Just How Funny is Oga Sabinus?

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“Comedy is subjective” is a statement one hears often, uttered sometimes in defence of a joke that fails to achieve universal humour. The sentiment is often true, except in the times that a comic performance or joke manages to tear down barriers of language and culture. Oga Sabinus’ vulture skit is precisely the kind of comedy that most Nigerians will find funny regardless of their social status and level of education. All that’s required to find it relatable is a basic understanding of Nigerian Pidgin English, the official tongue of Nigerian humour. The skit is the funniest thing I watched in 2021.

The skit rests on a simple plot, relying on recognition for humour: the ever gluttonous Sabinus strikes a flimsy conversation one morning with Edu, a recurring character in Sabinus’ skits whose face is hidden from the viewers. As they chat, Sabinus offhandedly pries a piece of chicken from Edu and starts eating it, no questions asked. We learn that the chicken is a gift from Edu’s new “lepa” girlfriend. She has been spoiling him with food and he finally asks her where she gets the good stuff from. Edu tells Sabinus, whose mouth is now stuffed with meat, that his girlfriend has actually been feeding him “vulture,” not chicken.

On hearing this, Sabinus freezes and stops chewing. Close to tears, he asks Edu if he has thrown away the vulture. “Na the vulture nain you dey chop like this,” Edu responds. Sabinus sniffs the abomination in his hands as his formerly cheery face falls into dejection and the skit closes to Kina’s Can We Kiss Forever? The absurdity of the situation, combined with the exaggerated pain on Sabinus’ face, teases out laughter from the most stoic viewer. Much of Sabinus’ skits follow this manual: a basic plot, an absurd narrative twist that ends with tragedy befalling the protagonist and lastly, like clockwork, the viewer laughing at Sabinus’ haplessness.

The brains behind the Sabinus character is Emmanuel Ejekwu, a young hustling man who in 2019 left soot-blighted Port-Harcourt for Lagos, the economic centre of the Nigerian entertainment industry. No sooner had he arrived than he climbed to the zenith of Nigeria’s online comedy community. With over 200,000 YouTube subscribers, over 1 million Instagram followers and a recent packed-to-the-brim concert in his home city, Ejekwu is the picture of swag and success.

His character Sabinus also answers the name Mumu Man, Investor, and The Blue Chief, the last epithet being a reference to the sole long-sleeved and ill-fitted blue shirt that he perpetually wears in his skits. An incongruous persona, he wears a ridiculously short tie and keeps an unkempt beard. He sports a potbelly, wears a pair of shoes that has seen sunnier days, and could easily be mistaken for any of those itinerant motivational speakers on the streets of Lagos, who claim to be financial gurus but do not themselves telegraph an aura of prosperity.

Sabinus’ life is an endless reel of tragic circumstances. He is always late on rent payments. Always caught in the wrong places. No luck with the ladies. Gets hoodwinked by prostitutes. Fails at football betting. Flunks as a taxi driver. Always eats the wrong things — one time he ate from a bottle of groundnuts that had been laced with black magic, as belatedly revealed by Mama Edu. And whenever he realises how much of a mess he is in, he recourses to his pet phrases, an impotent call for help that avid fans are familiar with, directed towards the source of his torment: “Good afternoon, sir. How’s the family?”

A typical Sabinus skit is like physical comedy on steroids. When he is not walking with hyperbolic disregard or sporting his mostly angst-peppered facial expressions, he is performing a variation of an arm-pinch: striking a photographer’s pose as he brings his forefinger and thumb to his eye sockets, before making a gesture where he looks to be magnifying his field of vision, his way of assuring himself that something incredulous is really happening before his eyes.


In his interview with Femi Oguntayo of The Nigerian Tribune, Ejekwu said that he has no mentor in the comedy business. According to him, he looks only to “God Almighty” for inspiration. Whether or not he chooses to acknowledge his comic influences, they declare themselves in his art. In many ways, his skits bear the familiar accoutrements of Nigerian comedy. For one, it relies on observing and dramatising the socioeconomic poverty that middle- and lower class Nigerians live through.

The relationship that Nigerian comedy has with poverty is a long-standing and intimate one. Though some recent Nollywood and social media comedies involve rich protagonists and upper-class situations, as in the likes of EbonyLife’s Chief Daddy, Bovi’s Banana Republic, and House 21’s Therapy (featuring Falz and Toke Makinwa), Nigerian comedy has historically consisted of poor protagonists and scenarios often associated with the poor. Aki and Pawpaw were poor in Aki na Ukwa (2002). Nkem Owoh of Osuofia in London fame usually played poor characters. Mr Ibu was poor. Even in Yoruba filmography, the stock characters played by comic acts like Baba Suwe, Sanyeri and Mr Latin, were poor and lowly. The reality is not different in Nigerian stand-up comedy. Stand-up acts not only dramatise what it means to be poor in Nigeria, they also like to play poor. It’s common for a stand-up comedian, halfway through his shtick, to implore a celebrity or politician sitting in the audience to send him some money. The comedian then unabashedly calls out his bank account details. Complementing his corporate begging is an inevitable outburst of laughter from the audience. We may take this to mean that the crowd approves of the role-play: this relatively well-to-do comedian feigning penury. Maybe the humour is derived from the secret knowledge that the said beggar does not actually need the money.

There’s no clear reason why Nigerian comedy fraternises with the indigent. Perhaps there is something inherently laughable about poverty. Perhaps life in the Makoko slums promises more comic material than the sedate environs of V.G.C. Perhaps it is because many of these comic acts come from poor backgrounds and it is only natural that their art is crammed with anecdotes about a life that they have lived or are currently living. At any rate, Ejekwu’s comedy is built on this tradition of poverty porn. He is not alone in this regard — other contemporary comedians like Lasisi Elenu and Josh2funny routinely feature protagonists who are defined by chronic lack.

Like many of his peers, Ejekwu uses common industry tricks in his skits, such as his use of well-timed background voice-overs to amplify the mood in a scene or add to the weight of a joke. These voice-overs function like laugh tracks that characterise many American sitcoms: goading viewers into laughing. Ejekwu’s skits are littered with many such goading: “No be juju be that?” can be heard when Sabinus says or does something inexplicably stupid, and “Continue” — in the voice of former First Lady Patience Jonathan — cuts in as a skit nears its climax.

Like his peers, many of his skits are laden with paid-for birthday wishes and advertisements, a shocking amount of which are about cryptocurrency trading and betting companies. Like Sabinus — who places and loses a series of bets in a certain episode — Ejekwu seems to nurse no moral qualms about gambling, implicitly encouraging his followers to do so as he advertises on behalf of certain betting companies. In the end, what matters is that he succeeds on most occasions in incorporating this commercial white noise into his craft, spinning humour out of them, a feat that not many of his peers do well. In the aspects of theme and technique, a lot of Ejekwu’s routines rely on well-established tropes and clichés. Yet this does not take the bite from his sketches. His ability to use basic dramatic techniques of recognition and reversal of fortune to great effect is indeed commendable. These and his facial expressions, some of which have since entered Twitter meme canon, are often enough to land the joke. It will be interesting to see how his craft evolves in the years to come. And considering his work ethic, evidenced by his prolific output, he sure has no plans of slowing down soon.