Popular comedian, Bovi, had several glowing things to say while speaking at Ezinne Akudo’s dinner, held in honor of her ‘Call to the Bar’, at the Oriental Hotel in Lekki. He declared, “Ezinne is not just tall, she walks tall”, and that particular statement struck a chord with me. Why would a beauty queen with that much exposure go back to school to sit in a classroom?
“Ezinne is not just tall, she walks tall”.
Walking into a restaurant to meet with her on a Saturday morning, I found Ezinne seated reading a book, Richard Branson’s Screw It, Let’s Do It, and I began to understand the statement. Maybe it comes with years of practice, but the current Miss Nigeria seats tall, if that is at all possible. The TV is on and tuned to CNN, which no one appears to be watching. After our chat, she informs me that a plane has just crashed in Egypt carrying 224 people from Russia, but nothing else is known at the moment. I didn’t think she had even glanced at the TV. Her composure is calm, barely lets up and she speaks quietly and purposefully. As we talk, I wonder if she’s always this quiet, or if she jumps up and down with a champagne glass in her hand like the beauty queens always do on television, when they’re with family or friends.
Two years after winning the pageant, Miss Nigeria, Ezinne Akudo is now a barrister-at-law, and still queen, although she is set to hand over to a successor today, Saturday, November 7. When asked if being a barrister felt any different she laughed, pushing through her quiet disposition.
“Not really, it doesn’t. It just comes with a feeling of contentment and fulfilment. It’s me, but just happier.”
The beauty queen described her journey from finishing university to winning the pageant and then going back to law school with her crown after a year, as ‘tough’. Her busy schedule prevented her from completing her studies at the same time with her mates, and it made her sad to watch them graduate while she was still taking lectures. “Going back to school, studying, writing…I wasn’t in the mood. I just wanted to play, but I realised it was something that I needed to do, so I got it done and out of the way.” Such a statement is typical of a young lady who has her life set out in front of her, complete with several paths she can decide to take.
Recently, she opened the doors of her rape crisis centre, The Eight Foundation, in Lekki for victims of sexual abuse, a highly commendable achievement in a country where such facilities are few and far between. She remembers the night that she became Miss Nigeria, in 2013. As she stood there, frozen in the unreal moment between when her name was announced and the crown being placed on her head, she thought of her family and her supporters, but most of all, about her new role and the responsibilities that would come with it. She also thought of ways that her dream of providing counsel and support for sexual abuse victims could finally become a reality. Even before she won, Ezinne had plans to make that particular contribution to society. Her innate, lifelong desire to represent people with problems and the unfortunate experience of a friend at the hands of a rapist took her through her law studies.
“I wanted to be a teacher, growing up. But the more I watched TV and movies, I realised that I loved representing people with problems. I love justice. I love to hear that someone got what they deserved, whether good or bad. I’d always wanted to do that and I meant to use the [Miss Nigeria] platform to push it. So even before I won, it was a personal project. As a contestant, you had to table your intended pet project in the event that you win, and that was mine. Even though I wouldn’t call it that, because it would mean that’s it, and that’s not the case, because I intend to continue.”
It also means that she intends to practice law, still, even though she has not decided on what area she wants to specialise in. She is certain that it will be human interest/rights, women’s rights, or international law oriented, regardless, no going to court for her. A venture she most likely would not even find time for as she is presently involved in pursuing other humanitarian projects, including organising charity balls, market campaigns, school campaigns, creating documentaries and basically raising more awareness for the causes that she and her team fight for. She also intends to go into business to sell clothes, shoes, bags, fashion items, home accessories, and other things.
Two years after living the life of a queen, Ezinne has a different answer for anyone who wants to know how it feels. “Now, I don’t see the ‘queen’ thing in front of me anymore, because I’m trying to develop myself, Ezinne, as a brand. I wake up, if I want to go out, I do, and if I don’t, I don’t.”
On the reasons for her two-year reign, however, she had no answer, but there was quite a bit of laughter.
“You’ll have to ask the organisers. When they’re ready they can come and get their crown. But seriously, the pageant was supposed to hold last year. I think they wanted to do the next one better. They want to be ready.”
Concerning her thoughts on pageantry and the future of the event, her tone is a bit grave and sincere in expressing her everlasting love for the competition because of the opportunities that it gave her, even as she goes on to cite her uncertainties.
“People are fast losing interest in pageantry and those that still participate just do it for the sake of [the] show. Unless people decide to address several inherent issues, it could die out. For me, the Miss Nigeria brand as at when I was crowned was free and fair, and I’m sure it would remain that way, and I’m always going to be grateful to the organisers.
People come to me and go, “I want to contest. How did you win? Did you have to pay someone or do something?”, and I’m like, “I won!”. Yes, they’re always going to believe what they will, but you know that you won without knowing anybody, or having any money, and simply because you were lucky enough to fit the description of the queen that they wanted. That’s how it was for me, and if it remains that way, that means they’ve given other girls that genuinely deserve it an opportunity.
That’s the way pageants should be, because there’s much more and I can say that because of the platform that the pageant created for me.”
The issue of rigging in pageantry is a prevalent one, and the current Miss Nigeria portrays views, thoughts, and accomplishments of a woman who is aware of all of her capabilities, and uses them in her efforts to create a fair and just world for all and sundry. It also sets her apart from her peers in one of the best ways possible, as far as her platform is concerned.
According to her, in order to take pageantry to the next level, it is not enough to put down requirements. “They can say, ‘Oh, you must be a certain height, be fluent in English language, with a good body, or have a certain educational background’ and a girl would meet all this requirements, but then she’s not grounded. In the sense that she literally, firmly, has her feet on the ground, is strong, and not easily distracted by the ‘life’ and all the attention. For me, that’s a basic requirement, and it’s something you can’t show on your credentials.
It comes from upbringing, the way you were raised, either by your parents or by experience, and how you are as a person. The key word is that you must be grounded.”