Ikechukwu ‘Cross’ Okonkwo The Diplomat
Family support matters for wellbeing and the purpose of feeling satisfied with oneself. A former Big Brother Naija housemate, Ikechukwu Okonkwo popularly called Cross, found this to be true while waiting his turn to enter into the competition. Finally, after several attempts and an admission, Cross is equipped with new knowledge about himself. He has learned of his high threshold for patience, a quality that he never thought existed.
Although slightly disadvantaged through the handicap of dyslexia, three months in the house has taught him to be fearless wearing his own skin. In isolation with strangers that later turned friends, spiritual awareness within him has grown and prompted absolute trust in the unseen but assured protection of God. In Cross’ universe, a fascinating, sunny future he is anticipating will see him assume a storyteller’s image; one who is busy telling remarkable Afrocentric stories to the ever listening world. He opens up to DOWNTOWN’s Ayodele Johnson about living with dyslexia and so much more.
Your journey into the house involved a bit of diplomacy. You had to convince your evangelist mum to support your interest. What can you share about your experience?
I know my mum. The most important thing to her is her children no matter the situation we find ourselves. That’s the number one rule for my mum. I remember when she wanted to remarry, I didn’t want that to happen and my siblings didn’t want that to happen as well because we were like; ‘no! we don’t want our dad’s memory to fade away’. My mum was very young – she lost her husband at the age of 32, so she had to remarry eventually. At the end of the day, we knew we loved our mum and if it is what she wants, we all have to come together and support her. Things like this show that we love her no matter what. With that, I knew it would take a little bit of convincing but I just had to do what I needed to. Plus, I am a man – I need to look out for myself. I told her about going into Big Brother a couple of years ago, she was like ‘God forbid!’ So, I didn’t talk about my interests anymore until I was at least 80 per cent sure that I was going in because you can never be totally sure. She cried when I told her but my sister who was in Canada with her helped to convince her. At the end, my mum yielded and said she will send the Holy Spirit along with me into the house for protection. My mother has never gone a week without speaking to me in my whole existence. So, my time on the show was the first time we have gone three months without talking, so she was a bit scared. At the end of the day, I guess I was super excited to see her when I came out of the stage, so it was all love after all.
How did you sell the idea to your mum urging her to support your Big Brother ambition?
I told her: ‘mum, I am who I am. You need to understand that I would never let you or myself down because I know how you have trained me – you have brought me up in the way of Christ. I know I have my shortcomings and I am not perfect. Also, I told her that I am into entertainment life and business. This platform will give me a bit of a boost to increase my reach. Right now, once you have a marketing strategy to push your products and you have a customer base, that’s where the money starts rolling in. These were key points in convincing her. I also added about getting our story out there – how my dad got assassinated and the challenges we faced afterwards. With my sister helping, after I keyed all these positions into her, she agreed to let me join Big Brother.
You had to list out your goals to convince your mother. Do you feel that you achieved your goals while in the house?
I was super shocked with what Cross Nation did to me when I came out of the house. My mum also came and surprised me with a gift and a Bible. When we met, she told me that she was super proud of me. At the beginning of the show, she was trying to find a way to call Big Brother to evict me from the house because she was concerned about my well-being. Listening to my mum say that she was honoured to be in my midst, broke me into so much tears. She told me that my heart is the most precious thing that God has ever given to me and that I should never lose it. I feel like I am a king and can take over the world. I can fly as high as I want to. It is about putting paper to pen and working with the right team to push my brand out there to the world.
To what degree did dyslexia affect your performance in the house?
There were times that I felt like communicating more but I couldn’t do that because I was scared that people might misunderstand me or laugh at me. So, I had to reserve certain things. Sometimes, I was like ‘screw it, let me be me. I will just do what I want to do.’ But it didn’t affect me completely because I made sure I knew who I was. Even if I had dyslexia, I knew that I had to be bold enough to be myself and say certain things that I needed to say. I didn’t know that a lot of people lived with this condition. It is high time we bring this into the light, especially in Nigeria, so that the young ones can understand that they can start treating it early. I know I am not dumb. I can hold conversations, debates and make you understand where I am coming from.
How do you cope with dyslexia? Perhaps, someone can learn from you.
If you are out there and need to learn from me, I suggest you surround yourself with good friends and family that would always encourage you and give you morale. Figure out what your strength is, then capitalize on it no matter what. Go for it hundred percent so that your strength overshadows your weakness.
Will you be starting a programme to support those who have dyslexia?
It is something I am going to push. This kind of thing needs a lot of finance. I am going to work on it and make sure that the foundation is solid. So when we start, Nigeria is going to be impressed. Africa is going to be impressed. I want something that when it is done, after I am dead and gone, it continues. We don’t know when the world is going to end. We are about to do something that will last forever so that when looking at Nigeria in a century, we will know that someone like Cross established a solid foundation for young kids to educate themselves.
Can you identify new skills that you have acquired since you joined Big Brother Naija?
Going into the house, I never knew I had patience. I didn’t know my threshold for patience was up there because I took so much misbehaviour from human beings. But I knew that going into that house, we have to have different characters from different backgrounds. So, handling that kind of experience determines your limit. I learned patience and acting. I didn’t know how to act but Big Brother taught me. I definitely now think I can act but I still don’t think I am a hundred percent good at it. I will be putting a flashlight on that to see what it would amount to. Also, Big Brother taught me more about cleaning. Coming into the house, I pretty much had to bring back my cleaning skill. In addition, I learned that no matter where you are, God is always going to be with you. I felt His spirit in me many times in that house. I thought going in, He might not be with me for a while. But honestly, He was with me throughout. No matter where you are in this world, no matter the situation, always call upon Him and He will be there for you.
What industry will you be taking on?
The entertainment industry in general. The movie, the music. I have a song with Ajebutter 22 which I did earlier this year. It is not out yet so I think we would be working on that to make sure it comes out. I am pretty much going to start my show going from one country to another and demonstrating what Africa is all about. Educating people – not just the turning up act. I am going to be taking over the world as much as I can. So get ready to see me out there. By the grace of God.
What has Big Brother Naija taught you about nurturing relationships?
People think money is the most important thing in life. I will keep telling you, ‘no, it is not’. Yes! A lot of things, you need money to do. Life is the most important thing in life and once you have a good life and a good relationship with life, that is when you have the real jacket. Your network of people is what makes you a big person, not your net worth. I think when you have a strong relationship with some set of people in your life, that is when you become the real big deal. My friends in the house, luckily for me I think they find a form of themselves in me and I also in them. I like every one of them. We have been through our ups and downs. I know one or two have said evil or negative things about me. At the end of the day, we are all humans. We all forgive and we all love. We have each other’s back at the end of the day. I really care about my housemates and I wish every one of them the best.
Do you think you caught a lovebug with Angel?
Angel is a very special human being to me and love is a very deep word. I can love you but I don’t know if I can fall in love with you. Falling in love takes time. It takes years of being with someone. You don’t fall in love with someone in three months. You can’t! Anybody that tells you that he is in love with you within this duration is a bloody liar! In three months, I can’t easily say that I am in love with Angel. I love her – that’s all I can tell you. As much as I love my housemates.