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.

Ibrahim Suleiman is booked and busy. Scheduling and rescheduling this interview, I got to understand that the actor most notable for roles on shows like Tinsel and The Olive lives a life that throws him between sets, with a small window of time left to spend with his wife, actress, Linda Ejiofor-Suleiman, and their 18 month-old son, Keon. But with a charismatic presence on screen and a career on the rise, it’s hard to believe that the former dancer had no intention of chasing life in front of the big screen. 

In this episode of Man Like, he talks about his stepping up to become his mum’s go-to-guy after his parents’ divorce, what being a dad has taught him about his strained relationship with his military dad and how his wife tricked him into becoming an actor. 

Tell us about growing up. 

I was born and raised in Kaduna and then Abuja. My two younger siblings and I were raised by my mum because my parents split up when I was six years old. At that age, I had to step up and become my mother’s closest confidant. She would tell me how she was dealing with everything and encouraged my siblings and I to talk about our emotions as well. According to her, If you feel or think it, you should also express it.

I think she created this open communication channel as a coping mechanism, but it helped us grow emotionally. One thing I’m also grateful for is that, no matter how financially tough things got, we always had laughter and it’s something we still push for till this day. 

Damn. What do you remember about their separation and the impression it left on you?  

My parents got married when my mum was 21. As she got older, I think they just grew apart. I remember my dad was a funny guy who was good with kids. However, I also remember that he wasn’t really present in our lives. He was a military man who had to travel all the time, so there really wasn’t a lot of time for family. His absence is why I’ve made being a really present dad one of my priorities in life. I’ve grown to understand that my dad wasn’t a family man. For him, work came first and I can’t fault him for that because I understand now that he wasn’t built to be a family man. For him, work came first and there was nothing we could do about that.  

You mentioned becoming your mum’s go-to-guy. What did that entail? 

My mum was strong-willed, but having to go through a divorce at a young age took its toll. There were days when it was so bad, I’d wake up to her crying at night, and I’d just sit by her bed. She was open about her challenges and would talk to me about her plans and the things that scared her. All I could do was let her know I was there for her. One of the craziest things I remember is she used to show us her payslip at the end of the month, and we’d all gather around to calculate how to use it for all our costs.  That’s where I learnt how to live within my means. 

That’s sad but wholesome. Back to your dad: how was your relationship with him after the divorce? 

I mean we never had a relationship to begin with, so even though there are no hard feelings, we still don’t have one now. We call each other once in a while and we communicate, but that’s about it. We’re just two men from different generations who know and have mutual respect for each other. That’s all we have. 

Talking about men and responsibilities, I’m curious about when it hit you that you were a man. 

I’ve had several of those. There was the time I saved up enough money to pay for the NITEL phone bill to support my mother — she cried, but not after grilling me for hours to be sure I hadn’t stolen the money. 

But I’ll say the most significant “man now” moment that changed my life was when my mum died. 

I’m so sorry bro. 

Thank you. That’s when I realised that I had become the unofficial leader and decision-maker in the family.  I didn’t have a safety net anymore. It was rough, but my siblings and I came out strong. Wow, it’s been seven years now… 

My mum’s death also taught me about impact and posterity. During her wake, we met a lot of people who she had influenced in one way or the other through job opportunities or financial support. She wasn’t just looking out for the future of her children, she was also trying to leave a… Whew! I’m just going to say, she really tried. Her life taught me that it’s what you do for the community and people around you that outlives you, not what you do for yourself. I want to leave a legacy like that for my son. 

That’s deep. Did your mum influence your creative journey in any way? 

Yes. I grew up a lover of comic books and I remember she used to get them for me every Saturday. These comic books were my first introduction to being a creative because after a while, I developed an interest in illustrating comics of my own. I was so invested in it that I set out to study fine art in university. That didn’t happen because an uncle mentioned that I’d end up poor, and I developed cold feet. I settled on architecture because I thought it was the closest thing to fine art — it wasn’t. 

My introduction to performing, on the other hand, happened while I was in university. I joined this dance crew in school called Soul Quest and eventually rose to become its lead choreographer. During my time with the crew, we won the very first Malta Guinness Street Dance Competition and from there I started choreographing adverts professionally for companies like MTN, GTBank and Guinness.  

Acting was one thing that never crossed my mind. I knew it was too much work based on the stories of friends I had in the business, and I didn’t need that stress in my life. If I was going to make movies, it would be as a writer or director. But then one very beautiful girl conned me into recording an audition tape and now I’m an actor. 

Ibrahim, abeg slow down and explain what you just said.

LOL. So my wife, Linda Ejiofor-Suleiman — we weren’t married then — and a couple of my friends like Imoh Umoren and Nkiru Njoku told me to help them test a new camera they bought, but apparently, it was an audition tape. They sent it to Africa Magic, and that’s how I got a part on Tinsel.

Even though the role was supposed to be for three weeks, I’ve been doing it for five years now. The craziest thing is now I love it so much because it challenges me  every day. I mean I get to work with so many talented people on screen and then watching the crew set up and get things running against all odds, those guys are the real heroes. Seeing all of this, It’s hard not to be inspired to put in your best. I respect the industry so much now that I’m in it. 

That being said, outside acting, my goal now is to work on business projects my son can have a stake in when he’s older. I want his future safe and secure, whether I’m around or not. I’m sure you can hear him in the background making noise. Do you have kids? 

Omo, Ibrahim, I’m young and poor abeg. 

LOL. See, my brother, take your time! I wanted to get married at 28 and have kids at 30, but it just never happened. Looking back, I was ready financially, but definitely not mentally. I don’t think I had a strong sense of self at 28 or 30. It was when I was about 32 that I finally figured out myself. Truth is, when you’re ready, you’ll know. You’ll get up one day and ask, “Where dem dey buy ring?”

I bind the spirit of wedding rings for now. Talking about your son, what’s the most interesting thing about being a dad? 

Every day is a surprise bro! These kids grow really fast, and they’re tyrants who know what they’re doing. Because they figure out early how to make you bend to their will, you’ll bend the knee many times. With Keon, the most surprising thing for me is the look he has when he figures something out for the first time. I remember when he discovered how light switches work; he was so happy. Every time he discovers something new, I feel like my chest is about to explode. It’s the little things. 

Another thing that will shock you is the way these small human beings poop. Their capability in this department will shock you. Being Keon’s dad has been the most exciting venture of my existence. 

Awww. How did marriage change your outlook on life, and did it change again when you had your son? 

I married the most genuine woman I know, and for the first time, I was taking up a responsibility that I chose. I didn’t choose to be a firstborn. I was grateful for the opportunity to guide my siblings, but that responsibility was handed to me. With marriage, I chose my own family. Getting married also taught me what it means to earn the right to take care of someone. For example, my wife doesn’t need me, but she lets me take care of her, and that’s an honour. 

With Keon, it was more settling. I finally felt like I was on the right path. I also developed tunnel vision and now everything outside my wife and son is irrelevant to me. There’s a sense of calm that also comes with the anxiety of being a parent for the first time.

What has your relationship with your son taught you about your relationship with your dad? 

It is important to be present, available and selfless. While I don’t hold a grudge against my dad for not being any of these things, I want to be hands-on and present in the life of my son. I’m hoping that my son sees the effort I’m putting in and allows me to be a part of his life as well. I’m already learning so much from him, but I want to teach him so much as well. Hopefully, we’ll both meet in the middle. 

That’s so cute, man. What would you want your son to take away from your life? 

I want Keon to know it’s important to be humane to everyone around him. It’s something my mother taught me, and I hope he picks it up as well. I also want him to live each day knowing that he could be a better version of who he was yesterday. Above all, I want him to know God for himself and develop a relationship that isn’t tied to a man of God or church. 

What are some of the exciting things you’re working on at the moment? 

One cool thing going on in my life right now is NollyData, a start-up I launched with my friend, Chidinma Igbokweuche. It’s a site that allows creatives in Nollywood to staff their projects either in front or behind the camera. We’ve created a link for everyone in the industry and we’re super excited about all the possibilities it could bring. I just wrapped up a film, The Man for the Job, with Temi Otedola, directed by Niyi Akimolayan. I’m also shooting a new season of The Olive for Accelerate TV. And this is the third project I’ve done this year. There’s still going to be a lot to come and I’m excited about everything. 

Come on, booked and busy. Can’t wait to talk about all these projects once they’re out.

LOL. Be nice o. 


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