Tuesday 9 September 2014

Copy Copy

Copy Button.
Image: Free Images Live

Okay...Nigerians are technically, the most effective 'copiers' in the world. The Chinese used to be the ones adept at replicating whatever they saw, but Nigerians have really taken over from them. 
Now, this needs to be clarified. This is not replicating advancing technology, or improving strides in medicine or stuff like that. It definitely isn't that. What this type of imitation does is copy the things that are unimportant and in some cases, just plain wrong and stupid! 

It seems like copying became mainstream when Blackberry phones came into Nigeria. People were buying the phones like their lives depended on them. Some women were trading sex for a Blackberry. The movie 'Blackberry Babes' seemed to show a clear picture of just how far women went to own the latest Blackberries. Men who couldn’t trade sex for a Blackberry were doing all manner of criminal deeds to earn money for them. As the phone gained more acceptance, the Blackberry Internet Services (BIS) subscription also followed suit; after all, what was a Blackberry without a subscription? Telecommunication companies made it easier and easier by reducing the subscription fee until it became very affordable. Even at that, many people had to starve themselves to subscribe. Many women who were serious snobs all month, would suddenly become cute and cuddly when they ran out of subscriptions or were about to run out of it. I remember in school when male friends used to lie to their parents to get money for handouts and upkeep, only to subscribe to BIS as soon as the money came in. Let us also not forget the parties that were done with certain Blackberries as the pass or ticket; today a Bold 2, tomorrow a Bold 4. It got to an all-time high when, on meeting someone, one of the first questions asked was, 'What is your pin?' Oh! Woe betides you that you say you didn't have one; the look you would get could melt a lesser person. Where did the craze come from? And why did we feel the need to copy? 

The first time I heard about the Blackberry phones was in a fiction novel, one whose name I cannot remember now. In that book, the lead character had an everyday phone for personal contacts and a Blackberry for his business deals. My first view of the phone was a device that could help business people connect and transact business. When Nigerians copied the United States and some of Europe, it wasn't to foster business deals but to oppress one another. This oppression was so much that Blackberry officially announced its Nigerian market as one of the most thriving markets in Africa. It must have enacted a lot of laughs among the top brass of the company when their Nigerian users were notably unhappy about the sale of the BBM app to Android phones. Despite the entire online petition by Nigerians to maintain the exclusivity, BBM was still introduced to Android phones. This should have been a clear warning to us that copying doesn't help us in any way and it sure doesn't give us the right to change corporate decisions.

When the Apple products came into the country, the same frenzy was seen; only much worse. People could do all types of crazy stuff to own an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. The craze is still on! Reflect back to when the iPhone 6 came out? Ha! Crazy stuff!

Another glaring way our people copy things is shown in our art; from music videos to movies to our fashion and more. We have seen cases where music artists have copied already existing videos when making theirs. This is a case clearly shown in the 'Skelewu' video of music artist, Davido; the one directed by Moe Musa is the one I'm talking about. It was an obvious rip-off of the 'Party Rock' video by LMFAO and the movie '28 Days Later'. The question that comes to mind is, 'Do foreign music artists copy stuff?' The answer is yes! But do they do this as blatantly as Nigerian artists do? I wouldn't be so sure. The same trend is seen with Nigerian movies that are just poor replicas of Hollywood and Bollywood movies. This is especially sad because our talents are now being exported to the world. What message are we sending?!

Other ways where copying stuff has been glaring are with social media, and most predominantly, Twitter. A while ago, #FollowFridays was the rave. Timelines were flooded with people who were all too eager to jump on the follow wagon. Then came the #FollowBack wagon and then #TwitFights. Like candy given to children, the twit fights became so popular. The fights ranged from amateur to downright mean and dirty and it even had some people permanently deleting their Twitter accounts.

Protesters demand a return of the Chibok Girls who were abducted from their school on April 14, 2014.
Image: Ayiba Magazine  

All of this was good and dandy until the abduction of the girls from Chibok took place and became an international issue. Many Nigerians were as unconcerned about those girls, as the President was. When human rights agencies brought it up and began talking about it, social media imploded. That was when Nigerians showed an iota of care. As soon as people saw Americans, Asians, Europeans, and even Arabs holding up placards with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, Nigerians began to care. Or should we say, Nigerians love a good trending topic to jump on and they got one? It wasn't long before trendsetters (or more appropriately, trend followers) put up pictures of themselves wearing somber expressions while carrying placards with #BringBackOurGirls boldly written on them. It also was no surprise that as soon as the international media got bored with 240 missing African (and worse, Nigerian) girls, we also copied their apathy. We followed through by forgetting the girls because it just wasn't trending anymore. This attitude told other countries two things: as a nation, we were not bothered with what happened to us and secondly, if you want to get Nigerians to do something, make it a trending topic on social media!

To make matters worse, we made ourselves look like complete fools when awareness increased for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It is a disease that affects nerves in a degenerative process until the sufferer is progressively unable to feel sensations in their muscle, resulting in weakness of the muscle, impediments in breathing, atrophy, paralysis, and eventually, death. At this point, I am 100% sure many Nigerians do not even know what I'm talking about. So, I will say the same thing again, but, in another way. 

This theory was put to the test when awareness increased for the #IceBucketChallenge for ALS. Ah! I see the comprehension finally dawning on many. 

The ice bucket challenge went viral between July and August 2014, to bring awareness to the ALS disease and raise funds for research because so far, the cause and possible cure for the disease still remains elusive to the probing eyes of scientists and researchers. A person suffering from ALS is progressively unable to feel sensations, such as hot or cold substances. On the other hand, a healthy person would feel pain and prickling sensations when in contact with heat or ice. When the ice bucket challenge was started, it was done to ensure that as long as one could feel the pricks from cold water, they would have a desire to contribute to helping those with the disease. 

As usual, our Nigerian celebrities were one of the first to jump on this wagon, filming themselves allowing a bucket of ice-cold water to get dumped on their heads. What was shocking was that, when they copied, most of them didn't even know what it was about. It was just another trending thing that made them look cool. When the E!News crew accepted the challenge, they took the challenge outside their studios because they respected how much things cost in their workplace. Fast forward to when Ehiz of MTV Base did his own challenge and you’d see that he did his in the studio. He and his crew were too eager to jump on the new cool trend that they didn't care what the effects on their studio equipment would be. Even if they had a huge tub to dump the water in, Ehiz still had to contend with the microphone coming in contact with water. But the loss of equipment was nothing as long as one looked trendy and cool.

This is the same mentality many Nigerians have. They want to be cool by all means and be accepted by many other countries. We do have our own problems that should be addressed by our celebrities but they do not because they haven't copied it from somewhere. When someone like Yvonne Nelson refused to partake in the ice bucket challenge, she came under serious backlash but many people refused to see that she showed herself strong and unwilling to be foolish just to be cool. She listed points on why the ice bucket challenge was wrong on all grounds for Africans and that showed that she had done her research!

As she postulated, the ice bucket challenge was not something that we should have copied because many African countries are without water or access to water. Even here at home, many communities in Nigeria are also without water or access to it. That one bucket that was wasted in the quest to be cool could have been a haven for someone without water. It will be far-fetched to say Africans do not have ALS but then, the cases are more predominant in other countries. What this translates to is that ALS is not our problem! But Malaria is. So are Maternal Mortality, Cholera, Typhoid, Cancer, and now, Ebola. Poverty is also our problem, poor education and health facilities too. We cannot even stop there: poor social amenities, bad leadership and governance, human trafficking, increased drug abuse and misuse, increased crime rate, and an all-time high level of corruption. These are our problems, not ALS or any other thing that doesn’t affect us. 

Ice Bucket Challenge brought awareness to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 2014.
Image: Time Magazine. 

So rather than dance like monkeys longing for a banana, why can't our trend followers become trendsetters by bringing awareness to our own problems? While people who have running water were pouring ice-cold water on themselves, we could have been creating the #OneBucketChallenge, ensuring that each African donated one bucket of safe drinking water to countries and regions without it. Our celebrities have massive followers on social media and even if they had told their followers to donate one hundred naira to ensure these regions got safe water, they would have raised millions (or even billions) that could have made them legends in Africa. That would have made others copy them instead of them copying people.   

There are some things we cannot help but copy but we shouldn't have to always copy stuff, especially stuff that doesn't concern us, just because we want to be socially accepted. As a nation, we cannot thrive on copying and imitating other countries. The simple fact is that most nations are great because of their innovation and not how well they copy others!

As clich├ęd as this might sound, I end this piece with the famous words of Herman Melville. 

'It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.'

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