Young people are watching “MTV Shuga Naija” and you should too

MTV Shuga

Do young people watch TV? This was the question I asked myself during the press cycle for the sixth season of MTV Shuga Naija. The show was making a return to Nigeria since the fourth season, coming up with taglines like #NothingStaysTheSame and the introduction of a slew of new cast members. Social media constantly heaved with the hype and it awakened the #Shugafam, a constituency full of young Africans pushing and supporting a show they have loved since its Kenya-based debut in 2009.

When I think of MTV Shuga Naija, buzzy, youthful shows like CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why come to mind. Of course, the issues these shows and MTV Shuga Naija explore are different, but it’s important to recognise the audience they are made for and how online engagement and conversations can boost ratings. With just three episodes released since debuting on March 6, MTV Shuga Naija and its iconography is well-preserved and locked in today’s youth culture. For the first time, the show tweaked its DNA to accommodate characters from Northern Nigeria, characters that are destroying the stereotype of the coy, prudish Hausa woman.

Played by Rahama Sadau, Yasmin is married, and serving as a high school teacher for NYSC. She is also armed with knowledge on reproductive health, talking to her class about contraceptives with a warm, open air. Hadiza (Amal Umar) is a new student in the same school, and always manages to be in the radar of Queen Diana the Bully (I’m calling her that, yes) and her obsequious, impenetrable clique. Helena Nelson isn’t playing with the role of Diana, though: she’s the show’s most noticeable character, smooth-tongued and lacquered, skimpy skirt and gloss.

“You can still get pregnant while having sex standing,” Hadiza informs Diana in the third episode, expecting to be rebuffed. MTV Shuga Naija drops these kind of myth-busting information, or just goes for general enlightenment. Still on the episode, however, the about-to-have-sex scene with Tobi and Leila pivots towards safe sex. But it’s surprising that Tobi checks for a condom in his wallet and discovers that there’s none. Like, why do men still keep condoms in their wallets? Apart from the friction that is inflicted on the rubber when the wallet opens and closes, causing the quality to deteriorate, I find it a little classless. Sorry guys, my opinion.

As Tobi and Leila, Timini Egbuson and Jemima Osunde are reprising their roles, same with Olumide Oworu as Weki and Sharon Ezeamaka as Princess. On social media, it’s interesting to see how the show is sparking layered, nuanced conversations amongst young people, talking about the characters they find relatable and resonating. One of them is Faa (Adebukola Oladipupo), who is hustling her way as a video vixen in the music industry, while her adolescent brother Ebisinde (Abayomi Alvin) tries to “man up” to fill in the vacuum of responsibility that their alcoholic father has created.

Unlike the South African season before it, MTV Shuga Naija has no LGBTQ character. This is disappointing because, so far, the show’s HIV/AIDS campaign drive and sexual health education has been skewed towards heterosexual youths. If Nigeria still remains the location for a seventh season, perhaps Chris Ihidero, who is this season’s producer, can explore a gay subplot? Revealed as one of the returning directors for MTV Shuga Naija, Tope Oshin isn’t a stranger to the show’s unique brand of youth appeal. Her current project with human rights agency TIERs is the upcoming feature film We Don’t Live Here Anymore, which follows the story of two teenage boys in high school and their relationship.

In the modern era, MTV Shuga Naija is positioning itself as a show with more cultural weight, and not just pop TV junk food. The show understands audience engagement, which is why polls are run during and at the end of each episode, with helplines displayed to entertain questions viewers might have. As I have written before, we need more shows like MTV Shuga Naija, a welcome alternative to lumpy sex education in high schools and the sex talk that parents find dreadful and awkward. By next episode, I’ll be live-tweeting for the first time with other enthusiastic young people from around the continent. Or #Shugafam, as they call them.

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