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.
Not many 23-year-olds would think to continue hustling after winning ₦50 million, but not many people this age have a story like Odudu Ime Otu’s. Odudu’s life changed in 2021 when he won the Gulder Ultimate Search, catapulting him into fame and money (a lot of it). Even after such a massive payday, Odudu refuses to accept he has, in Nigerian terms, arrived. “I’m not joking with my 20s,” he says, “If there’s one thing my dad taught me, it’s this is when I have to hustle like my life depends on it.”
In this episode of Man Like, Odudu talks about the tough life lessons his dad taught him, leaving home at 20 and the surprising thing winning the reality show has taken from him.
Tell me what it was like growing up?
I grew up in a rough neighbourhood, and my parents made sure I was aware of it. I lived with them and my two brothers in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, in an area that had a lot of bad boys. Many times, my dad would point out someone who had ruined their life in one way or another, using them to teach me and my siblings to stay focused.
My dad was very strict because he wanted to protect us. I didn’t understand it back then, but now that I’m older, I know it was for my own good.
So what was your relationship with your dad like?
We were close, but he had clear boundaries he set with his children. He mostly provided financially and gave out words of wisdom. Throughout my time in boarding school, he never showed up for one visiting day. It was always my mum. I’d ask her, and she’d tell me he was busy.
I’d be lying if I said I was surprised by this. Before I went to school, my dad would talk about how I needed to learn to stand on my own as a man. All that pep talk was lowkey to mentally prepare me for his absence during that period. I never held it against him because, like I said, I see where he was coming from now that I’m a man of my own.
What exactly do you understand now?
What it means to be a man, bro. As men, we go through a lot of things in silence, and it’s tough. Like most men, my dad had a lot on his plate as a husband and father. He had to work hard to pay our school fees, feed us and ensure we were generally okay. He also had to get promoted at work and elevate us beyond our financial situation at the time. He might not have been the most sentimental parent, but up until he passed in 2014, he always showed up financially.
I’m so sorry, man. How old were you when it happened?
I was about 15, and I remember just staring into the coffin in shock. I realised that as the first son, I needed to step up and become a man. My dad was gone, so this was a responsibility I had to take on.
Since that day, I’ve had to think three times ahead of my age. It affected me in school, not academically, but in how I interacted with people. My classmates focused on TV and talking to girls, while my number one thought was, “How I go make sure sey my family dey alright?”
Where was your mum in all this?
She was doing her best for my siblings and I. So there were times when I’d sit outside on the balcony, deep in thought for almost two hours, and she’d see me. She understood I was under a lot of self-inflicted pressure, but she didn’t dismiss them. She let me process my emotions for as long as I wanted before offering reassurance that everything would be fine. We were both trying to get through everything together. We continued this until I moved to Abuja.
Yes. One day in 2018, I was hanging out with my friends when a question hit me: “Do you want progress or not?” I wanted to be more, and I was confident leaving Uyo would make that possible for me. The thing was, I had to convince my mum about it.
I explained to her that it was time for me to explore other paths. I’d gotten all of my education in Uyo. Staying back felt like I was going round in circles. We talked about it until she understood and gave me her permission to move.
Weren’t you scared to leave the only home you’d ever known?
Of course, I was. It was even scarier when I finally moved to Abuja in 2019 and started living with my aunt. I was there for three months without a job. I had faith in my future, but there were days when I felt defeated. Things weren’t working out for me, so I considered returning to Akwa Ibom, but I finally got a job. I was still working at that job when I heard about the 2021 Gulder Ultimate Search.
How did you hear about it?
Someone I played basketball with randomly told me about it and asked if I was interested.
You must’ve had liver to go for a show like Gulder Ultimate Search
Trust me, I was intimidated when I arrived at the audition venue. The place was filled with huge guys, and I looked at myself like, “How is this going to work?” But I’ve been an athlete since my secondary school days, playing basketball and running, so that just gave me the ginger. I also wanted it badly.
Funny thing is, this season of the show ended up being more about mental tasks and how well you can accomplish them under pressure. I wouldn’t have been stressed if I knew it’d be like that.
What was going through your mind when you eventually got into the competition?
As soon as they announced my name as a contestant, I switched into observation mode. I started watching everyone to know who my main competition was. I knew I had a shot because everyone else underestimated me based on my age. I was the youngest on the show.
But shooting with cameras, especially in high-tension scenes, was a lot of pressure for me. There were days when I was ready to walk away from everything, but I remembered my family and how I was doing it for them. That kept me going. Fun fact: I knew I’d win as soon as I reached the top three. I just felt it.
Come through, Prophet Odudu! What were you thinking about when you won?
My family. I started thinking of all the things I could finally do for them. I also thought a lot about sneakers. LOL. We’re a sneaker-loving family, so I was happy I could buy as many as my siblings wanted. I cried because I knew it was a breakthrough for my family and I. It felt like all my hard work and sacrifices were finally validated.
How did the show affect you as a man?
It has taught me patience. Being around people with different personalities, I had no choice but to adapt. I’ve learnt how to handle people better. It has also taught me to be more conscious of how I conduct myself in public. I’m more vigilant these days.
Outside of the money, I’m curious about how much your life has changed since you won?
It’s been good and weird. With the good, random people cover my bills when I’m out sometimes, just because they saw me on TV.
Even after you won money?
Yes o! There are girls who always want to take me out to spoil me. Life is sweet, bro.
Can we switch lives? How about the weird stuff you mentioned?
The same attention that has people buying things for me, has taken the small things away. I can’t go to my local Mai Shayi without someone trying to record a video of me or take a picture. Mai Shayi has always been my thing, and now, I feel like I don’t have that anymore. There are people who’ll say things like, “Oh, GUS winner. What are you doing at Mai Shayi? You’re a big boy na.”
I don’t regret the competition or anything like that. I just miss the simple stuff I had access to before it.
But they’re not lying. You’re a big boy
Where? I’m still hustling, man. The first thing I did was buy a house for my mum, and after I did that, I just started hustling again with school and acting.
So, what’s next for you?
I need to finish school, go pro with basketball and do some more acting. I just wrapped a TV show, and I’m excited about it.