Debo Adedayo: Skit, Culture, And Politics
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH DEBO ADEDAYO (MR. MACARONI)
By Toyin Falola
Debo Adedayo is easily one of Nigeria’s most popular comic skit creators. Known to many as the randy, an agbada-wearing wealthy man called Mr Macaroni, Debo has successfully made himself the favourite across demographics — among the old, the young, male, and female. I mentioned his huge following in the first piece I wrote, pre-interview, and if anyone were to doubt that, watching the recent Toyin Falola Interview and the reactions from members of the audience drawn from different demographics within and outside Nigeria is proof that Mr Macaroni is the beloved of many.
I recently came across the comedy skit about a Jesus-like character in a white flowing robe. It was a comedy skit in full Yoruba that featured a young man telling tall tales to his two friends. Then, the Jesus-like character appeared and advised the young man against telling lies, “an attitude common among Nigerian politicians, especially during elections,” he said. While I was not necessarily fascinated by the content of that skit, I could not help but notice that the skit makers contributed their two cents to political awareness and voter education in the best way they could. That was not the case three or four years ago. The comedy skit creation niche of the Nigerian entertainment industry has primarily brought full entertainment to the watchers, having little to no consideration for socio-politically didactic and satiric content.
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This is not to say that the content productions were not didactic; they were often based on social scenarios. However, before the 2020 #EndSARS movement in which Mr Macaroni played an active role, there had not been much conscious production of socio-politically didactic and satiric content. The movement, which was a call to end police brutality and extrajudicial killings of young and hardworking Nigerian youths by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, drew more attention to social injustice in Nigeria. From 2020 onwards, Mr Macaroni began to release more intentional content, and today, more skit makers are focusing on entertaining their audience and making socio-political impacts in the process.
Debo Adedayo’s success in the entertainment industry is worthy of study and analysis. He went from someone who ventured into comedy skits out of desperation to a household name. It is common to see people initially reluctant to try new trends, just as Debo was. Being a theatre arts graduate who had undergone the teaching of such respected names as Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Debo cannot be blamed for having an initial disdain for comedy skits. There are marked differences between the processes, resources, and strategies needed for creating comedy skits and those needed for theatrical plays like he was used to. Also, he acquired additional certification in movie making and acting from PEFTI Institute. Therefore, comedy skits, which require little to no prior acting experience or certification, could not have been on top of Debo Adedayo’s list when he freshly graduated from the university.
Today, he is not only a successful skit content creator, but he has also made his mark as a different breed, which has earned him roles in movies, among which is Tunde Kelan’s widely acclaimed Ayinla. When asked which is more daunting between the comedy skits he currently creates and the theatrical plays he was exposed to while at Redeemer’s University, Debo Adedayo confessed that the latter requires more intellectual resources and creative concentration. Comedy skits are more improve-like, often with informal creation processes such as improvised dialoguing.
According to Mr Macaroni, comedy skit creation is relatively stress-free that he could almost create one with little to no preparation. But it appears he might not have given conscious consideration to the spontaneous nature of the comedy skit creation process, which has helped deepen his creative reflexes over the years. Spontaneity is the lubricating fluid for creativity. The rate at which Debo Adedayo generates comedy skits and the creative style and process, which might not earn consent in the traditional and academic world of theatre arts, all contribute positively to making him a better theatre and performing artist.
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As a discipline, theatre arts can draw several lessons from the life of Debo Adedayo. First, new media should be introduced as a course to theatre arts curricula in Nigerian universities if it is not already being taught. The reason is simple: social media platforms are increasingly becoming creator-friendly. Thus, performing and theatre artists do not have to wait on auditions and roles that may never come before they put their skills to work and monetize their talent and content. There is also a change in content consumption behaviour that favours video content, particularly short-form video content. Short-form video-making platforms such as TikTok and YouTube Shorts record never-seen-before user activity statistics running into billions of views, user signups, and usage.
A combination of creator-friendly policies and provisions and the rising trend for short-form video content has brought about a niche boom among skit content creators in Nigeria. Thanks to social media, Debo Adedayo has monetized his content and attained incredible heights within three years — heights that would have been practically impossible within the same number of years in the traditional Nollywood industry or as a dramatist.
Another valuable lesson that can be tapped from Debo’s professional life is relatability and social consciousness. The young comedian has created an impressionable brand for himself that readily makes him a force of recognition, even in matters unrelated to entertainment. He has achieved this by not making entertainment and comedy the only attributes of his brand. The Debo Adedayo or Mr Macaroni brand is known for social activism, youth engagement, voter education, and social satire, among other socio-political concerns, and for creating relatable and time-sensitive content.
Debo Adedayo’s contributions to Nigeria’s voter education, political consciousness, and awareness cannot be overlooked. Engaging this young Nigerian comedian and activist shows that he is knowledgeable, current, and has an understanding of issues affecting the country. Therefore, it is no surprise that he has identified an ingenious way of creating content that critiques the Nigerian societal entity. He did not restrict voter education and the resuscitation of Nigerians’ political consciousness to his comedy skits. He has also been active via his social media handles and channels through tweets and Facebook posts encouraging the Nigerian people to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and vote for the right candidate. For two reasons, Debo has remained relevant as a socio-political activist and voter education advocate. First, he has neither compromised nor affiliated with any political aspirant since the 2020 #EndSARS protests. This is one moral resolution that has earned him the respect of Nigerian youth and his continued relevance among them. Second, he has not shown interest in any political positions. During the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, Debo Adedayo reiterated that he is presently not interested in any political position. This shows that his clamouring and advocacy are based on the desire to see a better Nigeria. The activist and influencers have since joined forces with other influencers to organize social events to get Nigerians to register for the PVC.
READ ALSO: Debo Adedayo: Mr. Macaroni And Socio-Political Activism
Mr Macaroni’s story is an interesting combination of the seemingly unserious and the serious. He has, through comedy skits, become a force for social good. In a country with an astronomical increase in the number of online comedy skit makers, it is important that new people who want to break into the field — especially thespians like Debo Adedayo — define their brand and create a strategy for purposeful and impactful comedy skit creation. The comedy skit creation industry is undergoing a transformation, which would be fascinating to observe and research.
There are takeaway points for Debo Adedayo on several fronts. First is the need to make his content more easily accessible for all demographics since voter education and political awareness have formed a part of his content production. One of the audience members at the last interview raised this issue. The onus lies on Debo and his team to look into innovative strategies to make his content more accessible to the non-English speaking demographic. There is also the consideration of creating his content in several formats. Short-form video content is the trend today. What will be the future trend? Adedayo must learn to study the trends, adapt, and evolve in ways that will keep him relevant and help him continually grow his audience base. Also, he needs to satisfy different segments of his potential audience. Some people prefer texts to videos; thus, Debo Adedayo should consider a written compilation of his comedy skits and possible translation into other languages.
The interview session was instrumental in digging into some of Debo Adedayo’s ideologies, and it must have been quite a revelation for viewers and participants. The recording is available on YouTube or other social media platforms if you missed the interview. Against the backdrop of the events that rounded off the interview, I would say the world should prepare for a more intense Mr. Macaroni.
This is the final interview report with Debo Adedayo (alias Mr. Macaroni) on June 12, 2022. Viewership figures on television, radios and over a dozen platforms reached over fifteen million by June 15, 2022. For the transcripts: YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=9D_2yJLa5hQ Facebook: https://fb.watch/dB-JNrcbQI/
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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