The Explainer: Why Bobrisky’s ‘work’ is actually very dangerous

There is a lot to be said for the aptness of local adages. Something about the way they help sum up a position. Even a worldview, at times. A popular one from Southern Nigeria comes to mind: “That you don’t chop off the head to get rid of the migraine”.

Chopping off the head to fix a headache – of course, there’ll be no more headache – but that’s because there’ll be no head anyway.

Last week, the organisers of the annual New Media, Citizens and Governance Conference (Enough is Enough) announced a last minute inclusion of Idris Okuneye on one of the panels less than three days to the event. The panel, set to explore the unusual methods of engagement using social media, was to be moderated by Alder Consulting’s Subomi Plumptre. Other panelists confirmed for the event include Femi Falodun of ID Africa and presidential social media aide, Bashir Ahmad.

A day to the event, both Bashir Ahmad and Subomi Plumptre withdrew their attendance from the event. The latter through her firm, Alder Consulting released an explosive statement on the reasons for withdrawal. Via Twitter. Of course, it sparked a controversy.

The statement explained in clear terms that Ms Plumptre’s withdrawal was on account of Bobrisky’s inclusion and they did not want to be involved in a panel that should have been serious but had been “sensationalised and radicalised” by the inclusion of Bobrisky. From here, everything went up or down hill, depending on which side of the controversy you took. You were either for Bobrisky or for Alder Consulting and the bone of contention – the dividing line was drawn around sexuality.

The proper approach though should have been along the lines of the adage. Bobrisky being the head and the “existential crisis” he presents being the headache (absolutely no offence meant here).

Born Idris Okuneye, and trained as an accountant, Bobrisky is Nigeria’s most interesting personality right now. He is elementary enough in his approach to have a very wide and mostly loyal fan base but also sophisticated enough to understand that the buzz around him should be maximized for a more profitable agenda – selling his clothes and bleaching creams.

In a televised interview with broadcast veteran, Adesuwa Onyenokwe, the University of Lagos graduate finally allowed us a little peek into the workings of the mind of the young Nigerian who had up until then been a curious case of entertainment to hundreds of thousands of other Nigerians via social media – especially Snapchat where he’s reported to attract thousands of views per snap daily.

On the platform, he posts his daily escapades, drops nuggets of advice for the young and daring, flaunts new toys, sells his products, teases fans with glamorous photos of himself, and wows with his always flawless makeup. Not completely a new use of social media by Nigerian celebrity standards but then throw his grand and suspense-filled tales of Bae, who may well be the 4th richest man in Africa what you have is definitely an engagement unusual. This last part even became more so after the interview with TW Magazine publisher mentioned above. He vehemently denied being gay and going further to explain his take on the subject of homosexuality, he said: “there’s no reason why your parents will give birth to you and then you won’t want to give birth to your own children.”

Bobrisky is not the norm, for sure. Not for the larger society that seems to abhor his perceived homo-ness (Call these people Group A) but also for also not for the more advanced and outspoken few who insist a progressive approach of a more tolerant and inclusive society (call these Group C).

You see, Bobrisky is a male cross-dresser but he’s insisted he is not gay. Unlike elsewhere in the world where cross-dressing is mutually exclusive of the cross dresser’s sexuality, here in Nigeria we’d rather believe that the cross dresser is homosexual. What this means is that Group A instantly hates him; Group C is alternately curious about/in awe of/fascinated by/obsessed with and occasionally, blindly over-protective of him.

Why is there no Group B you ask? There is. Group B is made of the real minority, the homosexuals, transgenders, gender fluid and the queer community of Nigerians. It’s a stretch to say that this group would rather Bobrisky was gay and that his clout could be leveraged on to advance the fight for recognition, non-discrimination and acceptance of this community. It’s a stretch but let’s agree to disagree on this.

The point of this grouping, is not an attempt to deepen a divide, it is to emphasize the fact that we’ve all at one point or another since Bobrisky happened, and for different reasons, engaged in that ill-advised chopping off of the head in a bid to cure the headache.

Group A wants nothing to do with him; Group B started out being supportive of him, but became disappointed in him after his interview with Adesuwa; betrayed that he would blatantly spit homophobic lines. When last week, the conversation was driven into a wrong turn about sexuality, they stood solidly behind him. Group C, has been okay mostly. But they too – and this is very saddening – have glossed over the cure for the headache even while they claim to know better.

The cure for the headache implied in the adage is the separation of the problem from the part affected. The head will always remain good even when it poses a problem for the whole body and its workings. It is the headache that should be sorted.

So what ache does Bobrisky present? His products. Not the clothes he sells in his Ikeja stores. Not the flashy toys he drives and flaunts. Not his quest for the good life. Not wearing what you sell. Not even his elementary approach – which is certain to evolve soon. His creams. His narrative that it is okay to change the colour of your skin because someone suggests and you accept that you are too black; too white; too caramel; too cream; too fair or too bi, tri, or multi-toned.

If your skin is changing of its own volition, you need to accept it. If it’s changing; becoming hyper-pigmented, reddening, or diseased on way or the other, the cure is not slicing off a layer – whether by toning, whitening, or whatever other euphemism bleaching goes by. The cure is dealing with the cause of the unnatural change without consciously trying to change what natural is. But this is not the self-love class. This is the kick-against-the-beautification-of-insecurity class.

We need to -collectively- make it clear that we do not approve of his bleaching cream venture. We need to be strong enough to say to him that whatever he represents – cross-dresser, homosexual, go-getter, transsexual, asexual, bisexual, transgender, anything else – irrespective of the side we stand with in the global fight for the inclusion of minorities, WE WILL NOT STAND BY YOU AND CHEER YOU ON WHILE YOU SELL US INSECURITY.

That should single tweet should sum our approach. We should be bothered. That fanfare and celebration of any person whose entrepreneurial brilliance is expended on selling, making, buying, using or reselling bleaching creams will be accepted as sensationalism. We should be bothered that the idolization of this person does not count as radicalization.

Now, Bobrisky is a curious case. Imagine that this is history’s way of presenting us with a Nigerian case of Michael Jackson – not to equate the latter’s musical genius and fame with Bobrisky’s still-too-young-fame. But don’t you ever wonder if we didn’t do enough to call out Michael on his skin change? What if our glossing it over in favour of what he represented – the daring and super brilliant musician, legend and philanthropist?

This is as good a time as any to call him out to let him know that we do not approve of his message, his business, his bleaching creams. To let him know that we appreciate a foundation “to help the government” and will not exclude him on account of being a cross-dresser, but we won’t tolerate him building an empire on the foundation of bleaching creams.

Now that’s not the only thing. We must also address the issue of ‘sponsors’. Are we going to be the society that chooses to condemn only the (young) girls who climb the fiscal and social ladder on the backs of their male, often adulterating sponsors? But when the girl is switched with a cross-dressing male, we choose not to call him out? We need to decide if we are a people that approve of the role of sponsors. And if we do – hopefully, we don’t – is it a message we want to sell to our young ones by publicly supporting a person who has made comments alluding to his dependence on a sponsor?

On a final note, here is the explanation –

Bobrisky can be as risqué as he wants; he can be a cross-dresser; a fashion figure; a male make-up genius who himself wears tons of it; he can be effeminate too – we will not discriminate against him, based on who he is even if it makes us uncomfortable. We will however be sure to draw the line of divide on his choice of business, his message; if it is a message that approves of the nonacceptance of colour even if he chooses to wear the flag of our struggle for an inclusive society. And finally, we will not be too afraid of appearing unprogressive or intolerant so that we, like cowards, celebrate and promote him without thinking through the consequences.

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