Ex-Big Brother Naija Pepper Dem housemate and star of the ‘Mercy & Ike’ show currently streaming on Showmax, Ike Onyeama, has been a busy man lately. From his clothing line to photography and a budding acting career, Ike has finger in too many pies. In this interview by Segun Adebayo, Ike speaks about life after BBNaija, relationship with fellow ex-housemates and BBNaija Pepper Dem winner, Mercy.
You were in the house last year, how does it feel watching as an outsider this time?
It has brought a lot of nostalgia, everything from workout to eating Indomie and sharing with twenty people. Watching it brings back so much nostalgia. I mean I think about my time in the house a lot but I will say I like it more now as a viewer because when you are in the house, there is just so much pressure and mind games. You are thinking, ‘What is the next person thinking, how do I stay in the house much longer, am I entertaining the viewers? Am I doing what they like?’ But outside the house, it is like a family show to me. I just sit back, relax and enjoy. Even the moment they all sat together to address the issue of food fight, I felt, ‘wow, it is very entertaining for me now’ but while I was in the house not so much. It was more like a business transaction and I was just trying to make sure that it goes well but now it is good watching from this side.
What will you say is the best thing and the worst thing about being a Big Brother Naija ex-house mate?
The best thing is the platform it gave me. It is definitely the best thing because no matter what you did on the show or how long you stayed, you will get a platform which opens doors for you to make money. The worst thing about it is the fact that I think Big Brother is a social experiment and it opens you up as a housemate to all of Nigeria, Africa and maybe the whole world, and they are watching you for 24 hours and three months, judging everything you do from sneezing, coughing, cleaning and so on. So when you come out of the house, you realise that the judging will continue and that might be the worst thing because it’s still the same thing outside the house, so it’s like there is no way around, as I have seen. No matter what you do, those same fans who were talking about you in the house will still talk about you outside the house.
What are your thoughts on the current housemates? Any favourites?
I’m still looking to see the bad boy/girl of the house but I definitely like them. They are all very entertaining to watch so far. No favourites yet. I am still waiting for the one who will show me that crazy side, the one that will act like the black sheep of the group.
Do you wish you could have been on this set instead of your set?
I had fun with my set. Number one reason that made it so fun and loving was the fact that Mercy was in the house with me. It hasn’t been that long yet and I don’t want to over judge them but, like I said, they’re too soft. I have not seen anyone with that fire yet; I don’t see anyone causing trouble. The first week in that house I caused quite a bit of drama. If I was in this house by now, I would have turned it upside down.
On the Mercy & Ike show, we saw you speak about your budding photography business, though you were somewhat silent about it in the Big Brother Naija house. What was the motivation for getting into photography, and how has business been?
I have been modelling since I came into Nigeria. Even before that, I had done a few shoots in the US. Becoming a model was as a result of people always advising me that I have a good body, and I should model. I also always could dress well so modelling really just started off as a hobby. From modelling, I started to see how much more photographers were making compared to the models. I was with quite a few models and we all got paid maybe like $200, $300 while the photographers got $500 or $1000. That sparked my interest. I said to myself: being a photographer cannot be that hard, I already take good pictures for myself. But it wasn’t until I came to Nigeria that I actually got serious about photography; it was only modelling and acting before. When I came to Nigeria, I found a photography school, where I studied for about three months. There, I learnt a lot of the basics about photography and even some advanced things like editing. Since I was a model, I had access to other models, so I shot them for free. So, before the house, I had done about three shoots in Nigeria. When I went to the BBNaija house, the main reason I didn’t really promote the photography was because I didn’t know how it would be viewed. Though I was doing it seriously, it was still in the hobby phase, I wasn’t making money from it yet. When I came out of the house, I showed a few people my portfolio and they felt I needed to take this seriously that I could make a lot of money. Even the owner of the school I went to reached out to me and wanted to do a partnership where I will help promote his work and he will allow me to use his studio to do shoots and things like that. That’s how photography started and that is how I keep going. Right now I have a studio in my house and I also have a studio in Yaba.
Speaking of spreading your tentacles, we saw you audition for Tinsel on Mercy and Ike show. Can we expect to see you in the show sometime, and is acting on the cards for you?
I love the fact that they called me for the audition for Tinsel, though I am still waiting, because they promised that I will be on the next season. I don’t know if people had to see me audition to make it real because after it aired, everyone started calling and saying, ‘So you’re an actor, come and do this and that.’ So from Diane’s short film to two other small movies I have done already, people have been calling me for roles, which feels really good. You will definitely see me on the big screen.
Moving on to Mercy, you spoke about running a business with her on your show. Specifically you said if it was back in the US, you would have moved in and run a business together. How is that going?
We are still doing our thing. We haven’t officially done the engagement or moved in together yet but she comes to my place every other day and I go to her place as well. So as far as the living situation is, it is a kind of slow adjusting. We still kind of just go to each other’s house and try not to overdo it. Maybe stay a night or two but not too much, just because of tradition and that type of thing. When it comes to business, things have gotten a lot better. I think before it was more like all of us as ex-housemates were kind of in a competition with one another. Though you could get your fellow ex-housemate to post your business for you, you could not really get them to maybe come do an ad for your business or do something detailed to help you sell because there was a lot of competition. But now, it’s like everyone is finding their place and we are all comfortable helping each other out. With Mercy and I, for instance, anytime she would drop a business, her fans would want her to focus on herself, while my fans want me to focus on me, then there were the group fans, the shippers that wanted us to focus on the couple goals and do everything together. So, it was like trying to balance keeping them happy and keeping ourselves happy too.
On a related note, how were you able to maintain the fact that you want to live apart until you do the engagement, and just respect tradition and the advice of your family?
Honestly, it is so difficult. Every day I am fighting myself because she can be in my place for two or three days and I don’t want her to leave and I can be in her place for two, three days and she doesn’t want me to leave. That really gets me, but in the end I felt like, ‘Let me maintain my self-respect and just go home and come back another day’ because as much as I know she wants to live with me and she knows that I want to live with her, I know there is always that fear of judgement. ‘What will people say?’ Not to sound arrogant but we know there are a lot of people watching us, even down to neighbours from her side and mine. There are so many people watching our every move. As much as in the house, we were able to control ourselves for three months, we still have a lot of self control. Knowing that thousands or maybe even millions of people are watching and judging your next move, that definitely is keeping us from moving in together. I could be like, ‘I am an American and this isn’t bad’ but I know that even though I could probably handle the troll or the judgement that will come, I really won’t want to put her through that just because I want to live with her or we want to live together without being engaged. So that’s really been it.
How has it been adjusting to the Nigerian life from the American life you were used to? Are you still finding it hard to adapt to the way things are done here?
Honestly, I am doing much better with adjustments. Those three months in Big Brother’s house, people could really see the things I was adjusting to, like culture, food, language and the slang, things I couldn’t really understand. In the beginning it seemed so overwhelming. I felt, ‘I cannot do it; there is no way.’ But now, a year and half later, I am still here and I am loving it. Though there are a lot of good days and a couple of bad days, I try not to let the differences here in Nigeria stress me out. For example, my sink had an issue and in the US, I’d just go down the street to Walmart and buy the tool I need to fix it real quick. But here you have to go to the market, know which tool to get and prices or better still call a plumber to handle the situation and then start haggling with the plumber, so little differences like that get me. Also with food, I eat Nigerian food mostly now but sometimes when I am really in the mood, I will find a place that has cheese burgers or for breakfast a place that has cinnamon rolls, such things that remind me of home. I also try to keep in contact with my American friends, my family and on top of that I just try to stay positive. I will not lie: some days I wake up and I ask ‘God, how did this happen? How am I in Nigeria for almost two years?’ But I just try to stay positive and remember that as much as I am missing America, there are people in America looking at my Instagram, and the Mercy & Ike show, who feel like, ‘Yo, I want to come to Nigeria. I’ll rather be there’ and I feel, ‘It is time to be grateful for what I have already.’
What do you consider the best part of living in Nigeria versus living in the states?
If I am being honest, the best thing about living in Nigeria is the freedom. You know people might not understand that because America is home for the brave and free, but I mean I have been there for like 26 or 27 years and I will tell you that they have rules and if you break them, they have dire consequences. Nigeria has rules, but it is like there are rules and they have ‘bendable’ rules. Anything can happen, but I can wake up and tell you that by the end of today I am going to be at home, in my bed, safe and sound, no matter what it is going to take. Worst case I’ll make some calls or pay for security or whatever but I am going to be home tonight and safe. In America, when you wake up, you don’t know if you might die sometime today from crime, gun violence or worse. You might end up in jail, even for financial or tax problems or maybe you broke a law, anything. There are really serious rules and you have to obey or suffer the consequences. There is no work around but in Nigeria you can talk your way out of almost anything. Maybe it’s because it’s a Nigerian talking to another Nigerian and they can relate to whatever issue it is you have, but over there when you run into issues, you are going to end up talking to one white guy or one white lady and they are not going to care about you at all and they are not going to have any sympathy. That’s one good thing about living in Nigeria definitely.
Secondly it is family. In the US, I only had my mum, dad, brothers and sisters. Everyone else was a school friend or club friend or business partner but in Nigeria I have too many cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents, so I have a proper extended family here and it feels really good to have someone to visit me or reach out to.
Moving on from BBNaija, what is the biggest lesson Covid has taught you?
The biggest lesson Covid has taught me is to definitely have multiple sources of income and not to put all of your eggs in one basket.
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