Debo Adedayo: Mr. Macaroni And Socio-Political Activism
By Toyin Falola
One of the qualities that distinguish humans from other species of living things is the capacity of the human mind and brain to form values based on many factors — society or environment, upbringing, religion, and a personal sense of purpose or lifelong goal. Although these factors often collaborate to make up a human’s wholesome value system, some have stronger influences on the individual, so much so that they override all other factors. Then, if the individual falls out of line in terms of value, they could retrace their steps and fall back in line if any of the more influential factors had enough influence on them. A personal sense of purpose or lifelong goal is one of the more influential factors that shape the human value system.
An interesting twist in this human phenomenon is that a personal sense of purpose or lifelong goal comes much later in life, unlike several other factors that design our value system. Some people discover it later than they should have after they might have veered off to an untoward path. However, once humans have successfully discovered their sense of purpose or found the path to their lifelong goal, their lives become more meaningful.
Debo Adedayo is a young man who has discovered his purpose and life’s mission and is earnestly pursuing it. It might not be in the obvious way you know him, but he is a man given to activism, social change, and advocating for the masses through legitimate and influential means. Debo is the popular Nigerian comedian, actor, and activist, whom you most likely know as Mr. Macaroni. The character and personality of this young man transcend an agbada-wearing rich Nigerian, a corrupt, people-deceiving politician, a student-harassing professor, or any other role he takes up in the course of his message-sending work. His environment and upbringing must have deeply influenced him, as his father, Chief Alao Adedayo, is a veteran journalist and the publisher of Alaroye Newspapers.
READ ALSO: Court Orders Release Of Mr Macaroni, Other Arrested #OccupyLekki Protesters
If there is anything about journalism, it is a profession for the vocal and fearless fenders of public interest. Therefore, it is not surprising that Debo grew up with an ambition to study law. Although he ended up studying creative arts at the Redeemer’s University due to several issues that could be summed up into the dreaded maxim, “Nigeria happened to him,” his endeavours in the past few years are enough proof that if he had studied law, he would most likely have ventured into human rights activism — for at his core is the burning wish to fend for the public good and speak truth to power.
Before 2020, Debo was a comic skit sensation whose social media pages served comic relief in various forms to teeming viewers. He was emerging as one of the most popular new generation comedians who were neither into stand-up comedy nor sitcoms, but what is termed skit-making. Of course, things did not start initially on the comic skit-making path for the Lagos-born Debo Adedayo. Being a graduate of both the PEFTI Film Institute and a graduate of creative arts from Redeemer’s University, he had initially ventured into the Nollywood industry at the early stage of his career, acting in several movies, the details of which could be seen on his Instagram page.
However, the Mr. Macaroni stage name and comedy skits started popping up on Instagram and YouTube in 2019, and within one year, the brilliant comic skit-maker had studied the industry and audience enough to know the trends and the kinds of content that appealed to the audience, thus riding to fame (his followership base on Instagram, Facebook YouTube, and Twitter stand at a combined figure of over 7 million). Mr. Macaroni strives to portray several social vices through his characters and support characters while also appealing to the audience and gaining more followers. While 2020 was a defining point in Adedayo’s life and career in terms of socio-political activism, the fact remains that the comic skit maker and actor has been more than a comedian for a long time.
Looking into Mr. Macaroni’s past, especially his undergraduate days at the Redeemer’s University, one would quickly notice that his adventure into social activism, taking up public responsibility, and speaking to power did not start today. If he claims to be of the S’oro Soke generation—the appellation the Nigerian youth adopted during the famous #EndSARS protests—then he is, not only for his role during the 2020 protests but also because he had demonstrated that he is a people-supporting activist on several occasions in the past — even before he came to the limelight.
While he was a student at Redeemer’s University, Debo held several leadership positions, including President of the General Students’ Association. He had a drag-on with the school management for a piece he published on his Facebook page in 2017. The post, which criticized his alma mater’s administrative style, caught the interest of the school management, leading to Debo’s expulsion on October 8, 2017. From a protracted dragging that later resulted in a lawsuit, he could reclaim his student status and graduate from the university after the school agreed to settle out of court. Thus, the vocal, openly non-partisan Mr. Macaroni did not just happen on a new identity in the wake of the events in 2020. Those events might have catalyzed his reawakening, but they did not create that side of him.
In 2020, at the height of police brutality and sheer mishandling of citizens, the Nigerian youth came out en-masse to protest their unjust suffering at the hands of law enforcement agents, infamously popular among whom were members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. That period was one of the most unifying, defining, yet traumatic, perspective-changing, and orientation-shifting for the Nigerian youth. During this time, Mr. Macaroni was one of the most vocal influential Nigerian youth who spoke through their social media platforms, lent their voice to the protests, and occupied the streets to fiercely condemn the brutality of the police.
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Adedayo was arrested, along with some other Nigerian youth during this troubling period, and members of the Nigeria Police Force assaulted them. The young activist tweeted about how some of the police agents who arrested and harassed them kept on hammering on how they would release him only because he is “Mr. Macaroni” — a popular influencer and comedian whose sudden absence would raise a lot of brows and generate rippling reactions if the police tried to keep him for longer. One of the most notable things Debo did during this period was to create video content, which we cannot pass as a comedy skit in this instance due to its nature. The video content aptly portrayed what was happening in the country, what the youth was suffering, and why they took to the streets to protest. The content also served as the youth’s statement about what was happening.
What did the video content achieve? Mr. Macaroni’s audience is not comprised of the youth alone. Some adult Nigerians or other Africans might not have known the cause of the protests and why the youth were on the street. However, the creation of the video content served as a means to reach out to that category of people to help them understand. Another thing he achieved by making a strong statement with the video was to boost the morale of the protesting youth. After the 2020 #EndSARS protests, Mr. Macaroni returned to his comic skits. However, he returned with a reawakening — a determination to continue to use his platforms and the influence he has garnered through them to create socio-political awareness, defend the public good, speak truth to those in power, and stand up for the masses. And he has not looked back ever since.
If you watch his videos on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook, you would see the most popular of his characters, the agbada-wearing, contract-winning, promiscuous Nigerian rich man who is always trying to prey on the young. However, you would also see other videos subtly slotted into his video creation schedule — depicting the citizen-robbing politician who only knows his constituents every four years. Mr. Macaroni recognizes what has helped him gain such a following on social media. He knows the kind of content the people love, and he has not stopped delivering such content to them. Nevertheless, he is also advancing his cause of political awareness by subtly sharing content designed to look like comic skits. In doing so, he reawakens the electorate’s consciousness, all while they believe they are having a good laugh watching a funny skit.
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In this imminent Nigerian election period, Adedayo’s concerted efforts to continually speak up for the suppressed and awaken the Nigerian people’s consciousness cannot be anything short of laudable. His efforts are undoubtedly yielding rippling effects on the Nigerians in his demographic bracket (the youth) and on Nigerians across all ages, social classes, and gender. Aside from religion, online skits are among the top things that Nigerians of different demographic and psychographic strata share in common. And thus, Mr. Macaroni’s efforts are not only laudable but also worthy of recognition and emulation.
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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