Any other definition may not be apt enough to describe the enigmatic person that Joan Okorodudu stands for other that she is a mother, a wife and an entrepreneur. While speaking with our reporter, Emmanuel Omene-Johnson at the Kanu Nwakwo`s owned Harvey Apartment, Victoria Island, talked on her freams for Nigeria`s entertainment industry, the modelling world, her pet project, NNSM and her life as a wife, mother and an entrepreneur.
On the question of who she was before now, the Boston University graduate said:
Basically I am someone who stayed home to take care of her kids. Then when the kids became men, I decided to do my own thing. For example a year ago I made the Who is Who of Africa. And most people do not even know that. An Olympian, a beauty queen, a stay home mum. And I graduated from one of the best university in the world, that is the Boston University, U.K; a political scientist, psychiatric clinician and a fashion designer.
As a young woman, was there any inkling that you would be one to groom up young women?
Yes, there was. If you see my baby pictures, pictures of me when I was one, you could see the way I poised. Obviously I think its always been in me. I knew that some day; when I was young I was quite lucky that I was one of the prettiest girls. Even though I was a tomboy you could see it in me that I was a bit beautiful. And I have always had it in me that I wanted to do this.
Didn't your parents try to stop you from your dreams?
My father was so educated. My mum was also educated; my mum actually likes anything that has to do with beauty. My parents did not stop me.
When did this idea of grooming young ones started?
Well, I was in Cameo Agency in Boston, so I was a model. It`s not that I just woke up from nowhere. I was modelling when I was in university. So it`s obvious that when I was a young girl, that when I was ready, I would start grooming up young girls. I went to Ford Model Contest in New York with Lezy Mojo. When I got there I looked at it and said I think I can do something like this, if not better. You can tell that Nigeria`s Next Super Model is a show to beat. And whether anybody likes it or not, it is the Model contest that talks much. We do not stay in camp for one or two days. I think this is the shortest time we are going to stay in camp. We are going to be in camp for sixteen days; and not staying in camp for two days; we have so much that we do. A lot of the girls learn a lot here. We want to know how they can make up if there is a fashion show, and the make-up artist did not show up.
Are there any challenges so far?
Yes. Lot of challenges. You know, the Pulling Down syndrome in Nigeria. You can never stop it. The thing is when you have God you can achieve all things. First of all I am a Born-Again Christian who has given her life to Christ. I believe in the ten commandments and I knew that no matter what anybody throws at you, once you are faithful with God nobody can bring you down. We have other international shows in Africa that has gone down or been epileptic. And we have shows that are not at par with what we are doing but we have a show called Nigeria Next Super Model which is a show that was own by me, crafted by me, by God; it was something that I did not just wake up to do. It was actually showed to me. And I know that nothing can bring it down. There is evidence of what is happening; the number of big companies that are adding their names to the show: International, Quarofky, Daviva, the big Ford Group of Dubai. It is unbelievable. Dark and Lovely, Lorell Paris. We did away with Vilisco because we had a long running contract with Daviva. So we cannot do the two. But I am proud that at least I can be associated with two brands that are almost the same. It is unprecedented, it is indicative of the fact that we are doing the right thing.
Definitely what is the next agenda?
Yes, the next agenda we have is for them to start travelling and start working. Most people did not know it takes two years to start grooming a model before they start making money. if you are into this business in other to just come and make money, you are not going to get models. Even if you have the money it can last for more than one year, and tomorrow nothing happened, you have to put in more money to groom models. My girl is in China right now; Maurine Abudu is in China. She left three days ago. I spent my money. Nobody gives me money to send these girls. The girl that won last year, she went to Beirut, with me and my money. I pay for all those tickets and I am not recouping. That is what I am trying to say. And if people make me mad I am going to stop it. I do not even give a hoot; that is the bottom line. Those that just got back from African Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa; I pay for all of them. Next time I would just give it up, i would not give a damn. I have sown in a lot, i have put in most of my finances and i really do not give a damn.
Why are you not telling the government?
No they know. You see, it is actually these corporate bodies that should help. And if they do not want to help they should not take our jobs out of the country, leave the jobs here so the jobs do not need to go abroad. A lot of our jobs are taking to South Africa. So we are forced to go to South Africa to go and work. All the big companies if they want to do shoots they go to South Africa. Before you know you see somebody who speaks Nigerian English but is not a Nigerian. You are taking away from your children. It is a shame, a real shame when people are struggling to make it in this country fashion and art work. Recently you saw my models making the runways at the BET fashion and musical show. Olubunmi-ademokoya opened the show. Followed by Aisha Bello, Tinuade, then I had Temitope Reju, Sandra Iwu and Aisha Olu. All they need to do is to say thank you or leave me alone. Come Sunday, you'll see. I do not do a cheap show. I do a great show. Nigeria Next Super Model is a multi million naira show to beat. As evidence, I mean look at here. Kanu Nwankwo gave us this place for free; does not that say something? For forty people, does that not say we are doing the right thing? There is no stopping me; it is too late to stop me.
How do you see tomorrow on this show?
Yes, I am already grooming some girls to take over. And I know my son is not interested in doing this. So i have girls who were part of the first set, that are directors in my company.
Individually when you look at the girls how would you want to qualify them?
These are the some of the best girls we have had, that we are finding it difficult to select the winner. By now we should have known the first six but it keeps on changing; so, now it is left for the girls to show to the world that I am the winner. For now, nobody is leading.
What are your plans for the girl in the street who cannot afford getting to this place?
If I have the kind of money other climes have, for they have a lot of money, i will open it up. For example Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Costarica produce beauty queens. A good case is Venezuela where that is their business, manufacturing beauty queens. When a woman is pregnant in Brazil, she is praying for a baby girl. She is eating good food, and as soon as the baby comes out they would start massaging, because you should the amount of Venezuelans that have become Miss World Beauty Queens. Another one just won Miss World. So it is a business. Imagine you have lots of models from this country, imagine the money they would be bringing in. Fashion is a multi billion dollars empire. And the sooner we tap into it the better. African fabrics are taking center stage right now. Everybody is wearing Ankara all over the world. And look at us we are even thinking about it. AGOA, The Africa Growth Opportunity Act, that US president Clinton started is still on and we are not taking a penny from it. The Bank of Industry listened to me, they are my sponsor. Let them come and show Nigerians we can make money for this country. India was smart, now it is the destination for a lot of people. People are buying fabrics in India; we can use this medium to launch it for other people to come buy. People like Douche and Gabbana, we can make their clothing.
I want you to talk about the winner, hope the winner would actually go home with the prize?
The other winners are driving their cars. And that day the winner is going to take her car home. This is Nigeria`s Next Super Model; not just that, Virgin Atlantic will give her ticket to London. Studio 24 is giving her another ticket to go to Dubai for one week. Rookie Concept will give her one thousand Dollars dresses. Proudly Africa will give out decoders to all of them. It is not about going to the stage and let them give you something.
For a woman like you with a family going from one place to the other, how do you do it all?
Well I travel a lot and what I do is that most of the time my husband can be in Dubai or in London, and I just fly down. And I have been married to my husband now for almost thirty years, next year February 19 to a wonderful handsome man and a gentleman to the core. Without him and God there will be no Nigeria Next Super Model. Like the girl that flew out on a total of N400,000 for tickets for a trip, he paid. He's been supporting me and am always praying for him. My family think am doing too much, especially when you have people in this country who are ready to bring you down any moment. The bottom line is that I have decided to go on at the long run. The thing is am too much to quit. I have the full support of my husband and he has done everything to make sure that I succeed.
Are you going to access the FGN $200M grant?
We probably will access it for other reasons, like using it for my fashion company that we do for Daviva shops. And also for our Nigerian made. And for me, I think government should create something that will display our product in Africa, like they have South Africa. We should begin to have our products in our own shop