I’m doing my best to live most authentic life – Arit Okpo
As one of Africa’s Leading Ladies, and one of media’s most inspiring voices on the continent, Arit Okpo is definitely in a class a by herself. In this interview she tells GuardianWoman how her journey to being a media personality begun, and why she’s determined to live her most authentic life Enjoy the excerpts:
How and when did your journey to being a television host and media personality begin?
In May 2013 I was a school administrator. I knew that I was ready for a switch, but I felt that it was a switch to becoming a consultant. I wrote a 15-year plan and put in a plan to go to film school to study producing and directing because I was also interested in media. Two months later, I got a call from Mo Abudu; she had remembered me from the reality show The Debaters, which she had executively produced. She was starting a news show and thought I would be perfect. That, believe it or not, is how it happened
It’s almost hard to believe that you’re an introvert, given your public persona. How do you make the switch from the indoor girl to the woman addressing an audience? Well, when I stand in the public sphere, I am doing a job. It is my job to create a connection, to deliver a message or a story. When I stand in front of an audience, I do my best to ensure that the connection with the people watching is created. So I put myself emotionally and verbally forward, and bring the audience into my personal space so to speak.
Excellent! So tell us, who is Arit Okpo and what does she do?
Arit is a media services provider. I produce and present content, I write, I teach and I speak. I have to say that I am finding myself doing more and more on the stage and in front of the cameras, but I believe it’s all part of the plan.As a person – hmmm…I am a woman who is doing her best to live her most authentic life. Also, I love food. Food is my love language. When I am not working, I am perfectly content to lie on my bed all day doing absolutely nothing – well apart from reading novels and watching TV.
Before getting into media and television, what were you doing?
I was a school administrator; a job I loved and was quite good at. Before that I had worked in entertainment, production and PR.
How did you know you were meant for television, or that television was meant for you?
Funny enough I would never have said it was meant for me. I always felt that I was meant to be the one behind the scenes. Very oddly, a few months before I got the Ebonylife job, an old friend had told me she was disappointed with my life path. In her opinion, I was meant for the bright lights and she felt I was dulling my shine. I don’t think I was, but I think she was one of many who saw what I didn’t see.
You were the Producer and Presenter of the now-rested The Crunch on Ebony Life TV; how did that come about?
I joined Ebonylife to create, produce and present a news show called EL Reports. I had a very interesting mandate; I had to present only positive news about Africa. I had no idea how difficult that could be! However, I started the show and it did very well. When Ebonylife TV moved to Lagos, my CEO Mo Abudu realised that the show needed a revamp. She, our Head of Programming, Heidi Uys, and I worked to create a new premise, brand and feel. By the time we were done, we had The Crunch!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was believing that I had what it took to create and build a show. I needed to believe that quite simply, I KNEW WHAT TO DO. That took me a while!
And the milestones? Which ones have been the amazing standout moments?
Gosh, so many! I had the opportunity to travel to many different countries as part of my job. I literally got paid to go on holiday. I remember when we were shooting Destinations Africa – a tourism show, I was in Mauritius on the ocean going dolphin sighting and I suddenly realised – I’m at work, this is a day at the office for me! That was wonderful. I was the designated Senior Correspondent to the Presidential Villa and I have to say I never quite got blasé about flashing my ID, walking into the villa and engaging with some of our leaders. There are many more but these events stand out.
You recently worked on some CNN projects with Richard Quest; how was that experience for you?
Working on Richard Quest was a beautiful opportunity. It was a LOT of hard work but it gave me a rare opportunity to see how an international crew operates. I also enjoyed watching Richard Quest himself, his knowledge, expertise with technical details and respect for Nigeria as a country. It taught me a great deal about being in front of the camera.
You seem to be doing a lot of event hosting – British Council, our own LLA 100 Women Gala, The Future Project Symposium 2017, to name a few – is that a new career path for you? It definitely is. In the past three years, I have found myself doing more and more event hosting, and I enjoy it. I enjoy people, and I enjoy doing my part to ensure that events are a success. I believe that I have a relatable persona that many people can engage with, and I am enjoying the opportunity to bring that to bear in every event I host.
Kindly name five women who inspire you and why?
First – My mother! She worked really hard bringing my siblings and I up, and she taught me the value of hard work, of having your own and of being able to laugh at and enjoy life.
Mo Abudu – Anyone who has worked with Ms Abudu will tell you that they see how she has achieved such success. She puts her money, time and effort where her mouth is and if you work with/for her, it is impossible to outwork her.
Ada Osakwe – Ada inspires me because she is so effortless in her life of excellence. She approaches life with the determination to bring her best to the table. She has achieved so much already and when she stands in any gathering, you know she has earned the right to be there!
Shonda Rhimes (and every woman who didn’t find their purpose at 19) – I love Shonda. Not particularly because she wrote all those amazing series, but because by industry standards, some would consider her late. She wasn’t a spring chicken when she created Grey’s Anatomy and in the last few years, her life has blossomed in an incredible way. It serves as a reminder that I am never too old for my rising.
Every woman who quite simply refuses – I can’t name one person for this. I am inspired by women who refuse to be silent because they are women. Women who reject the status quo, who go where they aren’t supposed to, women who refuse to be defined by gender/qualification/marital status…women who refuse to be defined, period!
You speak about God a lot – not in a fanatical or oppressive way though. Are you a woman of faith, and how does your spirituality impact your life? My relationship with God is the most important thing in my life. In the last 12 years, God has become friend, father, lover, gossip buddy…literally my everything. In learning about God, I have learned how to love myself and love others. My faith is literally the anchor on which everything else lies; the fact that I can always run back into those Loving Arms and cry, plead, rant, laugh or just be silent, the knowledge that there is someone watching over me to keep and protect me…it is a living, breathing truth that permeates all I am.
Working on Richard Quest was a beautiful opportunity. It was a lot of hard work but it gave me a rare opportunity to see how an international crew operates. I also enjoyed watching Richard Quest himself, hisknowledge, expertise with technical details and respect for Nigeria as a country
That’s so profound. As an avowed foodie, tell us about your love for food, and is there a food show or something of that nature in your future?
Food and I are in a committed relationship; and it’s not just eating for eating sake. I love to explore food; I love to taste things, to develop recipes, to explore combinations. Food was one of the paths to finding personal wholeness for me, and cooking for me is a reaffirmation that I am always worth the effort. A food show? Hmmm…let’s wait and see!
As the new host of Untold Facts, what are some of the key issues that the show hopes to address, particularly in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, the LGBT conversation often evokes rejection, anger and blame. Government, the media and even families all contribute to ensure that LGBT people face harassment, rejection and even death. Untold Facts seeks to bring these topics to light. The show explores the LGBT community in relation to the law, the media, tradition and culture etc. It shows how the mainstream conversation can negatively affect the wellbeing of the LGBT community and seeks to encourage Nigerians to see that LGBT people are first and foremost, people; people just like everyone else.
Prior to your job as a TV host, you had an interest in studying filmmaking. Do you still have plans for that?
I think I was more interested in media than filmmaking. I have no real interest in making films to be honest. I want to tell stories, make documentaries, and highlight issues. I would definitely love to take some courses in the future to boost my knowledge and expertise in making that happen.
What drives you, and how is it that you stay so poised and collected almost every time?
Well, I have been blessed with a face that rarely shows how I really feel, so even when I am screaming inside, my face mostly reflects zen and peace; it’s a helpful trick. Plus, remember my school administrator days? There was always one crisis or the other, I had to learn to stay calm and solve the problem first, and then react later in private. I think that has stood me in good stead up to now. What drives me? Hmmm, the knowledge that I can do so much more than I already am. I want to keep taking on new challenges till the very end of my life! My aim is to live the very best version of my life.
You’re, no doubt, a source of inspiration to so many women. What’s your advice to younger ladies trying to follow your career path?
Put in the work! There are five million other people as hungry, as beautiful and as able as you. You have to do the work, put in the hours, hone your craft, find the thing that makes you unique and then practice that until you are the best you can possibly be. Be so excellent at being you that you become the reference point for your field. Be humble; don’t be too quick to hustle for fame; make sure that you have the talent and skills to back up that popularity. And then, practice! You should be better today than you were last year. Keep evolving, keep doing your best, whether it seems worth it or not.