I’m Learning To Let People Help Me — Man Like Shutabug

October 24, 2021

What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.

Today’s Man Like is Mayowa “Shutabug” Alabi, a visual artist, videographer, graphic designer and illustrator with the BBC. He talks about experiencing different social classes while growing up, an incident that made it difficult for him to ask for help and the inspiration for his art.

What was growing up like for you?

I like to say I had a bit of two worlds. My parents didn’t want me to be so spoiled that I would be dependent on them but also didn’t want me so close to the streets that I would become wayward.  I would leave Ketu in the morning surrounded by poor students heading to public schools to Baptist Boys College in Obanikoro. I was an ajebutter in Ketu, and never quite fit in at school because I wasn’t rich like my mates. I couldn’t relate to their discussions about their vacation trips abroad or cartoons they had watched on satellite TV.

My parents tried to teach me perspective. They would sometimes send me to my rich uncle’s house for the holiday so I didn’t feel too out of place with more privileged people. I went to fancy restaurants and had lunch on cruise ships.

I also spent time with my cousins in Bariga where I got close and personal to the “street life.” I loved it for how relaxing and dangerous it was. I got the freedom to buy street food and go to game centres.

Combining the experiences taught me how to navigate Lagos, regardless of which side of the divide I interact with. I guess I found a way to balance both.

What were the finances in your home like?

In the words of M.I, we didn’t grow up poor but we didn’t grow up rich. I was an only child so I didn’t lack basic needs.  I guess it was easy for them to raise me. There were days when getting by was a struggle but my parents made sure I didn’t lack basic needs.

How was your relationship with your parents?

Growing up, I was closer to my dad than my mum because I felt like she didn’t understand me— my dad just seemed more in tune with me than my mom. As we grew older, we began to find common ground on issues.  

There was an incident that drove a wedge between my parents and me for a long time.

What happened?

Growing up, I didn’t demand much. But in my final year in secondary school, I really wanted an Xbox. Things were going well for my family, so I told my parents that if I passed my WAEC exams really well, they would buy me an Xbox. They agreed.

Because WAEC results don’t get released until later in the year, my school used a mock WAEC exam to determine awardees at the speech and prize-giving day. Unfortunately, I hadn’t paid much attention to the mock examination because I was working super hard on my exams on WAEC. My parents were disappointed that I didn’t win any prize, and they felt I was smart enough to get at least one award, even if it was in Yoruba. They said they weren’t buying me the Xbox like they promised. I was gutted. It didn’t matter that later on in the year when the WAEC result came out and I did really well —  they didn’t keep to our agreement. It was at the point I determined that I would never rely on them for anything I wanted. I had to find a way to make money.

Omo. What did you do?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. When I got out of secondary school, I didn’t enter the university immediately because I wanted to study law but I was offered English education instead. During that year, I started learning graphic design.

And then?

I still didn’t get into law the following year. This time, I was offered political science, and I took it. 

It was a depressing period for me. But I think if I wasn’t studying political science, I wouldn’t have been able to find my dream career as an artist. I’d probably be somewhere saying “My lord” to a judge in a stuffy wig and gown if I had gotten law like I wanted.

I was getting money from designing flyers in Unilag for 2k-5k. In my third year, I got a job with Co-Creation Hub (CCHUB), where I worked for six years.

What did your parents think?

They didn’t know until my final year. I was getting a salary and an allowance. I was balling every month, ordering stuff from ASOS. During the holidays, I would ask to go back to the hostel. I said I wanted to go and study for the new semester, but the truth was I just wanted to be able to go to work. They found out about it in my final year, and I think they were relieved because they didn’t want me to be job hunting after school 

Six years after joining CCHUB, I left and became a freelance artist. 

Where do you get inspiration for your art from?

Frankly, I copy. It comes from looking at other people’s work and thinking, “If this artist can do this, I should give it a shot.” This doesn’t mean that I rip off the artist. I just want to see what the process would feel like. At the end of it, a distinct style comes out. I do that to make sure I never run out of ideas.

The inspiration for my art comes from Lagos. I used to use public transport a lot — danfos and BRTs. And every so often, I’d happen on an interesting scenario like a fight after two cars had brushed each other. My art gives me an opportunity to explore things I feel strongly about. 

Like what?

Independence. I’m an only child, so I’ve been on my own right from the jump. I’m used to doing things on my own. 

The Xbox incident with my parents also made it difficult for me to ask for help, from them or anyone else. People think I’m standoffish or snobbish because I like to do things on my own. I’m learning to manage to ask and receive help when I need it.

I hope you do. What are your plans for the future?

In the short term, I’m trying to stack up enough cash so I can focus on my long-term plan, establishing art schools in Nigeria. A lot of focus is placed on technical subjects like medicine and engineering with little attention paid to the arts. There’s a lot of artistict talent in Nigeria that just needs to be nurtured.

That’s interesting. When you’re trying to relax from work, what do you do?

On some days, I’m either sleeping, watching something on Netflix or playing video games. On others, I’m just talking to a friend.

Check back every Sunday by 12 pm for new stories in the Man Like series. If you’d like to be featured or you know anyone that would be perfect for this, kindly send an email.

Are you a man who would like to be interviewed for a Zikoko article? Fill this form and we’ll be in your inbox quicker than you can say “Man Dem.”

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

August 10, 2021

Anatomically speaking, the male body is quite tough. It can survive a lot of infections and recover much quicker. Still, there are some conditions that affect men predominantly, and if not checked early, can lead to serious health issues. Here are 5 men’s health issues you should always look out for. You should share this […]

August 28, 2020

How much do you know your dad? How much do you behave like him? Pause. Take a minute to think about it. Interlude: Hello Zikoko fam, something is coming soon. A series for men by men about men. Watch this space by 12 pm on Sunday: Play. How do you think you’ll measure up? Click […]

November 11, 2020

What does IJGB mean? – “I Just Got Back.” This means someone who’s living abroad and is back in Nigeria for December rocks. Now that you know the definition of IJGB, let’s begin. December is upon us and God willing, the innits will soon be upon us. We’ve prepared this guide as a safety measure […]

August 8, 2021

We’re way past the halfway mark of 2021 and we’ve seen some interesting stories feature in the Man Like column. We’ve read warm stories of fatherhood and seen terrible examples of fathers. We’ve read stories of death and loss. We even talked to an Ifa Priest about what it’s like being one. 1. People Are […]


Now on Zikoko

November 30, 2021

As part of the anniversary celebrations in Nigeria, a month-long celebratory campaign commenced this November with activities to excite and delight consumers across the country, most recent of which is the Share A Trip With Coke campaign. This year, the Coca-Cola System in Nigeria, comprising Coca-Cola and its bottling partner, Nigerian Bottling Company, celebrates its […]

Recommended Quizzes

how tall are you
March 11, 2020

Did your parents give you enough beans when you were growing up? If they did, then you’re probably around 6’0″ and above. Either way, we created a quiz that can guess your current height (pretty accurately, if we do say so ourselves). Take to see if we nailed it:

October 29, 2019

We are going to be attempting to guess when you’ll marry based on your favourite Nigerian foods. What does your fave swallow have to do with when you’ll tie the knot? Please, don’t ask complicated questions. This quiz is rigorous and accurate (don’t quote us), so just take it already. QUIZ: Why Do You Have […]

April 14, 2020

Every friend group consists of very different and specific characters — from the parent to the fun one — and it can be a little tough figuring out where you fall. So, we’ve created a quiz that lets you know exactly what kind of friend you are. Take to find out:

November 27, 2019

Do you have a face that could make angels jealous, or should you really be walking around with a nylon bag over your head so you don’t scare children? Well, this quiz is here to answer that by telling you exactly how good-looking you are. Take and find out: 11 Quizzes For People Who Aren’t […]

December 11, 2019

In the past month, we’ve made quizzes that guessed the last time you had sex, how many people you’ve slept with, and just how good you are in bed. For our latest attempt, we will use your taste in Nigerian music from the 2010s to ascertain what you’re like in bed. Take to find out:

More from Man Dem


Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.