Citing fears of a possible spread of COVID-19 among inmates, Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, has asked the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to take Big Brother Naija (BBN) off the air.
The reality show, which entered its fifth season on July 20, is one of the most watched programmes on cable TV in Nigeria.
TheCable reports that on Wednesday, Armstrong Idachaba, acting director-general of the NBC, told senior management members that he had been directed by the minister to shut down the show.
The commission was to use fears of spread of COVID-19 as the reason, citing directives from the presidential task force (PTF), insiders said.
Mohammed reportedly wanted the letter shutting down the show to come from the NBC because of the general opinion that he is bent on sending MultiChoice Ltd, producers of the show, out of Nigeria.
He is believed to have launched political moves against MultiChoice in order to pave the way for his main consultant to make a return to Pay TV after previously failing.
However, insiders told TheCable that the NBC management was not well disposed to the move to shut down BBN, with some of them saying there was no basis for it.
A director is said to have reminded the meeting that NBC had already sought explanation from Multichoice on a possible violation of COVID-19 protocols with the airing of the show.
The letter was sent on July 1, before the show began.
MultiChoice replied with detailed explanations on measures taken in collaboration with the Lagos state government, whose agency, Lagos State Safety Commission, gave the green light for the show.
Also, MultiChoice said in the letter that housemates had been screened prior to the show and that the BBN House had been decontaminated and adapted to ensure sufficient physical distancing, in addition to eliminating the use of live audience.
All inmates went through a mandatory two-week isolation during which COVID-19 symptoms would have manifested if they had the disease.
A second director is said to have told the meeting that participants of the show had maintained the safety protocols, notably generous use of hand sanitisers, since it started on Sunday.
Idachaba, who is reportedly fighting to be confirmed as the substantive DG, was asked to request the minister for a written directive.
However, the acting DG was said to have told the meeting that he would have no other option than to carry out Mohammed’s order — the same way he altered the broadcast code to please the minister despite public outcry.
The minister could not be reached for comments as he did not pick his phone or reply messages.
The ministry’s spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, also did not respond to calls.
Joe Mutah, Mohammed’s chief press secretary, directed all enquiries to NBC.
Idachaba, in his response to TheCable, simply said BBN will not be taken off air but did not provide any further information.