Santiago Roberts is the Director of Qhue Concepts, organisers of Miss Tourism Nigeria and Mr Universe Nigeria. The young CEO, whose pageant company has scooped many awards, in this interview with Ifeoma Ononye, speaks on how he has learned the ropes in his career and the discipline that comes with being always around young beautiful girls.
You have successfully organised Miss Tourism and Mr Universe Nigeria for more than five years now, tell us how it all began…
Prior to when Miss Tourism Nigeria and Mr Universe Nigeria kicked off in 2012, Qhue Concepts was already long handling pageant production and management as well as consulting for top pageant brands here in Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa.
We decided to launch the Miss Tourism Nigeria and Mr Universe Nigeria brands because we believed that pageantry as a tourism tool could also become a strong platform not just to scout for beautiful faces for the commercial value of partners and sponsors but also as a platform to enrich and empower young people to become very powerful voice. A voice that could not be ignored as a force when it concerns national issues; issues that could lead to a better change and ultimately nation building.
The pageant industry here in Nigeria no doubt is booming, but sadly most of the new emerging pageants are copies of what already exists. The Miss Tourism Nigeria Pageant, however, has been completely redesigned to provide a whole new concept to the pageant industry and its devoted fans.
We focused on what we felt the country needs and wants; a positive role model for girls/boys and men/women around the country. Instead of finding yet another pretty face or sex symbol, we wanted to find a young man or woman who is passionate about making a difference. Other pageants claim to be looking for the same, but actions speak louder than words, which is why as an addition to all the creatives we have introduced over the last seven years, this year, we are also introducing new rounds such as The Final Speech, which sees each representative that makes it into the “Top 5” present a speech to the judges and viewing audience about their chosen course and charity they wish to be a spokesperson for during their reign.
Overall, we want to find a young man or woman that will be active in making a difference, not just a pretty woman or a sex symbol who can strike a pose in front of cameras with a crown and title.
In Nigeria, sustaining a business is of the biggest challenge. How have you been able to maintain the pageants till date?
Funding has been a major challenge for any start-up in Nigeria and for the pageant business. It’s even twice the hurdle because there is nothing like grants or seed money or even investors willing to invest like other business enjoy.
As a result, I have had to invest personal funds over the last seven years till date. I have sold my car, sold a land just to ensure each year, we are able to pull the show off in a grand style. Our Mantra is dedication and determination. If you are determined and dedicated to achieving something then you surely will achieve. But at the same time, you have to work hard as success does not come easy. Moreover, I believe in putting my efforts in the right direction at the right time. With a combination of these entire things, one can achieve anything. Surely it feels great seeing our country receiving recognition at an international pageant stage because when you are competing for any international contest it becomes a matter of the entire nation, not just a single person. So while we might not be getting the funding we hope for, I believe someone somewhere is watching and sooner than later, guess I won’t have to sell off properties to make the show happen.
Organising beauty contest takes a lot, especially managing human being with diverse culture, believes and personalities…how do you keep everyone happy without hurting their feelings?
Passion for change. Our slogan is ‘An Ambassador for the nation,’ and that’s exactly what we’re looking for. Representatives from each state should be ambassadors for their states so that they can make a significant difference in their states, even if they don’t win the Miss Tourism Nigeria crown. Also, the Miss Tourism Nigeria platform is far more than just a crown and a sash. It’s our aim for The Miss Tourism Nigeria Pageant to be as entertaining and vibrant as Miss Universe, with an important focus like Miss Earth and be as respectable and honest as Miss World.
In 2016, one of your queens, Collete Nwadike won an international competition which threw you more into the spotlight, tell us about her success story and fame it brought to your pageant?
It was indeed a moment of joy and pride for the brand to have one of our queens becomes the first black girl to win the Miss Exquisite Face of the Universe. Without a doubt, that win shaped the brand and propelled us to become a force; lots of pageant hopefuls begin to tilt towards the brand and also give the brand massive press/PR but I must say it hasn’t been only Collete but we have had other amazing queens all done excellently well at major international pageants around the world.
And as a brand that’s committed towards tourism promotion and also continually working hard to put Nigeria on the global map through the use of pageantry as a tourism tool, it goes beyond just Miss Tourism Nigeria queens; I must say we are always supportive of every Nigerian delegate (from any pageant brand) who goes to an international pageant, perform good and make Nigeria proud. The pageant industry though still growing should become a family where we all celebrate the wins and achievement of each other as a single entity.
Did that win make many girls sign up for the competition that year?
Oh well surely. We had lots of entries that season. But then we also understand that it’s not just an international win that sustains a brand. Lots of hard work and the eye for details as well as ensuring brand integrity and credibility is also key. We are yearly working and continue working to have another international win for the brand.
You have won a few awards with what you do, can you tell us about them?
The Miss Tourism Nigeria pageant is the winner/recipient of the “Most Outstanding Pageant of The Year” For the Lagos Fashion Awards 2014/2015. The brand also won ‘Pageant of The Year for the Garden City Fashion Awards 2015, also, ’Pageant of the Year’ and ‘Fashion Event of The Year’ for the West Africa Fashion Awards 2016 as well as current winner, ’Pageant of the Year’ for the Nigerian Achievers Awards for 2017, ’Pageant of the Year’ for the Golden Pageant Awards and Africa Model Awards for 2018,
Growing up, have you always known that this is the career you were born to do?
I am certain that just like every normal young kid, growing up presents us with difficulty in deciding what exactly we intend to become. Even though I discovered earlier than I would say, most growing up kids shaped my direction in life; which is to inspire people to live lives becoming an inspiration to others. I also knew that it will require a lot of training and mentoring. But I can say as a product of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and early media working background, it gave me the opportunity to be quickly grounded and allow me to be able to bring the planning, organisation and creative problem-solving skills from an early education, experience and qualification to each event which I have been opportune to be a part of. With credits to television programmes, the conceptual foundation built during those years is represented in many aspects of project messaging and creativity. Maybe or maybe not, but am certain that my years at that citadel really paved way for most of the things am doing today.
What other careers fascinated you as a young man?
As a growing young man, I was most fascinated by the media. I always wanted to be on TV and be able to speak to people. And I can say I am one of those few privileged enough to have lived it; at a very young age, I got the opportunity to work at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). In fact, I believe so strongly that my background in the media, under the tutelage of some of the industry’s finest like Helen Odeleye, Comfort Okoronkwo and Amina Abdulrahman grounded me and even prepared me for my real life career: Events and Production.
During this period, I went from production assistant to a presenter, then to producer and director. I positioned myself to learn as much as I possibly could. Every department truly fascinated me so I took it upon myself to go through them all. After 5 years, I realised that being on TV wasn’t actually what I really wanted because I noticed I enjoyed being behind the scene, directing people and pulling together all the elements needed to have a great show and I even got happier with feedbacks from my superiors and the viewers when the shows I produced/directed reached expectations or changed lives.
I am still in the media, because all our shows are designed as television shows; even the Miss Tourism Nigeria, as well as the Mr Universe Nigeria contest but I find greater joy as the man behind the scene bringing it all together. Bringing all the sparks to create that magic that eventually leads to that life-changing moment for thousands of young girls and boys who pass through our pageant system.
Many would say that it is lack of job opportunities that lead many into organising beauty contest. Have you ever done any 9 to 5 jobs and was it searching for a better means of livelihood that led you into organising beauty pageant?
I really don’t think it’s ever the lack of a job that would lead anyone to go into pageant production. Because this is an industry that requires lots of understanding as well as so much to be able to function and deliver a good production that transcends beyond just show or entertainment to understanding that it’s a platform that’s meant to discover, support and empower.
I produced my very first pageantry in 2006. I was still in NTA then. And then I moved to Owerri where I was working as a creative director and event manager for one of the major events and tourism brands there. I produced three national pageants for that brand also. Also, at a very young age, I realised I wasn’t the regular 9 to 5 kind guy. So all the places I ever worked at, my working there wasn’t really 9 to 5. I had the freedom to work at certain times and still be able to go use my time for other things. I am a creative thinker and developing creative processes and platforms is my strength.
This one may seem funny but there may be truth in it, there is also this speculation that it is usually men who don’t know how to talk to girls that go into a beauty contest. Is that so for you?
Hahahahaha! Oh my God! really? It’s more like asking an introvert to become a bank marketer. Or a really mighty shy person to become the governor of a state. Beauty pageantry requires you to know how to communicate. It requires you to be a good salesperson. It requires you to constantly be in the face of projects and talk brands and organisations to seeing the bigger picture and most importantly, being able to lead young girls to forge clear vision that is not just about their own personal self-gains but visions and ultimately projects that will make their societies and communities become better. So if you don’t know how to talk, then wahala go dey Oooo! LOL!
How do you deal with seeing beautiful girls every season, does it take a lot of discipline not to cross the line?
Again, every job requires the utmost discipline. Pageantry like any other industry requires great discipline. And I believe one of the things that’s set our brands (Miss Tourism Nigeria) from other pageant organisations and help us stay scandal free or any form of sexual harassment is because the team as well as myself understands that what we do is service. Not just service to mankind but service to a higher power that is gracious enough to position us to become instruments that can be used to discover, support and empower thousand and millions of young people. And to be able to do this work efficiently and effectively requires not just discipline but an even stronger self confidence in understanding that access to young and unassuming girls doesn’t translate to the abuse of that position.
What specials are we expecting from Miss Tourism this year?
This year, the show is themed, #theWonderWoman. We will be celebrating about 30 black women; women of power and courage who fought bravely to give the women of today a voice. Women who went into battle when the men were scared or undecided to even consider. Women who stood in and enforced peace when chaos and anarchy seemed like the only thing that was an option. Women who provided counsel to their husbands and kings leading to the establishment of world order and peace.
I am particularly excited because the team has been working on this since October last year just to ensure that the narrative is properly carried out. I can’t let much out but believe me, this year’s show will be like never seen. From photo shoots to promotional images and videos to even the entire concepts, its gonna blow you away. This year’s Miss Tourism Nigeria pageant is one that you can’t afford to miss.
Am also strongly trusting that this year, we can do more with the right sponsorships; so I am calling on all brands, no matter how small or big to please come through and let us create this #wonderwoman magic together.
Since you are passionate about tourism, in what ways can the government improve tourism in Nigeria?
First, let’s ask ourselves, what is attracting Nigerians to Dubai, including even our government functionaries? It is because the country has positioned itself as an exciting destination where you can have fun and feel safe at the same time. We can do better because Nigeria has some of the best beaches, flora and fauna as well as the most beautiful tourist destinations in Africa and the world.
But for us to do better, the government needs to critically look into the major drawback which is the dearth of infrastructures.
Simply put – no infrastructure, no tourism. This is the bane of tourism in Nigeria. There are no supporting tourism infrastructures in the country. While the ones available are begging to be revamped. So, first things first, is for the government to look into tourism infrastructure development and improvement.
What contributions would you say Miss Tourism has done for Nigerian tourism?
The Philippines has had a major economic growth via pageant tourism as a tool. And it’s truly sad Nigeria is yet to come to the full understanding of the huge impact as well as the influence of the beauty pageant industry. Pageant queens are a strong weapon that can be used to awaken a sleeping giant (tourism); something that the likes of Philippines, Thailand and Venezuela have come to fully understand and are capitalising on to grow their GDP.
A beauty pageant vis-a-vis queen is a subtle representative of feminine icons in any country. It’s not surprising therefore that beauty pageants showcase a country’s fashion (culture and heritage) which are the major elements of any tourism tool.
The Miss Tourism Nigeria pageant via its yearly ambassadors despite the non-funding from both government and sponsors have continued to promote Nigeria’s tourism potential not just here at home but even on the international scene, drawing global attention to Nigeria as our queens showcase our rich culture and heritage as national representatives at global pageants around the world..