Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A sign of greater civil liberties

Sometimes jokes can be a sign of improved civil liberties. That wasn't true in the Soviet Union, where the best jokes had to carefully told from one person to another trusted person. In Nigeria, stand up comedy is new and jokes seem to be a good sign. (Just don't make jokes about Buhari yet.)

Nigeria’s Comics Pull Punch Lines From Deeper Social Ills
"Ali Baba"
The armed robbers were having a field day, [famed comedian] Ali Baba exclaimed to a large auditorium of lawyers. It was so bad that the thieves struck every car along a deeply potholed road — that is, until a former governor came along.

“They looked at him, and said he should drive on,” he said as the crowd grew silent. “The other armed robber said, ‘Why? Why did you let that car go?’ ”

“ ‘Esprit de corps’ ” — a camaraderie among brothers — he said, delivering the punch line and unleashing roars of laughter throughout the audience.

Forget crooked politicians, daily blackouts, long lines at gas stations or even the scourge of Boko Haram here in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Despite the litany of social ills and troubles — or maybe because of them — Nigeria has never laughed harder.

Comedy here is booming. Top comics have become, in a few short years, among Nigeria’s most successful entertainers and now perform throughout Africa.

Stand-up comedy, which emerged with Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, has become the country’s third-biggest form of entertainment after movies and music, industry experts say…

So quickly has the art form caught on that stand-up comics have become fixtures at social events, like the lawyers association that hired Ali Baba for its dinner here recently. Securing a talented comic for a wedding, company event or political gathering has now become de rigueur in Nigeria’s higher social circles…

Working in such public spheres, the comedians are challenging deeply rooted social and political mores. Socially, Nigeria remains an extremely hierarchical country where powerful individuals are treated with fawning respect. For the second time since military rule ended in 1999, Nigeria finds itself governed by a former general, President Muhammadu Buhari, evidence of the military’s lingering influence…

“During military rule, you couldn’t go and start cracking jokes about the head of state,” said Barclays Ayakoroma, a cultural critic who has written about the rise of stand-up comedy in Nigeria, “That night, they would have come for you. So we can say that civilian rule opened the way for people to make jokes about our leaders without fear of being arrested.”…

Ali Baba, whose real name is Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere, is considered the pioneer of stand-up comedy in Nigeria. Now 50, he recalled how, with no Nigerian models to emulate, he researched the distinctly American art of stand-up comedy by combing through old copies of Reader’s Digest and reference materials like “10,000 Jokes, Toasts and Stories.”…

He also frequented a cultural center run by the American government, studying its videos of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor…

When Olusegun Obasanjo was Nigeria’s military ruler between 1976 and 1979, he had shown little tolerance for criticism…

But under democracy, Mr. Obasanjo championed comedians like Mr. Akporobomerere, who roasted him regularly, and recommended him for performances.

Mr. Akporobomerere’s success helped popularize other comedians and bring stand-up comedy into the mainstream.

“Companies wanted to use our services, and young people wanted to take up comedy as a career,” said another popular comedian, Okey Bakassi, whose real name is Okechukwu Anthony Onyegbule. “That changed everything.”

Still, comics can never be too careful.

“There are certain people in government who do not have a sense of humor,” Mr. Akporobomerere said…

“Some [politicians] will come up to me and say, ‘Talk about me,’ ” Julius Agwu, another top comedian, said. “It’s like hype for them.”

Mr. Buhari may not be one of them…

“So far, he’s not known as a type that will host parties,” said the comedian known as Basketmouth. “He’s a pretty serious guy, which is what we need for now. We don’t need to party. We need to fix the country right now.”

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