Big Brother Naija (BBN) is a Nigerian reality television show series based on the Global Big Brother Television Franchise in which contestants ranging from 15 to 25 live in an isolated house and compete for a huge cash star prize and other material prizes. The eventual winner at the end of the show emerges by avoiding being evicted from the house by viewers who vote for their favourite housemates to remain in the show.
It had its first appearance in Nigeria in 2006, before going on an 11-year hiatus and re-emerging in 2017. Since then it has been held annually (usually within the months of July-September) while also enjoying financial backing from sponsors which include national and multinational companies. The winner of the 2020 edition of the show won a staggering N30m worth of cash and material prizes up to the tune of N85m altogether.
Ever since the second coming of the show, it has enjoyed massive coverage, ardent following, and keen interest especially from the country’s youth population and some older population. This set of enthusiastic followers cut across almost every sphere of the political and ethnic-tribal divide. It also involves showbiz celebrities, journalists, social media influencers, and both the professional working class and the unemployed sections; who unite to propagate the show on social media, their workplaces, social gatherings, religious gatherings, public transports etc. They form hashtag teams and invest lots of energy, time and resources to promoting contestants from the show who they pick as favorites; such favorites enjoy a cult-following and high popularity; rising to instant celebrity status, bagging endorsement deals with big companies while also accumulating increased followers on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Some fans and viewers even go to the length of referring to some of these contestants as “role models”, it might be baffling to many that out of the wide range of local and international choices of role models including industry captains, private sector leaders, budding entrepreneurs, social activists, visionary politicians, leadership coaches and the likes, young people in Nigerian would prefer idolising and looking up to BBN contestants for guidance and mentorship!
The Entertainment industry consisting of movies, music, comedy shows, soap operas, and reality shows is a normal and prominent feature of any economy and many people turn to them for much-needed leisure and rest when they are not at work or when less busy. But the dimension that the BBN has assumed over the past 4 years has been of grave concern to observers who noted that the show adds no educational benefit, edifying impact, or positive value to viewers as it majorly features sex-themed escapades and other morally delinquent inanities that escalates societal depravity. More worrisome is the fact that the show is getting the undiluted focus and attention of the Nigerian young population in contrast to other essential matters and issues which naturally should be of utmost importance to them.
Here is a quick illustration: the 2020 edition of the show witnessed over 900 million votes cast over 10 weeks through different platforms of SMS, online media and cable voting with the show’s eventual winner amassing a whopping 60% of total votes cast throughout the period. Essentially, the followers were able to produce 900 million votes altogether across the different voting platforms using their airtime and data for 10 weeks tirelessly.
The 900 million votes garnered in BBN 2020 represented an incredulous 275% increase in comparison to the total votes of 240 million gathered in the 2019 BBN edition. It is being projected that the ongoing 2021 edition of the show will surely exceed the 1 billion total votes mark. This perfectly summarises the addictiveness of the youth to the show. It is also not a coincidence that the October 2020 EndSARS protests came up just a few weeks after the conclusion of the 2020 BBN show.
Just a year before the 2020 show, the 2019 national elections witnessed a total of a paltry 28 million votes, representing just 34% of a voter strength numbering 82 million registered voters. The winner of the elections, President Muhammadu Buhari, got 15.1 million votes while the runner-up, Atiku Abubakar, got 11.2 million votes; all the other candidates numbering up to 60 with different parties could not get up to 1 million votes combined.
The dynamics and processes to take part in both elections might be different and it is perhaps easier to vote for contestants in the reality show than voting in national elections due to the means of voting; but the crux of the matter remains that, the Nigerian young population has the numbers to effect changes on national issues critical to their well-being and prosperity if they show the same level of passion, seriousness and focus towards it as they do to BBN. If fully active, united, and determined in the electoral process; the youth population of Nigeria can single-handedly produce up to 30 million votes in any presidential election, a number sufficient to swing an election in their favour. This is a statistic backed up by voter database as at 2019 elections revealing that 51.11% of its 82 million registered voters are within the age range of 18-35.
It is common scenery to see people fervently campaigning for these BBN reality show housemates, both online and otherwise; but such people refuse to identify with more important issues of national elections to similarly campaign for candidates or spearhead a wave of societal recalibration.
Also noteworthy is the fact that majority of the BBN voters have voters card or are eligible to have voters cards, but they are mostly apathetic towards taking part in the electoral process, majority of them don’t vote when it matters based on several flimsy excuses of “vote not counting, fear of violence, standing on queues,” etc. The only time they have interest in politics is when using social media or social gatherings to lament the state of leadership failure or berate elected leaders on one issue or the other.
Many stakeholders have expressed the view that the show indeed does more harm than good to the Nigerian youth. Just a few days after the conclusion of the 2020 edition and an occasion marking the International Youth Day, a foremost traditional ruler in South West Nigeria, the Ooni of Ife called for the replacement of the BBN show, saying it is misrepresenting the integrity of the Nigerian youth. He suggested that the show be replaced with “The Big Nigeria Reality Show.”
The Ooni wondered how reports on the reality TV show attract more interest from youths than matters about leadership, governance and politics. He went on to state that Nigerian youths are fond of accusing and abusing leaders and enjoined them to stop abusing but contribute their own quota as the real future leaders.
Explaining more on his suggestions for a replacement, the Ooni called on the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) to work out an alternative that will protect the country’s values, cultures, and traditions. The proposed show will be structured in a way that young professionals, talented individuals, and others across several fields of academic and entrepreneurial endeavor will be showcased and helped to reach their peak which will help participants and viewers to have access to people that can be seen as role models. The plea has evidently fallen on deaf ears as the 2021 edition of the BBN show has since started, enjoying similar mass coverage and increased followership.
The Managing Director of MultiChoice, the media outlet that transmits the show revealed that the production of the 2020 BBN show cost the company a whopping sum of N3.5 billion. Yes, this money is being put up and funded by private companies, and not by the government, but these private sector players are investing their money, not to create jobs, but to exploit the people by making them invest valuable time on matters that add no value, vote and then reaping huge profits from votes which is a huge disservice to the nation. Nothing is being produced, no jobs are being created, no tangible physical value is being created, no human capital development is being established, there is no present or future treasure in this BBN venture, only momentary pleasure. It becomes more infuriating when some of these private-sector funders and enablers claim they partake in the show as part of their “Corporate Social Responsibility”.
It cost N3.5 billion to host the show in the same economy witnessing the highest level of unemployment rate in its history and occupying an unenviable leading position in the World Poverty Index. This is a dolorous and pathetic reality.
As a nation, we do not have a similar large-scale private sector-funded billion-naira scheme to assist young graduates or innovative entrepreneurs. Banks give out business loans at double-digit interests, trailblazing academic graduates are finding it hard to earn a living; there is a massive brain drain as trained experts are fleeing abroad to pursue a better life making the country lose a huge pool of talented professionals across ICT, medicine, finance, neuro-physics, and other diverse fields.
When one wonders how much economic transformation that N3.5 billion can bring to our comatose economy, one feels more indignant and offended at the financial recklessness going on through the annual show.
Disturbingly, the government is indifferent to this matter, ostensibly because it perhaps works in their favour by deflecting attention from it for the 3 months when the social media youths are fixated on the show. The government is contented to allow the show to forge on as long as it diverts attention and helps ease criticisms on its administration.
The youths are the country’s untapped immeasurable wealth and resources and there is the need for the participation of more youths in leadership processes. The youths have misplaced their priorities and must redress them as a matter of urgent public importance.
The importance of youth in national development cannot be over-emphasised. Their creative energies, intellect and youthfulness cannot be allowed to go to waste. We cannot afford not to be involved in policies that directly affect us and potentially have negative implications on our future and the future of our children because of a television show. To do that will not be wise. It will mean we are engrossed in passing temporal pleasures to the detriment of the future with vast opportunities.
We cannot afford to be this passionate about a television show and not be at the same level, passionate or concerned about our country and its governance. We must be willing to multi-task our energies for both or be outrightly focused on nation-building which affects us in all spheres. Our futures are uncertain and it is dangerous to be continually docile. It is time to arrest this misguided craze.