What a relief! So, the Big Brother Naija reality television programme is finally over. It ended Sunday evening with 23-year old Efe Michael Ejemba, University of Jos graduate of Economics and singer winning the N25 million + SUV at stake, with 57.6% of the votes from over 24 million voters across Africa. Warri, where Efe’s family lives, erupted in excitement. At the Multichoice viewing centre in Ikeja, Lagos, where Katung Aduwak took charge so brilliantly, there was a similar eruption of incandescent joy. I was relieved because for about 70 days, the Big Brother Naija show was a big distraction, crass capitalism at its most cynical edge, a source of unmanageable madness in homes and on the streets. Now that it is over, it is time for some honest frank talk for the attention of all stakeholders involved.
Let me start with the lessons, on a positive note, before delivering the blows. Lesson one: In a very instructive manner, the Big Brother Naija reality television show promoted the ideas of choice and people power at the heart of democracy. Televised across Africa, the viewers had the final say in determining who stayed in the house or left during eviction moments on Sundays. The votes were collated, audited and confirmed by Deloitte, a firm of auditors and thus, the viewer as the voter determined the outcomes. In that regard, a reality show of that sort promoted a consciousness of democracy, choice and influence and it further explained why the people from Nigeria to Cape Agulhas all the way up to the Mediterranean sea took fierce ownership of the programme. In a continent where power is the ultimate aphrodisiac and every access to power, fame and influence is seen as an opportunity to oppress and demean, whatever is done to promote a consciousness of choice and the civil society is laudable. Multichoice, thanks.
Lesson Two: in every business concept, perseverance pays. Multichoice has been running its Big Brother Naija and Big Brother Africa concepts for a number of years. Apparently, this year’s Big Brother Naija has been the most impactful, the most profitable and probably also, the most exciting. In one week, over 11 million persons voted to determine the eviction. In the final week of the programme, over 24 million persons voted – that is more than the total number of persons who voted in the Nigerian Presidential election in 2015. This year, Multichoice has made more money from the Big Brother franchise than it has ever done. The programme was sponsored by PayPorte, and with all the voting, and the money spent on recharge cards, Big Brother and Multichoice are the biggest winners. In the end, it is all about business and profit. Everybody has been used. In business, once you have a good, attractive product and you can capture the market, you can fool everybody and make profit. Multichoice, weh done – in Falz, the bad guy’s voice.
Lesson three: humility pays. At the end of the day, in the last week of the programme, the decision by the viewing public was a moral, sentimental one. The biggest star of the programme was, I don’t know what you think, TBOSS (real name: Tokunbo Idowu), half Nigerian, half-Romanian. She dominated the space with her Jezebelic antics, even got some of the male participants ousted by entrapping and outsmarting them with her sexual wiles. She projected herself as a sex object, the ultimate manipulator, the champion Delilah of the Big Brother Africa series. She even made a joke of the entire Big Brother concept by saying she didn’t need the money and if she won, she would spend it in two weeks to pay off debts, and in any case, she had men hitting on her, offering to take her on a ride in their private jets. She played the role of a female barracuda.
Given her looks and talents, she would have been a perfect winner. She would have looked good on the billboards. But she lost because of her arrogance. Attitude is everything: this is the lesson of TBOSS’s disgrace and humiliation. When she was sent out of the House as the second runner up, the viewing centre in Ikeja, Lagos, including Kemen whose nemesis she was, danced in joy. “They are taunting me?” she asked Ebuka, the anchor. No, sweetheart, they were making a far more serious statement about you. The melodramatic ending of Big Brother Naija 2017 is its only redeeming outcome. Bisola, the first runner up does not even have a degree but she showed talent and resolve, even if her whorish flirtation with Thin Tall Tony is so cheap and self-denigrating. Her One-Nigeria consolation prize is something big she should take seriously. Efe won because of his humility. He is considered the poorest and the most needy of the contestants. Patrons of the programme chose to vote for the contestant who looked and sounded like he would need the money and the opportunity. They gave him a chance in life, although the organizers must ensure that going forward, the show does not become a poverty alleviation scheme. Bisola came second because she too looked like she needed help. Debbie Rise and Marvis also made the finals, but that was meant to be a great compliment to their good conduct, but they didn’t have enough support to make it to the top. TBOSS is the main star who lost. I hope she was taken out of South Africa with a private jet or maybe a submarine! Beauty is not everything, baby.
Lesson four: Marketing helps. Branding is everything. Propaganda is profitable. Packaging is nice. Big Brother Naija is nothing but marketing, branding, propaganda, and packaging. A reality show is supposed to be nothing but reality, virtual reality as it happens, but let no one deceive you, everything that happened in the 70 days of BBNaija was packaged, marketed, carefully branded and manipulated. Ebuka, the Big Brother, thumbs up, the scenic designers, kudos, the content developers, three hearty cheers, Multichoice, you guys are the smartest capitalists around, well done! The finale was a bit overdone though, dragged out, over-delayed. Tiwa Savage (hey baby, watch that growing fat around your waist and thigh), Tuface (thanks TuBaba but next time tell Annie to twerk for us- what was that!). In all, the power of television was well advertised.
Now the hard knocks: I rate the theatre high but I consider the whole show a sham, a 419 manipulative effort by a corporate agency, long overdue for an ethical review and scrutiny, a bad influence on corporate ethics. The owners of the programme are just a bunch of insultive, manipulative and exploitative capitalists, feeding on public need for distraction and the negligence of the authorities. Big Brother Naija 2017 is something that should never happen again in the shape we have seen. If Multichoice as a corporate investor wants to make a contribution to Nigeria, it must find ways of doing so in more meaningful forms.
Reality shows have become an established form on television, but whereas there are reality shows that promote talent, music, human capability and genius, enhanced relationships, and intellect, Multichoice, through its Big Brother Naija and Big Brother Africa franchises seems committed to the promotion of base values, chiefly adultery, prostitution, love of money, nudity and sex. What just ended as Big Brother Naija 2017 was nothing other than the corralling of some human beings into a zoo, pressured to behave like nothing but animals. The organizers made money devaluing other human beings. Multichoice and Payporte, the sponsors, turned alcohol and pornography into legitimate sport.
TBOSS and the other girls kissed and got groped by the boys on live television putting their upbringing to shame. TBOSS, who claimed she didn’t need the money even exposed her breasts on live television more than once. I have seen better breasts TBOSS. I am not too sure those private jet owners will be excited by your fluffy, South-looking, slightly bigger than mangoes breasts. If the same men see bigger assets, I mean, those interesting Ojiakor-like ones that look like papayas, pineapples and watermelons, they will not send private jets, they will deploy submarines and fighter jets! And that ‘s why you got N500k in the end, way back behind Bisola with her hard facial features, and Efe whose victory is based on poverty logistics and appeal. But I have no doubt that TBOSS will end up doing better in the larger, outside market than the other finalists, because even those who did not vote for her, know in their hearts that she represents the message of the programme.
It is a wrong message and that is why Big Brother Naija drew more audience in Southern Nigeria than in the North. In the last week of the programme,, every town in Southern Nigeria was seized by the #BBNaija fever. Prayers were offered in churches for Efe. One lady threatened to commit suicide if Efe did not win. Another one said she would not stop crying until Efe won. Nollywood stars declared support for housemates. There was Team Bisola, Team Efe, EfeNation, TBOSSNation, TeamDebbieRise (small), TeamMarvis (even smaller). There were public processions even in universities. We were told how to vote. Twitter was on fire. What I saw was nothing but sheer madness. T-shirts were printed. One musician turned his personal car into a billboard. Nigeria became a mad house because of one reality television show. It looked like mass hypnotism at work.
But it should not be allowed to happen again. BBNaija should not be hosted and staged in South Africa as has been the case. Multichoice, Payporte and their partners made crazy money and got brand promotion off the back and sweat of Nigerians. Do the maths; we got peanuts in return. We were told BBNaija could not be staged in Nigeria due to electricity problems so the studio had to be in South Africa. And the Nigerian government looked the other way. Wawu! All the billions that the South Africans are running away with, after giving our boy a Kia SUV and some N25m, who is going to collect the Value Added Tax on that? Nigeria or South Africa? See the real Gobbe! All the staff who worked on the programme with extremely marginal exception were South Africans. Where were the Nigerians? Abi, Lobatan oh.
The Nigerian government must assert itself. Nobody henceforth must brand anything involving primary production, Nigerian off Nigerian soil. We can’t get far by wearing made-in-Nigerian clothes on Mondays and Wednesdays, turning the country into an extension of Nollywood, but we can gain a lot by insisting that economic production and profit based on Nigerian talent and resource must have significant Nigerian content.
Congratulations Efe; the grace of God is forever sufficient, but sorry Nigeria.
Dr. Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.