Just in the space of 24 hours, Nigerians were rudely shocked with the unprecedented increase of electric tariff to over 200%, a hike in fuel price, a systematic reduction in savings interest across boards and an increment in pay cable subscription from DSTV. Reminiscent of the youths of yore that produced such ground-breaking ‘Ali Must Go’ riots of yester yore, today’s youths codenamed ‘Twitter Warriors’ or ‘Netizen soldiers’ only took to social media with clever memes, skits, posts and savage replies to communicate their grievances over these developments.
Besides the nonchalance and disinterest of today’s Nigerian youths to matters that affect them directly is the issue of the sliding values and crippling moral decadence that seem to have taken dominance today. Quite surprisingly, year in and out, in the past four years, to say the least, many Nigerians want to blame these disinterest and decadence on TV Reality show, Big Brother Naija, BBNaija, for short.
Unfortunate, I, like many others, believe that nothing concrete will follow this as we as Nigerians will again vindicate the late Abami Eda’s Nigerians who are adept at adjusting to adapt while ‘suffering and smiling’. Let it be known that this article is not an attempt to hold brief for the show, its organizers or advertisers, rather, this is an attempt in redirecting Nigerians angst, frustration and blame to the right direction.
Some days ago, I was driving to Ikoyi from the mainland on an official assignment. To make my commute less boring, I turned on the radio and began scanning through the stations for good music to vibe to. In the course of my search, my ‘radar’ settled on Nigerian Info, a serious talk show content-based radio. The voice of Joyce Onyemuwa, a favorite OAP I love to listen to from her days at Cool FM, wafted through the car.
The conversation she was having in a phone-in segment of her midday show was on the ongoing BBNaija reality gameshow. From her tone and that of virtually all listeners that called in, the TV show is the worst thing that happened to mankind since the fallout of man in the Garden of Eden. Calls from Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Moralists, etc., on the topic were on how the show was promoting moral decadence through sexual promiscuity, alcoholism and other related vices.
Surprisingly, and to the best of my knowledge, not a single caller called in to defend the show or give a counter argument. Perhaps, this is for fear of ‘going against the traffic’ or holding an unpopular opinion. However, it is, I was gravely disappointed because I am sure the show has a cult following boasting millions. A simple research on the number of Dothrakis (allusion to Game of Thrones) or Explorers (allusion to the popular cartoon series, Dora the Explorer) as followers of one of the Housemates, Dora, are known; Elites for Erica or Icons for Laycon or Ninjas for Nengi will reveal as much. Unfortunately, I was driving and could not call in to make some really salient points I felt was necessary.
The Nigerian Info instance is a representation of what is happening across the Nigerian social media space where an intense albeit not really intellectual debate on the propriety or otherwise of airing BBNaija is raging. I refer to it as not intellectual because I have heard some pastors who preferred to rain curses on the sponsors and participants, better called housemates – rather than address the heart of the matter.
In this debate there are abnormally three sides to the coin. There is a group that posits that BBNaija is inappropriate and should not be aired at all. They argue that the show serves as a distraction to Nigerian youths from pertinent national issues. This group goes as far as suggesting that the government targets the period of the show to take actions it wouldn’t take on a normal day because it shows Nigerians will be preoccupied. The second group posits that although they don’t watch it probably because of its unsuitable content, it should not be barred for others who may actually like it. The third group posit that BBNaija is an entertainment programme, which necessarily must not have a positive effect on society, and thus it can and should be aired. All groups are entitled to their opinion, regardless.
So, what is mine? BBNaija is a reality show with aims and objectives streamlined accordingly. Lets look at reality shows and their antecedents in Nigeria. Since the maiden edition of Big Brother Africa (BBA) in 2001, in which a Nigerian was featured in a reality show for the first time, reality TV programmes have become the ‘new big thing.’ Realities shows continue to snowball. They include Star Quest (2002), Gulder Ultimate Search (2004), Who Wants to be a Millionaire (2005), MTN Family Game Show (2005), Three Crowns Family Game Show (2005), Next Movie Star (2005), Amstel Malta Box Office (2005), Big Brother Nigeria now Big Brother Naija (2006), MTN Project Fame West Africa (2008), Malta Guinness Street Dance (2008) and Peak Talent Hunt (2009).
Others are: Glo Naija Sings (2009), Sprite Triple Slam (2010), National Comedy Challenge (2010), Lucozade Boost Freestyle (2010), Roc Da Mic Nigeria (2011), Nigerian Idols (2011), The Voice Nigeria, Nigerians Got Talent, Glo X Factor, Access the Stars and Oceanic Football Challenge (now rested), among others have filled the television airwaves.
Obviously, brands invest billions into these reality shows for reasons. They are definitely in business to make money, as such are not doing this solely ‘from the goodness of their hearts.’ Therefore, there are primary and secondary objectives of sponsoring these TV reality shows. They are primarily to build awareness, develop customer loyalty and improve brands’ perception. The secondary reasons are more contentious, but generally, they could be seen to attract new users, support dealers and other intermediaries and act as a form of staff motivation and morale boosting. Long story short, they are out to boost ROI, make more money and get more customers.
Now, blaming BBNaija for the increasing moral decadence in the society or for the obvious disinterest of the Nigerian youth to partisan affairs is tantamount to giving a dog a bad name just to hang it. BBNaija is like a buffet where several dishes and drinks are served just for your choosing. Because you do not like pork which is a part of the buffet, for instance, you don’t go about complaining about its presence on the buffet table or because others are eating it.
Same thing with BBNaija. It airs on a dedicated channel on DSTV. Organisers have taken time to run a campaign informing viewers that the show is strictly for those above the 18-year age bracket. The implication is that those on this age bracket are adults who have the full understanding of what the term, ‘choice’ implies and can take responsibility for their actions. Channel blocking has also been advised for viewers due to the nature of the show. This means that the channel can completely be removed if so wished. The calls for banning the show is akin to asking that sexually explicit websites and platforms be banned. As implausible as this sounds, that is how it seems. Allowing a younger audience to watch the BBNaija shows a high level of irresponsibility on the path of parents or guardians therefore as the show is clearly not meant for them. It’s like allowing children take alcohol because it is on the buffet table.
I am most certain that if the show should be scrapped today, perhaps forever, we will still have our many problems with us. Our youths will get even more proficient at adjusting to whatever the government of the day throws at them. Moral values will slide even further as decadence will continue to become a norm. Most assuredly, there will be other shows, reality or recorded, other events and many other reasons for our youths to be preoccupied with, other than pertinent issues heating up the polity.
Instead of this holier-than-thou stance many Nigerians are adopting against this show, instead of being more ‘Pope or Imam’ than the holders of these positions, why don’t we consider the content of BBNaija and the micro and macro-economic benefits of BBNaija and just let the matter be? It may look like a mystery, but the show is beyond the people and the host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, himself a past contestant, we see on the screen for 99 days. There is more to the show than the contestants; the crew members, brands, small and medium-sized businesses, online vendors and entertainers who visit the house, are also huge beneficiaries of the BBNaija show.
At the backstage making the work happen are more than 100 crew members; cameramen, photographers, housekeepers and many others in their hundreds who get paid for making the reality show a true reality. The show host, Ebuka Uchendu, once shared a photo in 2019 of about 100 crew members (directly hired) to work behind the scenes to bring the show to viewers. The multiplying effect of this on the economy of a nation cannot be underestimated. The show made a remarkable move last year when it gave out a Nigerian made car to Mercy Eke, winner of the 2019 edition. This move earned MultiChoice commendation from many Nigerians and it has further promoted the Innoson made vehicle to other parts of Africa.
Before BBNaija 2019, not so many people knew about a smartphone brand called Oppo. It gained exposure that has translated to an increase in patronage and revenue by joining other brands like Bet9ja, Pepsi, Gulder to sponsor weekly games on the show. The small and medium sized business owners who are contracted as vendors to supply necessities like food, wearables, cosmetics, toiletries to the house during the show have also seen an exponential growth in their businesses by associating with the show. Many of these businesses run online shops, by exposing their brands on the show to over 40 million viewers across Africa, their hitherto small businesses have received a higher degree of patronage from Nigeria and other African countries.
In October 2019, House of Lunettes, a brand that makes eyeglasses announced that it sold out its products a few hours after Tacha Akhide became its brand ambassador. Such is the power BBNaija wields. Entertainers and DJs who visit the housemates have also enjoyed a high degree of publicity that has further positioned their brands to the consciousness of not just Nigerians, but millions of Africans. We may not be able to put a figure to the huge impact of BBNaija on the nation’s economy, it is clear that solving the economy puzzle remains a daunting prospect, which the show alone cannot solve, but it is making a giant step in proffering a solution.
Over the years, MultiChoice, through BBNaija, has continued to churn out talents taking over the creative scene; Gideon Okeke, Bisola Aiyeola, Ifu Ennada among many other past contestants have made names in Nollywood. Efe Ejeba winner of the 2017 edition went on to pursue a career in music and Miracle Igbokwe through his cash prize in the 2018 edition was able to achieve his long term dream of becoming a pilot. Though he didn’t stay in the creative industry like other contestants, BBNaija has helped him fulfill his dream, what more can he ask for?
The likes of Tobi Bakre, who has featured in movies and soap operas, Mike Edwards a brand ambassador for Nigeria family of Japanese automotive manufacturers, Mitsubishi and many others are also making good use of the fame the platform brought to register their names in the creative scene. With the dearth of talent harvesting shows and many other reality TV shows that the harsh economy has frustrated to wind up, commendation must be given to MultiChoice Nigeria for weathering the storm and providing a way out of the conundrum to make BBNaija a major contributor to the growth of the creative industry.
The show is an instance of the macro Nigerian society, a mirror of the sociological and psychological makeup of our country and the Nigerian individual. There has been alleged sexual escapades in the house; ‘alleged’ is the keyword as organisers have been very careful of exposing viewers to explicit sexual activities in the house. Sex unfortunately is not something that is new to us as a society. It is a reality of our existence. Its suggested portrayal to adults cannot be responsible for moral decadence, far from it.
‘Pikin wey wan spoil go don spoil tey tey.’ This assertion holds true because moral decadence can be traced back to the very first point of socialization; the family. Any perceived or imagined vice on the show is a reflection of what is obtainable in our society. The family, educational institutions or the society at large has been an abysmal failure in serving as a moral compass to the youth and passing the blame buck to BBNaija is irresponsibility!