Nigerian Subscribers besiege Multichoice’s Abuja office to get connected to view new season of Big Brother Africa

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An unusually large number of subscribers besieged the Abuja office of Multichoice yesterday to get connected or reconnected to the network cable. The surge was caused by subscribers wanting to view this year's Big Brother Africa, which started Sunday. Due to its run-in with Nigeria’s legislators over the last season of the programme, Multichoice has been requiring subscribers to indicate that they were willing to receive the programme.

"I notice that there are a lot of people here," Chief Chide Ikoroha, an estate valuer, told This Day. "This is my second time of coming here. I was here in the morning and was asked to come back in the evening. Now I am here. I think that, because Big Brother Africa is showing, everybody wants to make sure that their systems have the programme."

Subscribers who spoke to This Day said a message appeared on their decoders two weeks ago asking them to send their smart card numbers to Multichoice, if they wished to receive Big Brother.

Some subscribers, including Ikoroha, said that they responded to the message but that they were not connected. "A lot of people responded, but nothing happened," Ikoroha said. "So people resorted to coming physically to the Multichoice office. I for one responded. I for one sent my smart card twice and was not connected.

"Unfortunately, a lot people did not get the message, or did not pay attention, or respond until Big Brother Africa started yesterday (Sunday)," Mrs. Onoshe Nwabikwu told This Day. Nwabikwu who writes about multimedia and keeps a column in Saturday This Day, Airwaves, added that such scrambling is not unusual. "For some reasons, Nigerians don't do things on time and usually people leave their subscriptions dormant until there is a major event like the World Cup, Champions Leagues or even the Premiership."

People have the option of renewing by paying through banks but, according to Ikoroha, even when this is the case, they still have to come to the Multichoice office to activate their systems. "I think that, to solve this problem, Multichoice should open more outlets. Everyone in Abuja coming to one office has become cumbersome."

Like every subscriber who wanted to be connected to Big Brother, Chide Ikoroha was asked to fill a "Multichoice request for Big Brother activation". Before now, owners of DStv decoders were not required to go through this process. The programme was beamed straight into their homes. So the requirement of formal authority to receive the programme is new and comes as a result of controversies raised by past editions, especially the last edition, of the programme.

It will be recalled that the National Assembly had at some point indicated that it would ban the programme because of the nudity contents of the popular show. This position was later clarified to mean that explicit sexual scenes should be edited out and, where they are aired, it should be after 10 o'clock in the night. The clarification also raised the age of viewers from 16 to 18.

According to Nwabikwu, "it has come to a point where parents have to ensure children below 18 do not watch the programme. "The other challenge, which I don't know how this is going to change things, is viewing the programme in public places. From what I understand, public establishments are supposed to have different subscription from private places.

"But people don't always indicate whether they are using their decoders in public places. Someone should make sure that Big Brother and other programmes like it are not seen in the wrong places. I think that NBC (Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation) is the institution which has that responsibility. The regulator has the responsibility of what should be shown or not shown in programmes. But I personally feel that, as long as such programmes are direct to home, heads of families at a point have the greater responsibility of ensuring that they check what goes into their homes.

"Another thing is that people rushing to renew their subscriptions, of course, shows that people want to watch this programme, not because they want to indulge in depravity. And it does not mean that, if a lot of people want to watch what is bad, what is bad becomes the norm or the standard.

"I personally don't like the shower hour in Big Brother. It is a sad thing that I should sit down and watch a programme and, at the height of my excitement, I see people bathing naked.

"If our lawmakers say that they are representing the people, and that they are legislating for the people, they must have a way of finding out what the majority of people want, and making some adjustments to reach some balance because, if people really want to watch the programme, an outright ban would not be the right way to go."