By Ivan Whyte Lawson
Where do I start from?From going for BBN auditions to turning to a casualty specialist and helping admit unconscious bodies in the hospital?
Mentally traumatized:Permit me this tautology.
The blood and mangled flesh I have seen this morning alone could fill up a 400 page photo album if I took pictures.
I have never been happier to be back home.
As early as 5am this morning,my mum phoned me.
I told her I was preparing to head to Ikeja for the Big Brother Naija auditions,and she seemed hesitant in responding.
I expected her to wish ‘good luck’ or something similar,but my mum’s voice sounded a little worried.
She just told me to call her once I arrived the venue.
So ‘Vroooom’—I zoomed through traffic and rolled into Aromire avenue,Ikeja to meet the longest and thickest sea of humans I had ever seen in my entire life.
Three packed-out world standard stadiums had nothing on the crowd of humans I saw on that street this morning.
It wasn’t yet 7am yet,but nothing less than 13,500 humans were sandwiched on that road already—and caused traffic congestion that stretched from Oregun into Awolowo way and diagonally upwards towards Allen and Sheraton hotels.
Instantly, reality hit me. This wasn’t an audition. This was just a formality for the cameras.
More than 90% of the people who had shown up for the audition didn’t have international passports.
Many even boasted about it openly.
More than 80% learnt of the auditions from friends who told them:’Come try your luck na—you fit win N45 million.’
At least 60% of the crowd ‘applying’ weren’t entertainment inclined, nor even understood what the essence of the show was.
They just saw it as an ‘awoof gamble’ that did not require cash to participate.
I won’t talk about the guys that were wearing wigs,plaiting coloured hair,slinging non-functional guitars and wearing stage costume. (Even a cross-dressed male with artificial eye lashes,female clothing and heels also came to audition.)
It is the stampeding that I want to talk of.
I watched a girl clutch at my legs with her last will-power and beg:’Help me’—before hundreds of legs stomped her out of sight beneath the ocean of feet.
I hope she survived. In less than five minutes of trying to hew my way through 7,000 grimy bodies and get to the gate,my white and green customized Tee-shirt tore in three places and I was looking like a tunnel bomb explosion survivor who slept in a dust bin.
A lady trying to scale the perimeter fence got slashed on the upper thigh with sharp steel and narrowly missed dissecting her vagina by a few cm.
See blood like a fountain.
International Passport and phone thieves had a field day too,and 6 out of every 10 people had their shoes trapped under collapsed metal—never to be found again.
A seedy guy who fell from the top of the security post was trampled upon by a lady and her stiletto heels tore his septum(skin dividing nose into nostrils) off.
I watched as this guy held his injured nose and cried like a baby as people trampled him over like he was some abandoned sack of yam peelings. No body send am.
Within the three hours I lingered around that venue trying to get in,I saw about eight women slumping unconscious and being raised above the heads and passed from hand to hand like the way they moved ladies that fainted in Michael Jackson’s live concerts.
And trust me—the ones whose lifeless bodies were even lifted and passed above the sea of heads—out of the melee of bodies were the lucky ones.
Many collapsed from lack of oxygen and were trampled upon for like 10 minutes first before some considerate human called for rescue.
A lot of the candidates had arrived the venue as early as 1am today and had stood till 7am without a morsel of food and water—before commencing pushing,huffing and struggling,falling and rolling.
My height saved me from sustaining grave injury by being mowed over and trampled to an inch of my life.
But in quick minutes,my white shirt sleeves became a pallete board for all the colours of brown facial foundation and multi-coloured make up the ladies pressing all over me wore.
There was no kind of dirt,pancake powder,eye pencil crayon,nude lip stick and bronzer that wasn’t smudged on my shirt.
And did I mention that for every male in this audition,there were 10 females?
Yes. Slay queens didn’t come to play at all. Two whole hours of pushing,nearly falling, regaining balance,having girls complain that you are elbowing their breasts,having your scrotum squashed by all kinds of rear ends…
By the time I managed to burrow myself to the gate after my sneaker managed to survive being trampled on by at least 25 different pairs of feet without shredding into pieces—I was looking more like someone auditioning to be an Okada man than someone auditioning for a reality show.
When the bouncers at the gate rolled the gate close and stopped letting anyone else in,I knew this was my cue.
I clawed myself out with whatever remnant of gracefulness I could scrape up and started striding towards Allen roundabout fiddling with my phone and trying to book a Gokada to come whisk me straight home.
Then I heard my name. I turned and saw my producer—Greyhome Richards looking all neat and sharp.
Even though I envied that he had honourably stayed away from the whole madness and just calmly watched,I was glad to see someone I knew.
We shook hands and laughed out about the whole sorry situation the future leaders of this country were suffering for N45 million—while crossing the road to get coffee from one of these mobile vendors. Then I saw it.
A guy was lying on the side of the road in just underpants matted in wet sand,filth and an oddly angled right arm. He was frothing from his mouth in near throes of death and breathing laboriously.
Audition contestants were standing around gisting and laughing—paying no heed to the dying guy lying right before them. Some even crossed his body and flicked more sand on his face,and a couple just stood around video capturing his shame without trying to help.
I drew closer to the supine guy with Shadrack and crouched next to him asking what happened?
Was he asthmatic?
Did he have a health condition?
Did he have a phone where we could reach out to a family member?
Could we get him to a hospital?
In few minutes,I gathered Three things:
(1) He had fallen from the high fence while trying to scale,dislocated his right arm and had a near fatal seizure.
(2) He had immediately been so trampled by a horde of boots against the broken metal barricade;that his entire clothes had been torn beyond recognition—and so they had to be peeled off his body and stacked in a messy heap close-by while his near-lifeless body was dragged across the road and deposited beside the gutter.
(3) His I-phones had been stolen,plus his wallet, credit cards,international passport with Dublin and Canada Visas.
I rallied some kind-hearted Nigerians to help us get an ambulance,because I knew what death looked like and the eyes I saw there were already one step out of this world.
Only two girls and another well built guy worked with me and eventually we hefted the dude into an Uber cab (after about two declined—for fear of the man dying in their cabs),and I directed the cab to Lagoon hospital on Balogun bus stop, ,Awolowo way.
In the critical case unit,we met another Big Brother Naija stampede victim.
Her flesh had been ripped open from her thigh to her abdomen and you could literally see the whites of her bone.
Buying an admission card in Lagoon hospitals is about N30,000 and a simple stitch on wound operation is N28,000!
I learnt her boyfriend had rushed down to the hospital after she was brought there to settle what he could.
In fact,administering a local unaesthetic injection alone cost over N18,000—and because the boyfriend could not afford that,the girl was advised to bite a pillow and endure being stitched raw!!!
I almost shed a tear watching the whole thing.
A doctor walked past me and was discussing with the boyfriend about how she had type I Diabetes and how he hoped her bleached skin would allow proper healing.
The girl was crying and moaning ‘Jesus’.
The guy I brought was starting to have spasms again and started speaking deliriously and trying to tumble off the wheel chair we wheeled him in.
He kept saying:’Mummy, please hold me. Jesus ooo…’
I asked the doctor to give him a bed and run tests,and was told I had to pay for a card first. N28,000. Then treatment and daily admission
I told the doctor that I wasn’t related to the guy in any way,but was just a concerned Nigerian who happened to be at the auditions’ venue when he collapsed, and couldn’t just watch him die.
Doctor said hospital policies were hospital policies and he had no power there.
Then he asked me a question.
Why was I carrying another person’s cross?
I sat back and stared in disbelief.
How could a human ask such a monstrously diabolical question?
I was supposed to let him die because the ‘cross wasn’t mine to bear?’
The guy started sputtering and convulsing violently while stabbing the air—and again reality hit me.
I was about to have a dead human with no traceable identity piled on me,and I knew I couldn’t run out on him at this state.
I made a quick decision:
‘Please get this man treated—dammit—I will make a transfer. Please hurry NOW!!
I watched him being wheeled into the ICU unit,and an attendant escorted me to a section where I was given an account number to transfer the patient registration levy.
I used my Stanbic IBTC where I saved my rent money and wailed inwardly as I received the debit alert.
Then I sat and waited.
In the course of the over two hours I was there, about 23 casualties from the Big Brother Naija stampede were rushed in.
Many ran back because of the cut-neck cost of treatment there. I saw things today.
A lady rushed in with her twin sister that had been dealt a glancing brush by a speeding Mack tipper while standing by the edge of the road.
The lady had been thrown head first into a gutter where she struck her head on the concrete curb and cracked her skull.
As soon as the mum rushed into the reception and saw her other daughter, she slumped.
A guy had toppled over while climbing the audition venue fence—and had dislocated his jaw and neck.
A lady had fallen bottom-first—or rather—forcefully trip-sat on a rusty sharp steel prong while being pushed back and forth in the melee—and had her anus torn into bloody bits.
I’m tired of writing.
I’m sure as many who attended this Lagos audition saw these and many more.
The guy I brought in was eventually stabilized and placed on drip.
I was allowed to see him.
Fair chubby guy with Jeri curled hair.
He was still very weak,but he thanked me profusely and begged I wait until his brother arrived so he could repay me. He was able to read out his brother’s number, which I dialed on my phone and called.
One hour later, the brother bounded into the hospital hyperventilating and asking what ward Chisom was in.
I dragged my scruffy,trampled and stained body out of the hospital without revealing myself to the brother.
And found my way home.
I have been thinking.
What kind of auditions do the organizers hope to achieve with such a structure?
What is the use of throwing a free open audition where just anybody can just
walk in and play around?
Yes. I can tell you for free that out of that vast sea of humans,not up to 100 were ELIGIBLE for a reality show audition based on the requirements they were looking for.
Comedians dressed like circus carnival clowns,dancers wearing cheap shiny costumes styled in the recycled forms of what church dance crews generally wear,cross-dressed males wearing female cultural dance attire,guys fixing Darling Yaki weave-on on their hair and Xpression attachment on their beards…
Where is the line between being unique—and being an Isoko Yam festival masquerade?
So why wouldn’t the organizers just device an online modality of screening out the ones they don’t need within four to five screening levels—and call for physical auditions when they have the last most eligible 100 from each zone/area?
You can imagine that DSTV Nigeria never really did much publicity on radio,Newspaper or NTA—but had such an explosive turn-up of candidates and audition applicants (almost 31,000 in Lagos alone as at last count).
The bulk of the publicity was done on social media.
Imagine if preliminary screenings were also done on social media/internet.
Imagine how much more interesting the auditions would be
But just look at the mess I saw today.
Even at 10 candidates per session,the judges would get tired before 500—800 people and start to rush through the whole thing.
Plus how much merit does the whole exercise demand?
Some leap over fences,and gamble with their lives to get in first.
Not like they are exactly eligible though.
Remember…this isn’t Gulder ultimate search auditions.
Some other eligible ones don’t fancy risking their lives this way,and stay calm and put—but do not get the chance of auditioning. Ever.
What of safety?
What of security?
What happens if Boko Haram chooses to strike in such large gathering?
People risking their lives,dying and getting injured for auditions that require candidates to breeze in cool,relaxed and and answer questions naturally.
I think the government needs to step in here and regulate the way auditions hold in this country.
Why does no one seem to care?
You could actually die a gruesome death and the show would still go on —oblivious of your existence or death.
And is there anyone here that has photos or video clips of Ebuka ochendu, Uti Nwachukwu, Miracle T Boss,Cee-C or Tobi when they were doing the blind auditions with the sea of others?
There is something I need to understand.
And today was a working day, Friday—and the crowd was almost 36,000 in Lagos alone.
How will tomorrow’s auditions be on Saturday—a work free day?
I am getting a lot of calls about tomorrow’s auditions.
Please I value my life. And my limbs.
Every single attire I wore today has been destroyed—including my wrist watch and shoe—and I never even got into the hall.
I hear some people were even paying money to be allowed in. God.
Making money off people they already know will never enter the house?
For the umpteenth time… Nigeria has caught up with me.