Tribal Stereotypes In Nigerian Comedy: The Calabar Example

by Wilson Orhiunu

Personal experience

As a young boy growing up in Lagos (70s) I first noticed the lampooning of ‘Calabar people’ through a character in the now defunct soap opera on NTA Lagos ‘The Village Headmaster’. There was a shop owner Bassey Okon played by Jab Adu. He was a somewhat volatile man, who always reached for his cutlass or wooden cane to ‘settle’ heated disputes. He had a daughter, Ekaete, and a relative, Boniface, who worked as his shop assistant. Boniface was particularly dim (I write from memory) and I remember ‘Calabar people’ at school being called Boniface or Ete (Man in Efik).

Then in the 80s there was the popular Masquerade soap staring Zebrudaya as the main character. He had two house boys, Gringory Akabogu of Ikot Epkeme, and Clarus Igbojikwe of the one eyed mama. Gringory was particularly stupid, as was Clarus, and because the acting of Gringory was very good, a stereotype was born; that was of a stupid Calabar man. Like all stereotypes, the premise was wrong, as the actor playing Gringory was highly educated and articulate.

I also remember the late stand up comedian and DJ John Chukwu doing a routine during which he did perfect impressions of the Calabar accent in the late 70s.

The above shows could be said to be the fore runners of today’s stand up comedy routines. A recent explosion in Nigerian comedy can be attributed to the VCD series, ‘A Nite of a Thousand Laughs’ by Opa Williams. For the first time various stand up comedians were introduced to Nigerian audiences through touring and VCD. Going through these VCDs is the easiest way to ascertain the level of tribal stereotypes as it exists today. I opted to study the Abuja-Benin 2004-2005 VCD, as I felt that this was the best of the whole series (A biased view, but I had to watch something I could tolerate to the end!).

Below is a brief review of Opa Williams Nite of a Thousand laughs. Abuja-Benin 2004-2005. Ahbu Ventures Ltd.

Note that the theme tune for this show is ‘Who let the dogs out’ by the Bahamen which is played between and during comedy performances.

I list the comedians in order of appearance and a brief description of their performance.


Okey Bakkassi. 5 comical stories covering marriage/infidelity/squints/robbery and a man and a monkey. The monkey handler offers a prize for getting his monkey to laugh, cry or go into the cage. A Calabar man performs this feat by first telling the monkey his work, his pay and lastly inviting the monkey to apply for a vacancy at the Nigerian Railway Corporation. This last joke was done in a Calabar accent, bringing down the house. There was no mention of any other tribal group in his routine.

I go Die – Dressed in a bright red suit gave, what I consider to be his best performance ever. Told about 13 jokes. He made no mention of any particular tribe, although he did mention a Warri boy acting aggressively. Routinely mainly about breasts and mobile phones

Mike Ogbolosinger – told 8 jokes. Mentioned Akwa Ibom thrice. Once during his routine when the theme tune – ‘who let the dogs out’ was played suddenly, he joked about eating dog meat. During a classroom story he inferred an Akwa Ibom pupil was stupid for answering ‘the ten commandments’ when asked to name something breakable especially as the two previous pupils asked the same question had answered Eggs and Glass.

Lastly he joked about a stupid and violent Akwa Ibom man who refused to give him directions when he was lost; (done with accent). He briefly mentioned a stupid Aso Rock Photographer who he lampooned in a mock Hausa accent.


Clint the Drunk. Three tribal jokes about singers – Hausa: singers useless; Yoruba singers: loud; and Igbo music unscripted and composed on the spot to praise rich people in attendance. No mention of Calabar!

I go die – 3 jokes. No tribal insults

Okey Bakkassi – 4 jokes. No tribal jokes

Unnamed comedian – described how different tribes prayed – Yorubas shout, Igbos give God their shop addresses, Benin people speak Good English (Note that the show was in Benin), Warri people yarn (discuss) with God like friends and Esan people shout excessively.

I go save – Mainly insulted the ex President of Nigeria by inferring he looked like a primate.

From the above it is obvious that a disproportionate amount of jokes are heaped on the ‘Calabar people’.

A particular comedian – Basket mouth (the singer, not Bright Opkocha of similar stage name) did not appear in the above show but his routine consists of singing in the style of old-skool reggae dance hall about Calabar, Edo and Yoruba girls. His act is the most derogatory comedy act against Calabar people that I have seen to date, and I have written below (printable) excerpts from his act on ‘A Nite of a Thousand Laughs’. Volume 2. Obaino Music

Calabar girls

I too dey like their style

Because they really know how to take care of man

Dem go cook for you

Dem go wash your cloth

Dem go make your belle

Make e extra sweet

Na inside bedroom dem dey get their power

Bleep, bleep, bleep. (Offensive to Christians)

Dem get degree for sexology

Dem be professors for knackiology

E reach bedmatics dem no dey taya

Because Calabar girls they are ever ready

Maybe na the dog meat wey dem dey chop

Maybe na dat one dey give dem extra power

Etc etc etc

The audience at this time was falling over themselves with laughter. I would however doubt he would have gotten a good response to that song had it been performed at Tinapa (Calabar)!

In summary, Calabar is an iconic town with a huge reputation. It inspires creative people and deserves to be made the subject of films, plays and musicals, as has been demonstrated by Jeta Amata’s Amazing Grace. Creative people should try to concentrate on getting creative works out that can inspire rather than constantly insult a tribe. Insults are cheap and will definitely get the performer an easy laugh but merely dispensing insults represents a lazy approach to comedy writing.

While I am not a great fan of political correctness or censorship, I think the Calabar jokes have been pushed too far.

Perhaps I should start the ball rolling by deleting the Calabar comedy audio track I have on my web site!

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Adiaha June 14, 2010 - 8:59 pm

Firstly, anyone that is “Calabar” should calm down re how defensive you are. Here you are priding yourself that the Europeans chose to marry from our side rather than from the other sides…at which point you proceeded to insult the people you thought had offended Calabar people. That is not the way to represent us. Your bitterness is apparent and I am not sure where that stems from. We know we have been the butt of jokes forever, but all groups go through that. If you are not a housemaid with no education or class, dont act like it by engaging in ignorant abuse. Seun id right, ufan, get your facts straight. Ku swen idem mfo!

seun December 6, 2008 - 1:49 am

@The author, nice article. However, it is my belief that no truly educated person, can decide to relate with a group of people or tribe based on what a comedian says. Thanks to Grace we all now know about the great achievement of the Calabar/Akwa Ibom people, but the truth is that a joke is a joke, not to be taken seriously. Besides I think that the jokes are shifting more towards waffi. Take the waffi people for instance, they are very funny people, they know it and they do a good job of making people laugh. They make fun of other people as well as themselves. When a comedian tells a joke, he does so with the aim of making people laugh, if a Yoruba,Igbo or Huasa joke helps him achieve this great, if it is an Akwa Ibom,Waffi or Fulani joke, then he might as well render it. Let us not get carried away with tribal sentiments.

seun December 6, 2008 - 1:19 am

@grace, You are quite obviously a very bitter person. Good thing no one bothered to waste “their time wif u”. But you c, you need to recheck ur facts.

Grace September 1, 2008 - 12:09 am

Akwa Ibom/Cross River are states that produces only the best which includes the first professor of Nigeria, as stated below. Even when they are oppressed financially by the fed govt, psychologically by some tribes; by laws and policies enacted by the hausas/yorubas, that have left their economy less than what it should be.

The Ibos and Yorubas seem to enjoy stigmatizing us as househelps in home videos(Ekaete, Udo, Akpan, Okon), thereby creating an impression to d ignorants, that we are as portrayed.

The hausas and yorubas seem to have a need to belittle the Calabars, that i think stemmed from the past when we always received more favours from the Europeans, and the Europeans generally married from our area, rather than some dirty, no consequence, cultureless, mannerless, yoruba people.

Prominent figures in the history of Calabar(Cross River/Akwa Ibom) include King Archibong III – the first king in southern Nigeria to be crowned with regalia sent by Victoria of the United Kingdom, in 1878. Others include Eyo Ita, the first Nigerian Professor; Louis Edet, first Nigerian Inspector General of Police; Margaret Ekpo, first woman special member in Nigeria’s Eastern House of Chiefs and later Eastern House of Assembly; Hogan “Kid” Bassey, first Nigeria’s World Boxing Champion; and Etubom Oyo Orok Oyo, premier football administrator, first and only Nigerian so far to be elected into Executive Committee of FIFA (1980 – 1988) and the first African to be made an Honorary Vice President of Confederation of African Football (CAF) (from 1988 for life).

It baffles me how this highly Uneducated people can also produce the following:

Entertainment Industry: Liz Benson, Emem Isong, Ini Edo, Pat Attah, Kate Henshaw, Frank Edoho (Who wants to be a millionaire), Caroline Uduak Abasi Ekandem, to mention but a few.

Abiodun Ladepo: since u seem to love joking about other tribes, i’ll save u a cold one. yorubas are very dirty and loud people who have never contributed anything good to Nigeria. All they do is embezzle the Niger Delta money with the northeners, introduce 419 to Nigeria, take away Bakassi, an oil rich place that was taken from Calabar and given to Cameroon, kill Biafrans inorder to prevent them from separating Niger Delta, and leaving their sorry Ass in poverty, and to add insult to injury, took the capital that should have been in Niger Delta, to their area Lagos(and now the northeners have moved it to Abuja) inorder to develop their area and boom their economy, thereby making them richer, and the owners of the money, poorer. Apart from Lagos the previous capital, and ibadan(which has developed because of the wealth effect of Lagos), the rest of their states remain in abject poverty, Despite the outrageous amount of money that has been spent in that region, while they go about with false air. It sure makes me wonder why they dont hide their faces in shame because they are yorubas.

I rest my case, because i dont need to say more, and for the criticizers, please do a wonderful job, but dont expect a reply, because i have better things to do with my time. Esiere/Ciao.

A Obi July 29, 2007 - 5:33 am

Average Nigerians think that anybody from Akwa Ibom or Calabar is a Calabar man? Then things have improved. It used to be that the average Nigerian (especially our bros/sis from the Lagos-Ibadan corridor) used to think anybody from the former eastern and mid-west regions were Igbo!!! Ofcourse I found this very vexing especially when this sweeping (Igbo) generalisation was made in such a way as to infer that they couldn't be bothered with trying to distinguish b/w the (plenty) tribes from the aforementioned regions. It took me a while to put my Yoruba wife (whom I love very dearly) straight on this issue.

Reply July 27, 2007 - 12:44 pm

One of the funniest pieces I have read in recent time. What is all the fuss about, brother? Why not let us enjoy our tribal jokes? Have you heard the jokes about the Gwaris, the Fulanis, the Ijebus or the Ijeshas? Abeg, go siddon…lol. Good as they are, Calabar jokes pale in comparison to some of the ones mentioned above.

But you vented your spleen in the most humorous manner and I like that. Good job.

Rosie July 25, 2007 - 2:26 pm

Hmm. I too can say I am ignorant of what people in that region are really all about. I guess the joke has gone from Igbos to "Calabars." Good Piece.

Anonymous July 25, 2007 - 12:55 pm

very interesting!


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