BBNaija In The Era Of Covid-19; A Gamble With Human Lives

Multichoice Nigeria - the organisers of the Big Brother Naija reality show have refused to bow to the coronavirus pandemic which has altered millions of timetables across the world, as well as leaving businesses in ruins. They have decided to go ahead with the 5th edition of the moneyed reality show and its slated for July. As expected, their millions of fans across Africa have been celebrating the audacious move. The announcement was made with an image which reflected the current reality the world is dealing with - the coronavirus outbreak. A lady was pictured wearing a black face-mask with the show's name inscribed on it. 

Interested contestants have been urged to engage in online auditions. They are to undertake simple tasks on camera and upload the short video clip on the African Magic website after filling a form. At the end of the day, 20 or more contestants might be picked for the show which will last for 90 days. This looks interesting at surface level, but in the real sense, the question is; how will it work? There has been a spike in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria. The number is approaching 11,000 and over 300 deaths. It's not clear if the virus will peak in July when the show starts due to the challenge of testing Nigeria is bedeviled with. Multichoice Nigeria might be gambling, and it is going to be an expensive one since lives are involved.

Join me as we weigh the pros and cons of organizing the show in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The impossibility of physical and social distancing

The Big Brother Naija reality show is a programme that entails physical contacts and direct communications. In fact, one of the highlights of the show is when romantic relationships develop among housemates of the opposite sex. The ratings also tend to increase when controversies are stirred up in the house. What will be the essence of such a reality show when the principles of social distancing are enforced. It will be better to give one's time to those budding Instagram comedians than to sit down for several hours, watching a supposed no-holds-barred reality show which looks like a P.T.A meeting or a religious gathering. The way out this might be the testing of housemates to make sure they are free of the virus. But what about the hundreds of support staff who are working behind the camera?

Multichoice Nigeria might be forced to set up its own molecular laboratory for the purpose of conducting regular tests for the entire contestants and all support staffers who might be having direct or indirect contact with the participants. Currently, there is no other deadly disease as sneaky as coronavirus. It has the capability of spreading rapidly under the radar through asymptomatic patients and the possibility of 'false negatives' in test results. Once a staff or contestant tests positive to the disease, the show might have to be shut down to avoid endangering the lives of the participants. It would be recalled that a similar reality show - Ultimate Love failed to fulfil its scheduled time span due to the menace of the virus.

How will the opening event hold?

The fanfare of having Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, the anchor of the show at the centre of the stage in front of a large crowd, introducing the well-dressed and probably eccentric housemates one by one, might be stalled. Social distancing could prevent such a large crowd from gathering. Even if they gather and wear masks, the cries and chants will be hampered. It will also be inconvenient to wear masks at such large assemblies where the quality of air might be poor. The opening event is one of the highlights that announces the show to the outside world. It can be done without the crowd but the excitement will be eroded away. The event will be synonymous to major football matches holding behind closed doors without the fans.

What about the Saturday night parties?

The Saturday night party is another key episode of the show. It tends to replicate real-life events of clubbing or partying during weekends after a long week working. During the party, alcoholic drinks are made available, bouncers as well as a DJ who most times, establishes physical contact with housemates, although a minimal one. The virus might easily spread in a sweaty condition like that. The only way out will be to test the entire guests at the party but they are allowed in. If an infected person mistakenly makes it into the party arena, there will probably be a costly repeat of the scenario at iSON Xperiences in Ibadan, Oyo State.

The arena games, daily tasks and Head of House Challenge:

These activities involve different tasks. In most cases, objects are set up in an organised manner with housemates urged to achieve certain goals and objectives. The arena is managed by human beings who could be carriers of the disease. Anything they touch might be infected. Any housemate who comes in contact with an infected object might get sick and spread the disease further. This puts a limitation or a question mark to the organization of the arena games.


There is no doubt about the fact that the BBNaija house is usually overcrowded at the initial stage and it could be hard to know who is who at the start of the show. About 20 or 21 housemates are cramped up in one bedroom sharing limited facilities. If there is any place the virus could easily spread, its the BBNaija house setting where physical distancing is a mirage. Only people with lion hearts will take a bold risk of participating in the show when a highly infectious virus is still on a rampage.

Challenge of having celebrity visitors

To spice up the show, the organisers have a way of bringing celebrity visitors to pay the housemates some surprise visits. The visitors interact with them and spend some quality time sharing life experiences about challenges, failures and successes. In the era of coronavirus, this could be risky as the celebrity might be a carrier too. The reasonable way out is to book the public personality ahead of time, house the person in a hotel and test him before entering the house. This at the long run might not be cost-effective as a single test costs about N20,000 - N30,000.

Regular interference by Ninjas and set managers

The invisible Big Brother whose voice is only heard, regularly confines the housemates to space to allow set managers and ninjas perform some tasks. Mostly, the set managers work behind the scenes while the masked ninjas are covered by the cameras. Mostly, the ninjas establish physical contacts with objects in the house as well as the housemates. The pandemic might add a level of uncertainty to such actions, except the set managers have their hands sanitized with the ninjas as well as undergoing testing. Additionally, the organisers will also be wary about allowing different costumes and food substances to come into the house except they are thoroughly sanitized.

What will the eviction show look like?

This is similar to the concerns I expressed about the possibility of the opening event. The large and seeming noisy crowd who are encouraged to scream on top of their voices light up the show. With social distancing guidelines in place, the eviction show might be dead on arrival. All these episodes that bring excitement could fail to live up to expectations of the audience and trigger mass apathy.

Getting sponsors

Most big corporations are already struggling to stay afloat due to the disease outbreak. Most of them have cut the salaries of staffers as well as downsized their workforce extensively. There is also a reduced amount of money in circulation within the local economy, as oil price in the international market is presently down. It might be herculean for the organizers to get credible sponsors to invest in the show as such a project might be termed as ostentatious. It's more of a high-risk and low reward venture.

Revenue from voting might be reduced

Most Nigerians are presently living from hand to mouth due to the massive job losses and cuts in their finances. Voting through sms to save their favourite housemates might be the bottom of their scale of preference when the show starts. It will be a different ball game if the local economy were to be booming. It would be recalled that sms earnings are part of the major revenue streams of the show. Last year, the show garnered a total of 240 million votes.

In conclusion, the latest edition of the Big Brother Naija reality show is a big gamble. It stands a good chance of being a flop with the various limitations put in place to contain coronavirus. But, on the brighter side of life, it might also succeed as Nigerians who are low on cash might find solace in the reality show instead of expending extra cash entertaining themselves out there. There are many questions to be answered and Multichoice Nigeria might be up to the task. July is just a month away, time has a story to tell us all.

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About Osahon

I'm a journalist and a Political Scientist undergoing a doctoral programme focused on media, democracy and governance in Africa. My mission is to uphold the role of the media as the 'fourth estate of the realm' and also tell the Nigerian Story to the world. You can contact me on Phone number: +2347053302356.
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