After seventy-one drama filled days, this year’s edition of Big Brother Naija, Big Brother Naija Lockdown, the show that has become everybody’s rollercoaster TV in the last few years has finally come to an end. Avid fans of the show, as well as the rest of us who have to participate in following it because it has become a large part of Nigerian popular culture that we cannot miss out on, even if we try to, now have to think about what to do with our lives until the next year’s edition of the show. Of course every man and his dog probably knows that this year’s edition and the 85 million naira worth of prizes on offer was won by Lekan “Laycon” Agbelese, a 26 year old, lagos based, recording artist, who has become one of Nigeria’s new entertainment icons (interestingly the official name of his fanbase, who constituted 60 percent of the total voters in the show’s final week and who helped him win first place by a wide margin is the Icons).
At least 400 million people voted in the final week of the show alone, and the total number of voters all together could be more than twice that number. Those huge numbers are not in themselves abnormal for the show as BBNaija, being one of the most followed TV shows in Africa. The show has consistently recorded similar numbers for the past four or so years. However, in a country that has never had more than a 4th of its population as voters in any of its general elections, such numbers are worth thinking some musing.
It therefore has become the norm that after every edition of the show, a group of people, usually self-styled political analysts and activists must raise the now cliché chorus about how the quality of Nigeria’s democracy and that of its economy would have improved if Nigerians, especially the youth demographic, mostly fans of Big Brother, showed as much passion for the economy and politics of the country as they show in following and voting in the BBNaija show. The immediate rebuttal to this argument by young fans is that if the Nigerian elections were as open, free and fair and devoid of violence as the BBNaija elections, more youths would come out on election day to vote. It is a part of the larger argument that if Nigerian politics and economy were more open, less complicated and interesting like BBNaija, more youths would participate. On the surface it makes sense, but if one is not careful, one might fall into the trap of believing in the reductive logic that politics and economy ought to be made interesting or entertaining in order for it to be more inclusive.
Fans of BBnaija often argue that the show is a reality show, in that the housemates are shown in real time. There are no scripts or camera tricks or special effects, and the way the housemates would behave in the show is no different from how people will behave in real life. However, if one follows the show for a sufficient amount of time, one realizes that it is as close to reality as the UFC is close to a real street fight. Big Brother Naija might be a reality show, but it is a carefully curated version of reality that is tailored to the pleasure of the viewers. For example, for all the talk about some housemates being toxic, that toxicity rarely ever goes beyond the bounds of drama. In real terms, if a toxic person with a documented history of violence or a criminal record shows up, there would be an outcry from the viewers for them to be removed. Because their presence there disrupts the carefully cultivated reality that the show has created for the viewers.
The truth is that the human mind and the human senses are limited in the scope. It comprehends one thing a time and so its default mode while trying to understand anything is to seek for patterns, which it then uses to build a narrative, that informs its response to what it perceives. It therefore goes without saying that the easier a person can find patterns in what they are perceiving, the more interesting that thing is going to be for them. Now this is the difference between reality shows like Big Brother Naija and the Nigerian politics in reality.
BBNaija is already being curated to appeal to desires and patterns of the Nigerian youth and youth life, but the Nigerian reality is more chaotic and unfiltered. As a Nigerian, you are part of nearly 200 million people who are constantly having micro and macro level interactions with one another and unlike the Eagle-eyed access you have to the big brother house, as an average Nigerian you have access to less than one millionth of your fellow citizens. Therefore, unlike in BBNaija where you can make decisions based on your personal observations of the housemates, you have to constantly rely on narratives that have been created or are being created by other people, like news, history books and news analysis.
No Nigerian, neither the journalists, nor the economic experts, nor even the president who is in charge of the whole country has access to that 200 million pieces of interactions at any given time, everybody creates their narrative based on the limits of their comprehension. In real life, people are more than a defined, carefully selected set of attributes, they are complicated and can be on a spectrum of behaviours, the pastor who preaches love and peace by day can also be the person who beats their spouse by night, the thug who is at the bus stop constantly threatening everybody with violence can also be the gentleman father who buys gifts for his wife and enjoys a fun time with his children. The policeman could be cheekily extorting you and still be talking about God and faith with your wife at the same time. It makes extra effort to map a pattern that will help you know how real people behave.
This is why we must be careful not to fall into the reductionist trap of believing that Nigerian reality and politics can be made as interesting and uncomplicated as the politics of Big Brother Naija. Politics and economics is not meant to be comedy show or reality television with a beginning, a middle and an end. Politics will not be oversimplified for your understanding. It is supposed to be something that you have to sift through several versions of narratives until you find the truth. Otherwise you are in danger of manipulation from unscrupulous people who hope to use simple and entertaining narratives to manipulate you. Little wonder that Nigerian politicians have been using this love for a simple hero-villain narrative to manipulate their electorates for decades.
Reality has existed before you were born, it will exist after you die. There are no heroes or villains in politics, everybody is just acting based on how they perceive their reality, and their actions are judged based on how the results of their actions, affect the reality of the people around them. Though some people might argue that he behaves like it, President Muhamadu Buhari is not Thanos who wants to destroy everything. Finding a way to cut off his head will not make all the problems we have in Nigeria go away. He is just another human being doing things based on how he perceives the Nigerian reality. Like him or loathe him, even if he manages to stay on as the president beyond 2023, he can’t be president indefinitely, since he is not immortal or omniscient.
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The human rights activists make this grave sense of reality which they peddle. They create the narrative of a bad guy or a group of bad people based on their own perception of reality, and they work assiduously to create a revolution to eliminate their target. Once that battle is won, they declare victory, remove their boots and expect to live happily ever after, only for them to realize twenty or thirty years down the line that the problem they thought they had defeated, is still very much around and there is no happily ever after.
Case in point is how the United States of America, after over two hundred years of democracy and upholding justice and the rule of law, and having built law schools and business schools that have produced the finest human minds in law and economics, is in the weird situation where her president is in debt, and currently locked in a battle with the country’s law enforcement over tax evasion, and should actually be in jail if he wasn’t the president. The question is what happened to the precision of the much-vaunted institutions that Americans claim to have built and strengthened for two centuries precisely to stop this kind of thing? And that is just one case among a lot of similar issues happening all around the world.
Nigerian politics and economics is not entertainment or reality TV. It is not supposed to be ‘simple’, ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’. It is supposed to be tedious and demanding intellectual rigour. This is not to say that the political process and the process of governance in Nigeria cannot be improved, or made more scrupulous of course, but one must realize that nobody, not your favourite business journalist, or your favourite political analyst or your favourite politician can organise politics to ‘make it simpler’ for you. If they claim they can, it is a hundred percent chance they are just trying to seduce you and make you believe a narrative that favours them in some way. Because their experience of reality, even if it is more than yours, is still limited.
You have to go outside there and study the data yourself, challenge all the narratives that you have built, and engage with people beyond your immediate scope of knowledge, in order to get the true picture of Nigerian politics. Politics is not a story you can be passionate about because you hope that after day 71 your favourite plucky underdog wins 60 percent of the vote and 85 million naira, it is more like a hard grind where you get constantly badmouthed for fighting for a cause. You may not win anything until you die. Then 50 years later someone remembers you—‘that dude was among the people who fought this thing that we are enjoying today.’
Categories: Culture and Lifestyle