Making light of terrorism: How far is too far with Boko Haram jokes?

Last year, foremost Nigerian comedian, Ayo Makun (AY), and a host of fellow comedians came under fire for sharing a joke that was deemed distasteful, insensitive and vile. The 2015 general elections had just been concluded and the polling results announcement, which was drama-filled, had taken place just a week before the popular AY Live Show was billed to hold. Hence, AY and his friends thought it wise to re-enact highlights of the event. The re-enactment was hilarious; the audience clapped and reeled with laughter, especially when comedian, MC Shakara, referenced the activities of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, “How will they say Kaduna, Katsina and Kano have 5 million votes? Then who have Boko Haram been killing?” he said regarding the large number of votes Muhammadu Buhari pulled from the north.

“How can one make a crass joke about the killing of about 20,000 men, women and children?” a Nigerian blogger asked. “Do they think the lives lost in the north are a joke?” Although AY later tendered an apology on social media, the fact that a lot of Nigerians thought the joke was an absolute hit was rather disturbing. @KING_AMAZ I saw your write up on the Boko Haram joke by @MCSHAKARA. We are sorry for cracking a joke around such a sensitive issue in the north,” tweeted AY.

The uprising of Boko Haram, which began in July 2009, has killed and maimed thousands, leaving over two million Nigerians displaced from their homes. Efforts made by the Nigerian government and the military to put an end to their atrocities have proved unsuccessful as the group continues to attack places in the north east every so often, even the Internally Displaced Persons camps. The latest, being a series of bombings in remote towns and IDP camps in Borno state, killed mostly women and children. Yet, typically, Nigerians choose to make light of something so depressing. Their defense often being that there are too many issues to worry about in the country and the best way out is to crack a joke or two. For this reason, quite a number of pertinent issues and conversations surrounding these issues end up being gaffes, memes and jokes.

Jokes about the insurgency have always been a trend not exclusive to Nigerian comedians alone as Nigerians, in general, have become quite creative with the activities of the terrorist group like this joke on Boko Haram customer care service .

“Welcome to Boko Haram customer service, your call is important to us.

For suicide bombing, press 1

To plant a bomb in your area, press 2

To detonate a bomb with your phone, press 3 followed by #

If you have any info regarding where we can plant a bomb, press 4

To get bombs at a cheap rate, press 5

To speak with a Boko Haram representative or if you have any info regarding how we can plant a bomb in Aso Rock, please hold while your call is forwarded to Boko Haram headquarters.

Thank you for using Boko Haram customer service.”

While it might be okay for Nigerians to shake things off with the medicine of laughter, it is certainly not okay to make light of crucial issues, especially those that pertain to the loss of thousands of human lives, like the current insurgency in the north-east. It is an act of utter disregard for the lives of not just the men, women and children in the north-east snatched by terrorism, but also for the brave soldiers who die in the fight to counter the insurgency.

Perhaps, the rest of the country is living with the flawed notion that the insurgency is a northern problem, hence they can make light of it, when in truth, there is no region that isn’t endangered. If this is the case, then the joke’s on them because if Boko Haram is not defeated soon enough, the insurgency would spread to other parts of the country and no one will be laughing then.

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