INTERVIEW: Love or Hate Him, Jermaine Okpe is a Young, Talented Trailblazer From Lagos Set For Greatness.

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In a city as big as Lagos, an economic powerhouse and also a hotspot for Africa’s burgeoning entertainment industries, you tend to run into a lot of movers and shakers; people pulling strings and adding their bits to the larger picture not just on the gram, but in real life. From music artists, OAPs, media and marketing executives, actors, influencers, to name a few ––there’s a diverse network of people making things happen and putting their mark in the cultural books. It is also thrilling that young people are gradually taking up space in an ecosystem that has been fuelled by old ideas for too long.

Jermaine Okpe is one of the promising, young Nigerians disrupting his chosen field and defining what PR and influencing could look like for emerging generations and brands with base in Lagos. The first time I ran into him was at Club 57 in 2017, he was acquainted with my brother and so there was little introduction. Fast forward to 2020, we have become more than friends, but young ‘moguls’ building camps in Africa’s multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. Jermaine is no new name to many, if you haven’t attended one of his parties, either created or promoted by him, then you have come across his content, seen him in one of your favourite celeb’s story or even seen him get bashed by twitter vultures. He’s got a larger-than-life persona which hasn’t only boosted his journey so far, but also earned him a lot of haters and unsolicited advisors. But here’s the thing, Jermaine hardly pays attention to these comments or allow them weigh him down. As he would say on this 22nd birthday party a few weeks ago in an upscale lounge in Victoria Island “it is only what you pay attention to that bothers you”, he sips his drink and loudly whispers in my ear ‘dem go tire!”

In the thick of the virus outbreak, far before the #EndSARS movement, Jermaine and I sat for long hours and journeyed through his life, career and hopes for the future.

Read our chat below.

Tell us how you have you been keeping your head up since the beginning of the year, through the pandemic and other notable events since?

Thank you so much Korede for having me do this. First of all, I’m pretty sure this is the first time me or anyone in my generation is experiencing a pandemic. Yes there’s been Ebola but it wasn’t as crazy as this, schools weren’t locked, markets weren’t shut or churches closed. The only curfews we knew were the ones our parents gave us but it’s much different now. But so far for me I’ve had to go back into my shell and redefine myself, who I am and what I stand for. Especially because the things I knew or was used to like concerts, live shows et al are no more. So are you telling me Jermaine Media will stop to exist? I’ve had to diversify and find more of me. If that makes any sense. Now I’ve started a show where I interview entrepreneurs, influencers and creatives. It’s been running for more than three months and we have featured over 30 people. The aim is to be a voice for the youth and help young people air their struggles and wins. 

I’ve also taken the time to learn new things. I’ve started cooking again because I took a long break due to nature of my work. I watch more TV and listen to more music now. There are still promotion jobs here and there but not like usual. Most of the work is online. But things are gradually opening up so I’m hoping for the best. 

What has been your biggest lessons or mind shifts since then? 

First one is that you must have more than one source of income so when one closes another can open. The traditional workplaces have been shaken; banks, schools, churches and offices were shut for a long time. Some are still not open. If my work wasn’t media or mostly digital I’d be so idle. Even with that I’m useless sometimes. Young people need to learn to use their skills or always want to do new things. No one knows tomorrow. It’s the 21st century and there’s so much that comes with that too. 

Let’s talk about you – a young, vibrant and authentic blogger and influencer that has built a strong profile over the past few years. How did you get started, and also find your own voice in the entertainment and pop culture scenes here in Lagos?

I’m not a blogger actually. In no way. I do not report issues. I am a content creator, media personality and the creative director of Jermaine Media. We’re an entertainment platform that cover and promote shows, events and brands. Because I founded JM, I’m in the position toI talk on issues as they unravel but that doesn’t make me a blogger. But you know I don’t break stories except at events though (laughs out loud), I probably own most of the viral videos you see of events, no cap YKTV

I started up 2016, March 25 to be precise, because I know the date. I’ve a willpower in me to be so much more no matter what. Then I was in a gap year so I was home all through. I was always doing a lot for my friends, hype their businesses, work with fashion brands, plan parties and all that. But it came to me to just start something big in the events scene. First event I covered was KONAMII 2016 and that’s really what brought me out because I captured memorable images from there. The beautiful thing about my brand is that it has evolved over the years. I started with photography, then I moved to video content at events, and now I’m doing events and PR  for top brands and public figures. It’s been amazing I must say; there was no support at the beginning, most people ghosted on me or doubted what I was up to. I had to do all the networking myself and mind that the first two years were extremely difficult. I never gave up and now I’ve been able to find my voice and people are beginning to understand the brand better. I believe the youth are gradually taking over here in Lagos, Nigeria and I’m proud to be a mover and shaker in the scene. I also support and promote young, amazing talents from across the country. I absolutely enjoy it. 

Describe your personal brand?

I’m moving towards being more of a media personality because I’m appearing in a lot of conversations now. Even videos, see the Mayorkun and Zoro videos I featured in. I’ve been doing a lot of airtime on radio and TV too. Also I love fashion, and I’ve a very good designer I’ve been working with Mori Apparel and most of the things I wear are from him. So I’ve been gravitating towards a lot of fashion lately especially because people are taking more notice of what I wear. Media is growing and it’s gone beyond me carrying the cameras. We’ve a full team now including a manager. I love doing events but I don’t mind doing appearances and charging based on pubic figure status you know. I just believe in life whatever you do, just do you. That’s what I’m doing, having fun and testing the waters. Oooh I forgot I’m a law student in my fourth year. Bowen university. So I’m definitely practicing law too. In the morning in my hotel room in orientals going through files and next thing I’m at the club popping martell at night. That kind thing. 

You’ve also been throwing parties since like way back and you’re well involved in the Lagos night life. How are you able to juggle all of these with your education and personal life? 

It started in 2015. ‘Rated X’ the first party I ever did at my home. It was a party for the young ones and it was really big, over 300 people in attendance. I feel like I’ve been connected to the youth and entertainment scene here in Lagos since then. I’ve been involved in so many big parties since. Nothing in this Lagos goes on without me getting invited. These days na me dey even turn am down. But we thank God for growth so far. 

When did you realize this was something you wanted to do or build a career out of it?

For a long time I was just doing this for the sake of doing something. I won’t lie to you as a human being I had doubts. As at 2016/17 I was still having doubts. December 2018 was when I knew this was what I wanted to. I made a video of Tiwa Savage at Wande Coal Live and it broke the internet. Tiwa savage posted it on her page and it had more than 1 million views. There was another video with Wande and Burnaboy. His picture with Kodak too. Wande kept reposting my videos and crediting me. That felt good. Then there was Burna Live, Davido 30BG in 2018, the Wizkid VIP Experience. I made amazing content from those shows and it trended online. People would message ne to thank me for covering these shows because they couldn’t afford most of them. That was a really proud moment and it made me finally settle to do this. I was losing a lot of sleep this time while my friends were home chilling but I knew this was beyond me and something I had to do. 

You literally know everyone and you’re always at the most of the biggest and exclusive events. How do you manage to keep these relationships or start new ones?

To be very honest that’s the best part. One of the biggest events I’ve attended was for Sijimoto, one of the biggest luxury real estate entrepreneurs in Lagos. He did the Davido Banana island residence.  That particular event was for the la creme de la creme of the society. High flyers in the entertainment industries, governors, billionaires and then there was me, in one big room. It was a night if glitz and glamor. I made friends with Eku Edewor there, we’ve been good friends ever since. I also got on channels TV too. All of these pushed me build to start building my public persona. As for building relations, there are some people I just really love in the industry. Talk about Lola OJ, Mo Abudu, Funke Akindele. For years I’ve been digging entertainment and following these people on social island media. So it’s crazy to start being in the same room with these people. When I meet them I let them know how much I adore them, some of them even end up being my mentors I’ve made really good friends with Zoro too. I’ve a lot of celebrity friends now that I look up to and learn from.

What has been your experience working with brands, events and celebrities in the space? 

It’s being a love-hate, bitter-sweet, cry-laugh situation. Some celebrities pay, some don’t. Some just promise you exposure. They want me to cover their events but won’t pay at the end of the day. Some have gone so well that I wish hey keep happening. It’s like 50/50, but so far it’s being good learning the game and knowing how to navigate more of this relationships or clients per se. You’re quite controversial in some circles which is a common thing for someone that does what you do. What are some misconceptions people have about you? 

You’re quite controversial in some circles which is a common thing for someone that does what you do. What are some misconceptions people have about you? 

I feel like I need to address this well. Speaking on controversial issues, I never plan to trend or get people attach me, I always just find myself in the mix because I have content on it or aware of the topic.  Let’s take two issues for example that people have bashed me for my harmless opinions. Timini was trending for dating a 19 year old. In 2019 there was an event we were part of “The Lagos Party”. When they were leaving I made a thanks-for-coming video of them when leaving. So when he was trending for dating someone who was an adult, I just found it a perfect time to bring up the video again. And I quoted it with oh “wow this beautiful lady is Timini’s girlfriend, no wonder she was dodging the camera”. That’s all oh, and next time Jermaine is on everyone’s mouth. My point is I just have fun, I always have content but then expect people to consume it however way they want to. I’m not in control of that. Another was Solomon and these influencers, a group of friends who came together on my live show to talk about how they’re pushing the culture, at least that was the intention. All of a sudden they’ started calling out each other out and cussing. I started getting messages from my followers discrediting the show because it was meant to be a show to unite creatives but here they were. I had to speak on the matter later because I owed my followers an explanation. I’ve been involved it’s settling the disputes after all. I’m always in the position to talk on things cos I’m industry and I talk on what I have enough facts about. But people will always misunderstand you. I’m just doing my job. There’s a saying that “it’s not your job to preach the truth to people but when you see the truth it’s your job to follow it”. You can’t convince everyone so be yourself. 

What’s the most memorable events you have covered? 

It has to be Everything Savage in 2019. I got exclusive all access to cover the show from Tiwa’s management. It was amazing, they treated me so well and I got to meet a lot of people. I had Toke Makinwa, MsBanks, Teni the entertainer and more on my Red Seat show. They gave me enough room to use my creativity and I’m grateful for that 

Also Ushbebe Live 2020. The only successful comedy show this year because it happened before the coronavirus break. I got to meet some icons in the industry and I made exclusive content too. The most memorable events for me are the ones where I’m allowed to create what I want. All access!

How do you grow your following? 

My following always grows anytime I’m doing a project. Let’s say I’m doing my prom tour, I get a lot of high school students follow me . I get content from my coverage of December events in Lagos city. And then there’s my live show too that’s always bringing new or home to my page. 

In your opinion, what makes someone influential? 

It’s the ability to carry the crowd or make them believe your brand. To be a voice for people no matter how little and to lead. Not a lot of people can do that. 

Do you ever feel attacked by people’s comments or perception of you?

Instagram for me is my safe haven. Even when I do things they don’t like they know how to correct me subtly. But you see twitter ehn, twitter people we have beef to settle. Anything I do they must complain. Do I feel like they’re being a bit too harsh? Yes of course. Do I think they should pipe down and let me do my job. Yes. They misunderstand me a lot and most of the things they come at me for, they don’t have the facts yet they will argue with someone who is closer to the source. They don’t know what’s going at all they’re lost Na we dey run things 

What are some important qualities you hold on to keep you grounded?

Always speak our truth. Remember home and where you’re coming from. The final thing, let love lead.

You see any changes coming to events and influencer landscapes in Lagos after Covid? 

Definitely. I believe after this pandemic, brands and agencies will go after the influencers who have channeled their voices well. For events I can’t really say because it’s dicey. There have been some changes lately though, more of drive-throughs and intimate events. Events will be upgraded and even much more better when they return. I’m really excited for the entrainment culture in Lagos by the time life is back to normal. 

What piece of advice do you have for other young people seeking a career in the media/events/influencer sectors? 

Be consistent. Know that flowers don’t grow in a day, they have to be nurtured and watered to become plants. Same as humans, you need to give whatever you are doing time to grow and improve. Have a mind of your own. Do not listen to what people have to say if not that will derail you. You’ll start overthinking what people say and let it influence your decisions. So be careful with that. I keep saying it, so you. 

How do you maintain your authentic voice in your channels while still partnering with brands?

You don’t have to work with every single brand that comes your way that’s Ymir you being silly it’s just being selective of the brands that reflect who you are and useful for your audience. I luck brands that relate to me or the things I do. That works for me. 

Are you working on any project(s) right now that you’re excited to share?

I’m not allowed to share some though but know big things are coming. With my live show already running, know that’s going to be bigger. We will take it out of Instagram and even reach more creatives across the continent. 

Richard Ogundiya

Journalist & Techpreneur. Africa, communications and data.

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