My Bro is a bi-weekly Zikoko series that explores and celebrates male friendships of all forms.
A year after Olumide read Jude’s book, their friendship started. On this week’s #ZikokoMyBro, they share how their work brought them together. Now they’ve kept it together for 18 years and even co-wrote a book, despite living on different continents.
Take us to the beginning of this friendship. How long have you been friends?
Jude: I’ve known him since my first novel “Walking With Shadow” came out in 2005. But we connected in 2006.
Jude: That makes it about 18 years now.
How did you guys meet?
Jude: Work. Olumide used to work with a human rights organisation that catered to the LGBTQ community. My novel tackled the presence of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria, and how it has been denied over the years.
Olumide: At the time when “Walking With Shadow” was written, anyone who did that would’ve been considered crazy. There was nobody within the writing space that would have written about a queer character and humanised them. So I read the book, and was like, “who is this crazy person that decided to write about a gay character?” It was quite good. Many of us could relate to the story — having to hide and pretend about who you’re.
A year or two later, I found out that Jude worked in the corporate sector. I thought it was interesting he had a day job, too. I was like, “this guy really has guts.”
Then I read his second book “Blackbird” to be sure he wasn’t a one-hit wonder writer. After that, I asked mutual friends to introduce us. From there, if we wanted to do anything creative at TIERs— the NGO I worked at — I reached to Jude to see if he wanted to contribute or be part of it. That’s how we started getting close.
What was your first impression of each other?
Jude: Deep respect. I found the work Olumide’s organisation was doing very important. If I wasn’t already steeped into the corporate world, I’d probably be in an NGO too.
Olumide: Before I met Jude the guy, I met the Jude the writer. At that time, I still looked at him from Blackbird’s point of view. I thought he’d be one of those queer writers who wrote about queer people but also wanted to be distant from the community. Well, I was wrong. He gave support. He gave his voice without turning himself into a frontline activist.
Away from his work as a writer, I found Jude to be very gentle. Any wahala, he doesn’t want. He creates a safe space for everyone; you can do your thing, and he can do his.
Jude: Wow, Olumide, thank you so much. I’m blushing here.
So when was the moment you bonded?
Olumide: I think this was 2014, when he left Nigeria.
What? But you’d been friends for almost a decade
Jude: We talked but hardly saw each other. I was out of Lagos every two weeks. We knew we could trust each other, which was why he was one of the people I discussed my relocation plans with.
But the bond started getting stronger around 2017. Olumide called me and told me about the birthday of one of our close friends in the UK. He wanted to surprise her and asked if I wanted to come. I was like, “sure” and jumped on a plane from Sweden to the UK.
Why did you leave Nigeria though?
Jude: I was just tired about the situation in Nigeria, and the fact that Jonathan was introducing a new law. As a public figure, especially if you don’t conform to societal ideas of what a man should be, it’s more difficult when you’re out queer and out. It was just uncomfortable for me. I went to the US first and lived there for a year before moving to Sweden, where I’m now a citizen.
How did you feel about Jude leaving Nigeria?
Olumide: At that time, we were all on the edge. Goodluck Jonathan was going to sign the SSMPA. I know staying back in a place like Nigeria that can become unsafe.
But going to start all over in another climate is also a very complex decision to make. I had that conversation with Jude about how being in a new terrain coud be difficult. But he knew he’d be okay by himself. He was a very soft guy, there wasn’t much worry.
Did it affect your friendship?
Jude: Our friendship is very difficult to categorise or put into a specific box. I don’t have to see Olumide every day to know he’s my friend.
Sometimes, we just text or call and catch up on what’s going on. To me, that’s real friendship. I’m a very private person, but if I can open up to you and talk about important things, then you know that I trust you. That’s the kind of friendship I have.
I don’t have too many friends, but friendships are special. We’re linked together, regardless of time, space or when we last saw each other and things like that. Olumide and I don’t see and chat all the time, but every time we catch up, we text or call for hours. So, that’s the only way I can describe the bonding.
Olumide: What you just said is very important because my friends know that I’m a very low-touch person. Sometimes, friends require a certain kind of performance. But not Jude and many of the people I’m very close to. I can go days without talking to Jude, but if there’s something important to do or talk about, I’d jump on the phone and have that conversation.
So, we have that understanding that there has to be space in togetherness. We have assurance in our friendship and feel very secure in it, even when we don’t see each other. We’ve even done a book together without having to see each other. It’s coming out on August 29, 2023.
How long have you guys gone without talking to each other?
Jude: My God. I think COVID-19 was the longest. I hardly spoke to people during COVID period. But the book kept us in. We’ve been running this book since 2017 or 2018.
Olumide: I think the book has actually kept us really close.
Jude: Because of that, we’ve been in each other’s lives. So yeah, we’ve been very much in contact the last five, six years.
This book must be a special one
Olumide: That doesn’t mean that we talk everyday. But it’s been one of the key things that makes our conversation very regular now. Before then, we caught up once in a while to talk.
Jude: I agree our best bonding experience was working on this book —we had a lot of ups and downs from figuring out what to put in the book and what to take out. It’s been nice.
Tell me about a time one person came through for the other?
Jude: I remember the amount of work he did to get my book “Walking with Shadows” to the screens in 2019. I thought it was almost impossible, but he came through. He was one of the hardest working producers on the project and raised the most money. He also coordinated people during the shoot of the film when the movie producer wasn’t around.
Also, he buys and recommends my books, and I get my royalties at the end of the day.
Olumide: I mean, I think it depends on how we look at times that people come through, but I remember when we invited him to Aké Festival, and he showed up. He was in Nigeria for almost a week.
Is there anything you would change about your friendship?
Olumide: It’d be great if we see more in person and talk over things that have happened in our private lives. For example, when I had my son, I wished I could talk to you about what that was like and all.
Jude: I think I was one of the first people you even told you have a kid.
Olumide: If we lived in the same city, you’d have been in the house the next day.
What’s one thing you’ve always wanted the other person to know?
Jude: I think I’ve told Olumide this already; leave Nigeria and move to London. Anyway, I love when he posts photos of his home and his outfits. That’s what I miss about Nigeria. I think we are much more adventurous with male fashion. Olumide has a good taste in clothing. So yeah, I’ve never told you that before.
Olumide: I like the way Jude disappears. I feel like he’s in control of how he engages the world. Jude isn’t on Twitter or IG all the time. He’s living and breathing. Jude is doing things. I really like that because I feel like it gives a lot of people some time to reflect and introspect. So you have enough time for yourself and I really appreciate that. One of the things I appreciate about him is his calmness and self-awareness. He carefully picks his words. He’s very grounded in himself. I appreciate somebody who is soft, but still bold.