When applications were open for Big Brother Titans, I did the unthinkable. I applied knowing full well my lack of appeal (I’m a nerd and I enjoy very boring topics) and lack of social capital (I’m neither a dancer, model, nor singer). I also urged a couple of friends to apply. I should say I haven’t always been a fan of the Big Brother show. The only edition I watched with a bit of interest was the 2020 Lockdown edition. From my limited experience with the show, I knew the odds were stacked against my application. But I figured getting selected wouldn’t hurt given the enormous upsides of participating. It is a very easy way to escape the sapademic.
Big Brother Africa (and its variants, Big Brother Naija, Big Brother Mzansi, etc) is, without doubt, the biggest show on the African continent. Every time it airs, MultiChoice, the organisers, rake in millions of dollars in advertisement and cable TV subscriptions. Increasingly, they have upped the grand prize every year. Big Brother Titans, the latest iteration of the show, began airing on the 15th of January. The show this time houses Nigerian and South African contestants all competing for $100,000; the biggest payout in the show’s history.
Naturally, every time Big Brother airs, public opinion gets split. There are those who argue the show corrupts young people and should be banned. In 2019, MURIC, a human rights organisation known for its frequent intervention in public discourse usually in defence of Islamic interests asked the National Assembly to ban the show. Part of MURIC’s statement in defence of the ban reads, “We are being forcibly dragged to a world of nudity, shamelessness and open promiscuity. Inmates of BBNaija kiss, romance, and engage in sex openly. BBNaija is Bohemian, anti-social, crude and immoral.”
And then there are those who argue that if Nigeria were truly a free society, the prude have the choice not to watch the show. It would be an assault on freedom to legislate a ban based on the subjective morality of some people. And it would not be consistent with the ideals of freedom in a so-called democracy like ours. Freedom is respecting the choice of people you don’t agree with to do what they want.
As an aside, I find it hypocritical of the political class whenever they give Big Brother Naija contestants political appointments. Suggestions have been made in the past from politicians to the federal government to ban the show. While we can make a case that these vocal few don’t represent the entirety of the ruling class, I suspect a good number of Nigerian politicians would want the show banned if you did a poll on them. But I digress.
Yet again, the debate is back. But this time, it’s not a moral discourse. Since last week, I’ve read countless tweets complaining about the timing of Big Brother Titans. With Nigeria’s general elections a few weeks away, the show, tweeps say, would make Nigerian youth lethargic towards their civic duty to rescue the country. The mission to rescue Nigeria from the political establishment was conceived during #EndSARS in 2020 when Nigerian youth made a covenant to consummate their protest and grievance with the system at the ballot in 2023. Big Brother should have respected that given that the show has benefitted enormously from the loyalty of Nigerian youth for many years.
But maybe that’s the problem. If anyone has to be protected from themselves to do the right thing, then maybe they are not mature enough to take a responsibility as serious as voting. There is nothing more infantilizing. It takes away accountability and self-agency from the youth demographic if we blame MultiChoice for wanting to make money like any business out there. And what happened to the sorosoke pact that was made in 2020? My forecast is if this election fails to go the way the youth expect, MultiChoice would be scapegoated for that.
It’s interesting how the logic of choice is suddenly thrown away this time around. If it was previously argued that people are free to watch the Big Brother show in a free society, why is there sudden demonisation of said show now? And who determines the grounds upon which the show should air or not?
It isn’t just MultiChoice that has taken a lot of flak. Veteran comedian, Basket Mouth has come under heavy criticism for his Un-provoked comedy tour. On February 25, he will be in Hamburg Germany performing while Nigerians would be casting their ballot to elect their preferred presidential candidates. He has been accused of gross insensitivity. To make matters worse, an old tweet of his has been dug up in which he criticised celebrities who were out of the country during the 2015 general elections. I have no problem with those calling out his hypocrisy. But two things can be true.
I honestly don’t see how the Hamburg show would affect anything. Diaspora Nigerians cannot vote according to electoral laws. Whether Basket Mouth performs that day or not, the number of voters back in Nigeria won’t increase or decrease. It would have been a different kettle of fish if he announced he’d be performing in Nigeria on the 25th of February. But I agree, he should live by his own criticism of itinerant celebrities in 2015.
Big Brother Titans will have all the dynamics of what makes a reality show addictive; rambunctious housemates, sexual escapades, talent exhibition, gossip and chit chats, and love triangles. With housemates from Nigeria and South Africa contesting this time around, expect all of those dynamics to be amplified. I predict the show will end up causing internecine Twitter wars among Nigerians and South Africans instead of achieving its objective of unifying both countries. Prior to the show, Nigeria and South Africa had always competed for sociocultural and economic supremacy in Africa. Big Brother Titans will only add fodder to the war.
If the organisers retain the regular voting format, it’s hard to see how a Nigerian will not win given our enormous population. Viewers from both countries naturally will vote for their fellow countrymen/women. And if Nigerian youth go all out voting as they did in previous editions; and they do that at the expense of the general elections, then sorosoke would be a failure. And it wouldn’t be the fault of Big Brother or Basket Mouth.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.