Contestants in the inaugural Miss Nigeria International pageant on Oct. 27 at the Hopkins Art Center.
Photos courtesy Vanessa Ekeke
During the first annual Miss Nigeria International pageant, founder and the 2002 Miss Commonwealth Nigeria Vanessa Ekeke envisions “lots of glitter” and “red carpet-stunning outfits and dazzling creations.” And she’s just talking about the audience. The outfits worn by the young women (ages 18-24) vying for the crown, $2,500, and the chance to compete as Miss Nigeria International program in an upcoming international pageant remain to be seen.
The event takes place October 27, and while the adjective “international” seems rather grandiose for its venue, the Hopkins Art Center, of its 12 contestants, one is coming from Canada. As you might expect, nine contestants are from the Twin Cities area, and the rest are from Wisconsin, and Missouri. There were also two young women from Nigeria and one from California expected, but because of the travel time and a film schedule, they will not be able to make it in time for this year’s competition. Even though you could argue that having another contestant coming from out of the U.S. further validates the competition’s global claim, in reality, Ekeke didn’t originally intend to let people from Nigeria participate because it wasn’t for them. It was for those young women who were Nigerian but whose family had, at some point, been displaced by diaspora.
“I wanted to create a platform where they could also be allowed to compete whilst being nurtured with the advancement for education, creativity, and community service,” Ekeke (pictured right) says. She believes her pageant experience in Nigeria gave her an advantage in life, first because of the education at the University of Lagos in Nigeria and Syracuse University in New York her scholarships allotted her, and then because of the empowerment she felt from the poise, professionalism, and community ties the environment instilled in her. She has wanted to put on a pageant for years, and now since she is settled down in Plymouth, it feels like the right time. “I think it will also be an opportunity for them to learn about their culture. Some of them have never been to Nigeria, and some may not even go there.”
The pageant follows a format very similar to televised international pageants with the opening entrance, a swim/athletic wear portion, a traditional outfit, a talent portion, and an evening dress. During the contestants’ introductions, they share the motto of the Nigerian state their lineage traces back to, like Anambra’s state slogan of “the light of nation.”
For many of the contestants, the traditional garb of their state was not readily available, so the women had to work on sourcing different parts of it or, more commonly, make parts of it. Perhaps you’ll see a gele, which is a head wrap from the Yoruba people, or perhaps the bead embellishments that the Edo people traditionally use. The contestants also had to learn a minute of a traditional dance from their state.
When you talk with Ekeke, you realize her pan-global vision, with hopes of diverse audiences and contestants and even creating Miss African International. The pageant is first and foremost about giving these young women the opportunity to develop, and then it is about experiencing and sharing the Nigerian culture.
The judges include Dahil Republic of Courture CEO Hilda Mauya, Chavah Foundation founder Beverly Jecty, and international journalist and president of Miss Global Nigeria, Tunde Moshood, and the whole thing is hosted by Joseph Banjamine, who won the African Actor of the Year award at the 2012 African Film Awards, and Othelia Joy, former beauty queen and host of the Othelia JOY Show.
“Having this vision in my heart for so long, and the fact that it is actually going to be birthed a few days from now, it’s a dream come true,” Ekeke says. “The contestants that we have this this year are great young women, and the fact they’re going to gain so much from this experience, that they can be changed positively forever, makes me really grateful.”
Miss Nigeria International
Hopkins Art Center
1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins
Red carpet at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m.