The grace of God turned my situation around overnight – White Money
Who deyyyy,” his soft bass voice boomed in the room as he stepped into the Guardian TV studio.
“Give me the mic, make I mic myself. This is the type of s*** I like.”
It was hard to miss the free-spirited and humorous persona that Hazel Oyeye Onou, better known as White Money, embodies. Draped in his ripped jean trouser and fitted t-shirt, his easy-going and jovial vibe filtered through the room.
“It is the life,” he notes, explaining how he somehow shuttled between the city of Kano and Oshodi suburbs of Lagos within the past 24 hours. While his red eyes gave his stress away, his enthusiasm glowed all through, just like his fair skin. For the 29-year-old, indeed, better days are here.
Exactly 76 days ago, the Enugu State native was just like every other hustler on the streets, working several menial jobs to make ends meet. Now, he walks with a cash prize of N30 million Naira, plus extra cash in an Abeg digital wallet, Bitcoins courtesy of Patricia, a two-bedroom apartment courtesy of RevolutionPlus Property, an SUV from Innoson Motors, a trip for two to Dubai, a weekend getaway to Seychelles, packaged by Travelbeta, among others. All these coming after what was the most unexpected, but significant win of his life. While street merchants and residents held physical campaign processions across Lagos, several entertainers and celebrities held the forte for him on social media. With a landslide victory, his massive fanbase under the moniker, Money Geng, piloted the Jack-of-all-trades from a street-boy to a showbiz superstar.
In this interview with The Guardian, he talks about his indigent childhood, sleeping under the bridges, being his true self in the BBNaija house, as well as his foray into the music industry.
How does it feel winning the show?
IT has been overwhelming; I didn’t expect to get it like this. I see it on TV and I watch it, but I never experienced it. But now, I am living it and it has been overwhelming. I just know that the grace of God turned my situation around overnight. I still don’t believe I am a celebrity. I am not just a celebrity; I am now celebrated.
After auditioning more than once, did you envision winning this thing?
No, I only wanted to get into the house to showcase my talent. The way the thing take be be say I no even know sey I go reach that level. I no sure sey I go get there, but I said I wouldn’t give up. Eventually, I won. That, I didn’t see coming, based on the kind of characters and intellectuals we get inside the house.
What was the strongest motivation for you to apply for BBN?
It was poverty. There was rejection, failure, and other things that I am not proud of; things that take me back into my shell. They all motivated me. The yearning inside me to display and showcase my talent to the world; for the people to hear and know me… those things drive me.
I need a different life for my family, friends and my people. I want them to be happy. I want them to feed. In order to do that, I have to make a move; it felt like their destiny is attached to my destiny. I had to make my destiny blossom through the grace of God, for theirs to shine as well. And that is what God started doing in my life.
Did you expect the love people showed you from outside?
Noooo, I didn’t see it coming, because this is a WaZoBia love. I have the Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos, Middle Belt… all 100 per cent on my side. Like, the streets are buzzing! I never expected that kind of love. While in the house, I knew that the housemates always stood up for me, but outside the house, I didn’t see it happen.
It seems you had a lot of supporters from Nollywood and the streets particularly?
I am more popular on the streets, not for entertainment but for the hustle. I did several things on the streets; I sold and hawked all kinds of things. My hair and looks made me popular, but I wasn’t entertaining anybody, but they felt that ‘this boy dey waka and he dey hustle’ and that I was a fine boy that was hustling.
On the Nollywood side, I know just one or two, because I used to cut their hair. I used to cut Fred Amata’s hair. I sold shoes to one or two. But like wildfire, the thing just spread. I came out and saw that almost all the Nollywood stars were at my back and I didn’t know most of them.
You sold your personality from week 1. Was that deliberate?
That wasn’t deliberate, that was my real life; that was me being me.
Did you feel any urge to edit your personality while in the house?
No, I don’t know how to pretend or method-act. Even if you give me a script, I must twist that script; I can never act a script the way it is given to me. I love humour; I love being free. I be water, I dey flow. Myself was just what was helping me. When I got into that house, I am telling you, looking at the personalities with their qualifications, I just felt that I stood no chance there and I preferred to be my local person.
Some people might disagree that you are local?
Nwannem, I dey local! E get some things wey I dey do wey e be sey on a normal level, you would know. I am just conscious of hygiene. But e get some kind things wey I dey do wey you go know sey this guy no dey exposed. Some of those things like when I sit down and eat from the pot; show them all the body and all that. But that is who I am and who I love to be.
Was cooking actually your strategy in the house?
No, it wasn’t. Cooking is my passion. I love doing it. It is what I like to do. Outside the house, it looked like a strategy, but it was my passion.
Tell us how you grew up and the struggles you faced?
I was born in Kano, but I grew up in Kaduna, Benin, Asaba, Lagos and others I can’t even remember. We moved a lot, but the places that played a major role in my life were the North, West, Middle-belt, and even the East as well. Then, I came to Lagos and stayed with a family friend for a few months. We were in Martins Street, in Ojuelegba. I had to stay there for a while until it was time for me to move.
However, I didn’t have a house and that was how the streets came in; I moved to the streets and started staying. I shuttled between sleeping under the bridge and an uncompleted building in Makinde.
Did you have any form of education?
The highest I have is O’Level. That was my NECO exam, but I passed it very well. I had eight credits and one A.
Why didn’t you further your education?
There was nobody to pay for it, it was a relative, Uncle Joe, who sent me N4,000 to buy my NECO form. Even while I was there, I knew that money no dey for me to go school. That was why I started hustling. I started hustling from a young age.
Do you think you would ever explore going back to school again?
For me, it is something I cannot do again at the moment. The only school I want to go back to is the school of money. If you go to school, you could still come out and be suffering. Now that I have this, Big Brother has given me all the education that I needed; I did tasks in more than 30 courses. Person wey go university never finish those courses wey we study in the form of tasks. We did tasks that you needed two years to learn, under one minute. I just want to be gaining more knowledge from life.
How did you get the name White Money?
White Money has been my name on the streets for a very long time. The Holy Spirit gave me that name. I prayed for a name years ago. I had answered different kinds of name and I didn’t like them. So, I prayed for a name, asking God for something that will stand out. And I slept and woke up, I woke up with the name White Money in my mouth. So, I went to the store and told my boys there to start calling me White Money.
So, the name was there, but the money wasn’t there; it was a struggle. When you invite White Money to an occasion and he doesn’t pop a bottle of champagne, you start wondering if the money was really white. The name was making waves, but the person behind the name was going through a lot of pain and depression. Now, the name and the money have now fully merged.
On the music side, when did you fall in love with music?
I have always been a choirboy; I and my brother, from Reedemed, Winners Chapel, have always been in the choir. I had been freestyling on the street for the longest time with my brother. My brother chose his path in computer engineering and left, but I was still stuck in music. I have been doing it, but unprofessionally, even from Kaduna. When I came to Lagos, I started it again. It has been in me. I just archived it for a while, due to depression and rejection. But the Big Brother House has brought it out.
Are you going to pursue music now?
Yes, I am going to drop a single before the year ends.
It seems you already have some buzz in the music scene?
Yeah, they came through. They came down to where I am; Slimcase came. These are people who are already top dogs in the industry. I just had to acknowledge it.
So, what’s next for you?
I want to build my brand as a musician, entertainer, and businessman. I like to make people happy; it is my calling. I love to cater for people. I love to look out for people; it is not only through food, but also through my talent. You can make a depressed soul laugh and forget their problems.
Anything you’d like to add?
God is the greatest. God made all these possible. His grace is sufficient for me. All 26 of us that went into the house are all winners. One person came out as the winner, but we are all winners. Despite all the situations we went through in the house, God brought us out and we are good. So, be yourself and stay true to yourself. Believe in your dreams. Pray to God and everything is going to be fine. Who deeeyyy!
Finally, could you tell us three things people would be shocked to know about you?
Most people don’t know that I am a go-to driver. I am an actual driver. Most people do not know that I was a bodyguard. Most people do not know that I sold puff-puffs in Yaba there.