The other day, the Director General, National Orientation Agency, Dr. Garba Abari, speaking, said: “A significant percentage of our younger ones will not even remember that Nigeria is the original name of our country” as he pushed for Nigerians to stop calling the country Naija.
I engaged Mr. Olateju Oyelakin, the ace comedian popularly known as Teju Baby Face, just before his interview with Garba, two weeks ago in Lagos. I wanted him to take up the DG on why the NOA acts like it is set up to propagate agendas in the interest of the party in power instead of a national agenda that defies the interests of whoever is president per time or whatever party is at the centre. Mike Omeri, the immediate past DG of NOA, ran the organisation like it was the media and propaganda arm of the last government. If the NOA is 90 per cent dead and irrelevant, Omeri, in my opinion, contributed 89 per cent of that. But the current DG, while seemingly now interested in an agenda that is about our collective interest has started off by missing the point completely. This is a big example in how to miss the point. Calling Nigeria Naija is not the issue.
Small Lesotho is defined as The Kingdom In The Sky; picture-esque Madagascar is also called The Red Island; Rwanda is called the Land of a Thousand Hills and South Africa is the Rainbow Nation. The United States is Uncle Sam; Chile is the land of Poets; Iceland is the Land of Fire and Ice; what is Nigeria? We do not know at the moment! Someone should tell Mr. DG that Nigeria will always be officially Nigeria, that it is okay to funkify it into “Naija” for cool points, that there is nothing wrong with that, because Naija is part of our identity now and our younger ones will not have issues remembering ‘Nigeria’ because the older ones know when to use Nigeria and when to use Naija. Or are the teachers in their schools now teaching them ‘How the British Colonised Naija’ now? Or the “Constitutional Development of Naija from 1914 to 1999” is a topic now? Please! Let us not try to justify the existence of the National Orientation Agency because really, it is free to die if it can’t find a reason for it to be funded.
Another recent Nigerian anomaly is the Big Brother Nigeria. Nigerians are asking tough questions about the reality show but we are mostly asking the wrong question as usual. We are complaining about the so-called immorality being espoused by the show as though whatever is being reflected in the show is not a telling reality in Nigeria. Or is it our usual, ‘it is okay to do bad, but at least keep it in the house’ mentality? The show is rated 18, it means that before you commit to watching it, you must know that there is a likelihood that there will be pictures and sounds that should not be fed children and teenagers. If you, an adult, then goes ahead to watch it, only to complain about immorality, sorry, you are a hypocrite. And it is impossible for your kids to feed on it consistently, if you, the parent or guardian is not also binging on it. Back at school, their friends with the abnormal liberty to watch anything on TV in their own homes can tell them stories about what went down but the chances of your kids seeing a lot of Big Brother Naija without you seeing a lot of it yourself is pretty low!
If you want to make change happen in a system, fighting against the prevailing reality is not your best bet. Life comes with contradictions; such that, the more you fight certain things, the more people want to indulge in it. To make change happen, you have to offer an alternate reality. Let people have a competing choice. I’d rather schoolchildren tune in to Cowbellpedia Mathematics Quiz competition instead of Big Brother. But if you as the parent continues to complain about the show you don’t want the children to see while completely ignoring the one you want them to see, you’d have made the un-preferred the popular. We shouldn’t always be about what we do not want; we should always pay more attention to what we want. If you want better content than whatever goes on in Big Brother House, create it; if you can’t create it, propagate what someone else has created it. We are a country of some 170 million people; some of us cannot decide what the rest of us watch in our homes. Let people choose what they want to feed their eyes on. Until the Federal Government sets up the National Moral Police Force, the National Hypocrisy Commission must keep its cosmetic morality to itself.
On the issue of the show being hosted in South Africa, here is another misplaced anger. Where is our recuperating President currently being hosted? Where do private jet owners in Lagos prefer to park their jets due to the expensive cost of parking them in Lagos? Ghana! Where do our political thieves save their stolen money when not saving it andreyakubucally? Anywhere but Nigeria. Where do the rich send their kids for studies? The US, UK, UAE, Malaysia etc. Where do the not so rich Nigerians send their kids when they can’t afford private universities here? Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Sudan etc. Where do our fruits often come from? Benin Republic. If most Nigerians had a choice, where do you think they’d rather be? You know the answer. Let us stop pretending about our reality. Life in Nigeria is hard and tough, the more we pretend about the effects of this reality, the more we ask the wrong questions. Big Brother Naija will cost the organisers a lot more to host in Nigeria because they’d need an extra budget to power the house for starters and they’d need to move several hi-tech equipment over; they’d need to house the technical team in expensive hotels after finding it pretty tough to get them visas and while at that, they’d need to protect them from the now ubiquitous kidnappers.
Patriotism is a beautiful ideal and you cannot say President Buhari is not a patriotic man. But you see, when it comes to life and death issues, when it comes to making rational decisions like, “what kind of education do I want my children to get?”; “when it comes to ‘what’s the best holiday my money can afford?”, patriotism often takes a humble seat, because it knows enough to know that it is not built on a vacuum. It is built on a two way street; your country cannot ask patriotism of you if it does not even care enough whether you are dead or alive. Or do we now know the names of the thousands of people killed by Boko Haram? Do we have the names of all the citizens killed extrajudicially? Let us even start by protecting lives and property then go a step further by dignifying the dead whenever we fall short of protecting citizens.
One day, we can justifiably wonder how irrational a company can be; to leave Nigeria where it is much easier and cheaper to host a world class show, then take it to another country that offers less value at a more expensive price. Because you know what? Big Brother is not a charity show; it is a business. The winner gets N25m and an SUV. You can bet though, the organisers make at least that amount via the daily voting to keep housemates in the house. Then, do the numbers for the 11 or so weeks it gets to run for, do the numbers for the advertising and then the numbers for the partners. Why is no one asking why Big Brother Naija is hardly even a Nigerian idea. It is just a foreign idea being served to a Nigerian audience using Nigerian ingredients. We can do better as a country but we must start by deciding to get angry at the right things. And people.
This piece was originally published in Punch newspaper of 01/03/2017. Republished here with permission.