contests of Big Brother Naija on the sofaThe authors explore the soft power prospects of Nigeria’s popular TV reality Show ‘BigBrotherNaija’ and investigate how the programme has helped to shape perceptions about the country. [photo: Big Brother Naiji on Facebook]

[This is an excerpt from an article in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.]

In this era of globalisation, it is not just enough for states to rely on their traditional sources of power – military, size of the economy, population, and natural resources – in order to get the outcome they seek. States also need to improve on their capacity to make themselves ‘visible’ on the world map. For any state, being visible goes beyond creating awareness and seeking popularity, but includes increasing the capacity for attraction – engendering other states’ goodwill and admiration. Realising the necessity of attraction or creating a favourable image, many countries have set up ‘public diplomacy department along with their traditional Foreign Affairs Ministries. While a good number of other states have become clients of corporate brand management and lobbying firms so as to help facilitate the goal of branding their states as an economic powerhouse and a prosperous nation for doing business, and in order for them to favourably compete for international capital in areas of Foreign Direct Investments, import, and export flows. Soft power is the term widely used to describe this trend.

As a regional powerhouse and the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is no doubt endowed both in terms of traditional sources of power and in the aspect of soft power resources. However, the combined effects of groups and other non-states actors challenging the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, coupled with the perception of widespread corruption in the public sector, as well as the prevalence of internet scam (advance fee fraud) by some criminal elements among the population, have served to undermine the effective capability of the country in this regard.

The entertainment sector in Nigeria is perhaps one of the remaining shining attraction that the country possesses in its relation with the African continent and the world at large. Nigerian movies (popularly referred to as Nollywood) and its music industry are widely admired all over the continent to the extent that it has successfully challenged the dominance of Hollywood, Bollywood and other local content production to dominate the movie and music sector in sub-Saharan. This feat has made African entertainment synonymous to the Nigerian creative industry.

Despite the success of the creative industry in Nigeria as the leading promoter of Nigerian (pop) culture and values to the world, the airing of the reality TV show, BBNaija have always remained controversial. The show has continued to polarise opinions among conservatives who oppose the show as ‘immoral’ and showcasing values that are ‘un-Africa’ and protagonists who celebrate the show for its entertainment value. The BBN is also disparaged on the grounds that money invested by the organisers and sponsors of the show could have been deployed to programmes that are educative, informative that encourage entrepreneurship, cultural exchanges, career development and capacity building. In a country beset with the challenges of development, the cost of airing the reality TV show was deemed by many critics as a waste of valuable resources that could be put to better use. However the success of the show measured not only in terms of the millions of naira in generated profits by the organisers, but by the huge number of viewership across 49 African countries, means that young people around the continent identify with the show, which showcased Nigerian entertainment and perhaps ‘Nigerianness’ to the world.

However, most accounts of Nigeria’s soft power do not interrogate in any depth the value of BBNaija as a conduit for the transmission of the country’s popular culture. Given the paucity of academic discourse on soft power and soft power resources in Nigeria and Africa more broadly, the study seeks to offer an analytical critique of the viability of BBN. This study is perhaps the first attempt to explore the utility of BBN for Nigeria’s foreign policy beyond the entertainment value that is typically inherent in the show. In a period where the government officials in Nigeria are paying scant attention to the importance, utility, and effectiveness of soft power and its potency for transforming negative perception of its people, it is hoped that this study will offer a different narrative on the utility of the country’s creative and entertainment industry.

Akinola E. Akinlolu is with Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria  and Olusola Ogunnubi  is with SARChI African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.