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 for today is Jaja, a digital media expert and tinkerer. His definition of masculinity revolves around service to people, vulnerability with his male friends, and standing up for things he believes in.
When did you first realise that you were now “a man”?
It’s difficult to say because I’ve been responsible for myself for a long time. Growing up, my sister didn’t like me because I was stubborn. She probably loved me as her brother, but because of that stubbornness, she wouldn’t buy stuff for me the way she did for my older brother who was better behaved.
I knew I wasn’t getting anything, so I had to buy those things myself. As far back as primary school, I’d tutor younger primary school students and their parents would give me ₦500. So, I didn’t have that “aha” moment because I’ve been hustling since childhood.
My dad died when I was two. This meant that growing up, I had to stand up for myself a lot. My mum was a very busy single mother working tirelessly to give us a certain standard of living so she didn’t have time to be the protector.
There are people who had older siblings that liked them but my sister didn’t. Also, my brother couldn’t do anything because he’s just two years older than me. He’s like my twin – If someone was bullying me, the person might have been able to bully him too because we were both non-violent.
I learned early to not only look out for myself but to stand up for myself. Most times, this meant digging my heels in; that whatever wants to happen should happen.
Does any incident come to mind?
As children, my siblings and I had allocated chores. I’d do mine and my sister would try to get me to do hers and I’d refuse. Of course, that never went down well – She’d beat me blue-black but I’d still stand my ground. I used to say, “All you can do is beat me. If you beat me, I’ll cry. After crying, I’ll still not do it. If you kill me, I’ll die and still not do it.”
It’s different if you offer me something in exchange for doing your chores. Ehen, it has now become a business transaction. But if you’re trying to coerce or cajole me into doing it, do your worst.
LMAO. Does anything scare you?
It scares me so much mostly because I’ve experienced crippling poverty, and I don’t want to experience it again. In fact, I’d rather die than be poor. I also find it difficult to ask people for money unless I have no other option. I always think that the person you’re going to meet has their own issues. People may be smiling but they are struggling inside and you’ll never know. If you give me ₦10, I believe that you’re sacrificing something by giving me money.
Back in university, I used to wash and iron my friends’ clothes. For me, that was way better than asking, “Guy, you get 1k for hand?” I washed cars too. I had a friend who had a goat, and I’d cut grass to feed the goat because I’d rather work than ask for money.
I work hard for money because having it in old age doesn’t interest me. I want it now while there’s strength in my bones. Not when I’ll have money and I can’t eat because I’m a prisoner in my own body.
Death used to scare me but in recent years, I’ve started to like the idea. I am not suicidal or anything, but as opposed to seeing death as a punishment, I now see it as rest. A way out of all the stress. Life is very stressful. Sometimes, I ask myself the point of all this stress and then envy those who have died because they are without worry.
Bruh. Does anything give you joy?
I like helping people. It’s not like I have money or anything, but seeing people makes me happy. My happiness comes from service.
You know what’s interesting? I struggle to spend money on myself. I’ve had a perfume in my cart for a while and still haven’t bought it. However, since I put it in my cart, I’ve given out more than twice the amount of the perfume as gifts. But buy for myself, mba.
LMAO. Is this connected to your upbringing as a man?
Maybe. Being a man in Nigeria is stressful because no one likes you. You’re as useful as your usefulness. You can’t just exist. You need to be solving a problem — either as a provider or a protector. You need to be meeting up with some responsibility. You can’t just exist. Even the “useless men” have to do something. So that’s tough. The only upside is that this background sets us apart overseas. I live in the UK and Nigerian men are in high demand here because we are better lovers, more hard-working, more useful.
The funny thing is that while these pẹople see these as good traits, it’s mostly just PTSD and Stockholm syndrome. However, we try our best.
Wild. How has dating changed for you outside Nigeria?
To be honest, my dating life has been limited. I can only point to two main relationships because I’m not sure some people count me as a relationship. I’ve not dated extensively to have an opinion, and I’ve been extremely lucky with women. However, when it comes to just knacks, I can say that relationships in Nigeria are way more transactional. I tend to like this because I know that there is a number. If you can afford it, good. If you can’t, move along. No time. Personally, I don’t have time for all the grand gestures. A babe in Nigeria told me before to buy her phone. I said, “No, I can’t afford to buy you a phone. This is what I can afford, are you good to go?”
She was good to go. Alhamdulillah.
In Nigeria, if all you can afford is penis, you’ll struggle in certain circles. Someone said on Twitter that he couldn’t find a babe. I was like, is it that you can’t find someone to sleep with you? Or you can’t find someone to sleep with you for free? Because if it’s the former, there are people who will for the right number. But if you’re looking for someone to sleep with you for your face, then hmmm. You have to bring something else. Because even people that like your face still have rent to pay and are still unemployed. Buhari is affecting everyone.
Dead. How does this affect how you pick people to have sex with? What’s your parameter?
It depends on the situation and context. I’m currently in a relationship, so I am faithful and committed. As Nigerian men, we don’t cheat. However, when I was a free agent, I preferred sensible women.
I don’t like women who aren’t financially independent. I’m not embarrassed to say. From where I stand, dealing with women who have money is less stressful than those who don’t because those who don’t outsource all their challenges to you. I am not that buoyant. Even if I were, I’d be spending my money on my family or the sex robot SP-3000.
I go for people who have jobs or earn money because they understand the time value and opportunity cost of money. No matter how little the amount is. The last thing I want to do is send someone money and the person is giving me vibes.
Also, as a general rule, I don’t date women who have nothing to lose. They can burn everything to the ground, so I’ll not be caught with such people. I have invested a lot to get to where I am. God forbid some indiscretion should cost me everything. Imagine someone fabricates a story and drags my reputation on Twitter. They’ll now use ambiguous terms so that people will intentionally misunderstand because they know that you don’t have the time or resources to correct that impression. God forbid.
Someone once asked why I had never been dragged on Twitter. That is it that I don’t sleep with women on Twitter? I was like, the women I sleep with won’t drag me because they have as much to lose as I do.
Please don’t kill me. What’s your relationship with your mum like?
I speak to my mum twice a day. Every morning and evening. My mum has been my only parent since I was two. So, our relationship is good.
Remember my sister and how she treated me in childhood? Well, my sister did something.
When I was going to college, I needed a laptop but I didn’t have the funds. My mum didn’t have money so she told my sister. My sister cleared her bank account so I could buy the laptop. For context, she was doing NYSC and earning ₦9000 at the time. That was a monumental show of love that touched me. When she sent me that money, she said, “This is all I have. I don’t know what you can afford but just take it.” There and then, immediately, all the hurts and hatred from childhood went away. From that moment onwards, I have loved my sister to bits. Loved her children to bits. Loved her husband to bits. She knows that I take her seriously and even if I don’t have enough for myself, I’ll still go the extra mile. Because I love her.
Is someone cutting onions?
Do you have friends? Especially male friends?
Of course I do. In fact I actively seek out male friendships because we need the support. Being friends with a woman is nice, but the moment you get into a relationship, your friendship takes the backseat. You can’t really be as friendly as you used to be so that someone will not get angry.
I have a male best friend, and we’ve been friends for about a decade. He’s a man after my own heart. We support and advise each other. Male friendships are important for emotional support because even if you’re friends with a lady, no matter how close you are, you have to be careful with what you disclose. Especially if she’s not in a relationship of her own because you could be sending a wrong message. If she has a relationship, you still have to be careful because you are respecting boundaries. For me, male friendships work because you can self disclose without a lot of concerns.
However, in some male friendships, there are expectations that you don’t explore some places because of why are you gay? Regardless, many male friendships are still deep and rich.
Someone will say why don’t guys tell themselves “I love you.” While your guy may not utter it, your guy supporting you with that 5k you need is him showing that he loves you. Sometimes, it’s telling your male friends: “You deserve better. You’re a good looking man and you shouldn’t be taking this from women.” Many male friendships achieve the same thing but through different means. Because saying these things to your male friend, especially if homophobic, may not go well. He may start looking at you like, “Alaye, what’s going on here?”
Have you read our dedicated male category? – https://www.zikoko.com/category/man/
I’m grateful for my best friend because I can go “You’ve got a big dick” without feeling weird. I can say that to my friend because over time, we’ve built a close relationship where I feel like I can express anything without feeling judged or threatened. And vice versa. It’s just sad that so many male friendships aren’t like that, but I hope they get there eventually.
What do you think of the bro code?
There are so many versions of this bro code. There are some things that a guy man shouldn’t do. For example, you shouldn’t try to sleep with my wife or babe. I also expect my guy to cover up for me when management is carrying out audits of my whereabouts [laughs]. But on a serious note, it goes beyond all of this.
I’ve heard some people say men cover up rape because of the bro code. I don’t think there’s any such thing in the bro code. In fact, your male friends tell you plainly, “Oh boy, you dey fuck up.” As guys, we don’t mince words. I’ve had my guy tell me, “Guy, why are you getting so fat?” There’s none of that “You look hot in your body, yass queen.” He told me to sort myself out. So, I started using his gym membership because you don’t tell me that without providing a solution.
When the bro code is conflicted with aiding and abetting a crime or being complicit, I don’t support that. However, when the bro code is about support, building together, making progress together, then, by all means, count me in.