One sad reality about our national co-existence in Nigeria is the quick resort to primordial sentiments by many citizens to gain sympathy. Many a countryman or woman will blame his or her failure to access rights or privileges on tribalism or religion. I know of a woman who accused her potential employer of bias, saying “it is because I am Ijaw, and the man is Hausa that he refused to grant me employment.” The woman was, however, informed that this same man that she was accusing of tribalism had never employed even one person from his village or tribe.
The same thing happens if a Christian leader of an organisation somehow turns down a Muslim. Before you know it, accusations will start flying around, that religious consideration was responsible. There are also cities in Nigeria where, if a vehicle accidentally knocks down a native, the first thing onlookers will look for is the tribe or religion of the driver. Oftentimes drivers get mercilessly killed simply because the person they knock down is from a different religion or tribe. A major-general of the Nigerian Army was killed in a very horrendous manner in Plateau State last year simply because of his faith. It took relentless efforts on the part of the Nigerian Army hierarchy to uncover his badly mangled body, hidden in an abandoned well.
For merchants of religion and tribalism in this part of the world, merit should simply be set aside, provided they are the beneficiaries. And there are many who care very little about excellence because they have at their disposal very powerful instruments of blackmail that they deploy to tarnish those that could not grant them what they want.
One of the key lessons I have learnt regarding the Big Brother Lockdown reality television programme is that too much negative publicity can be counter-productive. As busy professionals, many of us hardly have time to monitor reality television series. But then all of a sudden, this year’s version of the programme started getting attacked and condemned, especially from high quarters. The first to fire the salvo was no less a personality than Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, who even went to the extent of directing the National Broadcasting Commission to stop the programme. He was followed by the Ooni of Ife, who wondered why 170 million Nigerians reportedly voted to keep housemates of their choice in the Big Brother edition of last year, while only 27 million voted at the presidential election of the same year.
From 1997 when a television producer named John de Mol created Big Brother as reality TV show in the Netherlands, to September 16, 1999, when it was first broadcast and subsequently syndicated internationally, this reality show has come to gain wide acceptance, especially among the youthful population of all countries where it was beamed live, usually on national television. It is not the intention of this column to examine the merits or demerits of these arguments, but to draw one or two lessons from the trenchant criticisms that have, as indicated earlier, dogged this year’s version of the reality show. It is a show that is reflective of the reality of everyday life in this country, even if some of us choose to view it negatively.
Penultimate week, all hell was let loose when a housemate called Kaisha (Aisha Umar, real name), a native of Sokoto State, was evicted out of the Big Brother House. The process of eviction of any housemate begins with the voters, or those monitoring the programme, who vote to keep a housemate of their choice till perhaps the last day, to stand a chance of him or her winning the grand prize, which, this year, is going to be a whopping N85 million. Four housemates with the least number of votes are put up for possible eviction every Sunday, and the other housemates are then asked by Big Brother to vote for two from the four, that will be evicted that week. The one or two with the highest negative votes get booted out.
Kaisha, the Sokoto girl, was unlucky. She had the highest number of votes among the four housemates put up for possible eviction, but she was nonetheless booted out by her fellow housemates, and she was the fifth housemate overall to be voted out.
Since her eviction, however, the sad reality about Nigeria that we have earlier made reference to has been playing out: conspiracy theorists from her own part of the country have taken over the social media space, insinuating that the young woman was evicted because she was a northerner and a Muslim. Some of the commentators have been condemning the other housemates for allowing what they often cite as “primordial sentiments” to drive their action, seeing her as the only northerner in the Big Brother House.
Though I am a northerner as well as a Muslim, I owe those who subscribe to this school of thought a duty to disagree with them on these scores. Firstly, Kaisha was not the only housemate from the North in the Big Brother House. There is at least one other person from Benue State. Secondly, and this may come as a shock to many of these negative commentators, Kaisha was not a Muslim. She is a Christian and a native of Sokoto, traditionally seen as the headquarters of Islam in Nigeria. Many Nigerians, especially the millennials that constitute 72 per cent of Nigeria’s population, may not know that such far northern and core Muslim states as Kano, Sokoto, Katsina have natives who are not Muslims. There are Christians, just as there are pagans. Only that they are very few in number.
Another lesson is the need for us to learn to do things with moderation. I did not care to start monitoring the Big Brother Lockdown until criticism about it became seriously vociferous. Perhaps owing to my training to always form my own opinion before just believing every negative thing I am told about anything, I then decided to start monitoring the programme, and it was through this that I can now say that Kaisha more or less got what she deserved.
The young woman claimed, in her post-eviction interview, that she was voted out by her fellow housemates because they didn’t like her, which may well be true. But I want to say that even if they hated her, it cannot be because of where she hails from. Unlike the other housemates, Kaisha was mostly keeping to herself and engaging very little with the other housemates. Unfortunately, that afforded her very little opportunity to establish a relationship with each and everyone or at least most of them. And in any case, if it were about tribe or religion, she surely will have been the first to be voted out because she was the only housemate from the far North, a region that is inhabited predominantly by Muslims.
For me, Kaisha, though a beautiful, young adorable northern woman that I once voted to keep in the House, was not fully convinced as to the reason she was in the Big Brother House. She somehow resorted to doing things in half measures. She seemed to be afraid of possible backlash from her kinsmen and women in the conservative state of Sokoto, and was less engaging, refusing to be drawn into certain things that the other housemates were doing to attract adequate votes from viewers.
If any lesson could be drawn from this, it is that whatever is worth doing is worth doing very well. Kaisha knew what it takes to possibly win the contest, and in deed she has what it takes to win the grand prize, but decided to be far too withdrawn from those things.
Cherise Makubale, then a 24-year-old procurement officer from Kitwe, Zambia, won the first season of Big Brother Africa on September 7, 2003, because she lifted a lot of burden off the shoulders of the other housemates. She turned herself to a cook for almost all of them, and will usually wake up before everybody to thoroughly clean the house. With her good deeds, she became a darling of the African audience, who overwhelmingly voted her as the winner.
So, with this example, it could be seen that Kaisha didn’t need to give her body to anyone to stay longer in the Big Brother House and possibly even win the grand prize of eighty five million naira. There are housemates who deploy their culinary skills, for example, to cook delicious meals for their colleagues in the House. And there is at least one housemate who smartly turns himself to a skillful barber for the boys and hairdresser for the ladies. It is a strategy that may work for this housemate in question for the obvious reason that his colleagues in the house stand to lose if he is voted out. Chances, therefore, are that they may keep voting to keep him till Day 71, the last day when the eventual winner is going to be announced.
Another lesson is the need for us all to be our brother’s keeper. Earlier this week, Big Brother asked all the housemates to individually cook noodles, using their local condiments. Some used palm oil, while others used different spices to make their own special and delicious. The housemates were paired, one male and one female in a group, and each was asked to score the other. Thinking it was an opportunity to run down fellow housemates, some were so mean as to score the other very low, while others generously accorded their rivals the highest marks of 10.
In the end, Big Brother announced a prize of N4 million for all of them, and then did the unthinkable: announcing that the money was not going to be shared equally, and that the marks you gave your rival was now going to be converted to your own marks. With this, those who scored their rivals very low ended up receiving the lowest share of the amount, while those who displayed generosity of spirit earned much higher. The lesson was all too clear for the housemates that they should never go about running down their rivals to win a competition, as doing so could backfire.
Here’s wishing Kaisha the very best in her chosen career of skin therapy.