My oga at the top: a collective expression of powerlessness?

March 16, 2013 § 6 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

I was taken aback when a friend sent me the now viral and infamous ‘my oga at the top’ video. I was not surprised because of the gaffe; I was rather surprised by how it has occupied the collective imagination of many Nigerians, in a way akin to a mass hysteria. The surprise quickly dissipated into an anxiety, because mass hysteria is sometimes described as a psychogenic illness. A classic case of this illness was the rumored Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962. Some people died as a result of it. Tanganyika is modern day Tanzania. Similar examples of death from laughter abound: Zeuxis, a 5th century BC Greek painter, was “…said to have died laughing at the humorous way he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modeling for the portrait”. Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, allegedly “…died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs;…told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, ‘…having laughed too much, he died’” .

These accounts of death from laughter brings a different twist to the ‘my oga at the top’ gaffe. In my view, the main mistake of the key actor in the interview was his amateurish approach to questions. In isolation, I don’t think I would have thought the interview was humorous. I suspect some other people wouldn’t have been able to read fun into it as well. However, it has become a potent force capable of sucking many into its hilarious space. It is trending on twitter and a market has already cashed in on it via sales of T-shirts, souvenirs, et cetera.

What I find really amazing about this gaffe is its ability to captivate Nigerians. This is further intriguing given the fact that the National Council of States (NCS), in the same week, accepted the presidential pardon granted to some very dodgy persons. As controversial as the presidential pardon was, it has been eclipsed by the ‘my oga at the top’ conundrum. I wonder why this was the case. Was it just a mere coincidence? Why have Nigerians preferred to go via the least resistant path and prey on the vulnerable key actor in the video clip?

Upon reflection, I am inclined to think that there is a subtle association between ‘my oga at the top’ slogan and the horrors of the immorality of the presidential pardon. This association is locked in the depth of our collective social psychology. It is a subconscious attack on power albeit expressed through powerlessness. The exploration of power, in this instance, is not coincidental or accidental. The portrait of the key actor with his index finger pointing upwards has come to represent the quintessential characterisation of this saga. The upward pointing finger, if one were to borrow from Freud, is a semblance of phallic power.

In mythological expression, the phallus is a symbolic representation of fertility and potency. The invocation of potency in this case does not necessarily exist in isolation; but brings to the fore its rival – i.e. impotency. Another word for impotency is powerlessness. This phallic representation of power is culturally meaningful in a male-dominated country where infertility is mainly misconstrued as failure.

This masculine expression and representation of power is silently re-echoed in the ‘my oga at the top’ discourse. A simplistic linguistic engagement with this discourse reconfirms the masculine power embedded in it. “My Oga” is a male figure, and “at the top” is an expression of superior power whose abode is metaphorically and literarily in the high heavens. In the presence of this masculine super power, one could be emasculated, objectified, and dehumanised. It is from the perspective of the terror unleashed by this potential fear of emasculation, objectification, and dehumanisation that powerlessness could be further appreciated.

‘My oga at the top’ therefore is a collective expression of powerlessness. It is a collective transfer of aggression on a vulnerable victim who inadvertently made himself a scape goat. In this case, he is not the true Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, but rather the scape goat of Judah who is fetishly banished to Azazel (Leviticus 16:8) bearing the sins of all for atonement. This collective powerlessness merely re-packages itself in a psychologically soothing form as humour and relief. Simultaneously, but contradictorily, it finds new power in ridicule.

An extension of the phallus symbol in the ‘my oga at the top’ discourse suggests a sublime caricature of the powers that hold many Nigerians hostage without “giving a damn!”. Unfortunately, this disguised expression of power in powerlessness is not as potent as visible and undisguised power. As such, it doesn’t last. It becomes a victim of its invisibility as the super power spoken to, is either deaf or too thick to decode such coded messages; or where it does, it is either selfish or unconcerned. One thing raw power understands very well is the powerlessness of the powerless – in this case, the Nigerian electorates. Even 2015 doesn’t mean much and doesn’t induce any sense of accountability.

In all these, I choose to see the hilarious victims of bad governance and inept leadership, who are rather gainfully distracted by the mass humour of the ‘my oga at the top’ gaffe. My only fear and concern is that the key actor in this gaffe is not driven to anything untoward by this barrage of aggression. That will not be funny at all. I pray for him and his family. I wish them well.

Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

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