Much ado about Big Brother Naija

The popular Big Brother Naija reality show has been a subject of controversy since its inception. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines its relevance against the backdrop of the multitudes that turnout for the 2019 audition recently.

The audition of the Multichoice Africa Big Brother Naija reality show for 2019 held on February 1 and 2, 2019, in seven centres across Nigeria. The centres are; Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Ibadan, Benin, and Warri.  

  Large turnout at auditions

 It came as no surprise that a large number of people thronged the venues of the auditions. For instance, the media reported that the Lagos audition centre was bombarded with a massive crowd, who had gathered there as early as 6am on Friday morning. Some online users even stated that many people had been at the venue since midnight on Thursday to secure good positions. Online videos and pictures show applicants at some of the venues climbing gates, quarrelling and fighting while waiting to be auditioned for the TV show.

   Similarly, a video surfaced online, where a man who had come for the audition was lying flat on the ground and was said to have fainted. It  was suspected that it was due to fatigue. Another video that trended online on Friday showed some applicants fighting. The cause of the trouble was, however, unknown.

Extra motivation for 2019 edition

On January 15, the organisers, MultiChoice, had announced that this year’s reality show will take place in Nigeria as against previous editions that held in South Africa, and that it will increase the prize money for the winner.

Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, Martin Mabutho, the Chief Customer Officer of Multi-choice Nigeria, and the organisers of the show, said: “Previous editions of BBNaija were held in South Africa, with many Nigerians questioning it. The next edition is set to kick off in Nigeria after the 2019 general elections as auditions held in eight cities last week. It made sense that we brought it here.

 “The first one we did was See Gobe, and Double Wahala last year eclipsed See Gobe; it was completely flawless. Now at this stage we said there’s no doubt that bringing the show to Nigeria would be the right decision. It would be worth the investment and it is exciting for us. Corporate Nigeria and sponsors have latched onto it in a big way so in my view, it is going to be bigger than all the shows we have ever done.

“And for the prize money, I can put it this way; I can’t say the exact amount the prize money would be but the total value of the grand prize will definitely exceed the N45 million that we gave last year.”

 Similarly, an Abuja-based artiste, Emeka Eze, also known as Goldenprince, who participated in the audition, told Blueprint Weekend that “Big Brother Naija has lived up to the hype over the years; the show has maintained its place as one of the most lucrative in the industry across the world, the announcement by the organisers that the winner of the 2019 edition will go home with more than the N45 million that Miracle, the winner of the 2018 edition, got may be partly responsible for the surge in the crowd organisers witnessed during this year’s audition.” Katung Aduwak, the winner of the first edition in 2006, went home with 100, 000 US dollars. At that time, that was about N13 million. Efe Ejaba’s crown was worth about N25 million. This almost doubles the prize in naira terms.

 Meanwhile, the third edition saw an upward review from N25 million to N45 million. This is outside the numerous financial awards during the show.

Relevance of the show

Ever since the show hit the TV screens of Nigerians in 2006, the relevance of the controversial show to the society has remained a subject of debate.

 Dr. Uchendu Obi, a lecturer, department of mass communication, Veritas University, Abuja, told Blueprint Weekend that “apart from the mouth-watering profit the sponsoring companies stand to gain, the TV  reality show has no single positive impact on the Nigerian citizens; neither does it have on its dwindling economy.”

 “It’s morally unjustifiable and I call on relevant authorities to save impressionable Nigerian young ones from obscenities by immediately yanking off the programme without any further delay,” He said.

Similarly, a civil servant, Mrs Helen Adah, a regular viewer of the show, expressed displeasure over the high followership of the show at the detriment of more important issues in the society like education.

  She said: “I have followed Big Brother Naija at my leisure period to keep my brain relaxed, just like every other commoners, I exhaust litres of PMS (petrol) in my I pass my neighbour generator, but I may be unfair just like every other Nigerians who wouldn’t even spear some moment to watch convocation ceremonies and the best graduating students, no body hypes the efiwe (first class graduates) rather we heavily invest in social or entertainment programmes which have little or no value to our orientation nor proffer solutions to our everyday challenges.

 “In the 2018 edition, a governor from the South-south showed interest on who he wanted to be the winner of the show; he, therefore, doled out cash for people buy airtime and vote through text messages to retain his favourite candidate in the show. How many best graduating students or winners of education-oriented programmes on TV get this kind of support?”

 In the same vein, Ejike Kanife, a writer, said: “I don’t watch the show because I find it neither amusing nor intriguing or even suspense-filled. It’s just a couple of guys living in isolation, doing some of the things regular guys do every day. I don’t see the joy in watching that. I respect the choice of millions of people who find it enjoyable though. So, I don’t have problems with it.”

 Platform for empowerment?

However, in an interview with The Sun, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of MultiChoice Nigeria, Mr John Ugbe, insisted that Big Brother Naija is for education, inspiration and entertainment.

 He said: “We are in pay TV; we are in entertainment. Entertainment is a mix of fun, inspiration and education. Remember, reality TV is reality. This is what happens. The fact that they are on TV doesn’t

change it. Entertainment can inspire in a variety of ways. A lot of people have come out of Big Brother and have grown into entertainment powerhouses. It’s a platform for exposure, empowerment and advancement.

 “We can learn from their interaction in the house. They have tasks that promote nationalism, patriotism. You see those contestants singing the National Anthem proudly. When they talk about malaria day – we use it as an opportunity to educate. A lot of the tasks are subtle but meant to inspire and lead.

“We are aware that before now, critics of the show argue that as a Nigerian show for Nigerians, it was not out of place for it to be shot in Nigeria instead of South Africa, particularly as it rakes in huge revenue from the country. That is why we decided to host this year’s show in Nigeria.”

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