This is the interview report with Debo Adedayo on June 12, 2022. Viewership figures on television, radios, and over a dozen platforms reached over fifteen million by June 15, 2022. For the transcripts:
Mr. Macaroni and Cultural Politics
By Toyin Falola
Human evolution is a scientific reality that reveals the nature of becoming human. By evolving to the full realisation of humans, nature teaches us that the construction and calibration of ideas in every human society and civilisation involve a critical process of superordinate experiences where unwanted particles of ideas are repealed and important ones are incorporated from time to time. The moment humans understand they have a similar physical identity and a common goal to survive in the jungle we call life, their awareness compels a corresponding social behaviour, unanimously accepted because of the drive to outsmart other creatures sharing the environment with them. Here comes the ground reason for the development and evolution of culture. The culture of a society comprises the foundational resources from which every other ideological or ideational construct is drawn. In essence, a people’s culture would ultimately reflect in all aspects of their lives, no matter how insignificant this reflection may be. In other words, a people’s culture may influence their socialisation process and system, political ideas, religious identity, and even general human philosophy. These are the core tenets of human identity everywhere in the world.
If political ideas, like other markers of human identity, are exclusively determined by the arbitrary assimilation of in-group values, the logical question would be how is it possible for the same people to teach ideas of otherwise different humans and, by implication, cultures, as it is generally believed that these ideas will most predictably disrupt or sometimes tamper with their identity? The readily available response to such an imaginary question is that as long as humans interact with other groups of people, they have the possibility of embracing much of their in-group ideas, even when they sometimes run at variance with the individual’s primary identity. In essence, an English person can adopt the political culture of Greek democracy through cross-border movements and transnational economic exchanges, and an Indian can decide to be a Confucianist through similar processes. However, what is predominantly undebatable is that ideas not produced from one’s native identities are always laced with characteristics that would show its obvious departure from the source when adopted. Therefore, we can talk about American democracy not as we would talk about the Indian democracy because these civilisations have injected attitudes and attributes of their indigenous identity into their political ideologies.
Consequently, if we talk about politics among African people, especially from the postcolonial lens, we will be doing many disservices to the system if we disengage the African cultural dynamics from its making. While politics gives a comprehensive dissection of human and administrative affairs management, their cultural traditions reveal how these systems will be operated. Thus, the place of culture in these political architectures is respected poignantly, and the moment there is a flagrant repudiation of this unwritten code, there will be eruptions in the system, capable of leading to its colossal disaster. This leads us to the concept of cultural politics and the various dynamics in the African political landscape.
Every human civilisation has a political system with ideas and values; however, it can succumb to cultural traditions’ superordinate or superimposing hands. Debo Adedayo, aka Mr Macaroni, is a well-grounded Nigerian in cultural politics who understands that while activism is a vital instrument of political negotiation and an effective means of demanding leadership accountability, the place of culture in the actualisation of all these remains strategically emphatic. Given this understanding, he makes himself available to the dictates of culture even in his artistic activism against unbridled leadership that has long permeated the political fabrics of the country.
The marks of a great individual are visible to see. These signs may not be easily obvious for people to make meaning of, but they are always there because the signs are the accumulating forces that propel the individual to attain greater heights in their subsequent years. Although not everyone experiences challenges and issues that draw out these marks of greatness at difficult times, that become great in life, there has never been a great person who did not experience a body of challenges in their course of growth and the process of becoming. Among other eventful experiences that Mr. Macaroni has had as an evolving young man, a defining one tried his resolve as a student leader representative in the Redeemer’s University, a faith-based institution that produces quality people.
Due to the nature of his representative position, he was supposed to deal with different quarters of the school’s administrative organogram where negotiation, concession, and collaboration are necessarily required so that the positions of the people he represented would not be jeopardised or threatened. He was stuck at a particular time because of the difficulty between him and the management body, but because he made himself available to assimilate more cultural ideas, he was baptised into the crucible of cultural politics through his engagement and conversation with Professor Wande Abimbola.
And this is where modernity, human evolution, and cultural traditions meet. As humans uncover a new form of technological invention or innovations powered by the continuous use of intellectual power, they are always compelled by the situation to reconsider their culture, politics, and economy, too, because all these are always coming with their corresponding impact on all available structures. For example, consider that the emergence of the internet has completely redefined human communication and its distribution. With the internet, there is a continuous probing of cultural ideas, forcing cultural ideas that cannot withstand the pressure of scrutiny to fall off the surface. Mr. Macaroni was trained to be a thespian in the university, but his leadership involvement entrusted him with speaking for the people’s rights. Whereas that order is meant to be challenged by the force of society where he will begin to navigate his world after graduation, accepting leadership responsibility is possible if he would integrate the emerging realities into his dreams and ambition. It is possible to actualise one’s ambition in an era where the internet has created a parallel space occupied by humans with the power to conduct their normal day-to-day activities without human contact. Mr Macaroni took the stage to another level when he understood that possibility.
Debo Adedayo chose the internet and the social media platforms as his stage, where he delivers the truckload of ideas that his professors, especially Professor Ahmed Yerima, a seasoned playwright in Africa, imparted to him while at the University. Though it took him long to understand that the stage does not have a specific physical reference, the moment he updated his understanding of a stage as a space where others can access one’s fictional performances, he immediately began to explore ideas and the orientation accumulated as a student learning under the four walls of the school and also as the leader of a body of students from whom the responsibility of protection, quality representation, or positive relationships are expected as a basic contribution.
By exploring the internet as his environment of action, Mr. Macaroni has made substantial progress, speaking with a loud decibel throughout his works. He has produced works that crudely satirise the totalitarian posture of various government dispensations and, in addition to this, added a bit of physically demonstrated action to support the course of the common people as against pitching his tent with known oppressors. Whether he is deliberately choosing all these by himself (from being at variance with his university management to being the target of law enforcement agencies for the roles he played in the popular #EndSARS movement) is immaterial; what remains constant is that he has been in the limelight for leadership-induced responsibilities.
At some point, the Lagos State government invited Mr. Macaroni for a conversation on peace, which was believed to be necessary for the post-EndSARS period so that the vibrant generation of youth involved in the movement would not keep assuming that the government was flagrantly against their safety, ambition, and access to a decent lifestyle. This invitation, which he honourably declined, attests to the importance of the internet in formulating policies in contemporary times. It shows that the cultural traditions of every society with internet access are bound to be affected because communication, information dissemination, and consumption have changed for good. Cultural politics comes into play in this beautiful dimension.
It should be emphasised that Mr. Macaroni’s rejection of the State’s invitation was inspired by his awareness that the internet community from where he won his recognition as an important representative is actively alive and would not tolerate the acceptance of class suicide. The punishment for this would have been the loss of his identity, economic sources, future ambitions, and his psychological or mental wellness. Considering all these, refusing the invitation would be a preferable sacrifice, which he did, not by dishonouring the governor’s seat but by highlighting why honouring the invitation would be a betrayal of conscience. Here is cultural politics outpacing every other thing.
With this feat, one would almost believe that Mr. Macaroni, who engages the government through his online media platforms, is a firebrand activist, especially if one is unfamiliar with his thespian background. However, listening to him for some minutes would immediately make one understand that he represents his childhood career choice of drama in his engagement. For one, he has truly been positively transformed to the point that he is not considered less than a cultural and theatre icon whose knowledge of how things work in the social media age cannot but be tapped into. He demonstrates his grasp of events by educating anyone who cares to listen that social media platforms are in their emerging stage and come with intimidating economic benefits that will immediately sweep people off their feet.
In essence, because change has inevitably happened, professors must accommodate these changes and incorporate them into what they teach to the students. Individuals in the school should not be denied embracing the internet and social media platforms as a place where they can put their talent to the test. The flexibility of the current time shows that one’s audiences are already available and scattered everywhere in the world. They will embrace what creative people produce when they find their content suitable. Therefore, it would not matter if the audience is in Russia; they will immediately have direct access to what you produce in Nigeria through social media.
This conversation brings us to the concept of satire in literature, which M. H. Abrams describes in A Glossary of Literary Terms as “the literary art of diminishing or derogating a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation” (2009: 320). Writers, dramatists, and other performers have substantially adopted satire from time immemorial because it provides them with soft-landing to express their inner feelings and desires, which can erupt into social reactions if not handled cleverly and satirically. The place of human culture is also important in the manoeuvring of satire, for without such observation, the message would be eclipsed in the process. Mr. Macaroni has been involved in several activism-oriented engagements to challenge the establishment of their outrageous political behaviour, unbridled and inordinate ambitions, and many other devastating problems that their engagements propel. However, activism at his stage and level cannot be organised as it was when he was a student. It would either be the product of reverberating annoyance, such as the one you find in the #EndSARS protest, or it will be masterminded by fully determined individuals who do not bother about the consequences of their actions.
But now, Mr. Macaroni has social media platforms, which he effectively uses to further his ideological convictions about representation. He uses satire, most of which reveals the biting decadence that has enveloped the country and how the intricacies of power have resulted in a socio-political compromise that triggers social and economic disparity, unrest, and even the overarching influence of law enforcement agencies in the country. Mr. Macaroni has produced numerous satirical acts that reveal how compromised the country’s political system is by introducing cultural politics to his engagements. By putting actions into comic plays, Mr. Macaroni has continued to engage the political class to educate them about their gross misconduct in the political domain.
Due to the commercialisation of Nigerian politics, followers sometimes make wrong choices that they know would have minimal impact. Because the system already is bastardised, injecting sanity into it has been impossible as the helpless youths who are denied generational access to financial power have been carefully cut out from the system. Since they are not actively involved, most of what happens to them are determined by those who do not share their feelings. In his little way, Debo Adedayo has always engaged the world’s denizens about what obtains on the political front in Nigeria. Amid all these, there is a place for every individual to make their marks as living organisms roaming the earth’s surface for a particular time. Much as the generality of humans is critically involved in the construction of human ideas and values, the combination of which gives or produces cultural traditions and identity, the fact that everyone would be remembered for their contributions cannot be undermined.
More so, the social media age helps to amplify the contributions that individuals make in their course of existence. Whether good or bad, they will be remembered for their activities when the lasting memory will be created from all these. So, when Professor Yerima asked Adedayo how much, or if at all, he wanted his artistic productions in the social media to influence the coming generation and how they would continue to be relevant even after he retires from these engagements, the young man’s response was everything anyone needs to understand about his ideological identity. He believes that assigning values to humans should be informed by the understanding that such an individual has something they represent and stand for in the general scheme of things. Inevitably, people will have experiences that will stretch their resolve but what will make them stand out is their determination not to compromise.
When individuals have made considerable progress in piloting the affairs of their lives, it is a moral responsibility that they touch on substantial aspects of human experience so that they can influence areas and issues positively before the termination of their relevance. The social recognition associated with Adedayo comes with expectations of responsibilities that people want him to fulfil as a social being. During the conversations, it became obvious that his role in redefining the feminine image by portraying every form of their social experience should be known. This is necessary because it is a conventional reality that silence on salient issues may be construed as conspiracy, which would have outrageous consequences on the individual. For many community members, remaining silent without any socioeconomic and sociopolitical power would mean nothing. However, to have substantial economic, social, and political power and remain silent when salient issues, especially those affecting women’s freedom of women, are mentioned is considered unforgivable.
Society expects that the magnitude of an individual’s popularity imposes corresponding social behaviour and contributions on them. For anyone in Mr. Macaroni’s position, it is not out of line to expect that they use their voices to project society’s anomalies so that it will receive ultimate redefinition. Of course, Mr. Macaroni has done this substantially in his depictions of political predicaments caused by the irresponsible leadership that Nigeria has encountered from time immemorial. He does not factor in sociocultural issues like the underage marriage popular in the country, improper political relations between men and women, cringing domestic violence that is ubiquitous in the country, and several other areas where women have been unfairly treated, and this has necessitated the question about his position in all of these. In response, he claimed that in his skits, he has addressed the issue of domestic violence faced by Nigerian women and how they can overcome it, with the promise to explore all other areas.
By and large, all these issues are closely related to political participation in the human world. It is important to say that the construction of an identity does not evade the contributions of many people because they all would partake in shaping a collective image for themselves through their actions and inactions. Humans are naturally complex, so they have continued to undertake various activities to ensure they remain proportionally relevant in all their engagements. Politics comes from their cultural understanding because it is the basis of their sociological and socialisation methods. Once an individual is baptised in the ideas and philosophies of their indigenous identity, they remain strong in representing the values when they come of age.
Debo Adedayo, aka Mr. Macaroni, has demonstrated his zeal for speaking out for the oppressed since his undergraduate days, and society has continued to mould him so that he will understand the dynamics of cultural politics and how he can effectively feature and make generational contributions.