Heart of Arts

Wahala Palava: Social Media, Cruises, and Frivolities

Toyin Falola


I doubt you can find many Nigerian youths and their parents participating in any social event and not checking their cell phones within five minutes. Forget it. They even answer phone calls during the Sunday service. When I say that I have seen a woman terminating the asr, the late afternoon prayer, to attend to a customer who wants to buy a sachet of water, don’t treat it as a joke. Muslim men routinely abandon the maghrib mid-way to answer a phone call. Someone on WhatsApp can be laughing hysterically in front of you, and you will think he has won the lotto until you know he is just enjoying “shedibalabala”.

“No dulling moment” in Nigeria is not just an assertion made from exaggerative and wild imputations but a realistic description of the temporal evolvements of the nation. It is often from one “cruise” to the other. So, the Nigerian social media space lives on trends, cruises, and challenges that get people going. This year started with “no gree for anybody,” and quite a few slang have followed. These days, the youth seem to be tuned to whatever the media dictates and reflect on the social behaviours in the past few years. The trends in Nigeria transmit to international phenomena. Out of the trends come different social media challenges of different levels. They are sometimes literally challenging and also challenging to the physical, mental, and intellectual health of the viewers as well as the cultural values of the country, and they are effortlessly portrayed on a social media platform- social media challenges.

One cannot but ponder on the saying that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop when social media challenges come to bear. So, we must also wonder if the proliferation of participation in these social media challenges is a manifestation of devil-infested minds or an attempt to not be idle. The confoundment would be more understandable when you try to classify or conceive explanations or justifications for these challenges. It would be quite easy to think of them as frivolities; what other explanation should be given to a challenge where people lick toilets or a challenge where empty crates are stacked really high, and people attempt to walk on them without falling – mostly, the opposite happens, or where people bath themselves in drinks, oil, food and even go as far as consuming harmful products to showcase a social media challenge. It is disturbing to watch Nigerians waste food that many homeless and middle-class Nigerians value in this harsh economy. The rationale behind using food and drinks to bathe yourself just to trend is infuriating. The worst is even the consumption of harmful products in the name of challenges, trends, and cruises. These are the same youths that would say Sapa is choking, or should I send my aza for urgent 2k? The cry for help becomes lucid when the corresponding action depicts otherwise. In what world does wasting food or performing dangerous health risky challenges show your need for money, or would the urgent 2k help pay your hospital bill when you are badly injured?

Well, while many of the challenges are frivolous and often devoid of any importance, they sometimes serve as tools for social satires. For instance, the “door opening challenge” was to satirize the cost of governance in the country and the overbearing number of unnecessary employees in the government. It connotes the exuberant lifestyles of the politicians. This challenge was inspired by the entourage of Nasir El Rufai, where someone opened the door for someone who would open the door for the person who would open the door for him. The challenge went viral, and many subscribed to it. Another was Babatunde Fashola’s discovery of a camcorder at the sight of the Lekki Tollgate “massacre” the day after the incident, despite the alleged sweeping of the site by security personnel, and it was only the minister who saw it. This created a spur where #FasholaChallenge started.

Another of these series was the #Balabluebulaba challenge, which was to mock Tinubu’s alleged sickness and inconsistency in speech. It was more like a political response to the candidacy of the President and became largely subscribed to on the internet. The different political challenges never stopped; they either tried to reenact the ridiculous attitudes of the Nigerian government officials or mimicked their idiosyncrasies.

Where challenges are not created, trends are built around some of the acts to be criticized. It could be a reenactment of a police officer trying to extort from people or any government official at all. There was a period when an NSCDC official could not give the address of the Corp’s website, and he also continuously kept talking about some Oga at the Top. The incidence became a phenomenon, and the phrase “Oga at the Top” further became a slang term that was even printed on clothes at that time.

Some other challenges really pushed some talents out. We have seen people show their trades and talents through some of these challenges and trends and show the world that they are not “lazy Nigerians” anyway. This is followed by hashtags across all social media platforms that would allow everyone to show what they are good at or be specific about their trade. The throwback challenges of different types and measures are also not bad ideas. It could sometimes show that, with time and effort, people’s experience could be better.

The “ice bucket challenge”, also known as the “ASL challenge”, is a trend where a cold bucket of ice water is poured on someone. It was started to create awareness and donations for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease and the “Be like Ngozi challenge,” which started to appreciate Ngozi Okonjo-Nweala following her appointment as the first female and African to be the director general of the World Trade Organization.

Sometimes, the challenges and trends get even worse, and people lose their lives because of it. Well, one could pretend to justify the challenges on the belief that “you only live once, YOLO.” But jokes on those who would rather choose to endanger their lives or people in the name of joining the trends. The “crate challenge” choked global Twitter, with many compromising their health and lives just to attract some impressions. The list of some of these ridiculous challenges that entered the country through social media is endless. Someone posted something about slapping a soldier in Nigeria as a challenge; those who tried it undoubtedly “collected.” In 2021, after Joeboy released his single “Alcohol,” it followed with “Alcohol Challenge,” where people used it to promote elicit substances and injected unhealthy substances in their bodies on TikTok.

Aside from laziness, some of the challenges are trends that only invite funny displays and, sometimes, at the extreme, unintelligence. Although one must state that it is good to relieve one’s stress with some fun-filled challenges, some individuals must know their limits. The “don’t leave me challenge” is a trend where a person says a joke and walks away while another shouts don’t leave me – the lamer the joke, the better. Well, skit-making and comedy are now becoming the new “catch-outs” in Nigeria. Famous is also the “Charlie Charlie challenge,” where people try to conjure Charlie Charlie, a supposed spirit, to answer their questions using paper and a pencil. As creepy as this is, one would think that spiritual people like Nigerians would refrain from conjuring spirits, expecting it to respond.

A number of the challenges are outrightly disturbing as they question moral principles prevalent in society and attract sensitive and sexually rated content. The “drop challenge,” “silhouette challenge,” “wife material challenge,” “buss it challenge,” “shedibalabala”, and a lot more are in the same category of the “hype man trend” where women sexually shake “what their mama gave them.” These videos are extremely provocative because they feature women mostly shaking their backsides in all forms and styles. These challenges have encouraged women to be innovative in inventing new styles of “twerking.” The “silhouette” caps it because women are seen sexually dancing naked behind a red light or with a filter that makes them look naked.

This class of challenges and trends questions the social fight against the objectification of women folks in Nigeria. The Nigerian culture and social norms dictate integrity and modesty for all sexes and do not support the instrumentalization of women to make them objects of flirtation. In fact, with the apparent disorientation about the sexual rights of people, one should be careful in how one feeds the plagues of sexual stereotyping.

The challenges sometimes come from the misconception of the value of women. Many have qualified and quantified the excess of women from their physical appearance with big backsides, busty fronts, waists, and cleavages. Many more of these challenges have been on the rise in social media platforms, with varying degrees and types.

One would sometimes wonder if there is a prize for participation or if a body is watching the challenges to pick the best to reward. No! All is just in the name of not missing out, attracting more views and traffic to one’s page, or just following the trend without missing out on the cruises. This is despite the health hazards or reputation hazards that are related to them.

Well, I am not a killjoy, but more limitations must be built around these idiosyncrasies. Where trends and challenges are likely to cause serious health hazards and pick on people, social media regulation in that respect would not be out of discussion. However, while the fun may continue, it should also be made important that there are good causes, many enough to challenge others with. We could start a challenge to feed five people today or say something nice. Do not get me wrong; challenges do not need to be meaningful, logical, or intelligent; at least, Nigerian society most of the time needs comic relief from the stiffening conditions of the nation, but some ground rules must be set when those challenges or trends tend to hurt others.

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