It was an eclectic collection of young Nigerians, 23-36 years, making a pitch for fame and fortune. They spent all of 11 weeks in an enclosure they had no control over, no phones, no radio, no television, no internet. They lived largely without interaction with the outside world except what was permitted in the tightly structured Big Brother Naija reality show.
On the last day of the show one man and four women were the only ones standing out of an initial pool of 14. I call the five finalists one couple and three widows. The couple: Efe and Marvis. The “widows”: Bisola sans TTTony; TBoss sans Miyonse and Debie-Rise sans Bassey. It was a show that drew the highest viewership in Africa in recent years, viewership that ran into many millions. The success of the show derived its root from the careful choice of the contestants and the loading of the game with interesting features that tended to grab the consciousness of many young people in Africa.
The ultimate winner of the show, Efe, a 24 year-old graduate of Economics is from Warri, the headquarters of Pidgin English. He exhibited the Warri-ness in him by the excellent pidginisation of his conversation in the House. He also revealed in a Truth or Dare game that he had slept with two sisters. Is that what they voted for – his readiness to tell the truth even if it was unflattering of him? His favourite expression “based on logistics” seems to have endured beyond the show as many young people now preface their conversation with it. A few years ago, Uti Nwachuku who won the Big Brother Africa show donated the Nigerian slang, “a beg a beg” to the continent. It has gained continent-wide currency. Does it mean therefore that the sexy-ness of the underclass idiom called pidgin is a major fascination for African youths? Did the fact that Efe is a pidgin English rapper contribute to the attractiveness of his brand as he cornered more than 60 per cent of the votes to win the prize?
Who else stood out of the pack? Bisola, unmarried mother of a seven-year old-girl, was born in the UK, bred in Nigeria, brilliant actor, singer with the temper of a wasp. She was the runner up. There was also TBoss whose face would launch a thousand ships. She flaunted her flawless body including her boobs as a sign of her entitlement to the fame or notoriety that can come from the exhibition of obscenity. She has six tattoos on her body in places seen and unseen. She also pierces her skin at seven places, seen and unseen. Because of her unique self-consciousness of her physical endowments she is ready to flash her oh la la figure by limiting what is not seen by the public to the minimalist’s minimum. On the show she said she could blow the 25 million naira prize within one week.
This Romanian-Nigerian girl also let it out that she could act nude if the price was right. Not a dancer, not a singer, not an excellent conversationalist but the voters kept her in the house till the last day, apparently because of her readiness to push the envelope. Were they wondering what she would do next, whether she would drop her G-string? Many viewers wonder why she allowed Kemen on her bed, put her head on his shoulder and got him to give her a massage if she was not leading him on to paradise. Kemen got punished for crossing the invisible line as TBoss unspooled her anger for being violated by the body building, big bicep flaunting guy. She seems to guard the boundary of decency ruthlessly and when Miyonse, her friend, was flirting around with Gifty she promptly nominated him for eviction. The public seemed to approve of her action. They evicted him from the show that week.
There was also the powerfully built Uriel who liked cooking – and eating – who was apparently infatuated with the sexy baritone of Big Brother. She loved the Diary Room Session and made it her playground. She had made this important announcement on being fired from the house that she has not had any relationship with a man for one year. She added either as an admonition, a warning or a revelation: man no be wood. That is an indication that she was open to the business of love.
Debie-Rise, the Kogi State guitar-wielding girl, apparently thought her guitar twanging skills would take her into the SUV. She was genuinely in love with Bassey. When he was evicted she was a fountain of tears. While in the House both of them wore their “Love” like a heavy perfume but Bassey, on exit from the House, confirmed that he had a girl friend and described Debie-Rise as just a friend that he would like to work with.
Thin Tall Tony, 36, the oldest contestant hid his marriage status from his fellow housemates because his wife preferred it that way. Tony, lean as a rake, handsome as a peacock, and tall as a masquerade tree was smooth in dance, speech and manners. But Bisola feels hurt that Tony did not tell her he was married when they got entangled in the delicate threads of romance, real or rigged. Now out of the house Bisola is busy airing her grievances like jewels, but Tony has moved on.
This is one indication that whatever romance was going on in the House had nothing to do with love. The entanglement was based purely on existentialism. In the outside world there are millions of eligible persons fit for romance so the contestants were not searching for romance in the House but fame and fortune. If romance or the appearance of it would lead to the 25 million naira then it was worth exploiting. Besides, if men and women are locked up in an enclosure day and night and they are involved in joint everyday activities – cooking, eating, cleaning and drinking – bonding and networking inevitably become a part of their routine.
The fact that all the contestants were pushing for the ultimate prize nullifies the very notion of self-less love and brings to the fore the artificiality of the romance. It also nullifies the reality-ness of the show because each contestant comes with pictures in their heads of what they think the voters want to see. In that case, they must then act in a manner as to secure their admiration not only in their task execution but also in hiding their character flaws and wearing their best mannerisms. How different is that from the movies, from being what you are not?
By the laws of the Big Brother Universe, the show is entertainment-based. But it managed to deliver information and education as well even though the content of the latter was somewhat negligible. If the show did not provide a huge dose of entertainment it would have lost the bulk of its followership who are largely young Africans. But they could be reached when education and information were packaged as or with entertainment. That is a lesson for content providers in the mainstream media.
The show has been a confidence booster for all the participants. Each of them talks of being able to use the platform as a jump-off point to something great. They were also able to pick up some new skills and knowledge, learn new ways of dispute resolution and how to develop the spirit of tolerance. The campaign on the girl-child’s education and the seminar on “consent is sexy” were some of the important issues that Africans must pay attention to. I wish they added drama sketches on corruption, religious and ethnic tolerance, tenets of democracy and self-reliance.
Some moral purists were against the airing of the show because they said it was a celebration of nudity, alcoholism and erotic dancing. However, the show was meant for adults aged 18 and above and is not vastly different from what adults experience at parties and night clubs or what they see in the movies. In this case, it was even easier to control what anyone wanted to see. If you did not want to see adults kissing you could change the dial, or shut the television or shut your eyes. Democracy provides for heterogeneity. We cannot have a world designed and dictated by the Talibanic apostles of religious and moral extremism. People must have choices. People must make their choices with the full appreciation of the consequences of their choices without some moral godfather’s cane on their backs.
For me the most valid criticism was its airing from South Africa. The organisers explained that they have a fully fitted studio in South Africa. But Big Brother Nigeria one was aired in Victoria Island, Nigeria, 10 years ago. If it was possible to do it 10 years ago why is it not possible to do it 10 years later? The second excuse is that the power situation in Nigeria is appalling. It is hereby agreed that that is so. But any company that runs its business in Nigeria must be ready and willing to enjoy the benefits and bear the burdens too. Benefits and burdens are in one pack. They are not separate or separable. MTN is a telecommunications company of South African origin. It operates in Nigeria and provides power for its operations because it knows that the Nigerian market is huge. It committed an offence and it was hit with a huge fine. It is still here, operating and paying the fine. Why hasn’t it thrown in the towel? Because this market is huge.
If the organisers of the Big Brother Naija show want to stage another one, Nigeria must be the hosting place. We need the direct benefits and gilt-edged opportunities for suppliers, hairdressers, artisans, etc. They can reap the bountiful fruits of the show to which Nigerians have committed many millions for its success. Why should we kiss the maid if we can kiss the mistress?