Mr Lawrence Okpe is the chief executive officer of Black Giant Signature, organizer of Face of Art Nigeria Beauty Pageant and African Giant Awards. In this interview with STELLAMARIES AMUWA, he spoke on his passion for empowering youths and supporting the less privileged persons.
Tell us more about what you do?
I am an actor, content producer, entrepreneur and an event organizer. I am the CEO of Black Giant Signature, organiser of Face of Art Nigeria Beauty Pageant and African Giant Awards, founder of Touching Heaven Foundation, a charity-based foundation under which beauty queens carry out charity outreach. Black giant signature is a multimedia, event and content production organisation, with the primary aim of discovering, nurturing and promoting youths with great potential in the entertainment and media industry. We have produced over five movies which includes: silent conscience, touching heaven, karma’s law, conjugal blame and the most recent, unchurched featuring known and fast rising artists. I have acted in over 15 movies and directed three movies. My annual event, Face of Art Nigeria Beauty Pageant & African Giant Awards has created a big platform for ladies, who wish to make an impact through the pageant industry. We have so far crowned 12 beauty queens in four editions and they have no doubt been very impactful with their crowns and titles. The African Giant awards has become one of the most prestigious awards in Nigeria as awards of excellence are presented to people from different works of life such as top politicians, Nollywood actors, musicians, media personalities, and among others. Touching heaven foundation is a platform created for crowned queens to carry out charity outreaches and their pet projects.
I am very particular about touching lives, so my photo and video studio host a photography and videography class for youths willing to pick up a skill in media. So far, we have trained over 45 youths that are into movies, content production and photography.
What inspired you into doing all that?
I do a lot of creative things like script writing, TV presentation and event host anchor. I find myself loving anything entertainment and media especially after studying Theater Art where I got to realise that entertainment can be used not just for entertainment sake but also to make an impact. I wouldn’t have ventured into organising pageantry if I didn’t realize it can be used to touch lives. We have gone as far as Kotangora in Niger State to feed over 500 Almajirai and people leaving with disabilities on the street. Two years ago, we visited the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Kuchingoro Abuja, where we gave out cash, clothes, foodstuffs, educational materials and a lot more. Last year, we visited Science Boarding School, New Karu, Nasarawa State and distributed over 1000 sanitary pads to 300 female students. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we distributed hand sanitizers to cyclists. We have also visited beggars twice this year in Mararaba. My satisfaction comes from doing these things, so everything that grows around me is for Impact.
What have been your challenges so far?
Sponsorship. It is true that money is not the first thing you need to be impactful but you will need it to meet up certain needs. For instance, putting up the Face of Art Nigeria Beauty Pageant and African Giant awards every year has been very challenging because of lack of sponsors. Sometimes, I collect from my business to fund it, just to make sure that people are recognised for what they do. New queens are crowned to continue the ‘Touching Heaven Charity’ projects. Last two years, we gave out a car as the star prize. This year was not easy, so we had to calm down to something else. It will shock you to know that in the 3rd edition, it was my car that I gave out when an intending sponsor couldn’t meet up. Even after the event, I was still paying accumulated debt.
Another challenge again is on the African Giants award. The award has gained grounds more recently. The nomination categories, where we put five people from the same profession to win by votes, sometimes get so competitive that threats begin to come in, and since I have decided not to dance to such a tone, I risk being attacked. Sometimes at the end of the event, nominees, who didn’t win in their category, begin to beef you up unnecessarily after you have done the right thing.
Nothing too serious, but sometimes after crowning the queens, instead of making impact, they will be thinking of how to make money, drive big cars and win more cars to such an extent that a crowned queen could abandon her crown to attempt other crowns so as to win their prize. Sometimes, I end up regretting crowning a person because they will not complete their reign.
What are your fondest childhood memories?
The one I can’t forget is where I got drowned in a river trying to do what other friends were doing. Everyone had dived in already and I was the only one left. To impress them, I dived in from up, but when I began to drown, nobody rescued me. My elder brother, who was not close to the scene was the one that rushed to save me. That taught me a lesson till date never to go by the dictate of men.
Who is your mentor?
My mentor is Tyler Perry, a Hollywood actor, script writer, motivational speaker and producer, Tyler is everything creative in one and despite his fame, his life for God and humanity is equal to none. Tyler Perry does entertainment for impact using all available platforms. I hope to do more.
What are the post-COVID measures you adopted to move to the next level?
This year was a success for me. Aside from entertainment, I now own a business (a multimedia store). We deal on photography, media gadgets and accessories. Although we are still growing because it started this year during the COVID-19 breakout, I realised that getting partners and sponsors for what I do may be more challenging after the pandemic, so I had to invest on something that could support my dream.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
You are addressed by the way you dress. The cheapest way to tell who you are is to dress as such. So, fashion and style are very important. To me, it defines you and builds a brand that the world will recognise. We know Micheal Jackson and Lagbaja not just by their songs but also by their fashion and style. Although I am a simple dresser, even in my simplicity, I go the extra length to make my style speak.
What is your take on the new normal like sticking to facemask and at same time, staying fashionable?
A new fashion and style are about to emerge from this. Check from the early ages through the Medieval era till date, fashion and style is crafted from the situation in environment, climate, conditions, war and so forth. I am already working on a facemask that will be branded ‘BLACK GIANT MEDIA’ for my media crew and another branded HRM FABP for all our beauty queens. It’s a welcome idea.
What’s your greatest challenge when it comes to measuring up with your professional colleagues?
I feel the difference between me and other professional colleagues that are doing better in my field is knowledge and opportunity, I am already thinking of going for further studies in a film school abroad. If given the opportunity, I will love to go to school in Tyler Perry’s film academy or any other in California. What I am trying to say is that it’s a challenge and by next year, I hope to make moves for more knowledge whether in Nigeria or abroad by God’s grace. Having the idea and knowledge but not having a suitable fund to meet up is another challenge.
What sweeps you off your feet?
Seeing someone from nowhere taking the lead positively. Again, seeing my seed grow into something great. I am quite young compared to what I do, so, when I see people that went through my platform doing great things, my happiness pops up. Also, watching a performance from a physically-challenged person doing what people who have all the necessary abilities cannot do, gives me joy.
Tell us a little about your family
I am from Owukpa, Ogbadibo local government area in Benue State. I was born into a Christian family of 11. I am the second to the last of Lawrence Okpe’s family. My dad is a retired soldier, the eldest child of his family. My mum is a business woman. I was born in the Barracks, Ojo cantonment precisely in Lagos. My parents are a great inspiration to me. They brought us up in the fear of the Lord and helped us break-free from educational restrictions. If you are willing to go to school, my parents will go the extra mile to see you through. We have been through difficult times but I must say that we are gradually coming out. Even as the second to the last child in my family, I was the first to get a degree in the university. Not that my siblings were not ready to go to school, the fund wasn’t available. But as I speak, everyone is done with one study or the other from the universities and other institutions. My parents are presently based in Karu, Nasarawa State, while my siblings are in different parts of Nigeria. They are all married except me and my younger brother, who are still in school.
How do you unwind?
Sitting with friends while watching talented youths perform on stage. Listening to music and watching films.
What genre of music do you listen to and why?
I listen to more gospel music though, not religiously. I just love worshipping. POP, R & B and Hipop music is also a go for me because you will hear what the artists are saying and it gives them room to make sense. I am not so much a fan of dance hall, maybe because I don’t know how to dance.
What’s your highest point and where do you hope to be in the nearest future?
Well, we have come a long way but yet to start. Next year, we will be celebrating five year’s doing the same thing professionally. In the nearest future, like five years from now, you will be hearing of black giant TV, where contents produced by us and those by other content producers will be showcased. Just like silverbird TV, black giant TV will be recognised worldwide. It will be one of the most recognised black TV shows.
What is your advice to Nigeria youths especially at this trying period?
We have trusted the government and they kept failing, so, the youths should explore their talent. When I graduated from the university, I kept searching for a job for three years but to no avail. I decided to look within and I discovered that I got something all men could seek for. So, I decided to start from the scratch. Right now, no government job can impress me out of my dream. They can start their own company, be willing to start small and grow. They should be focused because a double minded man will forever be unstable. Make the government a last option and grow your first option which is your passion.