By Ayodele OKUNFOLAMI
Based on logistics, Efe Ejeba was presented with his mouth watering prize of N25 million and a sports utility vehicle after he emerged winner of the 78-day Big Brother Naija reality show. The reality show featured twelve youths incarcerated in the full glare of cameras as housemates, depending on the weekly votes of viewers to remain in contention for the prize. The show endured a number of criticisms: from its ambiguous concept, to its being staged outside our shores and to the perceived debauchery the housemates displayed. But, the one that interests me is the one that the programme is receiving after the winner had been announced and crowned.
There have been drumbeats of discontent on the rationale behind giving winners of entertainment reality shows tens of millions nairas in cash and an automobile, while those that come tops in academic competitions are given thousands and a laptop, which is chicken change in comparison. Those that argue for the latter are of the opinion that a reward system skewed in favour of what they see as seemingly wanton is detrimental to the value system of the society. I disagree.
What they should bear in mind is that prize monies for these entertainment shows come as a result of the number and capabilities of the sponsors. Multinationals are not charities. They don’t just put their mony into sponsorships and advertisements that won’t give them mileage. That is why they would rather put their money in an 11-week show that generates well over 15 million text and social media messages and 50 million viewers watching on prime time television than in bland educational programmes that go unnoticed. Online stores would rather sponsor events with telegenic characters that excite emotions and ignite controversies along state, ethnic, social, moral and gender lines, than on goggle-wearing wonks solving equations that don’t interest with the intended customers.
It is all about the market and that is how the entire world rolls. That is why it is the Kim Kardashians, Christiano Ronaldos, Beyonces, and Will Smiths that command millions of followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook that earn millions of dollars and not the professor working in a remote lab researching on the cure for cancer. Similarly, telecommunication companies would rather make popular comedians, actors and musicians their brand ambassadors, than the first class graduate who no one remembers after the convocation ceremonies.
It is also unfair, chauvinistic and myopic to think that placing high cash prizes on such shows erode the values of the society in terms of making people less predisposed to conventional education. Unbeknown to those in this school of thought is that over eighty per cent of the housemates are university graduates and they exhibited high level of intelligence in craft in the execution of tasks Big Brother handed them.
Because of the traditional secondary school background where the good Further Maths and Physics student is made the Head Boy while the Socials prefect emerges from the art class, there has been a mindset that the society is built only on mathematics and natural sciences. It doesn’t follow, as the arts play an important role in defining who we are as a people. William Shakespeare, Ludwig van Beethoven and Michelangelo contributed as much to society as did Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. So, when we watched the BBN housemates composing songs, drama skits, music videos and playing games, they should not be seen as unserious people.
Talking about values to the society, these entertainment reality shows even reaffirm a core value of our culture that should be encouraged and emulated – tenacity. Almost every participant that ends up in any of these platforms usually has a history of going to many clubs and obscure stages consistently for years looking for their voices to be heard. They frequented many karaoke nights, arriving before start of shows and leaving late just to showcase their talents for free, swindled by phantom managers in quest for recognition, yet they never gave up. And frankly, there are millions like that in Ajegunle, FESTAC, Jos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and many other cities, which even justifies the SUVs they get after such shows.
What the supporters of better rewards for academic-inclined duels should do is to put their money where their mouth is. Beyond that, those that organise such competitions should put meat on the bone of their competitions by taking a cue from the other shows, to make it more interesting and attractive to sponsors. For one, they can deliberately make their competitions fit for primetime television viewing by transforming them into shows. Hiring an interesting host working with top notch producers and directors, having a geographical and gender spread of participants so that viewers can have sentimental reasons to stay glued, making the chores less stern, academic and theoretical but more interesting, practical and intellectual. Auditioning should not just be based on the participants’ report cards but on a wide spread of factors such as fluency, confidence, curiosity and ability to think outside the box.
One cannot ignore the social media today so they must of necessity find ways to make their pages liked, handles followed and hashtags trend, if they want to reward their winners too with a sponsoring bank’s cheque of N25 million.
Some smart guys have tapped into the art-science partnership. Since documentaries don’t make the box office despite their very educative and informative content, they have packaged the same messages into blockbuster movies that feature romance, suspense and the like to get the heart of the viewer and the ingenuity of the human brain is still celebrated. This is how the world rolls and we must understand it.
In all, instead of prognosticating about the lopsided recompense after of BBN, what is more germane is that whether as the local inventor or wannabe rapper, Nigerian youths need platforms for expression. The dreams of many Nigerians have suffocated under the toxic atmosphere of lack of safety nets, social security, access to loans, mortgage and other things emblematic of our underdevelopment. Nigerians don’t want to go outside our shores before they can win N25 million neither do companies want to showcase their products using foreign channels, we all want it made in Nigeria, for Nigerians and by Nigerians. Nigeria is the stage we all long for.
Okunfolami writes from Lagos