Big Brother Naija Shoot in South Africa: An Alternative View

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By Folajimi Bajomo

As a people, Nigerians can be fiercely nationalistic. Positively, that is. This involves a sense of pride in achievements and is closely linked to the concept of patriotism.

Wanting the best for your country in everything, certainly, must be a good thing. It shows that the people care. But then, in many cases, nationalism is heavily driven by emotions which, at times, makes a people less inclined to consider positions other than theirs.

This is what I believe is at play in the furious debate provoked by the decision of MultiChoice to have the Big Brother Naija reality show shot on a location in South Africa. Big Brother is a big deal, obviously.

The first edition of the show, 11 years ago, was shot in Nigeria and exclusively featuring Nigerian housemates, it is not out of place to request that the show be shot in Nigeria instead of South Africa. The clamour for the show to be shot in Nigeria, quite understandable, but is in many quarters wrongly framed. First, it is couched as though Nigeria is a victim of some diabolical conspiracy by South Africans. This is a widely-held view that never fails to get our goat.

And whenever this happens, arguments against our position, however compelling, get washed away in the flood of our emotions.

Second, the agitation, which has the texture we see in labour disputes, has provoked admiration for the new US President (an overwhelming hate figure in these climes). Trump’s “bringing American jobs back home” rhetoric, once derided as insular, is, for convenience, being advertised on the social media as inspired. The view is that jobs that should have gone to Nigerians via the Big Brother Nigeria shoot have been handed to South Africans. In a nutshell, we consider our national pride wounded, leaving us in a funk and feeling sorry for ourselves.

Our unhappiness has put pressure on the Federal Government, which has directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to probe why the shoot could not take place in Nigeria. While we wait for the outcome of the investigation, we can pause, take a breath and reflect.

These activities, I believe, could help shape our response to this raging issue. I have read the explanation of MultiChoice and from the business point of view, it makes plenty of sense. As a small business owner and in these really straitened times, it is in the interest of the business and those who rely on it for me to cut costs where I can. The alternative is to pretend that I am still in a boom time and watch the business go bust. That is why I understand the explanation of MultiChoice, when it said it decided to stage the show in an existing Big Brother facility in South Africa (presumably purpose-built) instead of paying for a new one (rent or construction) in Nigeria. The facility has been used for all the previous Big Brother series, including Big Brother Xtremo, produced for the Portuguese speaking nations of Angola and Mozambique.

The cost of flying housemates and performers to South Africa, I believe, will be lower than building a Big Brother facility here. I think the less said about Nigeria’s electricity supply, which is a requirement for a round-the-clock production like Big Brother Naija, the better. We all know the story.

I also do not exactly disagree with MultiChoice’s desire to deliver top class production, as we know it does, and meeting production timelines. And to achieve these, the company got some members of the production crew to join their colleagues in South Africa. In addition, the host of the show and many of the personalities involved, including artistes, are Nigerians. The voice of Biggie is similarly a Nigerian one.

Nigerians’ wish to cast themselves as victims of MultiChoice oppression is one, I humbly disagree with. The reasons do not require deep insight to work out. One, all the editions of the AfricaMagic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs), which began in 2013, have been held in Nigeria. Without fail. Two, MultiChoice’s support for and investment in the Nigerian entertainment sector, in my view, is huge and unrivalled.

Many productions, including the hugely successful Tinsel, are made here.

On the internet, I have read stories of complaints, especially by East Africans, that Nigeria gets too much preferential treatment in terms of support for Nigeria and the volume of her content broadcast on MultiChoice’s platforms, DStv and GOtv. It is also in Nigeria that MultiChoice is involved in boxing through the hugely successful GOtv Boxing Night, which in less than three years, has rescued the sport.

There is no such support for boxing in South Africa, a country that gets us red-eyed almost every time. GOtv Boxing Night, which is beamed live on SuperSport around Africa, has exposed Nigerian boxers to foreign audiences and sparked demand for their talents. There is also the small matter of offering better remunerations to our boxers, including the N1.5 million cash prize for the best boxer at every event.

No such thing, to the best of my knowledge happens in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda or Ghana.

The fact that Nigeria is the biggest beneficiary of Multichoice’s pan Africaness via the internationalization of our local talent from actors like Aki and PawPaw to musicians like P Square and Flavor gets easily buried in our emotional response to any action that does not, on the surface, favor our total domination of the entertainment space.

Are we really justified to see ourselves as victims or blame MultiChoice for taking a decision evidently imposed by economics and desire to deliver top-notch production? I don’t think so.

Bajomo, a sociologist and businessman, writes from Abuja.