Efe Ejeba: The Rise of a Warri Boy

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For one who came to Lagos, barely one year ago with only a pocketful of hopes, Efe Michael Ejeba, winner of the Big Brother Naija Season 2 reality show, everything seemed so unreal. It was his first audition and he came home with the top prize – an astonishing surprise for one who didn’t have the privilege of watching cable TV not too long ago. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report

From the moment he walked into the filled Grill Room of the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, the atmosphere became a frenzy. The ambience had earlier been edgy due to the delay in his arrival for the press conference. Scheduled for 10 am, the winner of Big Brother Naija Season 2, Efe Michael Ejeba arrived over an hour later. It was difficult to say if the rain earlier in the day caused his late arrival.  By then, the press and fans were restive.  Neither  the presence of other contestants in the show like Offiong Edet Tony known as Thin Tall Tony, Soma, Gifty, Bassey and Bally, who indulged the journalists with interviews and photos  nor the wafting aroma of delicacies lined up in a buffet on one side of the hall could calm their nerves. Everyone wanted to see the winner – Efe and the runner-up, Bisola. Every now and then, journalists besieged Mimi Ucheagwu of XLR8, the PR Agent for Multichoice Nigeria with questions. She tried as much as possible to ease their mind off the delay.

 As Efe made his way into the dining setting finally, screams and cheers rented the air. The loudest cheer however came from him. Like an excited teen who hadn’t seen his friends for a long time, he ran to his fellow housemates screaming and hugging them. Then, he jumped on Thin Tall Tony who hugged him profusely. Within minutes, they bowed in a uniform gesture that seemed to be their own signature greeting.

 Throughout the press conference till he was waltzed into a car that drove him out of the premises later in the day, the new star hardly caught his breath. Everybody wanted a piece of him. People were either talking to him or taking selfies with him. Perhaps, the only respite he enjoyed was when he was taken upstairs for lunch. Still, the crowd thronged him. He was a good example of the popular saying that success is everyone’s child.

 Albeit, the 24 year-old Delta State indigene was the least dazed by the badgering. In fact, he took his new found fame in good strides. It still felt like a dream to him; that he was N25 million richer. To top it all, he had a car. For one who came to Lagos with only a pocketful of hopes, everything seemed so unreal. A good pointer to his astonishment was his inability to sleep since he arrived Nigeria. He stayed up most part of the night, trying to digest his new life.

“Who I be?” he repeated often in pidgin.

 Indeed, who was Efe before Big Brother Naija brought him to spotlight?

“Efe was just a hustler. Everything I do involves hustling – from my education to entertainment. While in school, I hustled to pass my exams. I studied tirelessly, thank God I also made it in school. I did one or two businesses in school just to make ends meet. I handled one of my mum’s businesses. Based on logistics, I can’t reveal it because it is very sensitive and humbling, and also for her safety. But it is a kind of business that will keep you in the rain or under the scorching sun.”

Efe moved to Lagos from Jos in 2015 to work on his music career. This was shortly after he graduated from the university. He wasn’t too keen on education. He studied to conform to societal needs and also to please his loving mother, he went through the university and bagged a degree in Economics from the University of Jos.  He had dreamt of coming to Lagos because that was where it all happened.

When he came to Lagos with his friend and producer Duktor Sett, another friend of his, Victor accommodated them for 10 days before they could find their footing. From playing in bars and shows, Efe struggled to mark his name in the entertainment industry.

“It’s been up and down for us. You know how it is in entertainment. There are some shows you go to perform and you end up being a bouncer or even the organiser. You will stay backstage organising other artistes. I have done all that – performed in different bars. Sometimes they spray you money, other times they don’t.”

His struggles are recorded in an EP he released last year titled ‘Lagos’.

Then one day, he was at home watching TV with his friends when he saw the Big Brother Naija 2, TV commercial. This was in October 2016. He had just completed his National Youth Service Corps in Awka, Anambra State where he taught in a secondary school. He called his older brother to tell him that he was interested in the reality TV show. He encouraged him to go for it. Efe was however a bit skeptical. First, he felt the show required someone who didn’t have a humbling background. But his brother urged him on. Secondly, he hadn’t really watched Big Brother shows. They had no cable TV back in Jos to watch the show. So his knowledge of the show was based on snippets from YouTube and blogs.

“I was scared of saying it in the house. We didn’t have a cable back home and Big Brother is often shown on DStv. It’s not like now that GOtv had made it accessible to the poor. I had only watched snippets from Youtube and blogs. So I didn’t even know how the whole thing went. For instance, like the first task we did in the house. I didn’t even know it was going to be a Head of House task. Fortunately for me, that was my first audition. I have heard people say that they have auditioned for 10 years, but it was my first audition and I emerged the winner.”

On January 22, Efe was among the 12 housemates who entered the Big Brother House. He won the hearts of many from his first appearance. Looking all plain and humble, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, the host asked him what he would do if he won the contest, he boldly told him he would remove his shirt if he did and immediately started unbuttoning his shirt on stage.

Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise when he went shirtless on April 9, as he was announced the winner of the contest at the grand-finale. He was the only male among the five finalists: Bisola, TBoss, Debie-Rise and Marvis. He went home with a cash prize of N25 million and a SUV.

Understandably, contestants usually have a strategy up their sleeves to clinch the coveted prize. However, Efe claimed he had none.

“I was just being myself. I just went there to live my life. When I’m emotional you know, when I’m happy you know, when I’m angry, you will know. There was no strategy.”

While in the house, he won the Head of House tasks thrice, was up for evictions five times and found a love interest – Marvis. He admitted that he liked Marvis but had no intention to go to Port Harcourt to pursue the relationship. His reasons were based on the fact that she has a strict father and secondly she has a boyfriend.  In a reality show where expressions of love can go from mild to super obscene, Efe only expressed his emotions to Marvis only  through a  kiss. He explained the reason for his actions.

“That was how I wanted it to be. You know we are in the Big Brother House, so whatever you do must be serious because I respect women. I just can’t play with their emotions. For me kissing shows a good dose of emotions. If it goes beyond that, then it must be very deep.”

He cleared the misunderstanding that he had a feeling for Debie-Rise

“She came into the house when I was Head of House, so it was my duty to make her feel comfortable. But I think it was misinterpreted. There was really nothing between both of us. Moreover, I was tired of her guitar. It was so annoying.”

Living in a confinement for 11 weeks was not an easy task for Efe. It meant giving up on so many things. Above all, he missed the company of his friends and family. The day his brother visited him at the house, he broke down. He was overwhelmed by how the wind of change had engulfed his family. Being the third child of his parents, he was happy to be the member of his family that made it to South Africa, then his brother too flew into that country to see him. It was just too emotional for him, particularly when his brother told him he collapsed his business just to ensure that he gets more votes to make him a winner. It dawned on him then that the reality show was bigger than he had imagined. Even while speaking, his voice was choked with emotions. He gently told the reporter that he would like to refrain from talking about his mother, that it made him cry tears of joy.

He also felt bad each time he failed at the arena games.

One of the things that fetched Efe popularity was his fluency in pidgin English – a trait common to Warri indigenes. Some believed that the pidgin English was a strategy but he insisted that it wasn’t. For most part of the interview, he spoke pidgin.

Perhaps, what endeared him more to viewers was his use of slogans. He was known as ‘Based on Logistics’.

He shed some light on the coinage of that phrase as well as the popular ‘Warri no dey carry last’.

“If you are from Warri, when they say Warri no dey carry last, it means you have to put in your best. It’s like a booster to make you do your best. I didn’t coin the phrase but for ‘based on logistics’, it was during a reality show ‘Just Bring it On’, organised by winner of 2009 Big Brother Africa Kevin Pam in 2013. It’s similar to Big Brother because we stayed in a house for two weeks. They were having logistics issue so each time he came to the house, he would say ‘Housemates, based on logistics’. That’s how that phrase was formed.”

Before his emergence as the winner, the dreadlocked winner garnered votes from celebrities including comedian ‘I Go Dye’ who pledged N1million as well as the Governor of his state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa. In his town, children and adults stormed the streets campaigning vigorously for him. This explained the high percentage of votes he garnered for the grand-finale (57.61%).   In fact, the Regional Director M-Net West Africa, Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, proclaimed the show recorded the highest number of votes on the platform. At the grand-finale, over 26 million votes were counted.

In many ways, Efe counts himself blessed to have won the game. He revealed that he was threatened by TTT and Bisola. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t have been unhappy if the golden prize didn’t come to him. He however expressed profound gratitude to all those who supported him and promised not to let them down through his music career. The new wealth he said would be shared by his friends and family who stood with him throughout the journey. “What’s the joy in success if people around you don’t benefit from it? Just imagine if I’m the only one to win the car and money, how will I enjoy it? The people around you are the reason why you are in the house. This is not just the nuclear family, there is the extended family, the youths that I have to reach out to. Maybe not financially but by talking to them. They can learn from my story that you don’t really have to know anybody to achieve greatness. First, believe in God, then yourself.”

Bisola on the other hand was not left out of the spotlight. Many in the gathering were eager to see her reaction to Thin Tall Tony whom she had an affair with in the house. The affair became a controversial topic when it was revealed to her that he was married with children.  Deftly, she hugged her fellow housemates, but on getting to her love interest, she mimicked social media entertainer Falz’ signature greeting ‘Weh done sir’.

Not letting her go easily, journalists asked her if she has had a chat with TTT.

“No, I have not had a talk with Tony but I do not think there’s a need for that. We will definitely work together on a professional level.”

No doubt, Big Brother Naija has brought fame to these contestants as lead sponsors Payporte and Heritage Bank plan to engage all of them.

As Efe marked the beginning of his reign as the winner of the Big Brother Naija season 2, not a few expressed curiosity on whether a season 3 will follow shortly. The first Big Brother Nigeria show held 10 years ago where Katung Aduwak emerged winner. Despite the high ratings it recorded this time, Multichoice got some backlash from Nigerians. The company was pilloried for shooting the programme in South-Africa, instead of Nigeria.

The General Manager, John Ugbe, attempted to correct that misperception.

“Most times when you watch programmes on TV, it’s not about location of the shoot. Take for instance, Tinsel has reached its 2000th episode. It’s a record, nothing has been running that long. The studio used is in Lagos. Those who have been in Big Brother House will tell you it’s not about the house, it’s about the people you put in there. So when there’s an opportunity to commission the house, to reuse it, you take it. The economy is not stable, you have to reduce cost. It wasn’t a decision based on power, it’s just how best we could reduce cost. There was a lot of commissioning done. Also we have a lot of Nigerians on the production crew. The series producers are Nigerians. I’m sure you saw them eating our local meals. The show was as Nigerian as it could be.”