Why you should care
Because Africa’s youth have a lot on their mind.
Scroll through the posts on The Naked Convos, Nigeria’s largest youth blogging platform, and you might find: “As a young woman in my early 20s who loves a good cocktail, f*cking and eating with no desire for emotional responsibility, let’s just say my body count has gone way up. How has that worked out for me so far? Mixed feelings.” Or: “If you can apply your God-given logic to things like the creation story and slavery, why can’t you apply it to more ‘complex’ things like abortion and homosexuality?”
Nigeria is a country of more than 180 million people — split between Christianity and Islam — and religious studies are a cornerstone of the national curriculum. As a result, religion has woven its way into many of Nigeria’s social spaces. Muscling into the same territory, social media and online platforms like The Naked Convos (TNC) have been embraced by many Nigerians, millennials especially, as vehicles for testing opinions and viewpoints they’ve been taught to accept as truth. It’s given them a new kind of freedom, says Patrick Enaholo, a professor at the School of Media and Communication at the Pan-Atlantic University, in Lagos. “A freedom that allows them to challenge authority, religion and gender roles,” he continues. “There’s a kind of individualism that’s rooted in social media.”
That thirst for individual expression, free from censure, is what Wale Adetula was hoping to tap when he upgraded his personal blog and launched TNC in 2011. Since then, the interactive online community has attracted hundreds of thousands of readers, mostly ages 18 to 25, and 1,000 registered writers and contributors who share a penchant for quirky, no-holds-barred content. The website, with its bold red-and-white megaphone logo, prides itself on being a safe space for young Nigerians to discuss what’s on their mind — from relationships to religion and sexuality — and the option for readers and writers to remain anonymous is an open invitation for more to join in.
It’s not in our culture to talk openly about certain things.
Oluwemimo Esho, writer, The Naked Convos
As a teenager, Adetula, 32, spent most of his time at cyber cafes around Lagos browsing the internet. “I was just inquisitive,” he says, when we meet at a coffee shop. He places his phone facedown on the table only to check it at every ring, answering important calls with a pensive smile. His interest in blogs and forums developed, he says, because they offer a place “you could go and find all kinds of information and engage with all kinds of people.”
Adetula chose to study engineering at the University of Lagos, while carving out time to mine the internet, even teaming with a friend to found Icebox Studios, a development startup that designed and built websites for entrepreneurs. One client, SisterSpeaks.org, was a blog for women of color to post on issues that mattered to them. The candid conversations drove home two points, Adetula says: People need a safe space to express themselves, and “once there’s trust in place, people are able to open up and talk about anything and everything.”
“It’s not in our culture to talk openly about certain things,” says Oluwemimo Esho, a Naked Convos writer. Those “things” include homosexuality — illegal in Nigeria — and rape, which remains a taboo topic. (“When it happened to me 4 years ago, I didn’t open up to my family, not even my friends knew about what happened,” reads one sample post from TNC. “I was scared. I felt alone and dirty. And sometimes I still do. Here’s my story …”)
For Adetula, the website is just the first step in his master plan. “Our vision is to monetize creative content for African millennials and show them they can do more with their writing than they imagined,” he says. In 2016, Adetula co-produced a web series called Our Best Friend’s Wedding with RedTV, a YouTube-based streaming network created by United Bank for Africa. The 11 episodes were drawn from a series of the same name that Adetula and a friend co-wrote for TNC about four friends in Lagos navigating life and the dating scene in Nigeria’s megacity. Bola Atta, UBA’s director of marketing and corporate communications, says watching the pilot was enough to convince her to partner with The Naked Convos, adding that the web series is remarkable for its broad appeal to Nigeria’s youth demographic.
With the success of the series, Adetula is poring through the Convos archives for another story to bring to life. “We have so many to choose from,” he says, laughing. His plan is to encourage his writers to work in different mediums while making sure they get paid for it. Sure, it’s about supporting creativity, but Adetula also hopes to show Nigerian millennials they can have a future in screenwriting or fiction writing, careers that parents typically denounce as too risky. He notes that many first-time contributors to TNC were reluctant to even call themselves writers: “They didn’t know the value of the work they were doing.”
From published anthologies to a possible movie and stage plays, Adetula is focused on any vehicle that encourages millennials to express themselves. He has already begun production on a social media-style app so users can share short serialized content with one another. At the end of 2016, Adetula launched The Naked Convos Kenya, an offshoot directed at Kenyan millennials — and his first step toward spreading the message across the continent.
“Everyone has a story to tell; we all have opinions to express,” he reflects. And if Adetula’s plans take shape, Africa’s youth will find more spaces in which to bare their souls, one conversation at a time.