LIKE A CHILD TRAPPED IN AN ADULT’S BODY: Response to Dr Reuben Abati’s ‘Big Brother Naija – Television Madness’
By Bura-Bari Nwilo
I regrettably read Dr Reuben Abati’s article entitled: ‘Big Brother Naija – Television as Madness’ with very high expectations. You should not blame me. I followed Dr Abati from his famous column in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper on Sundays. Those were some very fantastic memory and those papers are the memorabilia of what a great time there once was in Nigeria.
I had bought into the Abati addiction after a senior friend whom we called Baba, who was transferred from Lagos to a construction company in Port Harcourt made it a ritual that I crossed the Port Harcourt/Aba Express Road every Sunday to the busy Garrison Bus Stop to pick up his copy of the Guardian. When he was done reading, I would pick up the read copy and attempt to make sense of the many headlines. One day, I settled my confused teenage eyes on Dr Abati’s column. I eventually started contributing poems to the Sunday Guardian.
While I looked forward to Dr Abati’s articles on Sundays, I also bought a copy of the newspaper to show to friends that my poems were published in a national daily. It helped me make sense of my world and I strongly suspect that it became the basis for the turn my life took – of falling in love with words.
Dr Abati is not a mean writer. And by that I meant ‘mean’ in the sense that he is not ordinary. He is of the generation of writers who looked social issues straight in the eyeballs and wrote what was stern, accurate, and bitter and what could be considered controversial. His generation gave essay writing a classical look. And though none of the people lived amazing life of goodness and free of lack, they read books and defended the common man in their columns. Their essays were rich with allegory, uncommon metaphor and flushed cliché. With the referral to great poems and music, you would not need a third party to tell you that the writers were very serious minded individuals who were dedicated. They wrote with the best of sarcasm and revered in the confusion they created among the military leaders. I have quite a number of the old magazines in Luubara, my home town. I have magazines that Ray Akpu edited and Dr Abati was one fine replacement after the Akpu era.
Social media could be terribly triple faced. You may jump into a conversation strictly because a friend whom you respect and feel he is smart enough has responded from an enlightened point of view but that is not a guarantee that his might be factual or that the subjective in his reporting would be minimal. I took the step of looking through the controversial article and could not put my bitterness and regret in check. I was not bitter that something had been written with so much bile and juvenileness. I was not upset that someone had to request for a twerk from Annie Idibia and then ended the writing with some prayers and faith based admonition. I was basically angered that my idol was not just human but very trifling and lacked comportment in handling issues. He could not control the words and its flow.
On my Facebook page I suggested, out of disbelief that the article might not have been written by Dr Abati, the great, that some younger, barely informed fellow had churned out the article based on discussions on the just concluded Big Brother Naija reality TV show and then asked my special lord to peruse and he chose to put his name on it.
But it should not be allowed to happen again. BBNaija should not be hosted and staged in South Africa as has been the case. Multichoice, Payporte and their partners made crazy money and got brand promotion off the back and sweat of Nigerians. Do the maths; we got peanuts in return. We were told BBNaija could not be staged in Nigeria due to electricity problems so the studio had to be in South Africa. And the Nigerian government looked the other way. Wawu!
Silly me. Bloody silly me!
I have identified what I dislike about the article. I totally dislike the entire body of work but let me just try to be civil and point out what really got to me. The first part of the essay or article read to me like a news report, of some new intern at a news house. This new guy is ambitious and wants to impress his employer. He gives precise quotations, time and date just to make the actual spice but then the food becomes too spicy and then it burns the tongue.
Dr Abati was selective in his bashing of the show. He in fact commended specific names – same people in the corridor of Multichoice. Awesome. He bashed the South African-ness of the show and tackled the issue of taxes, of how Nigeria would get peanut, including money spent on the winner. He quoted the 11 million votes and the 24 million votes and estimated that the sponsor and the organisers were going to be super rich. He did not see that if things did not work well that the sponsors or the organisers would fall flat in debt. He did not see that with WeChat you did not need to spend money to vote.
TBOSS and the other girls kissed and got groped by the boys on live television putting their upbringing to shame. TBOSS, who claimed she didn’t need the money even exposed her breasts on live television more than once. I have seen better breasts TBOSS. I am not too sure those private jet owners will be excited by your fluffy, South-looking, slightly bigger than mangoes breasts. If the same men see bigger assets, I mean, those interesting Ojiakor-like ones that look like papayas, pineapples and watermelons, they will not send private jets, they will deploy submarines and fighter jets! And that ‘s why you got N500k in the end, way back behind Bisola with her hard facial features, and Efe whose victory is based on poverty logistics and appeal. But I have no doubt that TBOSS will end up doing better in the larger, outside market than the other finalists, because even those who did not vote for her, know in their hearts that she represents the message of the programme.
Dr Abati noted in his good book that the show promoted ‘the ideas of choice and people power’ and as expected, he took a fine turn into politics. Great. He preached and of course, condescended. He noted that ‘everybody had been used’ and that Multichoice, the capitalists are the big winners. Awesome. Who goes into business to lose? Or who gets appointed into government, to work with Mr President for years and expect not to get paid as Special Media Aide? And I am authentically proud of Dr Abati to have quoted Falz and his ‘weh don’ slogan. It was a big relief and particularly mature of the article and crowned him the child trapped in an adult’s body.
In the paragraph that addressed humility, Dr Abati played the clown. In his case, he is an older clown who gives advice and mocks and plays and moves on. We all agree that humility is priceless and it is as subjective as it is. If it is legal and within bounds, arrogance has its effects too and for a reality TV show, it is super necessary to set the necessary tension and conflicts. However, the context of the preached humility was of Ms Idowu, T Boss, the one he called Jezebel, the one who lured men and messed them up just to advance. And our dearest doctor of philosophy sees a lot of wrong with a plot of a reality TV show that is geared towards exciting audience and bringing in votes. And though housemates are liberal to show whatever image they wish to sell to viewers, our doctor would be writing his ideals later for his renewed show.
It is a wrong message and that is why Big Brother Naija drew more audience in Southern Nigeria than in the North. In the last week of the programme,, every town in Southern Nigeria was seized by the #BBNaija fever. Prayers were offered in churches for Efe. One lady threatened to commit suicide if Efe did not win. Another one said she would not stop crying until Efe won. Nollywood stars declared support for housemates. There was Team Bisola, Team Efe, Efe Nation, TBOSS Nation, Team DebbieRise (small), Team Marvis (even smaller). There were public processions even in universities. We were told how to vote. Twitter was on fire. What I saw was nothing but sheer madness. T-shirts were printed. One musician turned his personal car into a billboard. Nigeria became a mad house because of one reality television show. It looked like mass hypnotism at work.
Ms Idowu, who might not have been my favourite housemate got such names as Delilah amongst others and had her breasts shamed. This pained me most for personal reasons. He suggested that based on her antics, a private jet and submarine should have ferried her away from South Africa to Nigeria. He did not stop there. Tiwa Savage, the musician, got a bit of his whip. Southern Nigeria, against the north, also got a fair share of the blame. Annie would twerk for us and Dr Abati would take a long rest and stay away from social media for it is not entirely good for his health and his poor control of his own mind would have a fatal effect on him and the people around.
To best understand Dr Abati’s state of mind, one may take a second to read his tribute to Aliko Dangote and see what he admires and worships and how youthfulness, just as in this the days of A Nation’s Identity Crisis upsets him.
BURA-BARI NWILO is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness – a book of short stories. He tweets from @BuraBariNwilo