Culture

'A Nasty Boy' Is the Gender-Noncomforming Magazine Turning Nigerian Conservatism On Its Head

We speak with the creator of 'A Nasty Boy' magazine, the publication widening definitions of masculinity in Nigeria.

Actively challenging social expectations around gender and sexuality is a groundbreaking act in and of itself. Creating an outlet solely dedicated to this mission—in a place like Nigeria—is radical.

Nigeria's conservatism and wide-spread sexual intolerance is well documented. It's a country where 'homosexuality' is more than just "frowned upon"—it's punishable by jail. None of this has prevented Lagos-based journalist and publisher, Richard Akuson, who we first connected with back in 2014 upon the release of his lookbook "My Dark Twisted Fantasy," from creating A Nasty Boy, a high-fashion magazine vehemently pushing for inclusion in Nigeria. The negative attitudes that exist around sexuality and gender identity have only propelled the journalist, turned PR agent, turned publisher to move further into his passion of telling diverse stories.

We spoke to the Akuson about the creation of A Nasty Boy magazine. He tells us that though he's faced some opposition, he's also gained supporters in his mission to broaden representation in his home country.

Read our conversation below.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Damola Durosomo for OkayAfrica: What prompted you to start A Nasty Boy magazine? 

Richard Akuson: It was a culmination of several things. First, my personal experience growing up, and that of people that I know, my friends. The amount of bigotry that I noticed in Nigerian media. I would look at certain publications and the comments section would be so hateful. These many things came together to push me towards this.

How did you come up with the name A Nasty Boy?

To be honest, there was no epiphany. I really just wanted a name that would stick. I wanted a name that would linger, one that would be disarming. Besides having the courage to start the publication finding the right name was the second hardest thing, because I kept coming up with so many different names, but I would check 'name feed' and it would say 'this name is already taken.' So it took a lot of time, but once I came up with it, I ran it by a few of my friends and I just waited to see how they would react to it. A lot of them were puzzled for a second, like 'what is that?' It was that thing that I could see come over them that I found most interesting, and I just had the gut feeling that it had to be that.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

What made you take the leap from being a journalist to creating your very own outlet?

There were so many times when I would pitch stories, and you know, Nigeria is a very conservative country—pretentious as well—so a lot of topics were off the table and considered taboo. I always thought that fashion could do more than look beautiful and elegant, I always felt like we could actually question society. We could push for more.

Thankfully I was with a publication that allowed me this free range, and so I could work a lot, but what I realized was that in the comments section you would see a lot of people calling out the publisher like "how dare you allow Richard to push a 'gay agenda'" and stuff like that. Each time I tell this story, I always think about a story that I wrote about EJ Johnson, and how I thought that his wardrobe could inspire a lot of our reader's wardrobe. In the story I applauded his style, and the readers weren't having it. There were a lot of comments like "oh no he's pushing a gay agenda full on."

There was another time where I did an experiment and wore hot pants, and besides the fact that I got lots of stares and [rude] remarks, when I decided to snap a few pictures and talk about that experience on the publication, again, the comments section was something else. So I left and decided to go into PR because at that point I was like, you know what, I really can't joyfully express what I feel without being called out.

So I got into PR and did a bit of PR for fashion, I started a blog as well, and I found myself going back to the same types of stories. I did one where I had makeup on my face. I kept going back to these same things.

There was a time when I told myself that I was not going to comment [on negativity]. I told myself that a lot of people see things and they keep quiet, why can't I be one of them? So there was a lot of back-and-forth, but eventually I came around to doing it.

Photo by Wavy The Creator.

I know the publication has gotten a lot of attention from Western media, but what's the response been like on the ground in Nigeria?

The international press started coming in June, with Hunger Magazine and then CNN. Thankfully, we've gotten a lot of press features. It's been tremendous. I was reading an interview, that Bryanboy did with Fashionista.com where he said: "There's always this weird feeling at the back of the head like how long are we going to last, how long are we going to be in this? Are we going to be part of the history books, did we actually make a change or a difference in the industry? It feels like we're scamming people and the sham is going to end tomorrow."

I always just felt like, "Oh this is just going to be for a bit of time," after a month everyone is going to get tired and then they'll get back to business as usual. But it's amazing that enterprise keeps coming, and it's beautiful having our story told to a global audience—you know you can never have enough of that.

But that being said, when we started out, a lot of Nigerian publications were bashing us. A lot of people didn't understand what it was for. Even when I tried approaching a few investors they were like, "How necessary is this? This is not fully necessary, can't you do a regular publication like any other person? Yes it can be high fashion but it doesn't have to push for any sort of agenda." That sort of thing. I always responded that A Nasty Boy isn't pushing any particular agenda, we're about inclusion and diversity, and that's a very wide spectrum that includes so many things—so many aspects of the human existence. We're just saying that exclusionary narratives and singular narratives are not the way forward. We should broaden our minds and allow ourselves to understand other people's stories, and appreciate that. But once we started getting the press, people started warming up. Particularly there was a publication that did a story on us, and it wasn't the most pleasant story, but after the CNN story, they literally did another full piece where it was all praises and stuff, and I just could not understand why the sudden change in their point of view.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

But now, things have changed, we have a growing community and A Nasty Boy has expanded. Initially, I always imagined that our readers were going to be only Nigerians, I didn't think that we'd have readers from America, from the U.K., from South Africa, from Ghana and Brazil. Just knowing that our stories are globally appealing and that we have readers from all these other countries, it really goes a long way. We very much have Nigerian readers, 40 percent of our readers are Nigerian actually, and so I see that there's a community. Sometimes, I'm here in Lagos, and I'll go to dinner, or I'll go to a party and people introduce me like, "Oh that's Richard from A Nasty Boy."

It's a community and it's growing everyday, and I couldn't be more appreciative.There are still the negative responses, but I've chosen to dwell on the positive, and the good things we're doing and how it's impacting all sorts of lives, as oppose to bothering myself with the negative that does no good.

Where does your motivation to keep the publication going come from? 

Getting to meet the people who are reading our stories, and actually following every single thing we do. You cannot begin to imagine how much it means to me just seeing that. Whenever I start to feel tired, I'm like no, literally the reaction on that person's face, the last time I saw the person, was priceless. That alone pushes me. I can't say, "Oh no the Western attention doesn't do good," it does in the sense that now I know our stories can be told, and that they appeal just as much to a Nigerian as they do to an American, and they're not just visiting once but they're returning just to see what the updates are.

We get emails from Nigerians and non-Nigerians and a lot of creatives, and because we've made it a point to only work with emerging talent, just getting to see how excited they are when the receive an email from us. Or if it's a DM from a Nigerian celebrity who in some way has pushed for gender equality. I woke up to a DM and I couldn't believe it. They were like, 'Let's make magic. There's no way you can say no to me. If you do I will jump of a bridge." There was such gratitude in his message. In my mind I was like "hold on" [laughs]. Just seeing how very excited people are about the prospect of working with us—that alone is just beautiful. The positive responses that we keep getting is motivation enough to encourage us to do more.

Photo by Wavy The Creator.

Going forward, what kind of content can we expect to see from the magazine?

We started out with more content about sexuality, but now we're scaling up to gender and feminism as well. Because these issues are very dear to my heart and A Nasty Boy as well. Because what I would hate is to promote, or be about, a singular narrative. I'd like for A Nasty Boy to be mostly issue-based than anything. We discuss issues with creatives and get to know about what they're doing socially and culturally. We're currently working on a list, it'll be called "Nasty's 50 Creatives Class of 2018," it's supposed to celebrate the talent that we believe will be doing more in 2018. We're covering more issues, girl power, gender issues and stuff like that.

Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish ultimately with your publication?

What is important to us is that we are able to cause a change, I can't begin to imagine for a change in policy, because we know what Nigeria is like. But, I'd like that whoever comes across A Nasty Boy gets a sense of what we're about, and [as a result] we're able to influence the way they think—just a change in thinking. If for instance, we have a daily readership of 10,000 people, and 10,000 people can see things the way we do—that's more than enough. If we're able to reach a million people all over the world through what we do, that's enough. Just pushing for more acceptance, more than tolerance—tolerance has a limit—but true acceptance, inclusion, and diversity is what I'm pushing for. There's different kinds of Nigerians and different kinds of Africans, we have to allow everyone to fit into our definition of "African." We want there to be room for other narratives.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

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Stop What You're Doing Right Now and Watch Falz's New Video 'This Is Nigeria'

The Nigerian rapper tackles his country's social ills in his very own answer to Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Nigerian rapper, Falz has been known to use his sharp brand of humor to address social ills in his country. Today he's taken it a step further with the release of a new song and video entitled "This is Nigeria" and the outcome is an audacious, decidedly necessary critique of Nigerian society inspired by Childish Gambino's viral video "This is America."

Falz opens the song with a voice over of his father the lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, discussing the consequences of rampant corruption and exploitation, before adding his own cutting criticism: "This is Nigeria, look how I'm living now, look how I'm living now. Everybody be criminal," he rhymes as chaos ensues all around him.

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Photo courtesy of Nike

The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.



If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.


Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.

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