LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian comedian Maryam Apaokagi has a sure-fire way of getting people to listen to her coronavirus health advice - she delivers it with a hard slap in the face.
The 21-year-old has joined a line-up of the nation’s top performers working health tips into their routines to spread the word about COVID-19.
In one of her online videos, she plays the role on an all-knowing, all-controlling Nigerian mother who watches in horror as a young man sneezes into his hands.
Within seconds she grabs a bottle of sanitiser from the bosom of her dress, slathers it over her palms, then hits him hard in the face. “Ah, a sanitised slap,” her companion gasps in mock horror, as the young man learns his lesson the hard way.
Apaokagi, who goes by the stage name Taaooma, said she decided to put out the video to try and reach people who would usually ignore or dismiss advice from the usual official sources - people like her own mother.
“The main reason why I did the coronavirus skit was because of my mom, because you cannot tell her not to go and worship,” she told Reuters.
Authorities have put out regular advice on avoiding large gatherings and the importance of washing hands - but trust in the government is low and conspiracies and bogus health tips spread fast on social media.
Parents “are the ones that are ... the most difficult people to tell not to do things,” said Apaokagi. “So when they watch it and laugh, they will also remember the message that they said we should not go to the mosque, they said we should not go to the church for now”.
In the skit she advises anyone who is about to cough to do the dab - a dance move where your face ends up in the crook of your arm.
Fellow comic Osarenkhoe Lawrence conjures up a world where diseases have their own governing committee.
In his video, performers representing Ebola and cancer make official complaints to the board saying the new kid on the block is stealing all the limelight.
The solution, the disease chairman rules, is to put COVID-19 in its place by keeping clean and maintaining social distance.
“We are no longer joking, we are actually affecting lives and I think this period we need more videos, we need more funny content,” said the performer from Benin City, who goes by the name MC Casino.
Nigeria’s health ministry has spotted the trend and enlisted popular comedian Bright Okpocha, aka Basketmouth, to appear in a public service video about the dangers of spreading misinformation.
The messages are getting through, said Cyril Oto-Obong, a comedy fan who works as an accountant in Lagos.
“It is not everyone who understands the safety measures when it is spoken in English, but once a comedian makes it a laughing matter, one thing is it will make people pay attention.”
Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Andrew Heavens