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The Trouble with Nigerian Reality Shows

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I am not really a fan of television programs in Nigeria. Give me news and some early breakfast programs and I am done with my TV which is also laid siege to by my other relatives for their own choice of programs much to my chagrin.

I wish to first protest at the heavy reliance on foreign programming, particularly the “telemundo” genre of programming. These programs with their foreign flavours have taken hostage a number of Nigerian audiences who are hooked on their accounts of fantasy. I do recall as a child watching a number of them, but then I was a child. 

I cannot today fathom the hilarity with which these telemundo programs are followed in Nigeria as well as the huge amounts of advertising bought into them at a time when our programs with rich local content and reservoirs of our cultural and historical heritage are desperately shopping around for advertisers. This is not to say that our local programs too are the grails of entertainment, no! However, I would wager a bet that our local programs have more to offer than these telemundo programs.

Enough said about the soap operas, let me air out my anger with the number and quality of reality shows in Nigeria. On a daily basis, the Nigerian media space experiences the blitzkrieg of so many television shows under the genre known as Reality Television that focuses on drama, conflict and entertainment. These shows, which began in the 1991 Dutch series Number 28, exploded in the late 90’s and became household programs. Its entrance into the African continent actually began in 2001, when Big Brother Africa berthed on the African continent. 

From then other shows began springing up in Nigeria such as Nokia Danceathon, Gulder Ultimate Search, Star Quest, Maltina Dance All, Glo Naija Sings, UBA’s Dragon’s Den, The Debaters, MTN’s Project Fame, Etisalat’s West African Idol and  Amstel Malt’s Box Office, typically these shows were quick to win much acclaim as it largely held millions of Nigerians spell bound.

But the sad reality here is that, while Nokia was sponsoring its danceathon, where hundreds of Nigerians gyrated till their waists lost it, the same Nokia was sponsoring software competitions in Europe. Whilst telecom companies like Vodafone, Orange and Oxygen are sponsoring application software competitions, where young and talented developers are groomed. The four telecom companies in Nigeria were and still are busy sponsoring either singing or dancing competitions.

I may be regarded as a sadist and a miserabilist all rolled up in one. Fun loving Nigerians who get their kicks from these shows would call for my head and the companies could be quick to launch a counter offensive arguing that they also sponsor a number of programs/competitions geared towards areas that are likely to contribute more to the development of our society. Take for example; Etisalat sponsors a prize for literature, others I believe sponsor one or two other programs in like manner. 

However, the difference lies in the quality of such sponsorship. For example the winner of the Etisalat prize for literature for 2014 went home with 4.12 million Naira whereas the winner of its Naija Idol counterpart went home with 7.5 million Naira as well as other deals. Pray, if we are a serious country why then should a competition most likely to groom another Nobel Prize winner for literature reward far less than a singing competition? Pray, in which of these two categories, is the country likely to reap greater value?

It is on this note that I seek to commend the likes of Promasidor’s Cowbell Prize for Mathematics, Microsoft Nigeria’s Imagine Cup, UBA’s Dragons Den ( I wonder why they stopped it) and Mo Abudu’s The Debaters(Mo please bring it back!) for seeking to help Nigerians create greater value for themselves and the nation. 

Simply put, the encouragement of mathematics, software/hardware development as well as entrepreneurship will create far more value than a thousand singing and dancing competitions will ever bring to us. At a point in our history, where the race to development is borne by knowledge does it not trouble us that we have chosen to have as mentors, thespians and musicians at the expense of the real deal offered us in science, technology, entrepreneurship and a host of other endeavors.

More worrisome is the fact that most of the stars churned out on a daily basis from these reality shows end up disappearing from the limelight as quickly as they appeared. Hundreds of thousands who throng the designated centres of each season of such reality shows, hoping to become the next musical star end up frustrated.

Imagine what we could do if we turned these hundreds of thousands into scientists, writers, thinkers and entrepreneurs? Imagine the symphony?

We would have had our own Prometheus Unbound!

Igboeli Arinze, a media consultant writes from Abuja; follow on Twitter @IanIgboeli


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