“I’m the star of the show, with a few supporting characters of course.”
On any other person not named Genevieve Nnaji or Rita Dominic, mouthing these words would seem like a tacky descent into the bowels of self-delusion. But for Ngozi ‘Erica’ Nlewedim, actress and reality television star, the words only felt oddly prescient.
And what a way to introduce oneself to their largest audience yet. Nlewedim had recently auditioned to be part of Big Brother Naija Lockdown, the fifth season of the most watched television event this side of the continent. Because of coronavirus induced restrictions, potential housemate auditions were moved online and selections were made virtually.
Ngozi ‘Erica’ Nlewedim soon to be known by a single name only, as is the case with participants of Big Brother Naija was one of the twenty people to be selected in a pared down season going ahead amidst shelter-in-place measures.
Prior to Big Brother Naija, Nlewedim had been working the circuit, acting in television and film, including a supporting role in the 2019 film, Hire a Woman. She’d studied in Lagos and in London and produced her own short film, Mercy Mercy. Her career may have been in the up and coming stages, but even from the amateurish audition clip, her star power was visible.
Blessed with a pretty face- which she considers her biggest asset- and a sugary sweet smile, Nlewedim worked both to her advantage in the clip. Dishing out oodles of come hither looks, she flirted and charmed her way to the hearts of the viewers who would eventually rally around to form her considerable support base while in the house. Like the actress that she is, Nlewedim came into the house ready for her closeup. Everyone else around her orbit would be relegated to supporting status.
It didn’t happen instantly though.
Nlewedim struggled to stand out on the first night when housemates were unveiled. Audiences seemed to gravitate to physical attributes and social media currency when deciding on whom to lavish their attention on. Thus the fast rising musician, endorsed by his more established colleagues, the big bosom-ed contender and another former beauty queen seemed to be leading the polls. By the third day though, Nlewedim was the 4th most talked about housemate in the Lockdown house amassing almost twenty four thousand posts across various social media platforms. By the third week, she was comfortably leading the polls on most engaged housemates with an average of over one hundred and five thousand posts in her honor.
Nlewedim pushed through the fray using a combination of beauty, brains and a winning, winsome spirit. But it was scandal, that old magnet of actresses and reality television stars alike that took her over the top and ensured that whoever won Big Brother Naija Lockdown, the season would as much be defined as Erica Nlewedim as it would the winner.
Taking seriously her promise of delivering leading lady content, Nlewedim wasted no time in becoming entangled in the season’s most explosive romantic triangle. Because one love interest would be basic, she entertained advances from both Kiddwaya, son of a notoriously wealthy London-based socialite and Laycon, a fast-rising rapper. It was the stuff romantic comedies are made of, except there was no happy ending to be found here. Her heart went with Kiddwaya. And most of her actions subsequently seemed to be colored by this development. But she also appeared to be fond of Laycon, who had begun to amass popularity the moment he stepped into the house. She tried to let him down gently, coming up with the line about enjoying the so-called cerebral attraction she shared with him. It was a sticky situation worsened by the fact that they were all enclosed in the same space with limited outlets for expression.
Perhaps, Nlewedim could have handled the Laycon rejection more sensitively. Perhaps she did the best that she could considering the circumstances. In any case the failed resolution of this triangle would eventually lead to her downfall as sentiments like broken promises, personal space and inner demons came into play.
Queen of Hearts
It isn’t always a single, isolated reason that audiences gravitate to a particular person the way that they have done with Nlewedim but in her case it isn’t hard to see why. Long accustomed to the camera, Nlewedim knew how to work it to flatter her most attractive features. A smile here, a seductive look there, maybe even a twerk dance for good measure. She appeared composed and erratic, sensual yet innocent, messy yet lovable. She flirted outrageously with the camera, the audience and with her fellow housemates but all of it seemed in good fun. Part of the game.
Her bubbly personality was infectious and this often played out during her diary sessions where she could be expected to pour out her heart, holding nothing back and chatting with Big Brother like a long lost friend. Her emotions were often laid bare, without malice or deception and what you saw was usually what you got.
She was also quite bold and sexually liberated. She took ownership of her body and sexuality, going exactly as far she wanted to go without fear of judgement. She was filmed in a position considered to be compromising at least once. And would at some point confess to a fellow housemate that she did “everything” with Kiddwaya after spending a night with him in the Head of House lounge, leaving little to the imagination.
But all of this did not succeed at hiding a dark streak that was often exacerbated by alcohol binges, most notably at the Saturday night parties. Deeply insecure, with psychological tensions that in her own estimation could be traced to her upbringing by a single parent, Nlewedim battled demons of her own. She couldn’t quite forgive a slight, no matter how trivial and seemed to be have a puzzling need to be liked by everybody.
Even though her relationship with Kiddwaya seemed to be based off physical attraction initially, she soon started to expect more from him and this expectation together with the associated anxiety would often push her to the edge. At some point, she made it quite clear that she was bored of the innuendos and sexual talk that seemed to spice up their relationship.
Nlewedim also had trouble respecting constituted authority. She was quite reckless and seemed to enjoy flirting with danger. On more occasions than one, she let her emotions get the better of her. All of this came to a close on the night before she received her third and final strike and was consequently disqualified.
In one of the most disturbing encounters on display in Big Brother Naija history, Nlewedim unraveled completely on live television as she tore into Laycon, hurling invectives at him for what she considered terrible behavior on his part.
This long-winded, mostly one-sided attack was also extended towards persons once considered allies. She maliciously poured water on the bed occupied by Prince, her own deputy head of house, effectively shutting him out of the room. By the next morning when she came to her senses and apologised to the mates, it was pretty clear her game was up. Not since Tacha last year has a housemate so close to going all the way bungled it so spectacularly and horrendously, simply because they could not exercise self- discipline when it mattered most.
From the earliest evictions in the Lockdown house, Nlewedim’s fanbase began to build up organically and she made it easy for them for a while, developing a cute rapport with the housemates and generating content with the triangle. Mixing beauty with brains and moxie, she was a competitive housemate, emerging Head of House twice, keeping her safe from evictions. Her alignment with Kiddwaya and incredible voting support from her Elites- as her fanbase came to be known as- also ensured she stayed untouched by the threat of ending up in the bottom four.
The chemistry between Nlewedim and Kiddwaya was palpable as both of them literally couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Both of them, incredibly good looking and with vibrant personalities, seemed perfect for each other, at least as far as the fans were concerned. Their relationship, even when it wasn’t clearly defined by both parties became one of the season’s highlights. What was going to happen next? Would they make love on screen? Would Big Brother be brave enough to show it?
The viewers weren’t the only ones invested in the Erica-Kiddwaya relationship. Other housemates seemed to have their own ideas about whatever was going on and Nlewedim found herself constantly having to navigate all of these external factors, a lot of them negative. She considered Nengi a threat. Prince didn’t think the relationship was real, neither did Wathoni. Lucy dismissed her leadership as one controlled by Kiddwaya. Laycon was somewhere nursing his rejection. Vee was protective of her friend, thus hostile to Nlewedim. And on and on. All of these must have contributed to the ugly meltdown that eventually sent her packing on day 49 of the 70-day game.
Even with all of these challenges, up until her last day in the house, it still seemed like the game was Nlewedim’s to lose. Her fans were rocksteady, she was in good enough spirits and her rapport with fellow housemates was mostly cordial. She only needed to get out of her own way in order to get to the finals and maybe even claim the 85million Naira prize.
Making things difficult for even the most dependable of fans, Nlewedim’s motorcade sputtered rather than zoomed along. She got her first strike for whispering away from her microphone and got a second one soon after for disrespecting the rules concerning the head of house lounge. In addition, for flipping off the camera, behavior considered disrespectful, both to Big Brother and the viewers, she was issued a strong warning.
Her Big Brother Naija journey may have come to an end abruptly and in the most dishonorable of ways but as it has turned out, things might be far from over for Erica Nlewedim. The show is great for the winners who can take advantage of the considerable prize money to pursue their dreams but many former housemates have had their lives changed irrevocably simply by participating.
Host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu who finished 8th in the debut Big Brother Naija season back in 2006 is perhaps the show’s biggest success story, outperforming every winner since then in terms of visibility and relevance. More recently, ex-housemates like Bisola Aiyeola and even Tobi Bakre who have both chosen to pursue careers in entertainment have remained visible even when winners in their respective season Efe Ejeba and Miracle Onuoha have since faded into obscurity.
With present momentum on her side, Erica Nlewedim certainly has the potential to go all the way regardless of who wins the season. Hours after she was disqualified, a GoFundMe account was started by her fans to compensate their star girl. Sixteen days after starting the fund drive, almost half of the target $100,000 has been raised. Like Tacha before her, she seems to be settling into the role of social media influencer, trending hashtags at will both regionally and worldwide. Her first Instagram live video following her reflective phase- which she incidentally chose to do on the same night as a tepid #BBNaija party- quickly amassed over 30,000 viewers within a short space of time.
The social media influencer/brand ambassador route seems a tad uninspired especially for someone with as much wattage as Nlewedim but it seems like the obvious choice right now considering the entertainment industry is still yet to recover from the coronavirus slump. Many reality television stars come out of the show with big dreams only to be faced with the realities of an unforgiving industry. Nlewedim seems like she is in a good position to make it work for herself and the coming weeks will be key to modelling what her post Big Brother Naija career will look like.
She’s done films and television but her acting talent isn’t quite established yet. If she has dreams of becoming the leading lady that was promised in the audition tapes, then it would be wise to embrace this moment as the beginning of her journey and not the destination.
Being that person who bungled the chance of winning 85 million Naira must be tough. But becoming a star- and remaining one- takes plenty of discipline and dedication. And a willingness to commit to the work that is required. Otherwise, well there is the flavor of the month.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.