At this point, it might seem as though the #MeToo movement and all that it stands for has been overflogged. We have always known about sexual assault and harassment, going on in our workplaces and relationships and elsewhere. But it took the Harvey Weinstein sexual allegation scandal to fling us into a firmament where consequences are real and swift, and pushing for a much broader cultural discussion on a subset of issues like consent and insidious gender-related socializations as regards to sex.
Before Harvey Weinstein, though, there was the reality TV show Big Brother Naija, a modern incarnation of Big Brother Nigeria which first aired in 2006 and represented a localized, accessible version of the franchise. Last season was fun and compelling and tumultuous, from Thin Tall Tony stripping naked in a personal campaign for votes barely five days into the show to the short-lived theory amongst viewers that Miyonse could be gay. Mushroom romances sprung everywhere and withered. Out of 12 housemates, Efe immaculately emerged as winner with a prize money of
N25 million, widely loved by Nigerians for his lowly background. But this wasn’t the only thing that made the show unforgettable: the disqualification of Kemen from the house for inappropriate sexual behaviour towards TBoss.
At the time of writing this piece, I studied footage of the incident from slightly different vantage points, and came to the conclusion that Kemen’s eviction was the right call – violating house rules first of all and not seeking consent from TBoss before touching her. It was disgusting predatory behaviour on his part, and his toxic presence had to be flushed out to ostensibly give the show some kind of credibility. “I don’t think they were fair but in their perception of the scenario, it is normal for them to take the decision they took because it was necessary at that time based on how sensitive they were to the issue.” Kemen said in a 2017 New Telegraph interview. And when asked if TBoss had led him on, he said, “There was no leading on, I and TBoss had a cordial relationship. There was no leading of any sort and there was no case of molestation.”
Cordial relationships, as we have known them, have been grounds to perpetuate sexual misconduct and assault, the belief that men can gain access to women’s bodies based on their proximity to them. The textbook definition of rape is running into obsolescence, its “creepy guy jumping out of bush and using force on woman” trope is no longer adequate in analyzing the many, harmful forms in which women are still being degraded and abused. Like the Unilag Olodo rape allegation, in which the accused had allegedly performed oral sex on the victim. Kemen took advantage of TBoss when she was sleeping and therefore vulnerable, and he is one of the thousands of men conditioned to devalue consent where it matters.
Kemen has since rendered an apology, but that piece of controversy, in retrospect, feels like an ominous dispatch, a harbinger of a cancerous evil in the form of Harvey Weinstein. And as Big Brother Naija makes a return this Sunday for a third season, with a pump in its prize money, we will be watching even more closely than before, scrutinizing every move and word. Among the artistes billed to perform for the opening show is Kiss Daniel, who, just two weeks ago, gave a tone-deaf defence for his 2017 hit single Yeba by playing down its triggers on sexual assault and harassment.
It all makes for a tragic confluence: Daniel’s set list, if it will include that problematic song, will shit on Big Brother Naija’s effective dealing of the TBoss-Kemen sexual assault case. It will also reveal the dishonesty in the show’s politics. Taken together, this will be a season beamed through the lens of a new social currency, where men are asking if it’s safe to date women now and women are feeling increasingly fearless. And, when the housemates are finally revealed and they settle down to form bonds and relationships, I won’t be surprised if these kind of conversations take over.