks before letting anyone be a housemate on their show.
On the culinary front, the world applauded Hilda Baci, the former cooking marathon Guinness World Record (GWR) holder, who set a new record of 93 hours and 11 minutes in a cooking marathon in May. The achievement inadvertently opened a Pandora’s box of heightened foolishness, especially within Nigeria. Unfortunately, rather than paying attention to GWR’s stringent legislation and requirements, some Nigerians, in their characteristic fashion of drawing attention to themselves, embarked on a record-breaking frenzy that soon became a pandemic. Social media became a battleground for endless “-a-thon” challenges. From the infamous Chef Dammy hilariously attempting to break Baci’s record, to cry-a-thons, pray-a-thons, wash-a-thons (which resulted in an incident), kiss-a-thons, and an array of other ludicrous challenges. No feat was too absurd. The onslaught of these challenges became so overwhelming that even the GWR had to step in with a response, essentially saying, “Enough is enough”. Frankly, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that GWR, in an attempt to maintain its integrity, has blocked future requests to monitor marathon challenges from Nigeria.
On a more sober note, the Nigerian music industry experienced a shockwave following the news of the death of Street-Hop artiste, Mohbad. It marked a period of profound sadness, particularly as the artiste died in his prime. While the exact circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery, it prompted a sombre reflection, shifting conversations toward the issues of bullying and, most significantly, demanding justice.
When a memorial was announced at Muri Okunola Park, Lagos, one would have expected the organisers and attendees to channel their angst appropriately toward the authorities. However, it quickly turned into a festival, with DJs and Hypemen rousing the crowd into excitement. What was even more disheartening was witnessing audiences use Mohbad’s death as a platform to elevate clout-chasing to new levels, exhibiting absurdity before, during, and after the memorial, marching towards the Lekki Toll Gate. The toll gate particularly brings back memories of the End Sars massacre that happened three years ago, but the match derailed from what a memorial for Mohbad should have been – even after pleas from the organisers to head home from the park. The plot was clearly lost. It was just sad to see an event of such magnitude devolve into trivialities and fanfare.
However, one of the noteworthy peak foolery moments in the Nigerian music industry involved rapper and lyricist, Oladips, who had been navigating under mainstream radar. The day before the release of his debut studio album, Superhero Adugbo, his official Instagram account released a statement claiming he was dead, citing an undisclosed issue battled for over two years.
Once again, the news sent shockwaves throughout the music industry, with peers tweeting condolence messages and showing support for his upcoming album release. However, on the project’s release day, news started filtering in that he may not be dead. While social media was torn on what to believe, Oladips’ official account on Instagram deleted the obituary post and shared a new video of the rapper looking healthy, with a caption that read “Proof of life”, suggesting that he willingly faked his death to generate controversy and drive attention to his latest project.
It is frankly cringe-worthy that Oladips would consider pulling a stunt like this, after seeing the implications of how a similar decision affected Skiibii – who had faked his death in 2015. This brings this infamous Falz’s line off his 2015 hit single, “Soft Work” to the fore: “Even if you fake your death, you fit still nor blow”.
Clearly, Nigerians are grappling with an insatiable thirst for attention. The need to constantly be in the limelight, to dominate the tabloids for something – anything – has driven individuals to do just about the unthinkable, overriding logical reasoning or consideration for resulting consequences. Some may see these peculiar behaviours as a by-product of the social media era where visibility often equates to relevance, thus sponsoring a narrative where the need to be seen or heard undermines rational actions. Whether it is teaching Nigerians to use a fork and knife to eat eba or going naked on a beach to offer prayers for a Nigerian presidential candidate, we need to know where to draw the line. Unfortunately, it is seemingly impossible to do so. But we anticipate, still, with bated breaths and high hopes, that these attitudes don’t follow us into 2024.
Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde