Instagram Comedy and the Shadow of Nollywood

A scathing review of the political comedy Your Excellency, by Funke Akindele, written by an anonymous critic describes her directorial debut as a bunch of Instagram skits and not a movie. Rather than encountering ‘an amazing political comedy’ that satirizes Nigeria’s practice of democracy in a digital era, the audience, according to the anonymous reviewer, is made to endure ‘a string of Instagram skit videos, retinue of unnecessary actors and underdeveloped characters.’ This review embeds an implicit derogation of Instagram skits because they are not seen as professional or standard filmic practices, signaling attention to the conceptual dimensions of the argument that a Nollywood film is merely a pastiche of Instagram videos. Yet, the Instagram skit (or simply Instagram comedy, although these works circulate from and to several other platforms like TikTok and WhatsApp) has emerged as a new digital genre of Nigerian humor produced and circulated online for social media users targeted as fans and followers.

With superb performances by comedians who deploy humor as the means of interpreting local experiences for social media’s transnational audiences, the structure of the Instagram skit as a short text is based on few characters and a condensed plot that evolves over a short time span, usually between one to three minutes. A recurrent element of most texts of Instagram comedy is the sonic appropriation of soundbites from previously viral videos, such as Patience Jonathan’s famous “Okay continue” line. As these new digital genres of popular culture proliferate in recent years because of social and digital media, the prosthetic relations between comic videos that circulate on social media and the Nigerian film industry recall some of Nollywood’s most enduring subject matters and production dynamics.

#EndSARS, for instance, presented an opportunity to read the violence of police brutality through the pseudo-cinematic texts produced in real time by several online comedians including Debo Adedayo (@Mrmacaroni1) who documented the youth-led outcry against a dominant state repressive apparatus in their jokes. @Mrmacaroni1 who was later arrested at the now-infamous Lekki tollgate, also recorded his own encounter with the police in another series of skits that make legible the integration of social media affordances into the production of online stories against state domination. One of the major highlights of #EndSARS from the perspective of @Mrmacaroni1’s comedy is the convergence of the activistic and the artistic. Like the music of protest during #EndSARS, the real-time skits created by @Mrmacaroni1 to comment on the protest and invite more supporters online are significant aspects of the archive of narratives and images produced on the movement.

Although online social movements are not always examined in terms of the artistic practices that underpin and supplement them, the comedic texts of #EndSARS set up the conditions under which we may begin such engagements. This deliberate politicization of popular cultural form such as Instagram comedy, or the circulation of creative practices and activities on the internet for the purpose of resisting hegemonic power structures and ideologues is what I am describing as cultural netizenship in another work on social media-enabled popular performances in Nigeria. Unlike the normative performative signals of netizenship as an expression of Net citizenship, cultural netizenship evokes the deployment of visual and popular culture online to push back at oppressive power. But Cultural netizenship goes beyond humor and points to other regimes of visuality such as the creation of memes that foreground the remediation of Nollywood images for performative self-expressions online.

But as scholars like Jonathan Haynes and Akin Adesokan have shown, Nigerian popular representations have historically offered a terrain for the construction of politics. From Ola Balogun to Tunde Kelani, the genre of the political film in Nollywood is well established and enjoys considerable analytical exploration in Haynes’s 2016 volume on Nollywood. Gbenga Adewusi’s 1993 film Maradona (or Babangida must go) tackles the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections by General Ibrahim Babangida. For those who do see no connections between Nollywood and protest culture, films such as Adewusi’s offer some solid evidence. @Mrmacaroni1’s comedic videos continue this subversive tradition by rendering Instagram comic texts as reconstructions of the political. Hence, the crucial need to explore the discursive role of the social web in Nollywood’s political genre. Funke Akindele’s representation of social media in Your Excellency brilliantly offers a cinematic construction of Nigerian digital culture, showing Akindele’s savvy use of the platform to distribute her film projects.

Aside from the political uses of Instagram comedy, the production of these videos is similar to the do-it-yourself culture that inaugurated Nollywood, while the industry’s famous commercialism is a neat pretext for the widespread aspiration for commercialized artistic practices among Instagram comedians. Like early Nollywood, with its absence of big budgets and high production values, many of these comedians basically took narrative power in their own hands by grabbing a camera and shooting a viral, to borrow Kanye West’s lyrics from Power. The number of people who follow online comedians is vital and ultimately means that the skits produced by popular names such as @Taaooma (Maryam Apaokagi), @Officerwoos (Oladaposi Gbadamosi), and @Broda Shaggi (Samuel Animashaun Perry) eventually serve the logic of capital. For instance, @Mrmacaroni1 recently celebrated reaching 1 million followers on Instagram. The inference we may draw from this is not just about the much-coveted numbers many social media influencers crave for; it is also how the circulation of comic narratives is contingent on the shared participation of audiences that are invited in post-narrative commentaries that request them to “share or subscribe for more videos.”

With huge unemployment figures in Nigeria, Instagram skits serve as an entrepreneurial deployment of popular humor and reveals the capitalist transformation of online speech and agency into monetary opportunities. The Instagram skit implements a commodification of humor projected through narratives that both serve advertisers and entertainment, as the huge audience of the Instagram comedian is recognized by corporate patrons that are commissioned to make skits which advertise products. This way, the production of Instagram skits is both an expression of digital speech and, in more significant ways, a reiteration of the neoliberal logic of both Nollywood and the social media platforms that profit from the digital labors of users. Hence, Instagram comedy presents an excellent illustration of the commercialization of creativity that most animates the artistic practices of performers who started out as playful netizens on social media.

The many Nollywood stars who increasingly appear in these skits also consolidate the important linkages between Nollywood and social media texts of comedy, even as these characters feed off the influence economy from each other’s sectors, with Instagram comedians also featuring more prominently in new Nollywood movies. Thematically, although several of these comedians later explore other social issues, some of them abidingly retain perennial themes and style. For instance, @Taaooma makes skits that portray everyday realities which focus on mother-daughter conversations in Nigerian homes, but her comic style reinforces the stereotype of the so-called African mother as an inherently violent person who forbids the agency of children. This is, of course, not limited to @Taaooma. There are many other comedians, especially from Nigerian-diasporic communities, who project these single stories of African parents.

For his part, @Mrmacaroni1’s “Daddy Wa” character is a philandering agent who derives pleasure from the sexual objectification of women, although some would argue he merely uses this didactically to critique marital infidelity. Like the problematic depictions of women in Nollywood itself, which dates back to earlier androcentric representations of women in earlier popular forms such as Onitsha market literary pamphlets, @Mrmacaroni1’s skits depict women as materialistic subjects who depend on men and their money. While the men in these skits are often represented as wealthy and successful (in the case of Daddy Wa), women are consistently portrayed as sex objects who exist for male gaze and pleasure. There is an enormous body of work on this trashy representation of women in Nollywood, and several texts of Instagram comedy essentially rehash these ideologies, centering Nollywood as the dominant form of Nigerian popular culture.

Stereotypical representations aside, Nigerian online comedians are creating some of the most assured work on social media and are quickly perfecting a new genre of humor that invites us to imagine genealogical links between Nollywood and comedic practices on the participatory web. If Nollywood films dramatize the lives of everyday Nigerians faced with the postcolonial condition, the industry now has a shadow cultural economy that both ‘competes’ with it and strengthens it.

A Play of Hashtags: The #Sòrò Ṣókè Generation That is #NotTooYoungToRun

Keynote Delivered at the 2021 January 9 Collective event in Lagos

I wish to begin by expressing my profound thanks to J9C for asking me to give a second keynote at this important event. As someone who has spent the last seven years of their academic life practically living on social media and harvesting the various comedic and artistic practices that support the activism of Nigerian young netizens, I believe the best place to start this keynote is on Twitter. So, if you were on Mr. Jack Dorsey’s platform on the 21st of August in 2019, you probably saw the Twitter handle of the Punch Newspaper, @MobilePunch screaming disturbingly with the news headline: “Canada is stealing our young people.”

Photo by Tosin James on

In a subversive denunciation of this narrative collusion of the traditional, mainstream media and digital media, a Twitter user responded: “On behalf of young people in Nigeria we reject @MobilePunch. Maybe they are speaking for Ghanaian youths.” But it was the response by another Twitter user by the name of Omo Iya Oni Resi that I found fascinating. In the kind of epistolary clapback you would find only on Twitter, Omo iya oni resi wrote: “Dear CANADA, my availability to be stolen to your country is approved by GOD and man. Please, steal me without any baggages and I am done. Looking forward to your favorable response.”

All joking aside, I believe there are two things that may be said about this story by the Punch and Omo iya oni resi’s supplicatory pushback in particular. Although you might indeed wonder why many Nigerian young people have been running away from the country to Canada in recent years, the tweet actually calls to mind that important intersection of youth culture and digital activism that gripped the Nigerian civic imagination some years ago.

I am of course referring to the viral hashtag #Nottooyoungtorun which recognizes the fact that young people have the right to actively participate in civic and public life, whether as voters or as people who run for public office without any arbitrary institutional or cultural barriers. The participation of the Nigerian youth in governance has been grossly limited in our recent political history, considering how government has largely been structured by gerontocratic forces. To put it differently, our political culture has essentially been contingent on a social logic in which the structures of government and state power are organized around old people. For those who believe digital practices like hashtags which challenge hegemonic power and the normative order never translate into any concrete, offline political action, #Nottooyoungtorun became the answer as the Nigerian government lowered the minimum age for election candidates.

Let me quote the tweet announcing this by an excited President Buhari: “At 2.30pm today May 31, 2018, I signed into law the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that was conceived, championed and accomplished by young Nigerians. The Bill has now become an Act of Parliament. It is a historic day for Nigeria.” There are of course other practical considerations of realpolitk that we may discuss later, but to return for now to Omo Iya oni resi’s letter to Canada, we may be compelled to see how #nottooyoungtorun actually signifies some other meanings. One is the idea that many young people in Nigeria appear to be saying among themselves on Twitter: I am not too young to run. Away from Nigeria. I am not too young to run. Away from the sub-human indignities I am daily subjected to. Away from the misery and debilitating conditions that constantly undermine creativity.

Away from the Naija factor. Never mind that many other young people have created enormous success from the same social conditions that push these youths to run. I shall close with that, but for now this latter sense of the #nottooyoingtorun hashtag can be seen to gesture at the extraverted, outside-looking gaze of the Nigerian young person who assumes a life of comfort awaits them outside the country. But it is the urgent and pertinent political aspiration to bring the energy and invention of youth to the crises of governance in Nigeria that the original #nottooyoungtorun symbolizes. I believe the focus of our gathering today speaks to this latter meaning. By now, you probably have guessed that my interest in the talk lies in deconstructing a viral social media hashtag in Nigeria and connecting it to other recent social movements in the country, especially #Sòrò sókè and #EndSARS. I do this because to speak effectively of an evolved generation, and the explosion of fresh voices in the public sphere, or even the pragmatic next steps we need to be taking, we need to be pay some attention to the digital contexts of social media expressions of speech.

This is crucial if we are to understand, for example, the ways in which young people’s challenge to #EndSARS disrupted the country in the fall of 2020. The #Sòrò sókè generation, as this army of young people designated themselves, can be conceptually understood in several ways, but before I mention some of these, let me say quickly that an evolved generation itself has stood on the shoulders of activist giants from the non-digital spaces of political resistance in Nigeria. From #OccupyNigeria to #BringBackourgirls, every moment of digital activism that has coalesced into the youth-based #EndSARS and #Sòrò sókè have had significant ideological connections to the important foundational activist labors of past members of civil society. As a matter of fact, youth activism online fails when these vital connections to the existing structures of analog dissent are not recognized. So, when Teju Cole, the Nigerian-American novelist declared that Twitter was an African city, it was an affirmation of the mutual links between the digital and the non-digital. To quote Teju Cole:

“Probably the biggest demonstration that ever happened in Nigeria was the fuel subsidy protest a couple of years ago. This is almost unimaginable without the kind of organizing that happens on Twitter, because it makes networks possible and it facilitates that responsive, very quick organizational turning-on-a-dime. On Sunday night you organize something, and on Monday morning people have gathered on the streets, because they have all seen the call online.”

As we reflect on what it means for a generation of young people to have evolved or to be evolving, social media as I see it is, therefore, one major arena of that evolution. Let us be clear, though. I do not believe we need to romanticize technology. You will agree with me that social media has the capacity to both amplify and depoliticize voices. Simply put, since its ambivalence is well known, social media will not save us, especially if not complemented with the praxes of offline political action. But that’s not all. Social media in Nigeria is also precariously haunted the politics of class. Social class is written all over the narrative of digital culture in Nigeria, as Shola Adenekan’s brilliant scholarship in this area reminds us. This means that social media and the voices it facilitates are basically a middle-class affair, as CAN be seen with those abandoning their wall-paying jobs and running to Canada, but that topic is a story for another day.

That said, if social media imposes class politics on the fresh voices resisting conditions of postcolonial disenchantment in Nigeria, then we need to ask the important questions about representation in the public arena. This takes me back to the #sororoke generation and how I think it significantly misrecognized its own potentially revolutionary moment. I will come back to this point in my closing. For now, it’s worth pointing out that #Sòrò sókè existed as one of the many rhetorical dimensions of the narratives of #EndSARS and the various struggles over its meaning. #Sòrò sókè is the imperative to speak up, to speak loudly and back at power, but this translation may not even capture the loaded cultural meanings of its deployments in the context of #EndSARS. During the protests, #Sòrò sókè manifested mainly as the linguistic invitation to speak up against the coercive expressions of a police culture that is the material signifier of the ruthless violence of a state that kills its citizens, according to the Nigerian scholars Ebenezer Obadare and Wale Adebanwi.

As young people in Nigeria created spaces to #sorosoke, they resisted a ruling elite whose job has historically been to #jeunsoke at the expense of the country. If #jeunsoke is the politics of thievery and political corruption, #Sòrò sókè was its necessary anti-thesis. For those in the audience who have followed resistance to police brutality online, you of course recall that the movement to #endSARS did not start in 2020. But the level of outrage generated in previous years was not as intense as what we witnessed in last year. What makes this recent reiteration of #EndSARS more vocal and widely circulated may be attributed to a #Sòrò sókè mentality that produced the conditions under which an explosion of fresh voices became possible. #Sòrò sókè was a counter-hegemonic carnival that, as Professor Wole Soyinka wrote, “brought fresh blood into tired veins even as it offered us a rare chance “to watch youths finally begin to take the future into their own hands.”

 To #Sòrò sókè, therefore, is the performative vernacular of dissent mobilized discursively against the impositions of police brutality, but it is also to express disaffection with the larger hegemonic structures of culture that constrain youth agency and their power of self-determination. We may also understand #Sòrò sókè as the symbolic displacement of uncritical silence as a gerontocratic political elite continues to expect subservience from the young.  But to be clear, the Nigerian young potentially has enormous political power, although it lies in perilous proximity to irrelevance in the framework of actual governance. This misrecognition of its own power takes us back to the issues of representation that was also evident during #endsars. First, the digital ecosystem is not fully representative of all Nigerian youths and all men are really not equal.

There are influencers. And there are those consuming celebrity culture. If we limit our conception of the evolved youth to only those who are online, then our progressive politics will always be undermined by, for instance, the so-called hoodlums—who themselves are embodiments of the reassertion of state power in the public space. More importantly, the #sorosoke generation failed to recognize and affirm the voices of some other Nigerian youths who joined the protests online. I am of course talking here about how the participation of the LGBT community during #endsars was problematic for some so-called, young progressives online. It was troubling to see the voices of vulnerable groups considered as a distraction to the performative rendition of speech against the state and its repressive apparatus.

In other words, the pragmatics of our evolution as young people could not appreciate the insidious connections between police brutality and other forms of injustices. It was as if the power to #Sòrò sókè could be asserted by only a few, anointed young people, while some other young Nigerians were deemed to be neither sufficiently youthful nor Nigerian enough to #sorosoke because of their difference. The pragmatic next steps in youth involvement in nation building would have to include creating an expansive space in which the crusade against prebendal politics and political corruption is not limited by a faux moralism that denies the agency of women and sexual minorities, or the solidarity of the non-digital actors we sometimes exclude. Our dialogue with power cannot leave anyone out. We cannot recreate among ourselves the oppressive systems we wish to dismantle nationally.

I wish to now close by returning to my reading of the #nottooyoungtorun hashtag. Not every young person will run away from Nigeria, unlike the rest of us. Nigeria may have its many contradictions, with its notorious and ambivalent marriage of crises and opportunities, yet it is where many young people are doing some amazing work. 

While they may not be too young to run like many others have done, they are actually too empowered to run. It’s their power that is imagined as a threat by the ruling elite. These young people know there is a country that deserves their energy, and they are already responding by building the infrastructures to enable Nigeria’s transformation. If you do not believe me, you may need to go to Yaba to see how young Nigerians are creating digital futures and economies that are attracting huge investments and partnership from Silicon Valley, to give one of many examples. Beyond the zealous and sometimes uncritical support for Arsenal or Man United, or even the willing capitulation to a troubling Pentecostalization of culture that is sometimes divorced from critical thinking, young people in Nigeria are already participating actively in the global knowledge economy, not as mindless consumers but as creators of economic value. If we follow the money, we may find digital subjects who know what a Nigerian analog state does not yet realize—that the future will be built on digital infrastructures rather than mainly on oil capitalism.

Hence, these young Nigerians are not waiting for the next hashtag to perform an illusionary resistance online; neither are they lamenting the curse of a political elite that is Medieval in much of its operation. They are a tolerant, ideologically grounded, and technologically savvy cohort of leaders who know how to get off Twitter when necessary and make solid connections offline and across the board. If there is anything to take away, as I conclude, it is that, despite the issues of representation I have raised, #Sòrò sókè captures the fact that the Nigerian youth is here to stay, here to offer their voice to the production of national narratives, while practically demanding dialogue from government. The #sorosoke generation is #nottooyoungtorun. They will speak and it is too late for state and society not to listen. I thank you for your time. 

The Police Is Not Your Friend: #EndSARS and the Forceful Exertions of Friendships in Nigeria

While the recent viral #EndSARS in Nigeria may have been successful, the issues it raises impel us to rethink the famous motto of the Nigerian Police, The Police is Your Friend. For those who did not notice, #EndSARS was a citizen-led social media campaign against police brutality and violence in Nigeria which was, at a point, the top-trending topic globally on Twitter during the past week. Although the demands of the protesters are pertinent, what interests me here are the conceptual implications of an avowed friendship between state agents and the citizens whose daily encounter with them is an unending song of the precarious and traumatic.

The Police is your friend, which itself was part of a rebranding response to public perception of police as a foemay then be seen to be a rhetorical strategy that commands sociation, which attempts to remap real perceptions of state violence. Through the online protests, we come to see that the Police is Your Friend misreads how friends are ‘called into being by the pragmatics of co-operation” (Zygmunt Bauman 1991, p. 54), something the policing in Nigeria desires of citizens but also undermines through its own brute display of force and organized vindictive practices that impose fear on citizens. The affirmation of friendship is itself pertinent, as it ironically offers what should be self-evident as a condition for public trust.

The enunciation of friendship that is marked by The Police in Your Friends also means we examine the Nigerian state through an analytical frame that recollects Bauman’s phenomenon of strangerhood. ‘There are friends and enemies. And there are strangers,’ Bauman writes. ‘The stranger disturbs the resonance between physical and psychical distance: he is physically close while remaining spiritually remote.’ The stranger represents an incongruous and hence resented ‘synthesis of nearness and remoteness ‘ (Bauman 1991, p.59–60, italics original). The paradox is evident in the assertion of friendliness by state agents who give reasons to mistrust the state. To accept the friendship of the state is both to misrecognize the troubled morality that undercuts its exercise of power and to refute the perspective of the postcolonial state as a site of estrangement.

This idea of the postcolonial state in Africa as a stranger is prominent in a section of Tejumola Olaniyan’s writings in which he imagines the postcolonial state constructed by modernity for Africa as a site of aporia, imposed strangeness, and oppressive illusion. Following from Bauman, Olamiyan notes that productively reshaping the state in Africa demands encountering it as ‘a stranger,’ rather than as a friend or even an enemy (Olaniyan 2016, p.12). Olaniyan calls for a neutral, unprejudiced starting ground that enables us ‘to come to terms with the stranger, the postcolonial state in Africa’:

The stranger is seen and known, but is neither friend nor enemy. Such an attitude takes state estrangement as neutral normative, and procedurally demands a valiant suspension of our admittedly justified — because experienced — prior assumptions of state enmity or friendliness in the fulfillment of its obligations and in the staking of claims by citizens.… Whether as citizen, scholar, politician, or state agent, to approach the state as a stranger is to foreground and make possible open and equal possibilities for everyone in dealing with the state, on the basis of citizenship as level ground (Olaniyan 2016, p.12).

Some may immediately locate a problematic here, arguing that the state in Nigeria, as its police apparatus indicates, rather materializes itself to citizens through the crippling grip of domination and antinomies which make it a known foe that is untamable and must be accepted as a necessary evil. The fact that the state has failed to facilitate good governance and has been repressive by that fact lead to its enemy status in the imagination of an average citizen. The state is then seen as a prized category to be cheated at every point possible because it is not a friend who is interested in citizens’ wellbeing.

Consistent with Olaniyan’s claim that ‘friends and enemies are on the same terrain of the known and decidable’ (Olaniyan 2016, p.10), a motto such as “police is your friend” enacts the possibility of a state that can be known and knowable; it also demonstrates the ironic affirmation of friendship by state agents whose duty to protect and serve is eclipsed by the often tragic vexations it visits on citizens. People know the police is neither friend nor enemy, and they do not want it to be either of these. Although the likelihood of Tejumola Olaniyan’s idea of the postcolonial state as a stranger that is potentially composed of the possibilities of friendship and enmity may be undesirable and undesired, equally important is the response of citizens who understand the state as an ambivalent mix of nearness and remoteness they cannot avoid.

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When we consider that friendship itself is shaped by the politics of vulnerability — understood not in its recent elastic articulations that foreground the condition of destigmatized victimhood but through the politicization of injury and suffering (Alyson Cole 2016), there is the sense in which the friendship the state and its agents offer subjectivizes citizens as a vulnerable class endlessly susceptible to the workings of arbitrary power and brutality. To reject the identity of the vulnerable dictated by the state’s avowal of friendship is to embrace, not enmity, but the notion of the strange.

Even if provides of public service are not expected to be friends, they can at least be friendly. Even that is illusory as the official response to #EndSARS showed. The Police is Your Friend encroaches violently upon the public through barbaric police acts and culture from which proceeds limitations rendering life bare and disposable. Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the bare life of homa sacer as sacred yet extinguishable through violent acts of politics does not even overstate the present conditions of impunity that provoked #EndSARS. What Agamben calls the sovereign sphere as where ‘it is permitted to kill without committing homicide’ (Agamben 2016, p.53), becomes operable as the very character of police brutality in Nigeria, a fact that galvanized celebrities and other young people to protest both online and on the street. Nigerian Policing, as we find with the case of George Floyd and many others in the US, generates the condition for the operationalization of sovereignty. In these avoidable killings in Nigeria, ‘the life caught in the sovereign ban is the life that is originarily sacred — that is, that may be killed but not sacrificed — and, in this sense, the production of bare life is the originary activity of sovereignty’ (Agamben 2016, p.53). The Police is your friend in this framework can be read as an empty signifier, a meaningless idiom that obfuscates the actual subjectivization of life as bare and barren.

FIGURE 1: Novelist, Teju Cole Calls Out the Nigerian Police

Thus, when Olaniyan writes that the ‘state ought not to be anybody’s enemy or friend, but a stranger — a stranger is structurally and substantively composed, in a chastening way, of the possibilities of both’ (Olaniyan 2016, p.13), one wonders how this meaning of the state as a stranger — both in the abstract and dual sense Olaniyan’s argument mandates comes across to people who have experienced real violence. In other words, precarious dealings and forced encounters with state agents often propel cynical relations that produce traumatic and numbing relations with the state. This is the core of the #EndSARS protest, and it is one that speaks to a larger culture of human devaluation in Nigeria. To mobilize against this larger oppressive culture is to see #EndSARS as symptomatic of social malaise in the body politic, one whose change we seek not only in our own faces but also in those of strangers and the institutional ‘friends’ that force themselves on the rest of us.


Agamben, G & Heller-Roazen D 2016, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Bauman, Z 1991, Modernity and Ambivalence. Polity, Oxford.

Olaniyan, T 2017, ‘Introduction: State and Culture in Africa: The Possibilities of Strangeness’, in Tejumola Olaniyan (ed) State and Culture in Postcolonial Africa: Enchantings, Indiana UP, Bloomington, pp.1–24.

The Selfie

(After Wendell Berry)

Once there was a man who filmed his existence.
He went collecting his stories in selfies,
with a smartphone to his fingers, making
a gallery of the finest images life brought him,
of the places and faces his clicks could find
in the busy and fleeting world around him. He recorded
himself in the selfie, which preserved his body,
freezing it forever: a body’s gait and graces,
And blingy necklaces; the forced smiles of a skillful artist
holding a selfie stick to capture on camera
the many moments of the life he was having
so that he may document for himself
the passing moments of today in a selfie
he may never have in the future. With hands
swiping swirling photos on tablet screens,
there he will be, staring at himself
in moments gained but lost: there he will be,
even if he doesn’t recognize himself.

Digital Africana

I wrote this piece in 2014, alerting humanities scholars in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa to embrace the digital humanities more actively. Much has changed since I first posted this essay on several blogs as a way of mobilizing new media scholars in Nigeria to build digital infrastructure and commit to digital pedagogies and praxis. In Nigeria, the University of Lagos has held a summer school in the digital humanities, partnering with colleagues from Europe and North America. Many more DH projects have sprung up in South Africa, including the Programme in African Digital Humanities, 2018–2023 from the universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Western Cape and the Witwatersrand. The programme aims to examine the current forms and practices of reading and digital publishing in order to encourage and support self-directed, digital literary enquiries in the South African humanities environments. We need many of such Africa-based scholarly interventions in the humanities, an idea expressed in my post below.

From my archive:

Let me start with a story. One early morning in 2013, one of my professors at the Institute of African Studies, Sola Olorunyomi, who was director of the University of Ibadan media centre, called me to his office to show me an antique map of Africa which he wanted to be digitized at the Kenneth Dike Library in Ibadan. Together with Dr. Olorunyomi, who himself had done much work as a scholar of media and cultural studies to set up the Digital Africana project at the Institute, I walked to the library where we got the map digitized and archived in the special collections of the library. I have always wondered what became of both that map and the fine work the team at Digital African was doing I recall this particular event because humanities scholars in Nigeria appear, until the recent experimentations with DH research and conferences at the University of Lagos, to be uninterested in the digital humanities. And this is not about funding! Among other equally important possibilities, a more pragmatic scholarship on the convergence of culture and technology in Nigeria may constitute a fundamental way to rescue meaning from the present troubling sociopolitical and economic failures in the country.

Imagine for a moment that there was an online database of the initial manuscripts of works by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, together with handwritten letters, earliest versions and drafts of critical essays on his oeuvre. Surely, we can do more with a project that gives more visibility to the scientific epistemologies of the Yoruba divination system, the Ifa corpus. Scholars such as Wande Abimbola and Olu Longe have undertaken some foundational cultural and computational analyses respectively. It is time to deepen the conversations they started. Or think of a digital scholarly edition of the Ifa corpus itself and what that could mean for learning and modernizing an encyclopedia of indigenous knowledge. The Ifa literary corpus in open access will be a worthy contribution to the global digital record.

With more accessibility to researchers, more can be done by a lot more people interested in Ifa as a system of religious thought. To leave all of these within the sphere of the imagination, or to wait for the West to mobilize its resources for these urgent tasks is to leave the Africa postcolony in a grip of perpetual technological stasis. We need to invest in the infrastructural environment for these kinds of research to become visible.

It is a good thing, then, to continue to force out more thematic contents out of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, but isn’t it time we thought about our own online archive of a literary text, which has garnered justifiable fame for its excellent literary depiction of pre-colonial Africa as a cultural geography of civilized and prosperous people? To think nobody needs an online database to the canonical works of African literature is not to understand the democratization of knowledge and its production in an increasingly digimodernist world. Think of the works of Daniel Fagunwa in their original Yoruba in a web-based archival environment and what that could do to preserve the writer and his works; to disseminate indigenous language literature, and to put the work in conversation with other similar titles outside Africa. And it may be that some have already begun work on these engagements, but it is apparent that there is no online visibility for such digital projects. I understand that digital humanities projects take much time and collaboration. How about the Nigerian blogging space and the various sites of scholarly opportunities begging for theoretical explications and linkages to the country’s own internal contradictions? For obvious reasons, there is currently no academic programme in Nigeria which offers a degree in the digital humanities, a problem we need to address, as we look beyond the gains of Nollywood and its successes to document our stories.

We certainly need to look at online audio-visual narratives about the African condition on Facebook, Youtube and other digital media if we are to find greater currency within the larger space of global mediascape. Postcolonial African writing is being reshaped and refashioned on Facebook, Nairaland, and YouTube, and we need to harvest the data on these platforms.

Alan Liu’s caution that the digital humanities be not impervious to the necessity of cultural criticism may well be an entry point into the field for Nigerian scholars of culture, literature, and technology. Think of the way Teju Cole uses twitter narratives to reconstruct contemporary Lagos, or how YouTube has emerged as a textual space for writers/artists to nuance cultural aesthetics, and we are probably up to a fascinating embrace of insightful studies in the digital humanities (DH). The point is, we can do more in Nigeria to engage with the way technology is remediating cultural aesthetics and calibrate new theoretical environments for traditional hermeneutical interpretations in the African academe. To be clear, the task of the digital humanist transcends the unexplored excitement about the nonlinear or multisequential nature of the hypertext, which certain departments of English in Nigeria have in their new media and literature syllabi. It is not also only an uncritical fascination with how new media poetics gestures towards an inventive remediation of print culture, and this might be a point to buttress, seeing that a lack of scholarly engagement with tools (and the texts they make possible), not necessarily a dearth of technological expertise, has remained a major reason we are still far behind in digital humanities scholarship. What is simply at work is an unwitting refusal to ass to the digital cultural record by decentering Euro-American academies as the locus of activities in the digital humanities and decolonize the digital, as Roopika Risam bids us to, in order for us to regain control of our own narratives.

Among other things, digital humanists develop tools, data, critical archives, and metadata; they also develop critical positions and theories on the nature of these tools and other resources. In addition to building tools and information platforms, DH scholars develop digital methodologies and seek to connect their work to an intersection of praxis and pedagogy. They are interested in the way digital technologies influence the nature and architectures of knowledge and writing, but rarely, as Liu notes, do they extend the engagements of the fields to the lived registers and conditions of society, economics, politics, or culture. This is an area in which more interventions from Africanist spaces might be beneficial More scholars of new media in Africa need to rise to the explosion of data which is being currently generated in new media environments on the continent. Aside from studies in information science departments and many other such as this from South Africa, which is a collaboration with scholars outside Africa; there is a paucity of perspectives from the digital humanities in the African academe.

Social media, for instance, enables a repossession of agency for netizens in Africa who have to deal with a daily stockpile of anxieties about defective democracies. How is the Nigerian scholar of letters responding to the myriad of visual and linguistic interactions taking place on Twitter and Facebook? I am aware that there may be some who see in social media narrativizations all which must replace traditional engagements with the canons of printed texts. This might be hasty naivety, as they forget that judging the book to be also dead in Africa is defining print culture by the parameters of the West — contexts in which even print has remained persistent.

Consider this website, for instance, on which the Korean writer, Y0ung-Hae Chang employs digital media to tell various stories about life in North Korea and see how the many in the West and elsewhere look beyond social media. We can look to social media for spaces of creative expressions, but online literary blogs and magazines appear to be the farthest path of experimentation emerging African writers are willing to travel for now. Professor Shola Adenekan has done some exciting studies on how new writers from Kenya and Nigeria are taking advantage of these online literary forms. We need more. It is a good thing to note that e-book editions of printed texts that are available for purchase/download online do not necessarily equal born-digital texts. Beyond Social media, there is a large volume of digital literary works out there in the West; maybe not (yet) in Africa, and a number of scholars there are doing excellent work to theorize these and their implications for reading, meaning, agency, etc.

You may also read this very short poem by Jim Andrew and see another instance of a reconstitution of the book which perhaps is a more fascinating possibility than a social media representation of cultural records. There are also many digital texts written in hypertext, a form, which used to be a buzzword among scholars of digital studies some decades ago. African writers can still appropriate that, and even recent tools and technologies, for their art, knowing that we have the technical expertise. With Nigeria’s Andel and other start-up tech companies in Nigeria, sub-Saharan African can participate productively in the global DH communities. With this, the work of the digital humanist at home is sure.

If software is increasingly emerging as the medium of the message (a la Lev Manovich), it is time African writers collaborated with experts at home and outside of the continent to engage with a new form that is appropriate to the age. Whether it is a project that uses a digital map of Abuja to analyze social and cultural identities, or digital reconstructions of the popular Onitsha market literature (as available in the special collections of the University of Kansas library), or digital artworks about life in Ibadan, there are many ways our signifying practices could be further taken beyond the limits of print and oral performances. If we refuse to take advantage of this digital cultural moment as cultural producers and/or scholars, it is only logical that Africa keeps itself relegated in the negotiation of contemporary global history. That might be something to regret.

Notre Dame and the Limits of Critique

Walter Benjamin’s famous insight that “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” has continued to tug at the heartstrings since I saw images of the massive fire that engulfed the Notre Dame, that grand medieval cathedral in the heart of Paris.

Benjamin’s words, from his thesis on history, comes to mind because of encounters online with some postcolonial thinkers who forbid mourning the fall of the Notre Dame because of what they believe is its complicity in French colonial history.

One professor of African studies actually chided “Africans on social media for taking so much aspirin for someone’s headache.” In other words, why would postcolonial Africans and their leaders ignore, for instance, the flooding in Madagascar and be fixated on France? By this statement, he meant to take issues with citizens of former European colonies who, identifying with the destructive fire to the cathedral were, as he saw it, callous in their indifference to perennial social and economic problems in Africa. Although he is right that we need to be alert to the many protracted problems on the continent — some of which are informed by the legacies of European colonialism in Africa, this thinking is spineless and hastily undermines the symbolic history and imagery of the Notre Dame. Even more, it is a tasteless politicization of the devaluation of the aesthetic.

This perspective is also problematic not because the Notre Dame, together with its great arts and music, does not document aspects of French colonial modernity, but because to focus on that history alone is to ignorantly deny the civilization a centuries-old landmark affirms as an intertext to many similar historical spaces all over the world.

For those who still believe in our shared humanity, the destruction to the Notre-Dame Cathedral can be a lens to the destruction of other sacred monuments, including those whose theft was instrumentalized by Europe’s colonial project.

To be clear, in terms of cultural disruption and epistemic violence, what colonial France and indeed the English empire did to artifacts and monuments from Africa, and other oppressed societies of the world cannot be easily forgotten.

To visit any major museum in Europe that has holdings from these societies is to be put in a voyeuristic confrontation in which the postcolonial gaze is further subjected to assault. And is it not the case that French comprador neo-colonial presence in places like Africa continue to consolidate French hegemony and assimilationist practices with the aid of the French military apparatus?

While the history of French colonial violence should not be lost on anyone, this sort of postmodern thinking, which demands the radical and complete erasure of our humanity, and of the artistic sensibilities that connect us to earlier generations is an unethical misreading of the sacred history and aesthetics that the cathedral renders visible.

The Notre Dame, with its majestic artistry and sacred aura, is an architectural monument that bears witness to a history of human excellence. As Barack Obama reminds us in his tweet, the cathedral is one of the world’s great structures and its destruction invites us to grief and mourning.

This view is shared by Constance Grady who notes that losing the Notre Dame is not only to lose a sacred space and a major art treasure. Notre Dame, she writes, is a symbol of human accomplishment, and more than that, of social accomplishment. It’s not the work of any one person, but of generations upon generations of labour. That labour is what the postcolonial thinkers who seek to abjure the world’s collective mourning fail to visualize as a recognition of the creative labours of cultural producers all over the world.

The social space of the Notre-Dame Cathedral is where people like us live and participate in the rituals of worship. Hate for a violent history cannot be used as the basis for denying the subjectivities of our neighbours or of the religious monuments that mark their relationship to sacred spaces and practices.

The Notre Dame is but one of many iterations of sacred and historical spaces around the world, and to mourn its destruction is not coterminous with undermining indigenous lands, or the tragedies of other societies. To mourn it is to affirm our collective kinship as makers and consumers of beauty.

The same impulse to celebrate a report urging France to return stolen artworks to its former colonies can be at the heart of the grief we express in relation to the Notre Dame. Rather than gloat over the near-overthrow of the cathedral, postcolonial subjects can de-essentialize their reading of the media coverage of the Parisian edifice and embrace the universality the building represents. Gloating as a performance of so-called neo-colonial resistance is a misplaced response.

Victor Hugo’s 1830 gothic novel The Hunchback of Notre Damepresents this literary explanation of the Notre Dame as a Christian architecture jointly authored by the collective hands of human intelligence:

Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

The problem for postcolonial intellectuals arises when the history of a monument in Europe is imposed on the rest of us as the history of humanity. This is hardly what Hugo envisioned in his celebration of the enduring presence of a Catholic institution that took 200 years to build. His is a celebration of the triumph of human artistry. The Notre Dame may be his metaphor, but we in every monument of creativity anywhere else, are reminded of the human will to beauty and aesthetics, something that is as visible in the Notre Dame as it was in the ancient walls of Great Zimbabwe.

When Jean-Paul Sartre in his foreword to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth calls us to “burst into history, forcing it by our invasion into universality for the first time,” he was alerting both the postcolonial subject as well as his European allies still haunted by the morbid legacies of colonialism to disrupt a narrative of history that foregrounded only the agency of empire.

There is a sense in which postcolonial intellectuals who ignore the recent state of disrepair caused by the fire to the Notre Dame are involved in a myopic reversal of Satre’s exhortation: the refusal to reckon with a monument of history, a reversal that limits the universality of our thinking.

Those who believe it is Francophilia or neocolonial thinking to lament the fate of the Notre Dame miss the point altogether, for whether it is France or the once-famous Benin Kingdom invaded by British forces in 1887, the loss of the symbols of human accomplishments anywhere in the world merits a conversation.

It’s great to know that the two towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral have been saved. That’s another reminder of the enduring history of a monument of humanity, culture, and spirituality.

The 419 Scammer as Afropolitan

In the opening sections of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s novel, I do Not Come to You by Chance, the protagonist, Kingsley asks Cash Daddy, “Uncle Boniface, are you actually asking me to join you in 419?” Boniface’s response is a torrent of laughter that compares only to the generosity of his empire of scam emails and fraudulent rewards.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s novel is a provocative examination of the practice of unsolicited e-mail scams that underscores the moral contradictions of a young, educated Nigerian, who submits to evil and greed to take care of a dying father.

While apparent in Kingsley’s struggle is the novel’s renewal of the moral frameworks of African oral performances, what the narrative of scam and its associated economies of avarice renders visible is the complicated ways the 419 scam-machine terrorizes even its actors, while uncovering the greed that operates in multiple ways to critique the global neoliberal economies of the West.

Nwaubani’s novel clearly highlights the ways the individuals known globally as Nigerian 419ners constitute a coterie of criminals whose nefarious activities, bothering largely on Internet scam, perpetuate invidious narratives about the country. Colin Powell’s famous sweeping generalization that “Nigerians as a group, frankly, are marvellous scammers” may reflect this general mindset in the West about the country, yet Nwaubani’s characters not only serve to satirize everyday existential anxieties of postcolonial Nigeria but also enflesh the moral ambiguities that animate the scam culture itself.

The ironic and funny ending of the novel is significant in the satirical agenda of the narrative. Kingsley, supposedly desirous of a break with a life of scam, sets up an internet cafe that has an appearance of a legitimate business. Instead, he takes his scamming enterprise to a larger scale that intensifies fraudulent interactions with “one of his foreign investors” as he tells Augustan, his mother, who is completely fooled by her son’s purported departure from crime.

I do Not Come to You by Chance is significant in the conceptual framing that links the 419ner to Afropolitanism because of the manner in which it embodies Arjun Appadurai’s concept of “-scapes,” which like culture, are fluid and constantly shifting elements — functioning in the global exchange of ideas and information.

The numerous emails in the novel and financial exchanges mark critical flows of ideas, technologies, and capital between the scam artist and multiple locations abroad. As the novel concludes, Kingsley makes plans to travel overseas for an MBA — a degree that ironically signifies the Western legetimization of his financial but criminal genius.

While analyzing the representation of the scam artist in scam-baiting communities such as the famous 419 eater, it is necessary to consider the complex ways an Afropolitan identity may be attributed to the scam artist, without extolling his criminality.

With conceptual gaps such as the commodification of identity that trouble the Afroplitan — numerous articles such as this and this unpack some of these arguments — we can think of two kinds of an Afropolitan identity. The celebrated hero of traditional Afropolitanism and the 419ner, an Afropolitan antihero whose astute use of emails and access to multiple locations and spaces cannot be denied.

The advance-fee fraud operates through a logic that demands the scam artist to seek assistance for the transfer of capital from metropolitan centres of Euro-America through the agency of Western bank accounts and citizenship. One major reason the Afropolitan can be read through the figure of the 419ner stems from Taiye Selasi’s original account of the Afropolitan itself.

Selasie’s article presents a muted recognition of the same idea of mobility and flows that I do Not Come to You by Chance graphically renders visible through the movement of emails, persons, and capital. As the email medium portrays, much of the mobility of the scam artist is digital. There is a sense, then, as the recent example of the Nigerian-Canadian playboy of Yorkville shows, in which the 419ner also has access to multiple passports and locations, while clearly maximizing digital flows.

The 419 scammer is not an Afropolitan antihero because of his immersion in a western education and worldview that enables him to manipulate digital media. He is one precisely because of his capacity for mobility in the Net’s rhizomatic pathways and his tendency for a multiplicity of identities — whether national or personal. These ideas, ‘mobility’ and ‘access to multiple nationalities,’ are two major features of the Afropolitan, evident in the original essays of both Selasi and Mbembe.

Selasi, for instance, writes that the idea of home for the celebrated Afropolitan, is provisional and indeterminate, and is the space “where they go for vacation; where they went to school; where they see old friends” and the cities around the globe in which they live and work, with no sense of a single geography, while at home in many such spaces. As the capacity for the mobile plays out metaphorically in this construction of an Afropolitan identity, we could think of what it means to be mobile in a digital sense, something Susanne Gerhmann has excellently outlined in her essay on cybermobility and Afropolitanism.

It is probably provocative to hint at a negative comparison between scam artists and the “Afropolitans.” Some may even call it sensational and logically unsound.

That being said, the reality is that the real scam would be a dangerously fixed conception of Afropolitanism that, refusing to be disturbed and complicated, prefers only to be romanticized and celebrated. Thar would be troubling.

How to be a Nigerian Scholar in the West

I realized recently that the Nigerian academic Oga culture, that punitive style of scholarly mentorship which forbids student thought and agency, has a diaspora version conditioned by the malaise of essentialism. So I decided to present some advice to you, the Nigerian academic who, because of your Western location, routinely dismiss colleagues in the homeland.

In your astute polemical theses, take only one side of an argument and use it as the premise for your sound logic. Simply argue that all Nigerian professors based at home are inept and crude. Never mind that your grouse is with only a few who have counterparts in your region of the world.

Silence anyone on your Facebook timeline that has a different explanation from your hallowed theories. You are the only voice of reason; they, the voice of superstition, and all things inchoate.

Go ahead, mansplain too. How can some woman at home dare challenge your lofty ideas? Remind her you are not her husband. Your ersatz Wole Soyinkasque mind must not be insulted.

You are “in the abroad” and your views must be seen by these irrational colleagues you have left in the dark as the absolute and irrefutable truths. After all, their research is a mere survivalist response to a parlous postcolonial state you are so generous to theorize in your peer-reviewed essays.

Yours is the finest example of scholarship and your prestigious location is the desired Mecca those at home dream only about.

As a matter of fact, avoid any scholarly conversation with a Nigerian professor who is so unfortunate to have never seen an airport before. Why argue with a schmuck? They will call you out for arrogance.

How unfair to rightly diagnose your humble heart. Oga, they are not worth your time. You have 24 hours in a day. They have 42. You need to move on to your next research. The Nobel Prize is calling.

And when next you meet a colleague from home at a conference in Chicago, make sure you keep a safe distance. They may beg to share a hotel room with you or look to you to pay for dinner. Remember, they still think you pick money from the streets of Syracuse.

Are you on the same panel? Great. It’s time again to take that usual mental note about the lack of theoretical rigour in their analyses. Smile and pat your messianic ego on the shoulder. Your next monograph will deliver them from mental blockage.

Forget that there are scholars in your own location who are also mediocre and uninterested in research. Focus only on your African comrades and amplify their in-born mental laziness in your social media posts and on your listserves. To hell with intellectual humility; those guys are the scum of the earth.

And when next you visit an archive or library at home, be sure to complain about the kickbacks you were made to pay. Be careful to frame the narrative well: some guy did not see the value of your world-acclaimed research and asked you to give a bribe. Your poor saintly soul had no choice.

And how dare you acknowledge the local knowledge producers you interacted with during your last field trip? Of course, you have to remember they are never experts. Only mere informants who ask for money before presenting any useful data.

The rule of thumb is never to forget too there are no sound thinkers at home. How can there be? They are all consumers of knowledge who depend on your libraries in London.

And don’t ever make the mistake of citing a Nigerian professor who works and teaches in Nigeria. If you do, make sure it is an act of mercy from you, most noble Oga. They will thank you too: their promotion to full professorship depends on it.

If, in your almighty benevolence, you ever decide to co-author a work with a colleague at home, be sure they do the dirty jobs. Thus says Oga from his location in exile! And it shall come to pass in Africa, that forsaken country whose research you are making visible in your pan-African generosity.

If anything goes wrong in the research process, make sure you excoriate the colleague at home. He is too busy with administrative work and services that distract him from the merits of your joint project. Blame him. He is always to be blamed. Your tenure is stake.

While at all of these, make sure your elitist bubble does not burst. We need you and your Afropolitan mulishness and gra gra.

To dobale or not to dobale: speaking back to my oga culture

So in the early 1990s, you enroll in a Ph.D. program as a brilliant mathematician but spend the next 22 years of your life on it, seeking perfection (in the hope that you win a major prize one day) and never actually completing it until you pass on. Allegedly because of suicide. That’s the official narrative of a series of events authorities at the University of Ibadan are describing as “strange.” Without knowing the particularities of Aminu Zubairu’s situation, it is difficult to effectively assess things, but to a large extent, like anybody who has attended a university in Nigeria will tell you, Zubairu’s protracted doctoral training at UI is not an isolated event.

While not interested in circulating any essentializing narratives of the University of Ibadan as the first and best institution of higher learning in Nigeria, we can at least expect the country’s leading campus to welcome some scrutiny and reflection. For one of the best universities in Africa, you wonder why the need to insist on institutional practices not tainted by mediocrity trumps the more crucial task of addressing the enabling circumstances that facilitate a doctoral training of over two decades. In its haste to defend what the University of Ibadan believes to be its excellent academic culture, the university authorities failed to recognize an important opportunity to have a necessary conversation on the often long completion rate of Ph.D. education in Nigeria. As the leading postgraduate center in Nigeria, that should matter to UI.

Important also is the failure to recognize the lingering mental health problems that arise from a well-known vindictive culture that victimizes its own students and insolently demands servitude, as well as the general culture of graduate education, which many students would disavow for its complicity in their academic misfortunes.

For those defending UI’s position on the Zubairu case, invoking the anecdotal testimony of a former head of Zubairu’s department who writes to discredit the views and experiences of a certain alumnus of the institution (Samule Edet) cannot be enough. Who does not know that the dobale culture many speak about is a reality for most Ph.D. candidates? As a matter of fact, some of us heard the politics of dobale for the first time from professors who endured a similar fate and who appeared to believe all hell would be let loose on them if they did not perpetuate the same morbidity. We can surely do better than the politicians we love to hate and curse in the ivory tower, knowing that the same politics of patronage we see in Abuja is rife on many campuses in Nigeria. To call UI or another elite campus out on issues such as the parlous misreading of a tragic moment is not a Freudian impulse to “kill” our academic forbears and derogate an alma mater that is dear to many. It is to eschew the culture of mediocrity that UI believes cannot be found in its ranks.

Until we abandon a system in which my Oga or Oga mi (the Ph.D. supervisor) as the idiom of the power imbalance in our student-supervisor relationships is the norm, it is hard to visualize how students can be the focus of their own training, owning their learning without unnecessary deference for cultural politics that have no relevance to professional training. I thought a good way of responding to Zubairu’s tragic circumstances was to disavow the prebendal culture many students complain about and to publicly affirm our commitment to disrupting it at an institutional level.

But of course, oga culture says it is career suicide to speak back to your teachers in Nigeria. How dare you have an opinion? My Oga “trained” and “made” me. I, therefore, have no moral right to question their actions or practices. if I must, I have to be tactful and position myself discursively to show a certain performative deference. As somebody who has had more training abroad, Your boldness to speak back to oga culture makes the most arrogant scum of the earth. “Just because he traveled out of the country, he thinks he is now better than the rest of us,” oga would wager. Never mind that at some level, Oga knows and has experienced a working system at Oxford or Capetown, but how dare you speak truth to power? To do so as a young alumnus who lives in Nigeria is to risk being discredited and even threatened in some cases.

The default psychological response to the tyranny of oga’s victimization is Stockholm syndrome: oga takes delight in having students that cower before him, students who mobilize cultural and religious incoherences to justify their own subjugation as a practice of surviving the oppressive weight of oga’s tyranny. Although there are many progressive ogas in places like UI who are not conditioned by oga culture, unfortunately, they are in the minority. Even these are often viewed as eccentric for their refusal to surrender to oga’s pathology.

Just to be clear, the paradox is lost on university authorities who attempt to silence students seeking to exercise the same values of free speech and critical thinking the university proudly teaches in the first place. You do a disservice to the rich tradition of humanistic enquiry for which a campus such as the University of Ibadan is famously known when we foreclose the perspectives of students because of their age, location, or status. I am not acquainted with Edet the alumnus the former chair of UI’s Mathematics department responded to in his interview with the press, but I do know that UI can take this opportunity to reflect on the welfare of students and university practices that make many academic environments in Nigeria a hostile space that fosters depression and many other serious mental health problems that are routinely normalized by Oga culture.

My first response when I heard about Aminu Zubair was to inquire from Tim and Dipo former colleagues at UI about a professor of mine whose Ph.D. was also taking forever to complete. I doubt if he completed it as at when I concluded my first degree. He probably did later, after my own seven years of UG and grad studies at UI. Unfortunately and painfully, I would not be surprised if he has not. Oga culture is that bad in Nigeria. Those were years of hard work and the best of training from some of the most rigorous and finest scholars in the world. It is because of their student-centered and activist pedagogy that I dare to comment on an unfortunate event.

I agree that UI cannot be made to bear the outcomes of another’s actions or inactions. The oga culture I write about is condemnable for as long as it is used as the basis for a culture of mediocrity that delays the successful completion of students’ programs; but, hey, there are many others who complete their PhDs every year in UI and elsewhere in good time, without an uncritical dobale or oga culture which undermines intellectual capacity. I really do not think we should judge an entire institution by its few abuses, but when there is a cultural or systemic order that makes graduate education a needlessly tedious and oppressive experience, we need to be alert to scrutiny, irrespective of its source. I hope UI will shun oga culture, out of respect for Zubairu and his family, by concluding what they have called an investigation into the case.

Rather than a defensive posture, it is time to reflect and respond to the many variables that complicate student welfare on campus. One hopes they also address the larger problematic circumstances that make oga culture thrive. It is the right thing to do.

Revisiting Pius Adesanmi’s The Wayfarer and Other Poems

Although his The Wayfarer and Other Poems appearsto have aged very quickly, Pius Adesanmi’s poetry collection remains an important cultural document signifying a literary response to the ambiguities of oppressive power during military rule in Nigeria. There is the possibility of reading The Wayfarer and Other Poems as a text seeking to unsettle the mythology that exile existed solely for Nigeria’s third generation of writers as a space of greener pastures. Indeed, as Harry Garuba suggeststhe volume articulates an image of the poet of Adesanmi’s generation as a nomad, traversing the liminal and chequered spaces of home and exile. The contours of Adesanmi’s poetic oeuvre can be mapped within the broader thematic preoccupation of that generation of writers, which includes the mobilization of poetic imagination in the resistance of the dominant military culture of the 1990s.

While the second generation of Nigerian writers, including Femi Osofisan and Niyi Osundare focused on the existential agonies of life during the military years of the 80s and 90s by invoking styles from oral traditions embedded in a Marxist vision, Adesanmi and his generation grappled with an economy of structural adjustments and displacement that forced many cultural producers to exilic locations. Adesanmi’s intervention, unlike those of these earlier poets, was, therefore, less concerned about the seriousness and inscrutability of poetic language, foregrounding the importance of mobilities to the formation of diaspora and a transnational consciousness.

Even when his own poetry uncovers these qualities, it is evident that Adesanmi the poet has an ideological mission to write for everyday Nigerian subjects burdened with postcolonial anguishes and antinomies, as well as the oppressive normativity of dictatorial power by the military establishment. If a nostalgic voice and an exilic imagination are the recurrent thematic valences in The Wayfarer and Other Poems, it is exactly because of this personal commitment to archiving the legacies of a personal and sometimes flawed journey of self-discovery imbricating with the burdens of national becoming. Even more, there is a sense of feeling that the lyrical narrative of the wayfarer is a metaphoric sojourn that stages the cycle of wearing and endless journies of the protagonist, which is famously embodied by the spirit child of Yoruba spirituality, Abiku.

The question of identity and dis/placement is a central theme in The Wayfarers and Other Poems. For instance, in the poem, “University of Ibadan,”Adesanmi is invested in a chronicle of his generation of writers and the form and formation of their poetic sensibilities at the University of Ibadan. The poem details the gathering of these writers described as “weatherbeaten survivors on the campus of Ibadan where they first had the chance to “spread the first mat of knowledge,” dreaming “dreams yet uncracked by “the radar of the SSS” (Adesanmi 20). There is the sense in which the poem is a revelation of the panoptic presence of the Nigerian state in the proscription of artistic consciousness across the country.

That writers such as Adesanmi survived what the persona in this poem identifies as “the radar of the SSS” underscores the determination of a generation’s commitment to literature despite the surveillance of military dictatorships. One gets in the poem the sense of censorship from the military governments that sought to regulate cultural productions and creative expressions in Nigeria during the period Adesanmi writes about.

Adesanmi, invoking Soyinka, therefore wonders in this poem if Nigeria’s third generation of writers is a wasted generation pushed away from the country by a hostile climate of “thorns and thistles” (Adesanmi 20). The poem is a critical commentary of the diminishment in the quality of literary and cultural expression facilitated by the economic and political climate that forced writers out of the country, hence, the writers in Ibadan also gathered at “the cemetery of Ifa’s doomed venture” (Adesanmi 20). Invoking a central reference point in Yoruba oral tradition and ontology, Adesanmi’s persona in the “University of Ibadan” positions himself as spokesperson of a generation, undertaking an apologia for the reluctant exile of himself and his compatriots.

In the light of this last point, Toni Kan Onwordi is right to observe that Adesanmi’s collection is personal and public “in the same tone that is part satirical and part serious. The lines are wont to excite laughter, which teases out tears, but these are not wholly tears of joy. Onwordi’s location of ambivalence in Adesanmi’s work is an affirmation of how the poet deploys satire to critique the Nigerian condition. The satirical impulse that undergirds much of Adesanmi’s recent nonfiction works can be traced to similar experiments in The Wayfarers and Other Poems. There are other poems in the collection that demonstrating the poet’s exploration of this ambivalence, with Europe, for instance, positioned in contradistinction with Africa, as a location of knowledge.

Evident here is a politics of spatiality in which Africa is depicted as a hostile place that forces its subjects away from home, while Europe is conceived as an enabling space for those “in search of knowledge.” This intersection of Adesanmi’s personal disillusionment with the Nigeria state and the liberating encounter with Europe is apparent in several celebratory lines in the volume, particularly towards the end of the collection. For instance, the persona in “You Plumed My Arms with Francs” admits that “[w]hen Aso Rock skewed [his] potentials, France plumed [his] arms with Francs for “the anxious flight/in search of knowledge (Adesanmi 89). With these lines, the reader finds a reason to sympathize with many in Nigeria’s third generation who left the country for the proverbial greener pastures, while celebrating the epistemic impulses of that generation’s flight.

While the speaker’s voice is probably Adesanmi’s, the way the persona echoes the voices of many others in Adesanmi’s generation accentuates the poet’s positionality as an exilic postcolonial writer asserting political agency through poetic verse.