I have been putting questions about prevalent thoughts on masculinity to people we have met over the last 36 days of the road trip. Although the responses have been in many ways predictable, I was particularly curious about the nuances in the stereotypes as we travelled to the more conservative regions of Northern Nigeria.
The general consensus is that a man is the provider for his family. It was, however, interesting to hear how much more value is placed on being ‘self made’ – working for oneself. In Kano, ‘the Centre of Commerce’, this is all too apparent. Our two young guides, Kevin Inuwa and his friend, Ismail Bashir, are classic examples of the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial mindedness of Kano.
Kevin is a youth corper, a Christian originally from neighbouring Kaduna. Although he lives with other corpers from different parts of Nigeria, he formed a close friendship with Ismail. Ismail is not a corper; he is a practicing Muslim and Kano local who lives in the same neighbourhood as Kevin and shares a mutual interest in business.
The third male I interviewed is Mr Salihu Tanko Yakasai, the newly appointed Director General of media and communications to the Governor of Kano State. A young, ambitious visionary, I was not surprised to hear that one major project the state is working on is Agriculture. He declares that the biggest obstacle faced in the northern region is poverty and the State’s vision is to increase not only research into the field but provide an injection of cash to rice, wheat and tomato farmers. This essentially is to create an industry that generates its own income and fosters growth of enterprising farmers. This strategy aims to encourage a culture of self-sufficiency and independence, which is a criterion according to Kevin and Ismail to qualify as a man in Northern Nigeria.
Ismail Bashir, Kevin Inuwa
Salihu Tanko Yakasai
Taking responsibility, being responsible for people in your family, this makes you a man.
Many people believe that if you do not marry then you are still a boy.
But here in the north, if you have money, even if you are not married, you are a man.
But that is not my own path.
There are boys even from 10 years old that start buying their own clothes, sponsoring themselves.
To be a man means I must stand by myself.
I am the first child in my family so for me, helping my brothers and sisters makes me a man. When I help my brothers and sisters, I help my parents.
Mr. Saliu Tanko Yakasai.
The perception in the north is that man is the head of the family – at home he is basically the boss. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t play with the kids; he can smile outside, but not in the house. This used to be the perception. But we, the younger generation, due to civilization, exposure etc, thankfully this is changing.
I really respect the kinds of people that work from an early age. You can be a young boy but because of your responsibilities you act like a man.
I know many of my friends from secondary school, they had nobody to sponsor their education. They used to sell fruit in the market or work on farms or even do small labourer’s jobs.
Me I was lucky; my parents gave me money for my school fees but every holiday me and my course mates, we did a lot of jobs like bricklaying, carpentry, painting, fixing mobile phones.
Of course, I can’t ask my mother for money every time I want to barb my hair or buy slippers.
From JS1, I bought a bicycle with my own money and I used to go to the market everyday to buy and sell rubber (buckets, ablution jugs). After school every day I used to take my bicycle and go and sell my things. Nobody ever said Ismail take this, go to school.
Your actions in a social setting also determine how you are perceived as a man. I’ll give you an example: when you are sitting with your friends you cannot start to talk about ‘Zworld’ – they will laugh and say, ah see this one is bringing women’s talk.
Discussions are usually about sports (football! ), politics, governance and current affairs. The way you are, you have to be loud; even the way you sit, you can’t cross your legs.
So you know all this ‘metrosexual’ trend of body hugs, tights clothes will not be accepted in the north.
Yes, definitely, I prefer to be businessman – then I am free. When I was at university I used to buy clothes, shoes and sell; even if I add only N150 on top I will make a small profit.
Yes, definitely, I want to be my own boss. I hope the government will make this happen in our lifetime.