What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up.
“Man Like” is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
The subject of today’s Man Like is Ezra. He’s the co-founder of Paystack, a payment solution company. He talks about painting his nails, avoiding police trouble, and the struggles that come with being the first child.
When was the first time life showed you that you were now a man?
I don’t know if it came as you’re a man and you have to man up. It was more like you’re the firstborn and you’re now out of school, and your siblings have to finish their education. Your dad that was responsible for everyone is no longer in the picture so you have to step up. At the time, I was earning small money while trying to pay for the education of my siblings and also give them pocket money. At some point, I think I was sending money to my mum too.
For me, the ultimate aim was for my siblings to become independent because I was only expecting myself to be the breadwinner for as long as necessary.
I’m curious: how old were you?
I think I was 21 or 22. I left uni just before turning 20, so I had gotten a job by then. This was around 2006/2007, and I was the breadwinner until my siblings got out of uni around 2012/13.
Man. How did this affect your growth?
I remember having a conversation with my mum about this. At that time in my life, I felt like I was making money (however small) but I wasn’t able to save up and do things for myself. For the most part, getting a car was super far-fetched. Every time I attempted saving for something substantial, something would happen that would take the funds. That was a little bit unsettling for me. And it was easy to blame my inability to do things on the fact that I had to take care of my siblings and mum.
In retrospect, it’s funny to see how my finances have evolved to the point where I’m comfortable enough to take care of those concerns in the past and not necessarily think about it.
What’s one difference between not having enough and being comfortable now?
Peace of mind. And not getting upset. I don’t know if I was upset at myself or with the people making the request. There’s the powerlessness when a need comes from your family and you don’t have the funds for it. It’s worse when you know that you shouldn’t be at this point in your life because you can see your friends doing well. You know that these friends can easily take care of the problems you’re struggling with.
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen again. If I can’t take care of something right now, it just means that I don’t have the resources for it today. Because I can plan properly, I feel more in charge of myself and my emotions and how I face difficulties.
Pls, do giveaway.
What’s your biggest fear?
Nigerian policemen scare me. When I’m driving from point A to B, I’m mentally picturing the route where I have lesser chances of encountering policemen. It’s definitely going to be a longer route, but I’ll be more at rest.
I think the police trouble started with my hair in 2011. That’s when I became a regular customer. I’ve ended up writing statements in the police station over ridiculous things — like carrying a laptop in my bag.
There was a day I closed from work by 9 p.m. and left the office to get suya. Somehow somehow, I landed in the police station because I got stopped. After delaying me for an hour, they finally let me go home that night. After that incident, there have been random stops and questioning where you can tell that the police officer is trying to get to a point where they have something on you. And if they don’t, they invent something.
Thankfully, I’ve not been flogged or rushed. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been hit, and I can’t remember because of the beating. I won’t say that I’ve had some of the other scary experiences that people have had.
It’s annoying because I’m not someone that likes wahala. All I’m trying to do is get from point A to B in peace. It’s not like I’m an outgoing person either, so I barely go out or go long distances. I’m just going down the road, and I end up getting stopped by the police. Usually, the encounter with the police lasts longer than the trip itself, and I also end up parting with money.
What’s the most money you’ve parted with at once?
₦40,000 – ₦50,000.
Man, fuck the police.
Moving on to happier things, I’d like to hear about your style inspirations.
I remember relaxing my hair when I was uni and wearing it all back. During that time, even though there was no official rule against that kind of hairstyle, the school authorities gave me so much trouble. At the end of the day, I ended up cutting the hair.
Immediately I got out of uni, I felt I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, so I started growing my hair. Then I started plaiting it around 08/09. In 2010, I decided to cut it off and have dreadlocks instead. On one of the days I was getting my hair done at the salon, I decided to paint my nails and I liked it. And that just became a thing I started doing as well.
Basically, I am just being me. I don’t let the societal constraints that define what’s expected of a man or Ezra define me. I do what I want as long as I’m happy with it. Another thing that fascinates me is androgynous clothing and appearance. Unfortunately, I’ve not had a lot of them. Apart from a couple of sweaters, most of my clothing is the stereotypical guy clothing — T-shirts.
Interesting. Don’t you care about what people will say?
I dunno. Part of it might be realising that whatever you say or do will not stop people from still asking questions again tomorrow. I’ve developed general apathy towards people’s feelings. I will continue being myself.
Does this extend to your family members?
My mum is not going to continuously hammer on the same thing. Yes, she brought it up, but after I explained to her, she was fine. My siblings never questioned my choices though. I don’t know if that’s out of respect or…
In the beginning, it probably started out like why is my elder brother painting his nails or ordering this and that. Then it progressed to I can’t talk to him because he’s my elder brother. Now, I think it has become I’m very proud of my elder brother being able to do this without caring what people say about him.
I’m crying in the club.
You said something about your dad being out of the picture. What was that about?
Long and short was that he cheated on my mum.
It’s wild because he was a regional overseer in Deeper Life church. That meant our house was very spiritual. By the time I was six, I had finished reading the bible like twice.
Wait. Did you just say Man of God?
It doesn’t mean that he’s not a man. Lmao.
The cheating wasn’t once, but this particular one broke the proverbial camel’s back. And that’s because he moved in with the person. It was the way he handled everything that made me realise that I don’t want to have anything to do with this man again.
Do you think this influences in any way the red flags you look out for in relationships?
I don’t know that I have red flags. It’s important that the person is like me in some way and should be able to hold conversations. If not, anything happening becomes out of the question. However, I’ve not been in a relationship since 2013 when my last one ended.
Oh. Wow. Do you belong to the streets?
If you want to put it that way, yes.
Dead. This changes my question: how do you decide people to have sex with?
Basically, I have my friends. They are the people I go to for my needs ranging from just talking to advice to work, and somehow that just becomes a part of it with some of them.
Doesn’t that complicate the friendship?
My older friends know me so there’s nothing like them wanting more. And if they do, they know I’m not the person for that. When I make new friends, I try as much as possible to be very clear about the kind of person I am. I let them know that I’m not looking for a relationship, and I have many friends. I’m not about the life of trying to schedule that oh this friend is coming today, come tomorrow. Because at the end of all day, it’s a friendship and we’re all friends.
It’s not surprising to come to my house and see me with three friends I met individually but are now friends with each other. You’ll see us either chilling, watching TV, playing board games or making food. New friends I make end up coming into this picture where they can see every other person and how I am with them. It’s now for them to decide whether this person who is friends with a lot of people is what they want. Thankfully, I’ve not gotten into any situation where I have to explain myself about why I can’t be in a relationship with anyone. And that’s because I try to be honest and clear way before anything outside of just being friends happens.
Interesting. What’s one friendship that has immensely added to your life?
I think that’s the one I have with my best friend at the moment. I met her in late 2009, we dated for like a month in 2010, but we went back to being friends. And we’ve been best friends till date. We’ve grown together. We even ran a consulting firm together from 2013 till when I started at Paystack. She’s an expert in her field. She’s always giving trainings because she’s like a manager of managers. One time, she was even a lecturer at the African Leadership University.
She’s the one person I’ve always gone back to over the years when I have issues and need someone to discuss with. This person always comes through for me when I have a complication in my life that needs to be unravelled. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without her in the picture because she’s been a part of every single thing I’ve done so far.
You didn’t ask me oh, but I think you guys should get married.
Tell me how you felt when you finally bought your first car.
For me, it was a…it felt good.