BBN: The Phony Moral Brigade Is Out Again By Linus Umunna

There is every chance that we all have friends or acquaintances, who are convinced they have a divine warrant to tell us how a piece of music should make us feel. Those so persuaded ignore the fact of differences in tastes and orientation. As a rule, they consider their own tastes divinely-approved, not personal preferences. They are the moral brigade. I was not surprised to see members of the brigade back on the podium immediately the hit show, Big Brother Naija (BBN), returned on 28 January.

They are easy to spot. They lurk on internet discussion forums or take spaces in the print media, acting like magistrates with the power to tell others what or what not to watch on television and what show sponsors should put their money on.

The BBN, without fail, gets the moral brigade into fits of red-eyed rage and on the same limp arguments. In an article, Big Brother, Small Minds, published by Daily Trust on 13 February, one Eugene Enahoro, blamed virtually all the challenges of Nigerian youths, including unwillingness to launch street protests at every opportunity as well inability to dislodge older politicians from the scene and establish a “youthocracy”, on BBN. The view is not original to him. I have seen people blame the English Premier League for Nigerians’ reluctance to make bonfires and block the roads for fun. I consider this an insult. Young Nigerians have participated in many protests and keep doing so since BBN and the English Premier League started airing in Nigeria.

The BBN, according to Enahoro, “is a clear example of the idleness, lack of focus and intellectual poverty amongst our youth”.  He claimed that when the show debuted years ago, “those who watched it were written off as people who have nothing to do, watching other people doing nothing!” Perhaps, he was talking about himself and his ilk. I know many people, who watched and were mightily entertained (their right). Social media platforms also provide an uncomplicated indication of how much interest viewers have in BBN. Further proof of that is the return of the show with other editions. Had it been rejected by the audience, the show would have been ditched after debut.

These days, claimed Enahoro, housemates do nothing other than engage in “in immorality of the highest order and discuss the most mundane unintelligent issues.” I am yet to see hardcore porn on or naked violence on BBN. A few indiscretions, maybe, but I strongly suspect that the writer knows that the BBN House is not a monastery and the show is unscripted. I am equally aware that no one is forced to watch. And very importantly, those who consider goings-on in the house unsuitable for viewers of certain ages should take advantage of their education and use the time and channel blocking features available to prevent access. Those features are not decorative in purpose.

If the writer wants activism-oriented reality show, one drenched in Marxist rhetoric and Bob Marley’s “Stand Up, Get Up” playing relentlessly as the soundtrack, he should come up with an idea and pitch it. Intelligence, it must be made clear, is not exclusive to politics and activism. Both platforms, DStv and GOtv, on which BBN is aired, offer programming for diverse tastes. They include news, movies, sports, religion and general entertainment. Simply take your pick and as they say on the street, “eat the rice and leave the stones”.

It is curious that the writer can describe a show that guarantees the winner N25million and a brand new SUV as one with no real value. Well, it has monetary value. More than that, it has career advancement value. The careers of some of the previous housemates have been helped by their participation. Bisola Aiyeola, the first runner-up at last year’s BBN attended the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York as an Ambassador of One Campaign Initiative, which advocates improvement of access to and quality of education for girls in Nigeria, especially in the Northern states.

This followed her winning presentation on BBN, where she highlighted the barriers to girl-child education in Nigeria. In any language, what she did would spell “seminal”, a word the author may not be familiar with. She has also featured in a number of television commercials and is a celebrity, facts that obviously leave the writer baleful.  Uti Unachukwu cannot be said to have been hurt by participation in BBN except in the mind of the author.

Enahoro wants the N25million for the winner of a Mathematics or essay competition. I concede to him the right to hold his belief. What I find unacceptable is that he thinks that knowledge in Mathematics (and you can add other subjects of study) is the only means of being useful in the society. This is not the case.

I do think every activity not deemed illegal is useful to the society. Jamaica is better known for its reggae and athletics icons than her poets and mathematicians. Brazil is better known for football than anything else. That is not saying that poets and mathematicians are inferior, but you cannot legislate preferences for people.

Education is fantastic, but if the writer is sufficiently educated, he would understand that education does not have one strain and is not restricted to school subjects. Interacting with people of different backgrounds and performing various tasks at a single location for three months must count as education and must be considered useful for personal development.

And for the authors’ education, some of the BBN housemates have second degrees. Many have first degrees. Branding them as unintelligent is reflective of the minds of the members of the moral brigade, not those of the housemates. And you can find intelligent people among those who have never worn academic gowns. BBN sponsors, MultiChoice, remain among the biggest investors in education through the MultiChoice Resource Centres in over 400 public schools across the country. This fact is well known to except to the moral brigade. The sponsors’ support for journalism in Africa and in Nigeria through the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalism Awards, in the author’s bizarre world, does not come across as noble. Presumably, the organization’s support for Sickle Cell Society Nigeria also counts as less than noble.

The author’s anger at the size of the cash prize on offer to the eventual winner is, to say the least, laughable. Top-tier actors, musicians, footballers and boxers, to name a few, earn more than professors, scientists or economists et al. That the chaps in the “noble” professions do not earn as much as those in the presumably less noble ones has nothing to do with how important their fields are to society.  They are mightily important. The truth is that only the top actors, musicians, footballers and boxers are highly paid. The vast majority never get the jobs they seek. Very few top-tier scientists, educators, professors and economists are paid relatively little. Some turn their work into products and services that earn them eye-watering sums. Everyone’s remuneration is based on what someone is willing to pay them. They key is to find the right employer. Footballers get better paid than doctors because the clubs that pay their wages are not public corporations and they are ‘for-profit’ organizations. A footballer’s wages, for example, come from the deep pockets of a billionaire or a club with big-money sponsorship deals, massive ticket-sale and merchandise revenues as well as competition prize money intake. The author is unable to understand this, obviously.

You don’t want to watch BBN? Stay off it and stick to what thrills you. Others want to watch, deal with it.

Umunna writes from Port Harcourt

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