Michael Aromolaran and Thelma Ideozu
A meme is worth more than a thousand words. Or at least it saves you from using a thousand words. In a space like Twitter where a thousand words are impossible, sometimes you need a shorthand form of getting to the point: a meme. Ubiquitous as they are, hardly any conversation happens online without the use of one. Often they act as a visual aid to a set of words, aiming to lend an extra layer of meaning and humor to, say, a tweet or Facebook comment. Yet, when the biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he intended it to mean something else.
A meme, as Dawkins intended it, is a cultural phenomenon—an idea, behavior, phrase, etcetera—that behaves like the biological gene, in that it reproduces itself and evolves randomly. But in social media lingo, a meme is a viral photo, video, or any such media content that can mean different things in different contexts. One Twitter user may intend to use one of many Paw Paw memes to express exasperation; another may use the same meme to show puzzlement. In different hands, an Internet meme is a pliable mistress.
A bubbling barroom of conversation, the Nigerian social media space has played host to several memes over the years. Innumerable as they are, we settled for six of them.
When Evans Tedunjaiye, following the throwback Thursday trend, tweeted a photo from his childhood on 6 August 2020, he could not have known it would take a life of its own. The photo, showing a six-year-old Evans, was originally taken on 23 July 2005. In it, he is backdropped by a nun’s habit and is receiving a prize from a woman at his primary school’s graduation ceremony. What gave it its meme-worthiness is Evans’s stony expression. The young Evans has the seriously philosophical face of a man taking a dump. No one smiles hovered over a latrine pit. As receiving a prize is supposed to inspire joy, the joyless face is oxymoronic and, as we see happen, sparked curiosity on social media.
Most humor involving children comprises children behaving like adults. Whether it’s Zoë Roth flaunting an infernally adult smile in the Disaster Girl meme or the dated photo of Davido’s lawyer, Bobo ‘Prince’ Ajudua, flexing two bottles in a rascally adult way. Perhaps it’s why The Angry Kid meme found celebrity. Which adult wouldn’t find humor in the photo of a kid who is angry in an adult-like way?
The comrade meme comprises a green-faced humanoid character with impeccably white teeth and an exaggerated facial expression. Usually, it’s crying, laughing, or doing both at the same time. As far as physical qualities go, it has an older sibling in the Pepe the Frog meme created by Matt Furie in 2005 and which enjoyed popularity on MySpace and 4chan.
Comrade entered the Nigerian social media circuit sometime late last year and endures to this day. It is used mostly for mockery, ranging from the light-hearted to the more darkly variety. Although originally a fun meme, it has been criticized for aiding cyber-bullying. Similarly, Pepe the Frog has been criticized for having become a symbol and tool of the alt-right.
Although not as popular as the two previous memes discussed, this meme featuring the Nigerian online comedian, Layiwasabi, has surfaced lately in several Nigerian social media exchanges. Its nihilism and absurdity give it its meme-ness. Standing on elevated ground dangerously close to a powerline, holding cooking utensils, wearing a ridiculous headgear, a nearly chest-bare Layiwasabi peers into space. He seems to disregard that Nietzschean quote that warns you about gazing “into the abyss”.
It is the meme you upload online to let people know that your life, as it stands, is a foreign language you do not understand.
Evangelist Funmilayo Adebayo (popularly known as Mummy GO) is a controversial minister at Rapture Proclaimer Evangelistic Church in Lagos, who rose to fame last December when a video of her preaching about the fiery pits of hell surfaced online. Brazen, bespectacled, and always unwittingly humorous in her delivery, Mummy GO has become a social media sensation, with netizens around the country turning her rapture-centric songs and prophetic revelations into hilarious memes and skits, stirring up conversations about the outlandish (and often arbitrary) nature of so many churches in Nigeria.
This bare-chested “rally driver” is probably one of the most recognizable faces we’ve seen across social media platforms so far this year. In the video from which the now viral memes have been generated, two dusty-looking men in a car speak to an interviewer about a just-concluded race in what appears to be a desert.
Since emerging sometime in July this year, the screenshots from the video have gone viral in Ghana, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria, triggering curiosity about the two men. It turns out that both Arap Marindich and Tula Chemoget are Kenyan comedians who were imitating the 2022 WRC Safari Rally that happened in Kenya from June 23 to 26. Thus, the viral meme was born and can be seen featured in thousands of posts about a wide variety of relatable topics and plot twists.
Epp Me (Policewoman)
Back in May, a video surfaced on the Internet of a Nigerian police officer crying out for help as a driver zoomed off with her in his car. The uniformed woman had allegedly entered the man’s car ‘without his consent’, and her panicked shrieks soon became popular, showing up in a number of skits, TikToks, and songs, including Asake’s Peace Be Unto You.
Alongside all the banter and general glee at her distress, the video fueled discourse about the Nigerian law enforcement agents and their propensity for jumping into people’s vehicles as they wish. The video also served as a hilarious reminder of just how bizarre the country is.