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As MultiChoice produces Big Brother Naija in South Africa: Filmmakers count losses, dearth of infrastucture

By Omiko Awa and Margaret Mwantok
19 February 2017   |   3:51 am
A few weeks back, Nigerians, especially those who have been following the Big Brother Naija (BBN), MultiChoice’s reality TV show, were shocked to learn that Season 2...

Falz with house mates after his performance at the eviction show last Sunday

A few weeks back, Nigerians, especially those who have been following the Big Brother Naija (BBN), MultiChoice’s reality TV show, were shocked to learn that Season 2 of the show, which began broadcasting from January 22, was being produced and broadcast from South Africa for its Nigerian audience.

Temper grew high, as many, including seasoned professionals in filmmaking and show business, noted that the job could perfectly have been handled in Nigeria. Some stakeholders in the movie industry even called for the head of the man at the supervisory agency, Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, who granted the permission, saying such act was a big blow to Nigeria’s pride and identity, apart from being a rip-off on the economy.

While the hue and cry continued, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, was called upon to look into the issue and check the errant company. MultiChoice Nigeria, a Pay-TV service provider behind the Big Brother Naija, the Nigerian version of the reality show, Big Brother Africa, came up with why the company is producing the show in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In a statement, the company said the decision was informed by its desire to deliver the same high quality production its subscribers are accustomed to, adding that it was this commitment that informed the decision to stage the show in the fully-equipped Big Brother House in South Africa.

MultiChoice Nigeria stated that staging the show in a Big Brother facility, that was specially built for such purpose, was not only cost-effective, but also allows the company to maintain the same excellent production values as with the previous editions. It assured that the ongoing Big Brother Naija features Nigerians as housemates, the production staff, as Biggie’s voice and a series director. It equally stated that the musical performances on the show, which runs for 11 weeks, also include some of Nigeria’s biggest and hottest stars.

While speaking on this issue, filmmaker and president, Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Mr. Ralph Nwadike, said the shooting and broadcasting of the reality show from South Africa is a shame on all Nigerians and not just filmmakers alone. According to him, it is a slap on the faces of Nigerian leaders and it should not be allowed to continue.

“When, indeed, did South Africa get her independence? Was it not in 1994? I remember back in the days when I was a student at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and some of the students who came from South Africa were more at our mercies. They were all looking unto us, thanking us on a daily basis for trying to bail them out of their political situation, as it were. They were thanking us for giving them a new lease of life, but today South Africans are claiming that, technically, Nigerians are not good enough.

“Unfortunately, they did not say, ‘Ralph Nwadike is not good enough.’ They are saying Nigerians are not good enough. We should ask the leadership of this country why we allowed ourselves to go down this low? Why should Nigeria, with the first television station in tropical Africa in 1959, be lagging behind?”

While commenting on how, in spite of the dearth of infrastructure and poor funding, Nigerian productions have been rated high within and outside the country, the AMP boss said, “No matter the monies and equipment they think they have, South Africa, in terms of production qualities and values, can never match up to Nigeria’s standard.

“They have the money to throw around because their banks believe in them. Unfortunately, our local banks do not believe in the Nigerian enterprise. They do not believe even in our filmmaking industry. They say our business is amorphous. They do not even understand what we are doing, but the banks will give money to people with briefcases because they are in oil and gas. Entertainment sector is denied funds to make it grow.

“In fact, Nollywood is where the banks should put their monies because entertainment is the new world order; that is where the world is drifting to. Just between October and November 2016, Nigerian films made over N1 billion at cinemas alone, aside the DVD. This simply means that if the sector were well invested in, it would make more money.

“If, with a little funding we get from friends, relatives and individuals, who believe in us, we are able to do this, with adequate funding we shall perform wonders. Nigerian producers are the best in the world. We are not among the best, but the best. I tell you, some years back, a 30-minute soap opera in South Africa was worth $1 million and within the same year, a soap opera in Nigeria was N50,000 per episode. You can imagine today, in 2017, the kind of money they would be investing into production of their soaps or movies. That is why they have the audacity to say our production values are poor.

“When did they actually start? If the monies our leaders squander away are invested into infrastructure, tidy up things in the country, make a level-playing ground for ideas to thrive, we would not have received this insolence from MultiChoice,”

Nwadike said the South African company has the audacity to do what it is doing because Nigeria has not really repositioned its entertainment sector for the betterment of the country.

“Yes, MultiChoice did the right thing because we have not done what we need to do. Everyday we spend N10,000 and above on fuel for the generator to keep AMP office on for some hours. Where is the power government has been spending money on, right from President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration till date? With this epileptic power, why would South Africa invest their money shooting Big Brother Naija in Nigeria, even though it is for the Nigerian market? This is because they know we don’t have power. If things have been done well the company would not have undermind our interest.”

Also, renowned filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, expressed sadness over the development and described South Africans as ‘cunning and complex people’. He said the Big Brother show generates N5 million daily and there was no chance South Africa would allow such money to come to Nigeria for 11 weeks running.

He said, “Take a look at the facility, the furniture, food and everything in the house. Do you know how much it costs to set that up? Nigerian items, even food items, are not being patronised due to the dominance of South African products. I wish someone from the media would take this up. Unless the industry goes to see President Buhari and make him see reason to ban such productions, South Africans will always dominate.”

Also another filmmaker and former Managing Director, DAAR Communications Plc, Dr. Don-Pedro Obaseki, said it is a way of cultural colonialisation of Nigerians, adding, “It is a total disgrace, considering Nigeria being DSTV’s biggest market and how our local contents – music, movie and dance – have transformed the cable TV.

“If you look at the economic impact of the show being hosted in South Africa, it means money will remain in the country and even the entire workforce will be from South Africa. It would boost their economy while exploiting Nigerians.”

Also corroborating the movie union’s president, AMP Secretary General, Forster Ojehonmon, stated that MultiChoice took a business decision after considering other variables, adding that the company reached the decision because a lot of things are not in order yet. He called on government to revisit the agreement it reached with the company with the aim of identifying the loopholes and tightening them because in a production of this magnitude there must be a Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) to go with it.

“The MoU ought to have included that a production like this should not be taken to another country, no matter what happens. So, production that is meant for Nigerians, about Nigeria and for Nigeria should not be shot elsewhere. I also believe that there is a problem with the agreement reached between the company and Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON). BON should revisit the agreement to tighten the loopholes. This is because when you empower the cast and crew, they will pay personal taxes to government. But now, no such thing will come except the company tax MultiChoice may pay. But those cast and crew empowered in South Africa will pay their taxes to their home country and not to Nigeria. So, aside our image, we have lost revenue from taxation. So, it goes beyond merely going to South Africa to shoot; we have lost revenue.”

Ojehonmon called on government to restructure the entertainment sector with a view to injecting funds into it, noting that entertainment is the second or third largest revenue earner of any country.

While Nigerians lick their wounds, government is yet to conclude its findings. Some stakeholders are even of the belief that the committee Lai Mohammed set up would end up handling the issue with levity, knowing fully well that government has not put its house in order yet.