Nigeria: Beauty Pageantry – Is It Still Relevant?

In recent years, the entertainment sub-sector in the country has witnessed the increasing introduction of beauty pageants in various forms and shades. From Miss Nigeria, which started in 1957, to Silverbird Group’s Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, MBGN, others such as Queen Nigeria, Miss Teen Nigeria, Miss Nigeria in America, Miss Earth Nigeria, Sisi Oge, Miss Heritage Nigeria and so on, have sprung up.

Most remarkable is the new trend trailing these pageants and that’s the fact that more than ever before, they all claim to promote African heritage above Western values and ideas. Practices at some of these pageants have however forced this claim to be questioned at different times.

Beauty queens, promiscuity, scandals

Perhaps due to the sexy dress patterns of contestants and the daring manner in which they strut the runway, a large chunk of the society have found it almost difficult to separate pageantry from immorality. In fact, pageantry, to these ones, is a major breeding ground for promiscuity and all sorts of immoralities such as lesbianism, prostitution (i.e with judges and organisers for favour), etc. This is regardless of the fact that many beauty queens have gone the extra mile to prove beyond reasonable doubt that pageantry isn’t all about promiscuity or immorality.

Unfortunately though, several beauty queens have been associated with some very scandalous stories that shook, at different times, the media landscape, further bastardising the entire concept of pageantry. One of the most recent was the case of Chidinma Okeke, Miss Anambra 2015, in a leaked sex video in which the beauty queen was caught in an enthralling act of lesbianism with another beauty queen sometime between September and October, 2016. A second video surfaced, showing the queen and her partner, playing with cucumber, and using it as a sex toy.

The queen however claimed she was pressured to do the video by the organisers of the Miss Anambra Pageant, Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, a claim the organisers swiftly denied. That scandal further cast a shadow of gloom and almost doom on pageants in the country.

Relevance: In spite of such ugly tales however, beauty pageants cannot be said to be entirely bad–at least not with scores of positive stories that have emerged concerning many beauty queens in the past. Not to mention the impact these women have had on communities and society at large, even up to making global impact.

Like Alex Nwankwo, CEO, Amity Global Network/Organiser, Most Beautiful Model in Nigeria, Most Beautiful Girl in Abuja recollected in a chat with Woman’s Own, Nigeria was recognized as the first African country to win ‘Miss World’ courtesy of the ex-Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, MBGN, Agbani Darego, where she was not only given money and prizes but gained world recognition.

“The role of pageants in Nigeria and beyond cannot be quantified as several beauty queens have gone ahead to hit headlines in politics. The wife of late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Bianca Ojukwu, was appointed Nigerian Ambassador to Spain during the Goodluck Jonathan administration; former beauty queen Regina Askia went ahead to become a super actress; former Miss Tourism Nigeria and current Face Of Exquisite Universe was made Special Assistant to Anambra State Governor on Tourism; same as ex- Miss Heritage Africa, Benedicta Akpana, who was appointed Executive Protocol Officer to Cross Rivers State governor, Ben Ayade,” he reeled out.

Nwankwo who is Secretary-General of the Association of Beauty Pageant and Fashion Exhibition Organizers of Nigeria, ABPFEON, a body which has the Chairman of the Nigeria Police Commission, Mike Okiro, as Grand Patron, further explained that the relevance and benefits of pageantry far outweigh the scandals that have rocked some pageants in the country.

According to him, it was actually to checkmate and streamline the activities of beauty pageants that ABPFEON was established. “The body is at advanced stage of correcting the negative activities in the industry just as the wind of change is blowing in all the sectors inNigeria,” he told Woman’s Own with pride.

Gains for winners: For winners, the immediate gains of pageantry have also been enormous.

From winning mouth-watering cash prizes to becoming instant car owners, getting sponsored by several prestigious organisations, landing endorsement deals, representing Nigeria at international pageants, working with associated charities and using their status to promote their platforms (also known as ‘pet projects’), they are in fact fruitfully engaged throughout their reign.

The winner of Miss Nigeria 2016/2017 Pageant, Chioma Obiadi, for example, received a brand new Hyundai Grand Accent from Studio 24, an all-expense paid trip to France, courtesy Air France, one year free accommodation, complete style and beauty make over and N3 million.

Winner of Queen Nigeria 2015 pageant, Diamond Okoh, also walked home with a brand new Renault Logan, N1.5 million cash, an ambassadorial role and a chance to represent Nigeria at international events among other fantastic prizes.

For Miss Ijeoma Okafor, Miss Tourism from Face of Nigeria Beauty Pageant 2015, who spoke with Woman’s Own, participating in a beauty pageant has also impacted her life positively.

“If you compare now and back then when I wasn’t a beauty queen, there’s a lot difference. It has given me the privilege to reach out and be outspoken because I used to be a shy person.

I had my first car as a beauty queen from my first contest. It has expanded my network, business opportunities and has changed my status quo, both socially and economically.

Pet projects

Apart from being an integral part of their reign as queens, the pet projects of most beauty queens have in no mean way impacted lives in many societies. Throughout her reign as Winner of the Sisi Oge Pride of Africa 2015/2016 Pageant for example, Caroline Oyesanya told Woman’s Own, she was devotedly involved in various economic empowerment projects. “Sisi Oge has a strong partnership with the Lagos State Government and I partnered the state government as well on my projects. I also worked heavily with children with Down Syndrome,” Oyesanya said.

As Queen Nigeria 2015/16, Diamond Okoh also told Woman’s Own, “I was involved in a series of humanitarian projects. My pet project titled ‘Go the Extra Mile with Diamond – Queen Nigeria’ revolved around making a difference in the lives of people especially children, youths and women living in Internally Displaced Camps. I am pleased I was opportune to touch lives,” she said.

Recently crowned Miss Nigeria, Chioma Obiadi, has also commenced work on the “Green-Girl” Project, a Miss Nigeria Initiative, preparatory to representing the country at the Miss Intercontinental pageant next year.

The Green-Girl Project, according to the organisers of the pageant, Daily Times of Nigeria, is a community development initiative aimed at empowering young women to become agents of sustainable environment in Nigeria. With the Green-Girl Project, Obiadi will be engaging young people and girls in schools/communities across Nigeria.

Academic excellence

Strangely also, contrary to popular belief that these pageants might distract contestants academically since most of them are usually students of higher institutions due to the eligibility clause which requires a contestant to be between 18 and 25 years of age, beauty pageants have also fostered academic excellence.

The numerous academic exploits of beauty queens who stayed focused and true to their life pursuits, prove this. A handy example is Dr. May Ikeora, first runner up of Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, 2003, and former Miss ECOWAS, who is now a well-known academic researcher and entrepreneur. Emerging a queen actually helped fast-track Ikeora’s dream of having a PhD far before the age of 40 which she had pegged for that goal prior to participating in the contest.

Less attention to male pageants

Remarkably, there have been more pageants focusing on women than on men, except for Mr Nigeria and a few others. Why women have remained the main focus for organisers of beauty pageants has therefore been a topic of controversy, especially as many argue that men are also very much open to such life-changing opportunities.

In reaction to this argument however, Idris Aregbe, Organiser, Sisi Oge Pride of Africa Pageant, says, “Women are the agents of change in our society. The duties of a woman in the home are also entwined with the promotion of values in the society. That is why we’re using them in a dignified manner. Train a woman, train a nation. I’m a man playing my part and I have several men working with me who are also playing theirs.”