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LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Saturday, December 07 2002

 

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'My Reign As first Miss Nigeria'
BY MUYIWA ADEYEMI

Just as the world will be busy today watching the grand finale of the Miss World contest in England, the traditional rulers and people of Okunland in Kogi state will honour the first Miss Nigeria, Grace Atinuke Oyelude with another chieftaincy title.

The ceremony which is expected to attract dignitaries from all parts of Nigeria will see Mrs. Oyelude being crowned with another title. Exactly 45 years, ago, she made history as the first lady to be crowned Miss Nigeria.

Chief Atinuke Oyelude who recently turned 70 was crowned the first Miss Nigeria in 1957 in a contest that involved 200 young girls from all parts of Nigeria.

Born in Sabon Gari, Kano on November 16, 1932, to the Christian family of the late Pa James Adeleye Oyelude and late Mama Marthan Datanu of Isanl in Kogi State, young and charming Tinuke had her elementary and secondary education between 1940 and 1952 in Kano.

After her secondary education, she had a stint with the United African Company (UAC) of Kano in 1957 at the age of 25. She hit the world headlines when she was crowned the first Miss Nigeria few months after she gained admission into the school of nursing, Ashford Kent, England.

She completed her training and became a State Registered Nurse (SRN) in 1961. Not yet satisfied with her achievements, she enrolled immediately at the school of midwifery, St. Thomas Hospital, London from where she qualified as a state registered Midwife SCM (NRM) in 1962.

Her thirst for laurels took her to the Royal College of Nursing, England in 1971 and obtained a Diploma in nursing and Hospital Administration (DNHA) and in 1976, she obtained another diploma from Ghana Institute of Management and Personnel Administration.

While in the Untied Kingdom, Chief Oyelude practised the professional in a number of hospitals between 1962 and 1963, among which Paddington General Hospital stood out. On her return to Nigeria, she became a nursing sister at the General Hospital, Kaduna between 1964 and 1965, then senior nursing sister-in-charge of the former Kaduna Nursing Home (now Barau Dike specialists Hospital, Kaduna) from 1965 to 1977.

At the outbreak of the civil war in 1967, national duty took her to Makurdi General Hospital where she headed a medical team from the then Northern region, which prepared hospital for receiving war casualties and treating them.

By 1970, she joined the institute of Health, Ahamadu Bello University as a senior matron and became director, nursing services of the ABU teaching Hospital, the position she held until she voluntarily retired in 1985.

In recognition of her professional qualifications, competence and public spiritedness, she was made an external examiner for the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria. Between 1980 and 1983, she was the chairman, Kwara State Health Management Board. She was honoured in the year 2001 in the Gambia by the West African college of nursing as the "WACH's Florence nightingale of the 20th century."

As she bagged another cheiftaincy title today, Chief Oyelude, who still maintains her maiden name, in this interview, cast her mind back on how she became the first Miss Nigeria and described the movement of the Miss world contest from Nigeria to London as "unfortunate."

CAN you cast your mind back and tell us how you became the first Miss Nigeria?

I did not actually contest as it is known today. All you do then was to send your picture to Daily Times in Lagos, and that was all. I didn't send my picture. It was my younger brother that took my picture and sent it to them. He saw the advert in the Daily Times and sent my picture to them without my knowledge. I was away to Kaduna from Kano for some days. When I came back, my brother said he has something to show me but I should give him six pence (six kobo).

I gave him six pence, which was a lot of money then. He brought out a copy of the Daily Times and I saw my photograph there. God, how come? A poor girl living in Kano?

At that time, I was working at UAC. One day, my manager came to my house very early in the morning even before I got up for work . He said he received a letter that I should be in Lagos and I would be flying down to Lagos. He brought out a copy of the letter. Oh! I have never been on the plane before. I was put on the plane to Lagos and I went to the Daily Times office. There was no luxury of anything. I was not even accommodated. I had to stay with my brother, now late.

On the day of the event, I dressed up in a native attire, tying my wrapper neatly. I was the only one dressed in Iro and Buba that night.

The event took place at the hall of the Lagos Island Club. We all sat in a row, the lady siting next to me was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life.

What was her name?

I couldn't remember, even if I do, I will not give you her name because it would be offensive to publish her name. We all sat watching Bobby Benson playing that night. Later in the night they asked us to walk round the big hall and we walked round twice.

Around midnight, Lady Alajkija and one man, I couldn't remember his name, but they called him "the boy is good", both of them stood by my side and raised my hand as Miss Nigeria. I was now taken to the stage. That's how I became the first Miss Nigeria.

What kind of walk did you walk round the hall, is it the normal catwalk?

(Laughs) what do you mean by catwalk. We don't know anything like that then. It's just your normal way of walking.

Was there any preparations?

I can't remember any. We were not even told to do this or that.

Was there any designer or beautician working for you?

No. No, nothing like that. No make up. I was just natural in my dressing. You know the lady I said sat beside me was just beautiful. She used make up. I learnt she just came back from England. Her hair was nicely done. I thought she would be the one. I learnt she was a physiotherapist.

When I was announced as Miss Nigeria, there was no much fanfair as you have it today. But on the second day, they took me to a saloon where they used a hot comb to do my hair. I was looking somehow a ridiculous (laugh). They gave me 200 Pounds Sterling, for our nice cotton dress. To me, 200 Pounds was a lot of money when I was earning 3 Pounds a month and a return ticket to London for one week.

What would you remember as a quality you possessed at that time that won the contest?

Sincerely speaking, I don't know. May be the way I dressed. There was no make-up. Even the Iro and Buba I put on cannot reveal any statistics.

How were you received when you got back to Kano?

I went back to my job. No fanfare. There was no television that time. It was newspapers that carried my photographs and news. I got back to Kano to continue my normal life. Before then I had applied for scholarship to study abroad from the former northern region. Let me say this, when I went to London for a week's trip as Miss Nigeria, I visited Ashford School of Nursing at Ashford Kent England. When I came back to Kano, I was living my normal life. I was riding my bicycle.

A whole Miss Nigeria?

(laugh) I was having a bicycle then, I was riding it around Kano. Do you know that what costs you to buy a bicycle in those days can buy a car nowadays. I really enjoyed my Raliegh bicycle with all the gadgets fixed to it.

What did your reigning year looked like?

Nothing spectacular. No official engagement, nobody contacts me except two friends I made when I went to Lagos. Nobody heard of me until I concluded my arrangement to travel abroad.

I used part of my 200 pounds to travel to London. It cost 93 pounds to fly to London that time. I'd started my training as a nurse at Ashford School of Nursing before my scholarship was approved.

How many years did you spend in England?

I didn't just train as a nurse. I did public health; I did nursing and public administration. I was a nurse administrator

When did you come back to Nigeria?

I came back in December 1963, then I saw Daily Times published my picture again that the first Miss Nigeria, just came back from England as a trained nurse. I started my working career in Nigeria at the General Hospital, Kaduna. I had a pleasant career as a nurse.

Do you think the idea of staging beauty contest is still relevant?

Yes, still much relevant. There is nothing wrong in staging a beauty contest. I still believe in it.

How do you feel about the violent protest against hosting a Miss World beauty contest from the part of Nigeria where you come from?

Oh! I would not want to comment on that because I don't know much about it. And I've not been following it up. But it is unfortunate that the show is not holding in Nigeria again. It's quite unfortunate. But I don't want to make further comment on it

Why?

I just don't want to make further comment on it

Because you are a northerner?

No! No! No! Don't misquote me, please

Then why did you refuse to make comment on it as the first Miss Nigeria, and a northerner?

At my level, it is not my priority to comment on such things.

When you contested as Miss Nigeria, were you aware of a Miss World Contest at that time?

NO. I didn't know anything like that. But what I could remember was that when I was on a week trip to London, I met Miss Ghana. She also was on a trip to London. At that time there was no television.

Now things have changed. You cannot compare that time with what is happening now. Can you imagine somebody tying wrapper of Aso-Oke to contest? How would you get her statistics? I don't even know my statistics at that. Things are changing. I belong to the old group. I have young grand children who are very slim because that is the vogue now. In African culture, a beautiful woman should be plumpy. In fact, if you want to get married in some parts of this country you have to go to fattening room. But things have change. Being slim is the in thing. Even at my age, I don't want to get fat. I will be sick.

Can you encourage any of your grandchildren to participate in a beauty contest?

I won't disturb them. My parents didn't discourage me, so why would I discourage them. If they are interested, all well and good.

When did you retire from public service?

I retired in 1985 from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. I enjoyed my career and reached the highest position any nurse can reach in those days, which is the director of nursing.

What are you doing now?

I take life easy. I travel a lot within and outside Nigeria. I enjoy travelling. And I read a lot. I like reading novels but I don't like reading philosophy.

Why?

Because I was born with it. I know what life is.

At 70, you don't look it! What is the secret?

As I said, I take life very easy and I take good care of myself. I don't get stressed up over petty or worldly issues. And I think God has been sustaining me by giving me everything.

Do you think you have been given enough recognition as the first Miss Nigeria?

What recognition and by who? I did what I did because I am a Nigerian that was willing to do anything for her country. I was happy I did it. It doesn't matter if anybody recognises me. All I want is to care for others which I've done and I'm still doing it.

Do you think that the Miss World contest is worth the violent protest Nigeria recently witnessed?

I don't know. The cancellation was announced just as I finished my 70th birthday. And I didn't follow the event.

 

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