The Nigerian society can be quite conservative. While the majority of older Nigerians struggle to enforce these religious and colonial-era dictates, a new crop of men is questioning the norm by wearing hairstyles outside the usual low-cut and cleanshaven look. I spoke to five of those men about their experiences going against the grain in a conservative society like Nigeria.
A pastor’s kid with a church leadership role who graduated from Covenant Univerisity is the last person anyone would expect to start wearing dreadlocks, but I did it anyway. It started during my internship break from uni. It was against school rules to keep a full head of hair or facial hair, so the first time I got the chance to do it was during my internship break. That was six months of fights with my mom, with her always saying “Your hair is too full, I don’t like it. It doesn’t look good.”
Fast forward to last year. After the lockdown, I twisted my hair for the first time and hid from my parents for some time until they saw a picture of me and called me “Gospel Naira Marley.” I knew I’d have to step down from church leadership.
My mother and I had several rounds of arguments, which I usually won by saying, “You did what you wanted during your youth. This is my time, and this is what I want.” My dad shouted and shouted. I followed him to church with the hair, with the whole congregation staring at me.
I think they’ve come to terms with it. At least, I haven’t been disowned yet. I’ve just fixed my locs and I’m going home for Easter. Let’s see if they’ve truly accepted my style [laughs].
Sometimes, I still have to wear a beanie to unfamiliar places to avoid scrutiny, especially when I’m likely to encounter the police. We all know how quickly that can go left.
I knew what I was getting myself into when I started wearing locs, but I didn’t mind. To be honest, I revel in it. One of the funniest things is how people call me “Marlian” when they can’t figure out my name.
The downside is I’m not in contact with over half of my family because of my hair. It’s a deeply religious family and if anything is out of line with the “bible”, it’s all-out war. It’s more about going against tradition than religion because those two concepts have become mixed up.
There’s an uncle who I hadn’t seen in a long time and the first thing he says when he sees me was to go on a tirade. “Does this look responsible on you?” he kept yelling. I just smiled, because I’m all out of my quota of fucks to give.
Now, I stay as far away from my extended family. I live with my mom and she has no problem with it. I’m a student and a freelance writer so there’s not much friction on that end. I’ve had multiple incidents with the police. One time, they stopped me at Sabo, pushed me into their minibus and drove me around while going through my phone and questioning me. They eventually let me out at Yaba.
My hair has been in twists since 2019. It’s grown a lot since then and I find it’s been mostly women telling me how much they love it and asking about my haircare routine. I get the occasional glare from strangers, but for the most part, people don’t act weird around me.
I get a lot of suggestions about it too. Some people think I should loc it while my boss at work wants me to add some colour to it. Most men tell me they’re inspired to grow theirs like mine. I’m always interested in hearing their stories and I gladly share any tips I can. The other day, my Uber driver asked if my hair was real and told me how he wanted to grow his out as well. It’s always a great conversation starter. Then again, I’m not sure if that’s mostly because I’m a pretty man.
I wear locs and not just because I’m a musician but because of how it looks on my head. It’s twisted and styled to sit like a crown on my head. It’s quite the sight. I’ve had it for six years so you can only imagine the length when I let my hair down. Whenever I’m walking down the road or in a cab, I see people staring at me like an alien that just arrived on earth in a UFO.
It’s not all bad. Sometimes, I get compliments, mostly from women. I’ve even made strong friendships from conversations that started over my hair. Other people go out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable by giving me condescending looks. You can literally feel the disdain in their eyes.
As neat and nicely packed as it looks, I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t work in a bank or corporate office. You should have seen the look on HR’s face when I showed up for my first interview at an architecture firm. That’s fine though. I’m a brand/motion graphics designer so who needs a corporate office anyway?
Let’s not even get into the times I’ve been profiled and randomly searched by the police. One particular encounter was jarring. I had just finished a studio session and was on my way home in an Uber. They stopped the driver and started asking me questions. They went through my phone to try to find something incriminating but they found nothing. The officers kept calling me names and said they would kill me there and nothing would happen. I was scared for my life. Even though they couldn’t pin anything on me, they collected 10,000 from me before letting me go.
On the family front, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. My mom and siblings like it, but I have a step-sister I haven’t seen in years because she threatened to cut it off while I sleep the next time we see. I posted a picture on Facebook and one of my cousins commented that I had better cut my hair before she comes to Lagos. I blocked her immediately.
I’ve had five different hairstyles. I started with curls last year, which caused a lot of trouble with my mom, the extended family and nosy family friends, mostly because of my religious background. I moved on to twists and pierced my nose and was trying to live with it lowkey. Going to work was no problem as my boss was fine with all of that.
It was going fine until someone (I later discovered was my cousin) sent my picture to my mom on the day of NYSC POP. I received a very angry call from my mom and then my older brother who said if I got myself arrested for looking like a thug, it’s on me. My mom’s friend who was a pastor called and threatened to report me to God. I got sick of it all. My mom made me comb out the twist when I went home.
The most annoying part of it all is the questions I’m asked all the time. “This one that you pierced your noses, are you sure you’re straight?” Why are you making your hair, are you gay?” “Why do you do a manicure?” “Why are your nails painted?” I just ignore all the questions because they’ll never understand.
Since I was a child, I always loved keeping an afro. I saw pictures of rappers and told my mom I was going to keep an afro but she wasn’t having any of that. After secondary school, I was old enough to stand my ground, so my mom would call an extended family meeting and they would plead with me to cut my hair. Most times, I declined. One time, it nearly became a physical altercation.
In uni, I was finally free to do what I wanted and I was wearing an afro every time. This wasn’t an issue until my final year when a lecturer said no boy with an afro would be allowed to present their research topic. This made no sense, as the lecturer was a supposedly educated and exposed one. Why should it matter what style I’m wearing? Eventually, I cut my hair short for the last time.
After graduation, I moved to plait my hair and surprisingly, it didn’t attract too much attention from the police as I feared. I like growing my hair. It can be tedious sometimes, but when you step out, the compliments you get makes it feel like it was worth it. I run an agency and my clients love it. It’s a great conversation starter.