By Olakunle Mohammed
For the past four years, Nigerians have been consistent in expressing their passion and staunch following of the reality TV show, Big Brother Naija or BBNaija, as it is fondly called.
A large percentage of active followers of the show are youths. They selflessly dedicate their time and resources to show support, campaign and vote for their favourite housemate throughout the thirteen-week show.
The BBN show had its first edition in 2006 but took an eleven-year break to rebrand. It re-launched in 2017 and according to a NetNG article, went on to become the most successful Big Brother franchise in the world. From a meagre one hundred thousand naira cash prize reality show to an aggregated winning prize of eighty-five million naira; over two billion naira budget for renovation of the BBN house; more than twenty indigenous and international sponsors on a yearly basis and; going on to have a billion naira production budget for the show. BBN took over a decade to reach this peak of success undoubtedly with the help of technology and multimedia platforms.
Since its relaunch in 2017, the show continues to simplify voting procedures in a way that makes it easier for tech savvy fans and digital enthusiasts to cast their votes for their favourite housemates. Fans can vote electronically via the Big Brother website, SMS and via the MyDStv and MyGOtv app only. The simplicity of its voting technique and absence of competition within Africa increased its following and collapsed geographical boundaries [beyond Africa too].
The major stakeholders in this realty show are Buhari’s Lazy Nigerian Youths. There is no high moral ground here, please. These youths – with active online presence- made up a large percentage of the 900 million votes cast, who ensured that their beloved and anointed housemate, Olamilekan Agbeleshe, became the President of BBN Season five. It is not befuddling, BBN only made us realise that Nigeria’s social media generation can use their cult-like following of the reality show and its housemates to achieve a common goal. In this case, it was making their favourite housemates escape eviction and ensuring that they emerge winners by voting massively.
Then, the big question for Nigeria’s government and politics remains how to exploit this positive drive displayed by these youths to bring about active political participation and garner massive votes during election periods.
At the end of BBN’S second edition dubbed See Gobe where Efe emerged the winner, 26 million votes was recorded in the final week, about one-third or one-fourth of the total votes cross all its voting platforms. The following year, MultiChoice Nigeria announced that it received 170 million across voting platforms with about eighteen percent of the total vote coming in the final week of the Double Wahala season where Miracle emerged the winner. For the Pepper Dem season, the show received 240 million votes within the three-month period and over 50 million votes were received in the last week that saw Mercy emerge winner of the fourth season. The sponsors just announced that the just concluded fifth season tagged ‘Lockdown Edition’ received over 900 million votes across all its voting platforms, before Laycon was announced the winner during the season’s finale. The total votes recorded is about four times the votes recorded in the penultimate year.
Nigeria has over eighty-four million registered voters but in the last election, only one-third voted, this is 13.5 percent of the country’s estimated population in 2020. But BBN had an average of two hundred and five million (205,000,000) votes between 2018-2019. This is 99.5percent of the country’s estimated population in 2020. A major determiner of the varied voting behaviour is TECHNOLOGY.
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The electioneering process in Nigeria is deeply flawed in a way that breeds citizens’ distrust for digital solutions. We know this to be true from the Voter Card Reader saga and INEC’s lukewarm live update of election results on its web portal. INEC just announced the virtual demonstration of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) by its manufacturers but the biggest concern remains will it be able to defeat voting apathy, eradicate electoral violence, curtail electoral malpractice and draw youths into political participation that captures their generation?
Another major front-runner issue: How can Nigeria inculcate BBN’s cult-like following and engagement into civic discussions and bring about socio-political change?
Data shows that BBN had an estimated daily reach of three hundred and seventy million (370,000,000) on the Internet and an aggregated seventy hundred and sixty thousand (760,000) contents around BBN was shared on all platforms within five days. Without an iota of doubt, the reality show has become a new rallying point for Nigerians, after sport.
The government can draw inferences from BBN, take one of its social investment programmes and make it a reality TV show that showcases the hustle spirit of everyday Nigerians and the youths. It can also start an open government platform online for citizens that can help youths navigate Nigeria’s governance, economy and policies, devoid of partisan politics and cabal name-dropping.
Like Àṣà said, Nigerians are happy people, even while facing these post COVID-19 realities, economic quagmire and government’s stringent tax policies. But we’re also a proud nation and we draw strength from things that bring us together as one and as much as certain age grades may not enjoy the BBN reality show, it shows us a new model that can bring about social consciousness and political participation.
Perhaps the “woke” folks of BBN and the intellectuals [that had to go on forced retirement when BBN was on] from 234 Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can find a meeting ground and see how they can drive sociopolitical change together using technology and social media.
Olakunle Mohammed is a Master of Political Economy and International Development student at the Ahmadu Bello University. He explores the interlink of public policy, development, education and being Nigerian, tweets at @Olakunile