Amid rising unemployment, hyperinflation and worsening standard of living, which have impacted the mental health of millions of Nigerians, many enterprising youths are leveraging their talents and digital space to put smiles on people’s faces and earn decent living, Daily Trust Saturday reports.
Gbolahan Samuel is going through some lows and totters on the cliff of depression. In recent times, widespread economic hardship in the country has exerted much pressure on the 35-year-old marketer at a second generation bank in Lagos.
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With a wife, two children and an ageing mother to cater for, the graduate of Public Administration has got more responsibilities than his paltry N45,000 monthly pay packet could afford.
Coupled with the thought of paying house rent, his five-year-old son’s school fees, among other bills, Samuel’s mind has been a troubled realm of worries and helplessness lately.
To avoid a constant drift to anxieties, occasioned by the volume of bills hanging on his neck like a noose, he always ensures he has data on his smart-phone to surf the internet for soul-lifting short comedy videos, popularly known as skits.
“Watching skits is my major pastime. Aside laughing and feeling happy, I also pick one or two lessons from them.
“If I think of the baggage of responsibilities before me and look at my salary, I always get frustrated and sad, but these comedies provide some sort of relief,” Samuel said excitedly during a chat with our correspondent.
Nigeria’s misery index, which measures economic hardship, rose to 62.79 in July 2022, compared to 59.4 in December 2021, indicating that more Nigerians are financially miserable.
Experts have noted that financial stress can lead to anxiety and depression, a common illness that affects about 3.8 per cent of the world population – about 280million people.
The World Health Organisation estimates that over seven million people suffer from depression in Nigeria – the highest in Africa – representing about 23 per cent of 30million living with the condition on the continent. It is identified as the leading cause of suicide of which over 700,000 people die annually, according to the global health body.
A study by the Nigerian General Household Survey Panel using agriculture, welfare and other areas of life as indicators also revealed that 20 per cent of heads of households in the country suffer from chronic depression.
However, laughter triggered by exciting moments, such as watching skits, has been found to be a great source of relief. During laughter, endorphins which promote various types of well-being, including the temporary reduction of pain, are said to be released.
“There is a lot of hardship in the country and a lot of people are struggling to get mentally stable and keep up with living,” one of Nigeria’s leading skit makers, Maryam Apaokagi, well known as Taaooma, told Daily Trust Saturday, adding that many people have adopted short comedy videos as part of coping mechanisms.
“Across the world, there are a lot of things happening that people just want to get away from. We (skit makers) are like a form of quick therapy for people. A lot of people always tell me my skits help them,” she said.
Mrs Aisha Ibrahim, 31, and a mother of three, admitted that rib-cracking clips offered her doses of relief from grueling stress inflicted by the economic downturn in the country.
“Things are really hard and I am worried. My income keeps shrinking, yet cost of living is increasing. These days, I watch a lot of skits and engage in things that make me happy instead of brooding over hardship all the time,” Mrs Ibrahim, who operates a boutique on Lagos Island said.
In recent years, skit-making has become a booming enterprise in the Nigerian entertainment industry, providing jobs across the value chain and stemming the tide of high unemployment rate, which stood at 33.3 per cent as at 2020, with jobless youths constituting 42.5 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
While skits are comic relief for Samuel and Ibrahim, as well as millions of people in Nigeria and beyond, the content creators – mostly youths – monetise ‘laughter’ to lead a luxury lifestyle, earning good incomes from millions of views, sponsored posts and endorsements.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that as at 2021, a popular skit maker, Samuel Animashaun Perry, well known as Broda Shaggi, grossed up to N3million from a sponsored post.
For a featured post (client’s picture or video advert) to be on his Instagram timeline for 24 hours, he charged N500,000; N1million for seven days and N1.5m to leave the post permanently.
“Content creation, development, execution delivery and posting” for a client attracts N2.5m on his Twitter handle; N2.6m on the YouTube page; N2.7m on Facebook; N2.8m on Instagram and N3m on all social media platforms.
“The rates are subject to change, and once payment has been made, there would be no refund,” a document obtained by Daily Trust Saturday stated.
A report released in March 2022 by Dataleum, a global talent accelerator, ranked skit making “as the third largest entertainment industry in Nigeria with a net worth of over N50billion.”
The report identified eight top skit makers in Nigeria and the number of views their videos had gained at the first quarter of 2022.
28-year-old Broda Shaggi topped the list with 48million views from 73 skit videos, followed by Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Ejekwu, popularly known as Mr Funny, who recorded 31million views from 51 skit videos.
Abdulgafar Ahmad Oluwatoyin, also known as Cute Abiola, came third with 30million views from 74 videos, while 23-year-old Taaooma was fourth on the list with 24.7million views from 27 skit videos.
Others are 27-year-old Chukwuebuka Emmanuel Amuzie, also known as Brain Jotter with 21.2million views from 42 skits; Nosa Adeyemi Afolabi, 31, popularly known as Lasisi Elenu, 16.7million views from 30 skits; Bukunmi Adeaga-Ilori, 27, known as Kie Kie, with 12million views and 29-year-old Adebowale Adedayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni, with 11million views.
Aided by digital technology, skit makers explore social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and more recently, Tiktok, to turn jokes into immeasurable wealth. Many of them are now employers of labour, drive expensive cars and own luxury apartments in choice areas across the country.
“I have 20 people as crew, aside from the cast. I have a cameraman, an editor, gaffers and others. Depending on the production size, sometimes, if the production is very big, I can use up to seven gaffers. I have a location manager, production manager, road manager and the overall manager. I also have a DOP. Those are basically the crew members I can remember,” Taaoma disclosed.
Last year, Jobberman Nigeria, in a report noted that the creative industry to which skit making belongs currently employs more than four million people in the country and has the potential to create an additional 2.7million jobs by 2025.
“The creative sector in Nigeria has significant potentials for employment of young people. This potential is evident in the availability of the current formal and informal job opportunities, as well as the growth potential within the industry,” the report stated.
Hosting a delegation of the Association of Skit Makers in November 2021, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo emphasised the remarkable contributions of the talent industry to the economy and the need to utilise its full potential.
The delegation included Taaoma, Josh Alfred (Josh2funny), Ayo Ajewole (Woli Agba), Adebamiro Adeyanju (Mr Hyenana) and Adeoye Adeyemi Elesho (Yemi Elesho).
The vice president hailed the heroics of the skit makers, describing them as the “funniest in the world,” adding that the federal government remained committed to supporting the creative industry through policies aimed at growing the sector.
“I strongly believe that what our young people are doing and what they are capable of is what will lead our country to where we are meant to be.
“The future is not tomorrow, it is already here and we can see it from just everything you are doing, the global acclaim you are getting, young people like you doing something good.
“I think we have incredible talents and we must do something about it to enable these talents. And we must ask ourselves questions on setting realistic goals that can enable these talents flourish,” Osinbajo remarked.
Also, the convener of the Nigerian Skit Industry Festival and Awards (NSIFA), Bimbo Daramola, maintained that skit making had evolved over time from being a casual activity to a developed industry.
Daramola, a former member of the House of Representatives, said that starting from doing videos with mobile devices, skit makers now have modern production equipment and editing suites, “where a lot of people derive their livelihood and feed their families from.”
“We observed that a group of young Nigerians had, instead of bemoaning their fate, looked inwards and discovered their talents. They added the spices of creativity, determination and resilience, and in the face of all that, could be stoppers, rose above challenges, gave life a good fight and have won.
“The results of that individual effort have today redefined Nigeria’s entertainment landscape with the introduction of short movies, otherwise popularly known as ‘skits’. The impacts of their efforts have not only transformed their lives but also reverberated across our society and nation.
“Today, as a result of skits, hundreds of young Nigerians have not only become gainfully employed but have become job creators,” the convener said at a press conference in December 2021.
In its latest 2021 Subscriber/Network Data Annual Report covering the entire year, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) disclosed that the total volume of data consumed by subscribers increased to 350,165.39 terabyte as at December 2021 from the 205,880.40 as at December 2020. This, according to the report, represents a percentage increase of 70.8 per cent year-on-year in data consumption.
Previously, however, there had been about 202.08 per cent increase in data usage in the preceding three years, rising from 68,154.12TB in 2018 to 125,149.86TB in 2019 and 205,880.40TB in December 2020.
In addition, the NCC revealed that GSM internet subscribers – a large number of who are skit makers and viewers – rose from 100,234,283 in January 2018 to 141,971,560 as at December 2021.
“Of particular importance is the fact that huge usage of data today in Nigeria is also traceable to the exponential growth in the number of Nigerians who today are skit makers,” Daramola added.
Addressing grey areas
Amid its laudable roles in lifting mood and creating means of livelihood, a brand of skit making – prank – has come under heavy criticism. There is a growing trend of prank videos being posted on the social media, most of which usually cause panic in people being tricked and even violate their privacy.
A retired police officer in the United States, Seth Dietrich, acknowledged that YouTube was full of videos of “pranks”, which he said could easily passed for criminal act.
“Pointing a gun at someone while lighting off a string of firecrackers could easily be a felony threat; walking up on someone and suddenly smashing a pie in their face could be an assault. Just because you think it is a big joke doesn’t mean the victim of your prank won’t press charges,” Dietrich observed.
Many Nigerian skit makers shoot deadly prank videos as Dietrich noted, and these have raised concerns in many quarters.
A retired commissioner of police, Ademiju Oyekan, urged the authorities to enlighten skit makers on the dangers of prank. He said if such skits caused apprehension or not accepted, they might become an assault, especially if they caused an injury; and murder if they caused death.
“There are videos of prank that amount to assault, battery, sexual battery, hate crimes and vandalism. Just because they call it a prank does not mean it is legal or moral. Remember, if there is any intimidation or chance of physical injury from the “prank,” they can be arrested,” Oyekan said.
“Yes, we are aware of this and we have warned them (skit makers). We are planning a summit to educate them and open their minds and eyes to many things,” the spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, said of the prank content creators.
Skit making as a fraction of big ‘creator economy’
Despite the huge impact of skit making in providing jobs for many Nigerian youths, experts say the entire “creator economy” to which skit making belongs, is still underutilised in Nigeria.
Creator economy allows social media influencers, YouTubers, independent writers, artists, videographers, gamers, podcasters and other professionals to monetise their talents on digital space. One of such professionals is Dr Chinonso Egemba, a medical doctor popular on the social media as “Aproko doctor” for giving relatable medical advice and hands-on solutions to everyday health care issues.
In a 2018 report by the United Nations, the creator economy was said to generate annual revenues of $2.250bn, and was projected to make up about 10 per cent of global gross domestic product in the years to come.
The report estimated that the sector “provides nearly 30million jobs worldwide and employs more people aged 15 to 29 than any other sector.”
A recent study by SignalFire, a venture capital firm, indicated that approximately, 50million people around the world are engaged in the creator economy, with about 46million of them considered amateurs.
Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Meta, in a post via his Facebook handle on June 20, 2022, unveiled the company’s plan to open new channels for content creators to make more money on the blue app and Instagram.
He wrote, “We are heading towards a future where more people can do creative work they enjoy. And I want platforms like ours to play a role in making that happen. More money straight to creators: We’ll hold off on any revenue sharing on Facebook and Instagram until 2024. That includes paid online events, subscriptions, badges and bulletin.
“For interoperable subscriptions, we are letting creators give their paying subscribers on other platforms access to subscriber-only Facebook groups.
“For Facebook stars, we are opening them up to all eligible creators so that more people can start earning from their reels, live, or VOD videos.”
While also acknowledging the contributions of skit making to the economy, the chief executive officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, urged more youths to discover their talents in diverse areas and leverage digital technology to earn decent living.
He said, “A number of youths are already operating in that sector because the cost of entering is not so big. It is a talent-driven sector contributing a lot to employment and the growth of creativity and talent development in the country. This shows that the reward for talent is extremely high.
“A lot more can be done to encourage more youths to take advantage of the opportunity in that space because it is a major contributor to the economy. It gives the youth an opportunity to make good use of their talents.
“Digital platforms have created a big economy for the young people, not only the comedians but also those using social media to create content. So it is a question of optimising the opportunity in the digital economy.”
Yusuf, a former director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the sector was also a viable avenue for the government to shore up its dwindling revenues. He, however, warned that a taxable benchmark should be set in order to create an enabling environment for upcoming content creators to thrive.
“I know the government has taken some steps to ensure that activities taking place on the digital platform are also captured in the list of revenues. Some steps are being taken on e-commerce, for instance, on how tax can be paid on transactions that take place.
“The same thing can apply to content creators on the digital platform. However, a threshold should be defined so that tax authorities won’t frustrate them. The government can define a threshold (of income), after which they can start to impose tax on them. Many of them are startups and upcoming struggling to make a living,” he said.