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Big Brother and Nigeria economy

By Okey Ikechukwu

The sixth season of the Big Brother show started last month. The winner of this ‘Shine Ya Eye’ edition is expected to go home with a grand prize of N90 million. A handsome fee for doing nothing meaningful, alongside others of no particular definition, while the rest of the world stares at you; isn’t it? Many are glued to their television sets as I write. They want to know the latest antics of specific Housemates, or all of them together. BBNaija is the discussion among substantial populations of church congregations.

Families and homesteads are caught up in it. “Freedom” is the word. It is brave new humanity that has done away with shyness, the “fear” of nakedness, the ridiculous sense of propriety of the Old School Generation and their promoters. “Enough of such things,” some would say, as they proudly announce that we are now in a “cool” world that emphasizes freedom, independence, and the exercise of unrestrained imagination. Thus, parents sit with the children they spent years teaching the difference between right and wrong to watch. Religious leaders, leaders of women associations, and organizations have their members and their children on the BBNaija show, do they not?

I once wrote about the negative impact of this Reality Show under the title “As Big Brother Comes to Town”. That was in The Guardian Newspaper, in January 2006, during the run-up to that year’s edition of the Show. But matters have gone much further downhill since then, have they not? Open nudity, live sex on set, and “every other thing,” which were not part of the original menu are now allowed.

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), among other organisations and individuals, has issued statements about the negative impact of BBNaija. MURIC specifically called on the federal government to ban the Show. The Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, said, Last week: “BBNaija is an exhibition of licentiousness … we are encouraging it so badly that we allow it to be displayed openly on television … it is an invitation to chaos… an exhibition of nudity … we now idolize idleness and immorality … pick thugs as heroes and ritualists as our models.” Then he asked: “What do we gain from open vulgarity, open nudity, the spread of shamelessness? For him, BBNaija is “an abomination.”

Not quite done, Akinola urged pastors and imams to speak against the show, pointing out that the Qur’an and the Bible clearly teach against everything that is “… being openly demonstrated in the Big Brother Naija house.” He added: “It is misleading the youths, … awarding millions of naira to young guys, awarding free cars and making young ones salivate back home, wishing they had something like that sudden wealth.” Then he called on the federal government to “…wake up because no state government can ban it. …Twitter was banned. … BBNaija should be banned for promoting immorality, indecency, and corruption. We are fighting corruption; it will be part of our fight against corruption to ban BBNaija; it is national disgrace.

In my earlier-mentioned article, I described the new reality show as “…the younger sibling of an earlier, and probably no less disreputable, one tagged “Big Brother Africa”. The comments about the run-up to the selection process for that one went thus: “Desperate young men and women are sending in their entries by the thousands. The advertisement is fairly specific in matters of height, age, hip size, and other physiological and anatomical details. Successful candidates will take part in the soon-to-be-aired Big Brother Nigeria. A cash prize of 100 thousand dollars is up for grabs and the excitement is palpable. The girls are falling over one another.

A few con artistes have also sprung up here and there, claiming to be capable of improving the chances of aspiring emergency millionaires. So, the whirlwind is afoot. A Tsunami of sorts. If you don’t get out of the way, the tide may dispatch you to your ancestors before your time. This new craze is really like a revised standard version of the US visa lottery to some people. The difference here is that you will only have a few months of your life broadcast on global media. You are to live with total strangers and make the best of it. While it lasts, no worthwhile minute of your 24-hour day will escape the television camera”.

There are deeper economic and other implications to which we are not paying much attention. Records indicate that the total number of votes cast during the 2018 edition of “Big Brother Nigeria” was over a 150million. If each vote costs the voter N30 per SMS message, and you multiply one figure by the other, what does that give you in billions of naira? Now, ask yourself what that Show contributed to the nation, apart from the fact that the organisers made a couple of billions of naira. Some of the partakers in the Show also walked off with some cash and prizes. It took them three years of efforts of the US and Britain, combined, in organising America/Britain Got Talent, for them to catch up with the takings from our own Show. Meanwhile, the former were Talent Shows designed to identify, procure, promote and deploy hidden talent. Most of the votes cast in these other Shows were done at no cost to the voters; as they could vote either through the respective websites or on the Apps.

Meanwhile, ours is not a Talent Show. It does not promote real development in any sense of the word. It is just a Show in which some adults are gathered in an enclosed place and allowed to do whatever entered their heads. Fine, there are many other bad things going on everywhere, including kidnapping banditry and the impunity of a thoroughly corrupt political elite across all party lines. But destruction/distortion of values is one of the most vital of steps towards all these other societal vices.

The Guardian Newspaper article under reference said, concerning the Show, at that time: “One has heard quite a few otherwise sensible persons praising the idea and chalking it up as a clear sign that we are making progress. I also gather that those who are not so very excited about this Big Brother Nigeria should mind what they say in public, lest they be counted among those who do not want to help move the nation forward. I go back a few years to the first MNET Face of Africa competition, which saw Oluchi, a Nigerian, emerging as a winner. Before we get to the overdramatized fact that Oluchi now has a career as a model and that she earns a lot of money for perambulating the lit stage, let us make some preliminary observations.”

Taking the comments on the Face of Africa initiative further, the article said: “MNET came here in search of the Face of Africa and walked away with something for which we are yet to find a name. All the contestants looked frightfully malnourished. Every step they took during some of the trials and ceremonies left many observers with the distinct suspicion that the girls were probably all sick. As they clattered down the MNET isle, all impressive specimens for lessons in the mammalian skeleton, they wobbled as if they did not have enough strength to make it to the end of the walkway. One particular contestant looked like a straight piece of rugged bone. The conspicuous clavicles, the unsteady gait, the sunken eyes, the offensive lifelessness, and the inexplicable flatness of the posterior and anterior extremities confounded a few observers. MNET said it was parading young African women but presented, instead, a curious-looking group that would be laughed out of any women’s meeting in most African villages and cities.

Some of us discountenanced the uncharitable view that the bony rattles paraded by MNET were AIDS patients, because we know the organization’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. But we could understand the perplexity of those who entertained such ideas. Matters were not helped when the contestants were constrained to dress in African native attire. It was a pathetic sight! How can you tie a full-length African wrapper around a piece of plywood and expect it to do justice to the vigour and vitality of an African woman? The unfortunate girls actually pranced unto the stage with their eccentric anatomy and even threatened to walk like women. Absurd! Of course, the wrapper was perpetually on the verge of disengaging itself from their maltreated body. Yet this assembly of persons with questionable ontological credentials was the best from Africa, according to MNET.

One must concede that the bodies are the type used for modelling western fashion. As for the faces, well they are black alright. But it is open to argument whether they are “African.” Carry that permanent frown and haunting look to a decent gathering and see what the elders will tell you! But we are digressing too much from our business today, which is Big Brother Nigeria.

… The vogue is reality shows. Debauchery is on the ascendant everywhere. A barbarian whose only distinction is that he took part in a reality show will step forward as a role model for our children … Come, let us sit. Let us watch and let us laugh, while our children have the custodians of the ghetto and hippy cultures as their moral exemplars. Yes, we are part of a global village alright. …But a global village, like any village worth its name, is made up of distinct homesteads, clans, etc. Each clan has its peculiarities and defining “brand” traits. But we appear too eager to endorse the erasure of everything that puts us in danger of having a stamp of authenticity. To what purpose? Progress? Maybe, but we all know that decay progresses from one stage to another. A man who should be climbing a hill, but who loses his grip will tumble downhill. We can measure the rate of his progress downhill, but we should be alert enough to remind ourselves that this progress is in the wrong direction.”

BBNaija has settled in. In what direction is it leading us? As I said, 15 years ago, “Looking at us and, especially, at the leaders of tomorrow, I think tomorrow is in deep trouble already. The crows are gathering for the carrion.” My question today is “Where are our custodians if any?”

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