It’s that time of the year again when Big Brother Nigeria (BBN) is dragged into political discourse just because the show is popular among young audiences across the country.
It’s Big Brother Naija bashing season again by the political class and the politically aware, it appears.
Presidential candidate of the YPP in the 2019 presidential election, Kingsley Moghalu, did the predictable on Friday, August 2, 2019, when he shared his thoughts on political participation among young people, in what is essentially a misguided tweet.
“Total votes cast on Big Brother Nigeria 2018 = 170m. Total votes cast in general election 2019 = 27m. We need to get serious about rescuing our country from the doldrums, not just wishing away our reality in reality TV shows. We can view @BBNaija AND vote right in elections!”, Moghalu shared on his twitter handle.
To be fair, it is sometimes very tempting to toe this line of reasoning now and again in the face of widespread voter apathy during elections in Nigeria, especially among young people. Half of the 84 million registered voters in Nigeria at the moment are aged between 18 and 35. That essentially translates to 51 percent of the registered voters in Nigeria being young people.
However, this never translates to turnout on Election Day. For instance, voter turnout in the 2015 election was 29.4 million, or 44 percent of the 67.4 million registered voters.
The number of registered voters in Nigeria in 2019 rose by a quarter to 84 million. Which meant that there was a 25 percent rise in registered voters from the 2015 figure. Rather than an increase in the turnout percentage however, there was a decrease in 2019.
The 2019 general election recorded the lowest voter turnout in Nigeria since the nation’s return to civilian governance in 1999. Voter turnout has been on a steady decline in Nigeria since 2003. The overall turnout of voters across the country in 2019 was 28,614,190 or 35.6 per cent of registered voters or 39.3 per cent of eligible voters.
So, instead of progressing in terms of encouraging more people or more young people to vote during elections, Nigeria has been retrogressing. And the problem is not Big Brother, the English Premiership or any other reality TV show for that matter. To blame Big Brother, as Moghalu has just done, is to seek for a lazy way out of the problem. To conflate the voting patterns on both platforms is to be really myopic or escapist, for want of better expressions.
A lot of young people believe that their votes do not count during elections, no matter who they vote for. These same young people have no such fears when it comes to voting for their favorite Big Brother housemates. And who can blame them? Nigeria’s elections have been massively rigged since 1999. Ballot box stuffing is still rife in spite of the introduction of smart card readers or electronic Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). Most polling units across Nigeria ditch the new technologies for manual accreditation and voting on Election Day.
Secondly, it is way easier to vote for Big Brother housemates. No one is threatening to smash your head open and you are not likely to be beaten by party thugs during Big Brother voting. On Election Day in Nigeria, you step out to the polling unit with your heart in your mouth, not knowing whether you’d return home alive. There was widespread violence and deaths in the just concluded general elections. So, many registered young voters simply sit the process out. They canor coman kee themselves.
In Big Brother, voting is electronic, there is no age restriction and voting can be done multiple times by a single fan. Electronic voting is still alien to the Electoral Act and many rural voters have not been sensitized enough to know how the smart card readers work. To add to the sorry state of affairs, electoral officers in far flung areas of Nigeria ditch the smart card readers for manual accreditation and voting, providing ample room for manipulation of the process. The Big Brother Nigeria voter has no such fears.
To get young Nigerians interested in the electoral process like they do when it comes to watching grown ass men and women live their lives in front of television cameras for weeks, government has to sanitize the electoral process, make the voting environment conducive for young and first time voters, think up more tech savvy ways to simplify the process, improve security on voting day, make voting easier and make sure votes actually count.
Millennials do not like to be stressed out—which is what coming out to vote during elections mean for most of them. They also want to be sure that they aren’t wasting their votes and time when they do come out.
Young Nigerians really do care about politics and governance and I know this because I interact with thousands of them in the course of my work and in social media forums. The problem is that they have lost faith in their country and in the process of choosing leaders. To get them to actively participate in the political process, we have to make them feel loved and important once more. Thus far, this nation has not done so.
And Big Brother has got nothing to do with it, dear Moghalu.