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Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

'Proud and Unafraid' Details the Trials & Tribulations of Being Queer in Nigeria

We spoke with N’ihu Media founder Bayo Lambo about his documentary ‘Proud and Unafraid' and the power of using storytelling to uplift communities.

Despite the growing online visibility of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community, the reality of their lives is still dire. Shackled by the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) which criminalizes queer relationships in the country, and an overtly homophobic populace, queer people are forced to live a parallel life in the country far away from the reach of traditional news sources and media organizations.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives, meaning that the lives and activities of successive generations of queer people might be lost to the sands of time. However, thanks to the decentralizing effect of the Internet, new mediums are springing up that allow queer people tell stories of their lives and intricacies of dealing with being a member of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.

Last year, N’ihu Media, a media agency based in Lagos, released a documentary touching on the lives of four queer Nigerians titled Proud and Unfraid. In the opening sequence of the documentary, culture writer Vincent Desmond, talks about the ways that being gay makes his perspective on life different. “Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” he says. “The way you meet people, the way you react to people, the way you compose yourself in public. It’s because you’re always aware that someone who one minute is nice to you could just suddenly flip the moment they are aware that this person might be saying.”

Across 27 minutes, the subjects of the documentary explore coming out, the impact of being queer on their inter-personal relationship, and the cost and burdens of identifying as openly queer in a homophobic country like Nigeria, giving a fantastic insight into how they navigate their lives and the harsh realities of being queer in Nigeria.

Over a Zoom call one busy midday week in mid-June, Bayo Lambo, the founder of N’ihu Media lays out his reasons for green-lighting the documentary, what the process liked like, and his dream for a more empathetic Nigeria.

How did you get the idea to do a documentary of queer experiences in Nigeria?

I’m the owner of N’ihu Media and what we do is that we cover everything Africa. It’s a Pan-African thing and we basically explore the lives of people on the continent and it’s impossible to cover life on the continent without covering the disenfranchised. We try to give an objective view of everything and the community is obviously a disenfranchised one.

The idea for the documentary was brought to me by Hannah Ajala. She’s a BBC reporter that we do stuff together and bounce ideas off each other. She knows the kind of stories I like and so she sends me story ideas from time to time but when she sent that one I said, “Yes, let’s do that, let’s see what we can find.”

Half of the time when I do stories, I do them because I want to know. When I was first thinking about doing this channel, I said something out by mistake and everyone turned and looked at me. I said I’d like to follow people to their homes and everyone turned around and was like, “What’s this guy saying?” But what I meant is that I want to see what everybody is going through. You see me today but you only see a part of me. By the time I shut down this laptop or whatever you don’t know what I’m going through, good or bad. So that’s the main reason we took on this story, for telling those hidden stories. We’re like a baby Vice.

When did you start your production company?

Officially, it was 2020. The first time I put a video out was during the pandemic, that was the first time I put out a production but I had started on the sports side of things. I was covering sports in anticipation of doing stories like this one. I’d done the Shitsuke Flag Football in Nigeria which is a fantastic thing. I played in the league so we put cameras there to get clips of the action.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

Speaking specifically about Proud and Unafraid, how important was it to for you to bring representation of the Nigerian queer experience to the fore?

I feel like one thing you have to remember is that everyone is someone’s son, daughter, brother, wife, husband, or child and we need empathy. We need to see other people’s side. I can never understand what you’re going through unless you tell me. I can never understand your choices until I understand why or what set it off. So it is very important that we put ourselves out there and put these kinds of stories out. It’s very good to shed a light on other people’s realities. It’s not easy to see somebody walking down, saying she’s going on a date and when she gets there, there’s a bunch of people waiting just to beat her up. We just need to have more empathy and understand what people are going through.

Can you take me through the selection process for the people you interviewed?

Hannah has been following one of our interviewees and she tried to reach out to them as well as keep me in the loop. Interviewing somebody is one thing and interviewing someone that can convey their pain and their joy is a different thing. The most difficult part of it is getting people to speak out in public and, to me, a lot of these guys are brave and they’re not hiding their lifestyles or they don’t hide themselves. I don’t even call it a lifestyle, they’re not hiding themselves and hey have prominent pages on social media where they discuss their lives openly hence the topic, Proud and Unafraid. With all the setbacks and backlash they face, they’re still brave enough to come out and tell us their stories you know. Hannah found these people, we discussed and decided how best to showcase their stories. Usually, when Hannah says something, as long as we agree, we just go through with it and beat it up as we go.

Proud and Unafraid was produced by N’ihu Media.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

A segment of the documentary touches on the lives of the interviewees before being openly queer, what significance does that part of the conversation hold?

If you look at life in general, you can actually pinpoint every stage of your life. You can base your life on before and after something. During primary school, after primary school, during secondary school, after secondary school. You have to understand that these are people that are going through so much, hiding it was easy in one way but difficult in another way, coming out is easy in one way but difficult in another way. Those are the things I wanted to know: how was it when you’re hiding yourself? What was the pain when you’re walking around? One of the reasons I’m very happy to do this is because I have a friend that I grew up with — we went to school together — he moved down to England, and he’s finally come out.

One of the things he was saying was that how he would have to go somewhere where people were gay bashing or whatever and he would have to laugh at that. He would also go home and his parents would say things or preach to him. Basically, your friends and family are doing things as strangers and you just have to keep quiet, so you can imagine the pain to laugh at yourself or to insult yourself. Then when you come out, there is a different pain those same people castigate you also at the end. So, before and after always brings its own good and bad perspectives. With those perspectives, you want the audience to question themselves and ask if this person would have chosen this life willingly if it was so bad and difficult. I can’t fathom it when people say being queer is a choice. If it was a choice, nobody would be willing to sacrifice jail time or their life on the continent. When you put out a show like this you just want people to be able to see the whole picture and put themselves in people’s place.

Desmond Vincent writer

“Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” culture writer Desmond Vincent said.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

One of the points raised by Desmond Vincent was that re-educating Nigerians is part of the way forward. Do you consider Proud and Unafraid a part of the re-education process or is it just a picture of what’s happening?

The thing is people go around life with this feeling that if it’s not me, then it’s OK and we can say this for so many things: the plight of Black people, of Africans, and anywhere you can find a disenfranchised community. We need everybody to start speaking up for someone or something. We need to be able to see human beings first. If consenting adults are walking around, we need to be able to see that they are human beings we are talking about. So, to me, I think that’s the most important thing the documentary is trying to say, that they’re your neighbor.

Do you think you would want to explore the realities of the LGBTQ community in other countries on the continent, do you think that might happen down the line?

It would be a blessing to. It will be fantastic, it’s something we would like to do, the only reason we haven’t been able to do it is that finding the right people to get these stories is not always easy. You have to remember that finding people to speak out is hard because this is Africa. There are certain laws that don’t cater to the community and that is the difficult part. But once we find people that are Proud and Unafraid, we will be there to hear their stories.

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Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

Korty EO is the YouTuber Documenting Contemporary Culture in Nigeria

Thanks to her confessional-style videos and high-concept shows, Korty EO is one of Nigeria's rising YouTube stars.

There is a stillness in Eniola Olanrewaju’s upscale Yaba, Nigeria flat. It matches the abiding sense of quietness that almost seems to envelop the 24-year-old when she retreats into her world. Eniola, popularly known as Korty EO,is one of the most popular faces in the post-digital creative taxonomy that has swept through Lagos over the last half-decade. In many regards, she is a poster child for the boundlessness that characterizes the grind and hustle of young people in Africa’s most populous city. Over the last four years, she's worked as a graphic designer, writer, content creator, and videographer. Now she is one of Nigeria's brightest YouTube talents, gathering almost 200k followers on YouTube and more than 100k followers on Instagram.

But Korty’s story did not start in Lagos. She grew up in Bodija, Ibadan.

“It was a safe area but my house in Bodija was not around the fanciest sides," Korty said sitting in a rocking chair in her spartan living room last month. "My parents were very protective but that’s because they knew that our environment wasn’t the safest but if you asked me I was proud to say I lived in Bodija because it was a fresh area but I wouldn’t bring you to my house.” Growing up as the middle child in a family of five, Korty was aware of the limitations of her parents and strove to make a way for herself. She started out working as a graphic designer while enrolled in the University of Ibadan after a brief stint at Bowen University. “I saw that there’s a lot I could do and I could even not go to class if I wanted,” she said. “I was just freer and able to do my business.”

Her clarity of purpose meant that she always knew she was going to have to move to Lagos to pursue some of her grander dreams, even if she didn’t know what those dreams were at that moment. An opportunity came in 2018 when a modeling agency scouted her while in Lagos to get a certificate from her IT attachment office. But Korty was reluctant to step into the modeling world. “I said no because I used to think that models were shallow,” she said, half-joking.

Eventually, Korty decided to give modeling a shot. She was grateful for the extra income and the opportunity to explore Lagos’s creative community that her constant visits provided. In the modeling world, Korty was faced with having to navigate a labyrinthine maze of toxic booking agents and haughty designers who treated her poorly. “You can usually tell when someone is not so comfortable in a certain place," she said. "Because I wasn’t comfortable, a lot of stylists did not pick me to walk their shows.”

Mostly observing other models strut their ways on glitzy walkways, Korty started to document their lives in short videos that piqued the interests of her fellow models. Soon after, she joined Zikoko, where she worked as a writer and content creator before convincing her bosses at the time to let her helm a show named HER that was dedicated to showcasing the often-overlooked life of women in Nigeria. In December 2020, after working with Zikoko for close to two years, she left to join Mr. Eazi’s music accelerator program, emPawa, as its head of content. Where Zikoko had a big collaborative culture that emphasized creative cross-pollination, emPawa was more independently structured, giving Korty free rein to pursue projects and create her work in her own image.

It was while handling the YouTube channel of emPawa that Korty began to see the potential of the platform to host the quirky, confessional-style videos that she really wanted to make. “I was always looking at the analytics and understanding how the platform works,” she said. “After a while, I was tired of it and I just left because I realized that YouTube paid."

She, of course, wasn't getting paid immediately. The YouTube channel started taking off with a video documenting the thought process of moving out of her parents’ house and quitting her job at emPawa to create videos for YouTube.

Korty EO pink dress

Korty’s YouTube channel has taken definitive shape, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty andLove and Lies.

Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

That was in 2020. In the months since then, Korty’s YouTube channel has taken definitive shape, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty, is an exploratory show into the life of celebrities and trendsetters in the Lagos and wider west African cultural scene. While the newer one,Love and Lies, is a dating show that chronicles the drama and comedy that follows setting random people on dates in Lagos. When she shoots her subjects, what Korty aims for is submersion, seeking a way to remove any distraction from their immediate consciousness and get as much information as possible from them.

“I put my camera far away from them so they can even forget that it’s there,” Korty said. “It’s usually me, my cameras, and a photographer because most of the people I film are in some sense celebrities and once they see too many people, they become guarded but if you make them comfortable they can express themselves.” Editing, though, is where it all comes together as she applies her experiences while staying true to the vibe of the shoot. It usually takes place over an active period of one or two weeks depending on the quantity of footage she gets.

The distinctive contours of life in Lagos and the city’s ever-present trans-generational tensions weigh on Korty’s mind and spill into her visual content. “I think Lagos is the center for a lot of things because there’s a lot of people here so it’s easy to find various communities here,” she said. “Sometimes I’m very conflicted about where I stand because I’m old Gen Z. I’m 24 and there are people being 18-year-old in 2022. It often feels like I'm in the middle because where does the class of 1998 fit into it all.” Still, the grind, hustle, and growing fearlessness of young Gen Z'ers’s in Lagos inspire her more than anything. “There’s more evidence of people’s patterns and lifestyles (in Lagos) because of the Internet and that brings more exposure. I feel like the Gen Z culture awareness in Lagos is so strong that it’s being transferred to other parts of the country but Lagos is the pinnacle.”

Korty EO pink dress, white nike sneakers

“There needs to be a better process for how people get monetized in Nigeria," Korty said. "If YouTube says it’s catering for everyone in every part of the world, they need to do that regardless of the difficulties in the country."

Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

Still, existing in Lagos can take its toll, and navigating the YouTube payment model as an independent creator can make it even harder. “It was very difficult,” she said about getting her channel — none of Nigeria’s fastest-growing — monetized. “They have to send a pin to a post office. It’s very easy for people abroad but if you live in Nigeria, getting your pin and money is very hard.” Korty had to make a video detailing her frustration with the monetization process before further relief came and she worries about the next generation of indie creators hoping to share their talents with the world via YouTube. “With newer people coming into the platform, it’s really hard for them because they are confused. There’s a procedure but the procedure doesn’t work unless you get your pin and it’s mentally wrecking.

“There needs to be a better process for how people get monetized in Nigeria, if YouTube says it’s catering for everyone in every part of the world, they need to do that regardless of the difficulties in the country. I know that’s easy to say but that’s just it, it shouldn’t be better in one place than it is in another, and also I guess Nigeria should also care about these things enough to make it easier for everyone.”

Earlier this year, a video documenting Korty’s attempts to schedule an interview with Wizkid over three days in Lagos went viral. And it’s an experience that has only solidified her resolve. “For me, the main thing is that only a few things can stop me in this life," Korty said. "Obviously, the goal I had was to get Wizkid but the real thing was for people to see how if you set a goal and you move towards it, you either get it or move really close to it.”

For all the inspirational themes of her videos and persona, Korty is not a filmmaker that really cares about cajoling an awakening in her audience, seeing her role as more of a guide on the facts of a situation or phenomena. “I think for me, my role is to talk about certain things, shine a light on them and leave people to take whatever they want from the video,” she said. “That’s why I tell people that my aim is not to inspire. If it happens that you’re inspired, that’s on you.”

Despite all her protestations to the contrary, Korty understands the impact of her videos and is warming up to her role as an archivist of Nigerian contemporary culture. “When I do things, I don’t have plans but they start to unfold and people start to see what it can become,” she said. “I’m just trying to make it in life, I’m really not trying to be a culture shifter but I also feel like if that is happening and people are seeing a pattern, it’s now up to me to see if I can accept that responsibility.

"I’m very aware that there is a growing responsibility and, if I don’t accept it, I might not grow, I could just be stagnant."

In many instances, Korty is quick to reject tags or titles and as our conversation comes to a close, I ask what she identities as these days. “I’m starting to say filmmaker,” she said. “A lot of people would say that where do I get the audacity to call myself that because I make YouTube videos but if you put me up next to the YouTubers of today, there’s a clear difference. It’s also why I don’t like it when people call me an influencer because I didn’t sit outside Eko Hotels for three days to be called an influencer. Filmmaking is where I have found myself. In 2018, I was in fashion. Before 2018, I was designing. As time passes, I’ll stumble on something else. I don’t think I can do one thing for all of my life. But whatever I decide to do, I’ll succeed and be competing at the top.”

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