May 06, 2024

How the craze for popularity drives risky pranks among disparate content creators - Victor Ayeni

Extreme stunts, pranks, and skits by content creators are exposing citizens to potential health hazards, injuries and deaths. In January, a Nigerian skit maker, who was simply identified as Churchill, embarked on filming a stunt as part of a video content for his fans. The Nasarawa State University student, however, wound up slamming his head on the ground which eventually led to his death. The video clip that captured the incident went viral on January 18 and was originally shared by an Instagram user, @ace_nemo, who was reportedly an eyewitness. In the footage posted by Gistcentre Blog on Instagram and viewed by our correspondent, Churchill could be seen dropping his phone on the grass surrounding a basketball court as a bystander filmed him.
“Make una look o, make una look o, see am,” a male voice could be heard saying in Pidgin English as the skit maker ran towards the basketball net. As Churchill jumped attempting to touch the basketball net, he could be seen losing his grip on the net and falling headfirst on the hard flat concrete floor.  The person holding the camera began panning swiftly around, capturing the surroundings in a circular motion and bringing the camera to a stop. However, before the recording ended, his colleagues could be heard in the background desperately calling the skit maker’s name, as they attempted to resuscitate him. “Churchill, Churchill, open your eyes, please raise him,” one of them could be heard saying, with a tone of desperation.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that Churchill was rushed to a hospital, where he tragically passed away despite the medical attempts made to save his life.  A lady with the Instagram handle, @LadyResa, later revealed in a chat with Saturday PUNCH that Churchill was her schoolmate at Nasarawa State University, adding that the skit maker was bedridden after the incident but died on January 21. “He was bedridden with a neck collar but he couldn’t survive due to internal injury,” she claimed. Speaking on the tragedy, a TikTok content creator, Sebastian David, told our correspondent that Churchill intended to create a lighthearted moment by touching the basketball net. 
“He just wanted to make people laugh,” David stated.
“It is part of skit-making to perform a stunt to create a lighthearted moment for his fans. Unfortunately, in an attempt to add a playful element to his skit, when he leapt to touch the basketball net he lost his balance. “What happened was that he held onto the pole without getting a firm grip that could hold him hanging. So, his feet went up in response to the first grip and his hand gave way when the pole bent so he fell,” he added.
Death by drowning in Delta
Barely a week after Churchill’s accident, two yet-to-be-identified ladies, said to be friends, reportedly drowned while filming a skit in Delta State. The unfortunate incident was said to have occurred on Saturday, January 20, when the two girls decided to visit a river in Second Amekpa, Ekiugbo-Ughelli community, in the Ughelli North Local Government Area of the state.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the duo was hanging out with two guys identified simply as Goodluck and Daniel when they visited the river site to make videos for TikTok. In a video shared by Instablog9ja and sighted by our correspondent, one of the ladies could be seen gleefully wading in a large water body as a man’s voice could be heard in the background.
“We will go viral, we go put am for TikTok,” the lady in the river was heard saying in Pidgin English. A young man was also heard laughing as he reiterated, “Yes, it will go viral.”
Gesturing to her friend to join her in the river, the first lady heard saying, “My daughter, come, come, come, let me initiate you. Mami water, I say come.” The second lady was seen joining her friend in the river and they held hands in a theatrical pose.
Instablog9ja said it obtained a graphic video showing the lifeless body of one of the young women who was pulled out of the water while the other one was still submerged. It also claimed that while Goodluck had since been apprehended by the police, his friend, Daniel reportedly fled. But in his reaction, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Bright Edafe, on X (formerly Twitter) said, “The command did not record this incident officially as of yet, if there is anyone with useful information to authenticate this, please let me know. Thanks.”
Dangerous stunts
The craving for stunts and skits going viral on TikTok represents the current wave of enthusiasm among young digital natives who wish to connect with their audiences in various ways. Since 2016, TikTok has garnered over one billion active users worldwide making it the sixth in terms of social network sites (excluding the Chinese version, Douyin, at over 700 million users), ahead of LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, according to the Digital Marketing Institute. The DMI pointed out that as of 2022, the rapid rise of TikTok saw the platform taking the trophy as the highest-grossing app, and the number of users is projected to reach 1.8 billion by the end of 2023.
Now, in 2024, TikTok has become a social media titan as its growth trajectory continues to astound, becoming a launch pad for many content creators, skit and stunt makers as well as upcoming music artistes to attain global recognition and social capital. Marketers are drawn to TikTok as it reflects a key social media trend for creative skills and collaboration amongst young audiences. The fast-paced nature of the short-form video app keeps users engaged for relatively long periods, with users spending an average of 56 minutes per day on the app, according to eMarketer.
A report by the Search Engine Journal noted that 37 per cent of users who discover a product on TikTok usually go out immediately to buy it. Called “the destination for short-form mobile videos,” TikTok provides its users with the means to create and upload a skit, or stunt video with filters and editing effects, with activities that are as basic as showing the user lip-synching or dancing to a song. These videos are often short, at about 15 seconds long, although since March 2022, TikTok increased the duration available to allow 10 minutes. 
Speaking on why many content creators target TikTok, a financial analyst, Treasure Irobosa, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said the app offered users options on how to monetise their content, thus putting much pressure on skit makers. He explained, “TikTok provides many revenue opportunities for content creators because it creates an opportunity to create engaging and helpful videos that speak to the needs and wants of your audiences. It also allows users to develop their way of using stunts, skits, and music to promote various brands.
“This is why many skit makers flock there. From there, you can create adverts, try your hands at affiliate marketing, grow and sell TikTok accounts, sell digital products or merchandise, provide virtual gifts, and even offer exclusive content for your audiences.” “It’s this offering of exclusive content that inadvertently puts a measure of pressure on young performers to come up with skit ideas, stunt performances, or any kind of content that will boost their traffic and then monetise the traffic and get paid. 
“This not only drives competition, it also propels users to come up with various means of gaining wide audiences and newer content. This was what led to the proliferation of content creators, even on Instagram.” With the surging popularity of social media stunts, many users, in a bid to get eyeballs on their videos, dared to be bold and reckless in their actions to achieve this status. Consequently, “challenges” began popping up on TikTok. These were wild stunts performed by users and when these videos went viral they prompted other users to follow suit.
One of the earliest stunt challenges to appear on the app was known as the milk crate challenge which involved people stacking crates as high as they could and trying to climb on them without falling.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that challenges, such as the boat jumping challenge, the Benadryl challenge, the blackout challenge, and others on the app, quickly turned from being entertaining to bizarre and potentially dangerous over time. Checks by our correspondent showed that although TikTok has taken steps to address the concerns, some of the stunts persist on the platform and often spread to influencers on Instagram and X. In November last year, a new social media challenge emerged in Nigeria which prompted people to upload videos of themselves taking off their clothes and rolling on the ground. Trending on the app with the hashtag #Oyinmo challenge, the stunt was introduced by a Nigerian skit maker and music artiste, Joseph Oderhohwo, popularly known as Carter Efe.
Although the challenge was intended to promote Oderhohwo’s latest music video so users could compete for the top prize of $1,000, the stunt soon took a downward spiral. In several videos uploaded on TikTok and Instagram seen by our correspondent, several social media users could be seen rolling on the dirty grounds of marketplaces, muddy pools, drains, and landfills in a bid to compete in the challenge. Amid outrage about the health risks of the challenge, the skit maker, in a YouTube video posted by eCorner on November 23, announced that the Oyinmo challenge had been cancelled because its participants were risking their lives in unhealthy environments.
Showing several video clips of Oyinmo challenging participants in dirty environments, Oderhohwo said, “Look at what someone is doing. It’s too much, please. I’m ending it. This one dives inside dirty water. This one entered an expressway and was rolling on the ground. You can do this challenge in your house. This is why I have not been posting the Oyinmo challenge anymore. “Look at this one too, rolling in dirty water. Imagine if an anaconda was in that water and ate his nose, what would he say? See this small boy also. “There are too many people doing this challenge because they need this money, but I’m begging you, people, it is okay, please.
“Please, the Oyinmo challenge is over. Please if you want to do it, you can do it in a clean place, not dirty water. I saw one video too, look at it, a guy rolling on a dump site. I’m scared. I know they need the money but I will pick just five people.” In 2023, the blackout challenge, commonly known as the scarf game, was another dangerous one that went viral on TikTok. To produce a temporary state of unconsciousness, participants in this risky trend purposely cut off their oxygen supply, frequently using a scarf or belt. According to the American Centre for Injury Research and Prevention, the blackout challenge had resulted in asphyxiation and tragically led to fatal outcomes, with people losing their lives. 
Despite the alerts and campaigns to educate people about its risks, the scarf game trended on social media. In October 2021, another TikTok stunt that gained much notoriety was called the #Alcohol challenge. The stunt which emanated from the lyrics of the then-new song by Joseph Akinwale, popularly known as Joeboy, involved people posting themselves drinking alcoholic or food-based drinks. However, some people began to upload videos showing them drinking substances such as detergents, cosmetics, palm oil, and antiseptic liquids. In a video seen by our correspondent, a girl could be seen drinking what looked like an antiseptic as part of the challenge.
Another video of the same girl, seen by this reporter, also showed the lady foaming out of her mouth as some people poured water on her to help her recover. Amid the reactions of many netizens to the video, Akinwale wrote on his social media platforms, “While I appreciate the love you guys are showing my song, please do not consume any harmful substances. Thank you.” However, Saturday PUNCH gathered that the lady in the viral video had staged the entire challenge. The TikToker, on her page, posted another video where she admitted she drank an apple cider from an antiseptic bottle and faked her foaming incident as well.
Extreme skits
In June 2023, a popular Ibadan-based skit maker, Abdullahi Adisa, popularly known as Trinity Guy, released a skit video in which he pranked unsuspecting people. In one of the videos, Adisa could be seen begging an unseen person to not kill him as passersby approached.
As the passersby got close enough, the prankster’s pleas were followed by sounds of gunshots, which made him fall to the ground, playing dead. This frightened some passersby and forced them to flee in different directions, even tripping and falling on one another. In another scene of the same video, Adisa was seen running to a woman in an uncompleted building to take shelter, claiming a group of bad people were after his life.
Another scene showed where he stood before a stranger and asked for his manhood, while the man took to his feet and shouted for help. Adisa was seen continuously harassing the man by running after him and threatening to shoot him. In his reaction to Adisa’s skit, the spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, called for his arrest, urging the people affected by the skit maker’s pranks to report him to the authorities. “This doesn’t make any sense, and I think the guy should have been arrested. Those individuals who feel the heat and fear of the pranks should report the pranksters, as many of their pranks are criminal, immoral, and evil. These women have a good case against him,” Adejobi wrote via his X account.
Adisa, however, appeared unfazed but rather pleased by the buzz the video caused online. In his response, he shared a link to an online publication about Adejobi’s statement with the caption, “I am trending, Alhamdulillah, not for the wrong reasons.”Conversely, a 19-year-old Lagos-based comedian, Eyinatayo Iluyomade, was not so fortunate as he was arrested and charged to court for playing a prank. The skit maker was alleged to have dropped a threat note of robbery at First Bank’s Sabo branch counter, in Ondo town, on August 12, 2022. The state Police Public Relations Officer, Funmilayo Odunlami, described the skit maker’s action as a very expensive and sensitive joke that would not be condoned.
Odunlami added that Iluyomade dropped the note at the bank indicating that at 1 pm, his armed robbery gang members would rob the bank. “In the note, he wrote, ‘We are coming to rob, and there’s nothing your police can do’. It was a mad move, considering the insecurity situation in Nigeria and Ondo State. “I don’t know his stage name. I don’t think he’s a known comedian, but he has been charged in court. He is currently standing trial, and the outcome would be made public,” she said. Saturday PUNCH learnt that the skit maker was taken to court by the police on three count charges bordering on conspiracy, threat, and manner likely to pose a security threat.
The prosecutor, Akao Moremi, told the court that the note posed a security threat to First Bank’s Sabo branch in Ondo town and caused all banks operating in Ondo to shut down for the whole day. It was further learnt that though the defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, the trial magistrate, Mosunmola Ikujuni, refused a bail application pending the arrest of other members of the ‘criminal gang.’ The defendant told the court that he was a comedian and that the note he dropped at the First Bank branch was a prank, adding that he had been doing that in Lagos until he relocated to Ondo town.
He said, “No other gang wanted to rob the bank as it was written in the note.”
Iluyomade pleaded with the court to forgive him and promised not to play such a prank again.
Daredevil pranksters can be sued – Expert
Worried by the risk posed by some pranks pulled by skit makers, a security expert and founder of Premier Secure Limited, Adeniyi Daniel, stated that some pranks were becoming extreme and endangering people’s lives, especially with the level of insecurity across the country.
“Pranks are for entertainment purposes but some are becoming extreme, risky, expensive, and distasteful. Some of the victims, who are unaware of the prank, may attempt to run for their lives and in the process, injure themselves. “There is a need to stop risky pranks with the level of insecurity in society; many people are under pressure, and any additional stress could be fatal. “Pranksters can be sued if the victim suffers any injury, assault, or threat, among others. As much as the skit makers are playing pranks for either entertainment or financial purposes, they must be very careful,” he said.
Similarly, a medical practitioner, Dr Chinechetam Osuji, told Saturday PUNCH, lamented that some youths had developed the habit of gambling about their health and safety in a country with a suboptimal standard of healthcare and poor existing health system.“Some of these social media stunts and skits pose a grave danger to the health of the performers and the audience who are prompted to try them out. Some of these skits contain pranks that could predispose hypertensive people to distress or lead to panic attacks. “As a country, we must prioritise safety and there should be more consideration given to health and safety protection in the creative industry. Content creators should invest in health insurance and safety trainers to look into the dangerous trends.
“Their audiences must always exercise discretion and should never experiment with unsafe, unhygienic, dangerous or deadly food, liquid or environments,” Osuji added. But a safety officer, Daniel Ezeoma, called for strict regulation to curb skits that exposed people to risks. He said, “Perhaps due to their huge user base, some of these social media platforms might not censor dangerous skits or content that could lead to harm or deaths if attempted at home.“One thing we should be mindful of is that we now live in a digital age where technological devices have collapsed space and time and a trend that is viral in one part of the world can easily be seen and emulated here (in Nigeria).
“While these countries might have access to healthcare or at least first aid, ours might not.” He also stressed the need for public awareness to educate social media users on the health risks extreme stunts create. Ezeoma added, Ezeoma “They need to see the injuries and deaths they have caused. Some of the content that our skit makers and pranksters are producing is getting out of hand. “It’s becoming too risky. I know that content creators are under pressure to perform stunts that will dazzle their audience and generate much profit through traffic, but there is a need for much care to be taken to prevent these tragedies. “We can’t even count the number of content creators because everyone wants to create content and play pranks with others. If anything goes wrong with their lives while producing content, social media will continue.” 
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