By Fred Iwenjora
Many who know Chief Dennis Okwu agree that he has without doubt made a big name in the freight forwarding business as Managing Director of Sweet Apple Group and an influential member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA.
However in recent times this huge goodwill in his field of work is gradually being over shadowed by his philanthropic activities across board.
Aside from supporting youth activities in the area of entertainment and sports by sponsoring several cultural activities including his contributions in Nollywood, Okwu has in the past six years also organized a yearly soccer Championship in Ikeduru Imo state, his home which has provided end of year sporting excitement for the people aside from discovering and rewarding new soccer talents handsomely.
In this chat, he discusses in more details, his love for being a brothers’ keeper revealing that it was after restive youths kidnapped and later killed his over 90 years old father many years ago that he decided to keep them busy with the sponsorship of movies, music and Unity Cup. How far has he succeeded in doing this? READ ON
What is the Unity Cup all about?
Unity Cup is a yearly soccer tournament which brings together grassroots teams around Imo state to vie for a trophy donated by me and redeemed yearly. It is an effort aimed at arresting youth restiveness in Ikeduru area of Imo state. Kidnapping for ransom had taken over the land especially during the Christmas season and we found a way to check it.
The tournament begins during the second quarter of the year, around August as a league with a finale in December. It was designed to keep the youths busy as most of them have nothing to do even though they all claim they want to meet up. It is said that the idle mind is a workshop for the devil. I must say that the Unity Cup has done well in the last six years by discovering new talents who are playing in the professional and amateur league in Nigeria and has also provided entertainment for the people.
What inspired you to blow your hard earned naira on this?
I am a victim of youth restiveness myself because some brigands killed my father over fifteen years ago. They had kidnapped and killed him, a man of over 90 years and I still wonder what they were looking for. People had been killed for N10,000, you won’t believe it. We reasoned that if these young men who wish to meet up are harnessed and their talents condensed, restiveness will be a thing of the past at least in Ikeduru my community. I think that in the last six years we have done well. We have players from the tournament in Golden Eaglets and Heartland of Owerri. I also feel that we are realizing our objective.
What makes Unity Cup different from all other grassroots soccer championships? How is the Unity Cup organized?
We set up an organizing committee which arranges a league that starts around August and ending in December every year. Community teams and soccer academies within Ikeduru and neighbouring communities register for the league. Again, during the finale, several prizes are given out and not only to the winning team. We have also the best in everything like best goal keeper, highest scorer, best behaved team, etc. At least 80 % of the participants in the championship take home something in cash and other gifts as motivation for participating. Spectators from all the neighbouring villages also look forward to thoroughly enjoying themselves during the tournament and tourism is boosted.
What about funding? How easy or hard has it been through the years in terms of funding?
Of course we all know that such tournament will cost money to organize but I am not moved by that. The passion of keeping a legacy for my father drives me to continue to set aside personal money for this yearly tournament. I feel happy that the government of Imo state have always identified with us not in terms of financial support but in terms of moral boost. The Commissioner for sports Imo state did the Kick Off of the last tournament and the Heartland of Owerri top representatives have always been part of it. I am proud to tell you that some players discovered from the tournament play for Heartland and the Golden Eaglets.
You seem to be very passionate about youths and philanthropy……
You are right. The Passion I have had about youths did not start today. The same way it is in sports is the same it is in entertainment. I had invested in Nollywood and supported some young men who wrote a script and did not have funds to actualize it. We made a movie out of it. Currently, we are also planning to support some young people in the music industry. We have set up a record label to tap into the music revolution taking over Nigeria now. Many are known but more than many are yet to see the light and it is these that we are looking for in the new record label.
We have found an office space in Lekki , Lagos and will soon release some of our artistes. For me restiveness will be a thing of the past if the youths are fully engaged
How will you select some of these talents?
We have set up the office and the studio which was opened a few days back in Lekki, Lagos; we have engaged producers and we are about to run a talent -hunt competition tagged Young Generational Voices from which some of these talents will be selected. This is very open to all Nigerians and winners will be recorded and promoted and finally marketed across the world. We will not discriminate in the brand or style of music. We are looking out for good singers who are highly creative and can perform.
A lot of people think that pirates will be a thorn in your flesh..
We did not start hearing about piracy today but when we reach the bridge we shall cross it. If your music is not produced then who will pirate it? If your music is in the womb, then who will see whom to pirate? Our task is to discover the talents first before thinking about who pirates them.
Artistes are difficult people, how do you intend to manage them now you want to enter all time?
Every game is played by the rules. We deal with contracts in this business as well as every other business. There must be terms and agreement and laid down rules about how the business will be done. Once rules are followed strictly, then all is fine.
Many musicians have hailed you for support..
I am grateful for their appreciation. I know it must have been for one kind gesture or the other but most times I don’t even remember what I have done to deserve the accolade. I am not a rich man by all standards. I only know that there are a few other people I am better than so I try to lend a helping hand. I think what drives me is where the Bible tells me that there is more blessing in giving than receiving.
Many who know you see you as very stylish…..
Leave that one my dear. I wear whatever fits me but I give all to God because I believe that all is vanity before God. I do not pride in style because it is all in vain. My main style is philanthropy and doing God’s work especially by being my brother’s keeper. That matters much to me. You will only be remembered by all the kind deeds for people and not how you were dressed. Billionaires have come and gone as you are not the first. If you see yourself as having arrived then I am sorry for you.