Nigeria Needs its Enlightenment but Podcasts are a Problem

By Olayemi Olaniyi Apr29,2024 #podcasts
L-R: Tolani Baj, Nedu

I started making YouTube content in 2021. My goal was to do it full-time as an escape from the slavish realities of working 9-5. My hopes were high. All I needed was to bring a fresh perspective to public discourse with my video essays and I would get enough traffic to make some cool cash without having to depend on a capricious employer. So I thought. I couldn’t find any Nigerian podcasts or YouTube channels doing the video essay genre and that unique style, I thought, would give me the edge.

But video after video, my hopes were shattered. No one watched or engaged with my content. I began to think whether I’d overestimated myself, if I wasn’t doing something right or if I’d judged the market wrongly. In 2022, I thankfully won the Emergent Ventures grant. Ironically, an American viewer who chanced upon one of my YouTube videos had recommended me for the grant. Funny how the internet works. I don’t know what he saw in my content that my fellow Nigerians were not seeing. The grant was used to get a better laptop, a camera, an audio interface, a microphone, and other equipment. Since then, I’ve done podcast interviews, talking head videos, and street interviews. I thought exploring different genres would get me better engagement. But I was disappointed all the same.

I needed to get that out of the way to show that I’m not just talking as a commentator, but as someone who is part of the podcastsphere. In a sense, we are living in what can be described as a Podpocalypse. Every day, you come across a clip of someone or a group of people running commentary on dating, entertainment, celebrity gossip, culture, or what have you. Given how the internet has democratised access to upload content and the possibility to monetise it, everyone is now a content creator hustling for ad revenue. As someone who has benefited from the visibility the internet can give you (the Emergent Ventures grant), it’d be hypocritical of me to fundamentally have a problem with the proliferation of podcasts. My issue is not with the proliferation of podcasts per se, but more with the discourses people have on them.

The Podpocalypse is not a uniquely Nigerian phenomenon. Since I’ve been casually following American politics and the culture war, YouTube’s algorithm keeps recommending new podcasts across the left-wing and right-wing spectrum. This explosion reminds me of the oft-cited study on how a third of young Britons and Americans aspire to become content creators. 

Content creators like KSI are the new Hollywood stars. Podcasters like Joe Rogan are the new Larry King. The difference is during the heyday of Hollywood, TV and radio, they had gatekeepers. Today, the internet has removed that gatekeeping. With an influx of creators, an overload of sensationalism and absurdity has characterised the internet. It’s almost the case that to beat the algorithm, you need to do the most outlandish prank or say the most provocating thing. 

That is especially true of Nigerian podcasters. Their shtick is to deliberately whip up reactions with outrageous arguments on dating or celebrity gossip. They particularly exploit the ongoing gender war in online discourse knowing their takes would generate knee-jerk responses from viewers who disagree. Of special mention is the Bahd and Boujee podcast hosted by ex reality TV star, Tolani Baj and Moet Abebe, a former TV presenter. I cannot count how many times I’ve come across clips of them giving absurd takes like how much men must make before dating or how men must not complain when their girlfriends ask them to buy wigs that cost N5 million or how they cannot date any man who lives on Mainland Lagos. Tolani Baj is especially notorious. Given her claim to infamy, her name has become an internet byword for stupidity. 

The Bahd and Boujee podcast is affiliated with Glitch Africa Studios. The media company produces other podcasts like The Honest Bunch, Spill with Phyna, and The Rants Bants and Confessions Podcast. The Honest Bunch Podcast is hosted by Nedu, a popular radio presenter turned skit comedian, and three other people. Like Tolani Baj, Nedu has had his viral moments of outrageous takes. One clip readily comes to mind: there was a time on the podcast when Nedu said something along the lines of not minding having oral sex with Tiwa Savage. I believe he said he would “lick Tiwa’s plate” (‘plate’ meaning her genitalia).

The producers at Glitch Africa understand what Nigerians want (even though Nigerians may feign outrage sometimes) and they have a bunch of viral podcasts to show for it. I argued elsewhere that Nigerians do not care about depth or detail. We love things to be superficial and sensational. That explains the hyperbolic takes Nedu and Tolani Baj are infamous for. And there is a good chance they do not necessarily believe the outrageous takes they give or live by them. Anything for clicks and views. 

As the poverty capital of the world, our priorities are wildly misplaced, if podcasts serve as a veritable sample. We should be having real conversations on subjects and topics that will help us fix the many problems we face from starvation to inflation. I believe Nigeria needs to have its version of the Enlightenment and if used right, podcasts could kickstart it by having much-needed cerebral conversations. And this Enlightenment must cut across the sciences, social sciences, technology, the arts, etc. 

The only time Nigeria had what could approximate an Enlightenment was during the golden age of literature when the likes of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe wrote bestsellers. Because of the circumstances of their time, they had to be anti-colonial and Africanist in their writings. And after Nigeria gained independence, they held the corrupt political class and tyrannical dictators to account even at the cost of their safety and freedoms. People looked up to them and wanted to hear their perspectives on issues. The same vigour percolated in other African nations. The scholarship of that era was embodied in the 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression which was held in Makerere University, Uganda. It had in attendance reigning African writers of the day. They debated what African literature was; if it was African to write in a colonial language, etc. They of course had disagreements. 

62 years later, we have not been able to replicate the intellectual dynamism of that conference and that era. Literature no longer holds sway like it once did. And while I understand that literature doesn’t have to fix or correct societal ills, unfortunately, nothing today serves as a domain for intellectual discourse; not the mass media, not our universities, and definitely, not podcasts. 

The major failure of the Soyinka generation was that the Enlightenment that characterised that era did not percolate into the sciences and other disciplines. For instance, we didn’t have any scientists, engineers, pharmacists, architects, physicists, anthropologists, etc of Soyinka’s acclaim. And the same is true today. The only thing we try to intellectualise is entertainment (Afrobeats and Nollywood). And this is because our music and movies have never enjoyed such global interests as they do now. Entertainment is the only thing that serves as pride for Nigerians. 

But success in entertainment can only give you cultural bragging points. It doesn’t solve socio-economic problems. It does not translate into innovation and, God knows, Nigeria desperately needs lots and lots of scientific and technological innovations. It is an affront to our collective humanity that we are yet to find a cure for sicknesses like Malaria or Sickle Cell Anemia. 

In the US, there are lots of science podcasts that have high monthly views. If you started a science podcast in Nigeria, no one would listen to you. Yet, Nigerians need such podcasts more than Americans. You can’t tell me otherwise, we are an intellectually-deficient people. 

It would be pedantically wrong to say all podcasts in Nigeria engage in tabloid sensationalism. I’m talking about most, not all. At least the viral ones. I’m sure if you look long enough, you may find some very interesting Nigerian podcasts on evolution, psychology, or what have you. Their obscurity is a testament to an overarching culture that values superficial discourse over depth and substance. I may have come off as a prude, nerdy, or in fact elitist. It may seem I wrote this because I’m jealous of Nedu and Tolani Baj. Maybe those assumptions about me are true. But what is also true is that the Podpocalyspe is a serious problem in Nigeria and it is distracting us from a much-needed Enlightenment. 

By Olayemi Olaniyi

Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela's discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday. He can be reached on X @LukeOlaniyi.  

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