The online harassment of Ezra Olubi is confirmation that we are the monsters we complain about

When actor and fashion consultant Denola Grey tweeted about the recent controversial music video by American pop star, Lil Nas X, predicting that Nigerians will be outraged by it, the overall response was a dismissal of his concern. “Nobody cares,” people largely replied. We wrote about that here on 26 March.

Two weeks down the line, on 10 April, Paystack co-founder, Ezra Olubi, took to his Twitter page to share pictures of his androgynous look to a friend’s wedding, the response was astoundingly negative, which is the expected response from Nigerians.

Ezra became wildly popular among young Nigerians following the acquisition of Paystack by Stripe in a $200+ million deal as a beacon of what success could look like if police profiling doesn’t cut the dreams of non-conforming young Nigerians short. His androgynous presentation was what earned him this figurehead status, it appears now that there is a limit to what that presentation could look like in the eyes of the same young Nigerians who barely half a year ago rallied together to call for an end to their profiling and harassment by Nigeria Police.

This of course is a symptom of misogyny, which says often without saying ‘you have no business reducing yourself as a man to the frivolities women are allowed to indulge in, and if you must, keep it minimal.’

The picture of Ezra that went viral following the acquisition of Paystack had him sporting bright lipstick in a simple T-shirt, his loc’ed hair packed to the side of his head and standing next to his business partner who presents like a conventional Nigerian man.

The less vitriolic response to his appearance back then might have had to do with the successful deal attached to the headlines sporting that image, but it may also have to do with the fact that he appeared to be eccentric but not too much.

The recent trend of male celebrities sporting nail polish that is rising in popularity could tell us something about the latter possibility.

Seen largely as an expression of artistic quirk, the trend gets a pass specifically because the men that partake in it can assert their machismo in other ways. In the way they carry themselves, in the way they dress and the language they speak that firmly places them as the ‘mandem’ that they are among their peers. 

There is more to it, however.

Because those who partake in it are largely young and vibrant and espouse some ideas about breaking gender norms as the route to a gender-equal world, partaking in the trend is a mark in their favour for making so bold a move to demolish toxic masculinity.

The truth is however that their toxic masculinity is thinly contained, if at all, beneath however many coats of polish they have on their nail – which is not at all because nail polish can do no more to centuries of rot than put a sheen on it.

The online harassment of Ezra is not new to men who present as anything but the expected masculine-presenting cis-hetero ideal of the average Nigerian man. It is the lived reality of effeminate and androgynous men on the streets of Nigeria. It is something these men have experienced online too for as long as social media has been widely available to Nigerians.

James Brown and Bobrisky are only popular examples of this.

Nigeria is not listed as the most homophobic country in the world for no reason.

As many noted at the peak of the #EndSARS protests, police harassment is a byproduct of our collective social attitude, “We are the monsters we complain about.”

Letting this fact fly over our heads will continue to be our undoing because oppression, again, like party Jollof will go around to everyone once we open the door for it. 

The greater tragedy is however that monied people like Ezra will not suffer beyond online harassment. The people who harassed him online on the other hand will continue to suffer the abuse they so dearly wish upon others for living in ways that don’t sit well with them. 

Until we begin to practice the idea of ‘live and let live’ we love to pipe when we are at the receiving end of harassment, we will continue to go around in a circle of hoping for sanity but trapped in the madness of abuse that is the Nigerian cultural space.

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