The inside story of how this reality show shaped Nigeria's future
In 2006, Big Brother Nigeria not only set the tone for Nigerian pop culture but started the dominance of Nigeria in African pop culture.
At the 2016 edition of MTV MAMAs, Nigerian superstar Wizkid (who is now a global sensation) took home four awards. He was the biggest winner of the night. This is usually the case with continental award ceremonies with Nigeria dominating the proceedings.
Davido, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Genevieve Nnaji, and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde. These are household names in many African homes but this wasn't the case a decade ago. Nigerian pop culture was just Nigerian pop culture, with a little presence outside the country.
Nigerians were seen as aggressive dominators and not cool, stylish, laid back, fun people. This perception started to shift in 2006 with the coming of Big Brother Nigeria-the first reality show from this popular franchise solely dedicated to the Nigerian market.
“I think Big Brother Nigeria produced that seminal moment for Nigerian urban culture, for Nigerian youth culture,” says Obi Asika, then CEO of Storm 360, who was the producer of the ground breaking reality show.
For the 48-year-old media man who is one of the most influential men in Nigeria’s music industry, Big Brother Nigeria was just more than putting adults in a house and have cameras follow their every move. No, for Obi Asika it was bigger than that.
“There was an attitude all over Africa that Nigerians were threatening, people were afraid of us. These are the kids with the most swag, the most attitude, the most personality, they've got hot music, hot fashion and hot personalities but it was not known” recalls Obi Asika about Nigeria’s image problem.
For him and his production crew, music would be used to sell the Nigerian image to millions of Africans.
"The real story was our desire to change the way Nigeria was seen and perceived, in this regard the senior production team was on on the same page, and myself and this was why the vibrancy of our culture, fashion, music, and personality was able to shine through, the crew was over 100 and with 16 expats it was a largely Nigerian production of which I remain immensely proud.
"We knew that our content had value, our music, our legacy, our culture but nobody had given ordinary Nigerians this level of window to the world. One of the biggest things that happened was that it provided a window into the hearts and minds of our people and Africa fell in love with us and long may it continue" Obi Askika explains.
Big Brother Nigeria created a lot of innovations for the Big Brother brand. “BBN gave the franchise a blueprint on how to connect and appeal to Africans at large,” says Walt Banger who was one of the Directors of Big Brother Nigeria and the Voice of the reality show.
“I know that the style of BBA borrowed a lot from BBN after we aired. Before then BBA was very similar to the European Big Brother” he further states.
The most significant innovation from Big Brother Nigeria were the weekly eviction parties which featured performances from Nigerian music stars. Prior to that, there were no eviction parties in Big Brother Africa.
“That was just (his music label) pushing Nigeria and in that process, we put 150 Nigerian artistes on Channel O with their videos, many for the first time. That was the first time many of them got visibility outside their house, outside their sitting room” explains Obi Asika in his Lekki office.
The idea to use Nigerian music in the reality show didn’t come without its fair share of opposition. In 2006, our music wasn’t really an African staple. 7 things you should know about upcoming season 2
UMG one of the biggest labels in the world had cleared its entire catalogue for Big Brother Nigeria to use. While the powers-that-be who pulled the strings behind the scene were happy with this and wanted to take advantage of UMG’s extensive catalogue, Asika and his then partner Aderemi Ogunpitan shut the idea down.
The two Nigerians were adamant that Nigerian music would make up 80% of the play list, a crazy idea at the time. Nigerian radio wasn’t even playing 80% Nigerian songs at the time even though the number of Nigerian songs on radio had drastically increased from the 90s.
“I was like ‘well that’s great news but I hope you all understand that 80% of the music in Big Brother Nigeria is going to be Nigerian music. So while it’s great that we have this international catalogue, we are not going to play not more than 20% of it” Obi Asika told the Endemol executives.
The top hierarchy shot back with questions like “well how do we know that Nigerian music is world class?” “How can you share this music?”, “does Nigeria have a reputation for music?” Asika, the fiery patriot, then said “none of you are in the position to discuss Nigerian music. You don’t know it. You don’t know anything about it. I am telling you that it is going to be 80%.’ Simple, point blank, finish.”
At the end of the day, Nigerian music was played 80% of the time. With weekly performances from stars such as Styl Plus and D’banj to veterans such as Sir Shina Peters and Onyeka Onwenu singing their classics at the eviction parties, Nigerian music was shown to a continent that wasn’t really aware of its contemporary music existence.
“It’s an inflection point. Imagine that before Big Brother Nigeria, less than 3 or four Nigerian videos had been on Channel O. Post-it (Big Brother Nigeria), we owned 70% of the airplay. Same here, MTV launches, within a year we become 70% rotation” pinpoints Obi Asika on the effect of Big Brother Nigeria.
Beyond the music, Africans got to see Nigerians as cool, funny and vibrant people and not violent and rowdy people as the popular thinking was back then. For 96 days, Nigeria opened itself to Africa and showed the continent our unique way of life.
"The hosts of the show were and and that was her first big gig and she is still working of course" says Mr. Asika.
He also adds "Tola Odunsi was in charge of booking all the talents and prepping them, at MNET and enabled us to push over 150 videos onto .
"Tola and I did all the music plugs, the Thursday pick up to Jòzi for 18 months, Put on MTV, put on Channel O."Additionally, Nigerian rapper Elajoe was the music supervisor of the reality show.
Essentially, Big Brother Nigeria sold not only Nigerian music but projected a clean and fun image of Nigerians to Africans. Arguably, Big Brother Nigeria is this country’s best PR campaign to date.
Big Brother Nigeria had 12 original housemates; Ify, Ebuka, Chinedu, Francisca, Gideon, Helen, Ichemeta, Ify, Joan, Joseph, Maureen and Yinka. Katung and Sandy would later enter the house as wild card entries.
There might be some argument about the positives and negatives of reality shows. Some say it’s just mindless entertainment. Reality shows are notorious for giving fifteen minutes of fame to people with little or no talent who end up becoming caricatures and mascots for the addiction of junk shows.
There are people on the other end, who believe reality TV shows are platforms to launch their careers. The trio of Ebuka, Katung and Gideon are the most endearing products of the famed Big Brother Nigeria.
“And I wish to say that I called it that watch out for Katung, Ebuka and Gideon- these three guys might have a career. We are here ten years later and I think I was right” brags Obi Asika.
Ebuka Obi-Uchendu now 34 years old is a Nigerian celebrity. After exiting the Big Brother Nigeria House on Day 57, the fan favourite pivoted his fame into becoming a media brand.
Today he is a top media personality who hosts ‘Rubbin’ Minds with Ebuka’ on Nigeria’s biggest news TV station-Channels. He also co-hosts The Spot on the Mo’ Abudu owned TV house- Ebony Life. With a few brand endorsements in his pocket, the media personality is first name famous. When you say his name Ebuka, everyone in Nigeria knows who you are talking about, the chiselled, tattooed socialite.
Most importantly, 11 years after the debut Big Brother Nigeria edition, Ebuka has been chosen to be the host for Big Brother Naija.
As for Gideon Okeke, his famous face adorns movie posters in several cinema houses in Nigeria. Gideon is one Nollywood’s new generation of leading men on the silver screen. After leaving Big Brother Nigeria on Day 50, he continued his acting career and snagged a role as Philips Ade Williams on the MNET produced soap opera Tinsel.
MNET was responsible for bankrolling Big Brother Nigeria singlehandedly. “In Nigeria, by far the biggest investor in this industry has been MNET consistently for the last ten years. Very few Nigerian brands have commissioned quality productions. So what happened was that the budget was huge but there was no sponsor for Big Brother Nigeria, MNET took the whole bill. You have got to respect that” says Obi Asika. The budget for the reality show was approximately $3m.
Gideon Okeke’s latest Nollywood featuring is ‘’, an emotional movie starring Hollywood actor Donald Glover. It’s about the personal sacrifice of Dr Ameyo Adadevoh who helped stop the Ebola virus in Nigeria.
In an interview with Naij in 2012, Gideon Okeke opened up and said he was relieved he did not win the 97-day show. According to him, he couldn't bear the burden of winning.
“The cross of the winner, everybody turns on you, everybody expects something from you. I thank God that I didn't win” he said. “They work for the people’s perception, the good thing is I didn’t win, so I wasn’t working to impress anybody, I am working to impress Gideon first and it’s been beautiful” he further said.
And as for the winner Katung?
“I got the forms and totally forgot I got the forms. I was just busy, busy, it was till I heard it was like a day to submission I looked for my form. It was stained and squeezed. I dashed to go submit it” recalls Katung.
Katung Aduwak is the Senior Channel Manager MTV Base and Senior Creative Director for Viacom. Do not forget that prior to 2006, Nigerian music videos only made up a small percentage of airplay on MTV Base.
In 2016, a man who participated in the reality show is now an executive in the cable TV station. He is the most vivid example of Big Brother Nigeria's impact on an individual level.
In an editing suite in Ikeja G.R.A not too far from where the Big Brother Nigeria house was, Katung recollects to Pulse how it all began.
“While at I won this radio reality show called the ‘Broadcast Star’. I was on the graveyard shift. This day I go home like 5am or 6am. I'm lying on the couch and the promo comes on TV and I was like ‘$100,000’. I'm going o. That’s all I could see” he confesses.
On one fortunate day while he was hanging out with his bunch of singing friends known as Styl Plus he got a call from the producers of the show which would change his life. He initially thought the call was a prank.
“I got a call from somebody saying, "We are calling you from Big Brother Africa", and I said, ‘Yes, my father is Big Brother,’. I thought someone was joking with me but it was true so we went through ridiculous auditions about four, five stages of auditions.
The Big Brother franchise is known for its twist and turns. Katung would be a twist in the plot of Big Brother Nigeria. Despite being the first to get a confirmation to be a contestant in the show, Katung didn’t enter the house with the initial 12 contestants.
“I had read the rule book and I learned in every BBA (show) that there is someone called a ‘Spike’ to spice things up and I was like that can't be me I'm too bubbly, too cool.
“Lo and behold that day came 5th of March that year and I didn't go in. I was confused, frustrated and I realized I'm a Spike” Katung tells me as he remembers when he realized he was going to be a wild card.
While the others stayed it in the house and millions of Africans watched their every move, Katung was in a hotel room with no idea of what was happening.
“I stayed in a room with no contact with the outside world. I had a chaperon, I couldn't even watch what was going on. For almost three weeks. Even my food was dropped at my doorstep” says Katung.
Finally, after weeks of isolation, he was introduced to the show in Week 5. “I got drunk. I was excited, I was seeing people, and I hadn't seen people in a while. I was just fired up I woke up the next morning hung over hell!” recollects Katung on his first night at the Big Brother Nigeria house.
Katung’s strategy while in the house was simple really, “My mind was on it, and I was like I came here for this 100k and I wanted to be real to myself as possible.” Throughout his stay, he was not up for eviction once.
As far as threats go, Katung saw each contestant as a threat but it was his guy Ebuka that was his biggest challenge. The threat Ebuka posed didn’t last for long.
On the 92nd day, Katung Aduwak made history as the first winner (and only winner) of Big Brother Nigeria.
“I was like that's me. I saw my mother and the first thing I did was kneel and say I'm sorry. I gave a bottle of wine to my brother. The guys jumped me. The first two nights I couldn't sleep. I didn't blink. By the third day, I passed out. Exciting times” says Katung about his victory.
And where did all that money go to? “The money is still lasting and has lasted. We used part of it to start a farm for my family, my father has retired to that farm today, used part to send myself to school. The rest, I blew it. The education I went for has granted me a lot of opportunities to work in places I work now.”
How tangible is the success one gets from a reality show? Does it open doors or does the party end as soon as the lights are off? “It opened a lot of doors in some places it didn't. Some people looked at me as if I was feeling privileged, people will always hate. Till today there are places I go to and people still recognize me” admits Katung.
Even though the fame is still pretty much there a decade after, Katung is not open to being stuck in a house for months. Now married, he says he cannot leave his wife for three months.
Big Brother Nigeria was a mammoth production. It ran for more than 90 days. Factor in pre-production, for close to seven months Obi Asika and his team, worked round the clock. There were many challenges too, the most memorable when the guy in charge of power supply yanked them off.
“I remember a particular day when our generator provider decided to switch off the generator at 5am on a Saturday morning. We had to put the cameras on loop. Some guy was just being an irritant. I can’t remember why he even did it. He had decided he wasn’t getting enough adverts or something (it was a barter deal).
“So that was probably the most hectic day of all the days. It took us till about 12 noon to get the generator back on but because it was Saturday morning, people did not know that we were looping the whole tape because we couldn't go live. We couldn't take that risk and go off the air. We can’t go off the air. Big Brother doesn't go off air in any country.”
Despite the challenges, Big Brother Nigeria worked. Obi Asika sums it up perfectly “We were producing miracles based on our environment.”
"Biggest moments for me at Bbn Nigeria were bringing some of our superstars to the world, sometimes for the first time, J entering the house on Africa day as a Minister and educating the continent about Nigeria's role in the ending of apartheid, however the truth is that show was the inflection point" recalls Obi Asika.
There have been nine editions of Big Brother Africa, Nigeria holds the record for highest number of wins (3) and back-to-back-to-back wins with Kevin Chuwang, Uti Nwachukwu and Karen Igho winning in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively.
Behind the camera, Big Brother Nigeria also helped propel careers. In 2014, Walt Banger won the Best Short Film category for his work ‘’ at the AMVCA. The movie starred Nigerian rap star Ikechukwu (once the poster boy of Obi Asika’s STORM Records).
AMVCA is the most prestigious movie ceremony in Africa and it also the brainchild of MNET. It’s hardly surprising that Nigeria also dominates this ceremony.
The six degrees of Big Brother Nigeria is very evident with so many links to many influential and popular personalities in the country’s entertainment industry. BBN’s legacy is very visible a decade after.
It all started with a few people who decided to push Nigerian contemporary culture through a reality show. Just as how 1994 is regarded as the greatest year in Hip-Hop culture, 2006 is the year when Nigeria’s pop culture went continental.
Nigeria might not be the Giant of Africa these days but for a lot of African countries, Nigeria is still the big brother.
*This article has been edited to accommodate more quotes from Obi Asika and more names of people responsible for the success of Big Brother Nigeria.
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