It was a beehive of activities as families and friends celebrated the first-ever winner of the Miss Nigeria contest in 1957, then Miss Grace Agtinuke Oyelude.
Now at 93, she ambles the memory lane to relive the journey of her life beaming with lessons of pain, pleasure and hopes for generations after her to pick lessons from.
She said: “Today, at 93, as I celebrate, I find myself reflecting on the journey that had led me to become the inaugural winner of the Miss Nigeria beauty pageant in 1957. Born on November 16, 1931, in Sabon Gari, Kano State, to a humble family of Pa James and Ma Martha Oyelude, I never imagined that my life would take such an extraordinary turn.
“In my time, beauty pageants were prestigious events, and winning the title meant more than just a crown – it brought recognition, respect and accolades.
“The Miss Nigeria pageant involved over 200 young ladies from different parts of the country. I wasn’t even in the country when my successor was crowned, and later down the years, the next Miss Nigeria pageant I attended was in 2015 after my being crowned. And, I didn’t actively participate in the contest as it is known these days.
“My journey began when my brother, then a broadcaster, saw advertisements for the pageant in the papers and decided to enter me into the competition. Living in Kano and working at UAC, I sent my picture to the Daily Times in Lagos without fully understanding the impact it would later have on my life.
“The turning point came when my manager arrived at my house early one morning with a letter stating that I should be in Lagos and that I would be flying down. I was in a state of shock. After being shortlisted, I flew to Lagos for an interview, marking my first-ever plane journey. Accommodations were scarce, and I stayed with my brother [now late] during that time.
In my time, beauty pageants were prestigious events, and winning the title meant more than just a crown
“On the day of the event, dressed in native attire with my wrapper neatly tied, I stood out as the only contestant from Kano state. There were 200 of us, and we were asked simple questions about our backgrounds.
“Surprisingly, we weren’t even asked why we wanted to become Miss Nigeria. The competition took place at the Lagos Island Club, where we cat-walked in front of three judges while the music of the late Bobby Benson played in the background.
“The moment of victory was surreal. I was announced as the queen, but I didn’t even hear my name being called. Someone had to touch me before I realized that I had indeed been crowned Miss Nigeria. I became a queen that night but I had to find my way home.
“Winning the pageant brought not only the crown, but also a significant prize of £200, a wardrobe filled with four beautiful cotton dresses, and a trip to London. To me, £200 was a lot of money when I was just earning £3 monthly at that time. I also won a return ticked to London for two weeks. All came so sudden and I was left in a lurch.”
Winning the pageant brought the crown, a significant prize of £200, a wardrobe filled with four beautiful cotton dresses, and a return ticket to London
For Ma Oyelude, despite the glamour of her reign, she was quick to emphasize that her dedication to her nursing profession did not wane. She adds: “Well, I completed my nursing training shortly after winning the pageant and became a state registered nurse in 1961,” she proudly shared.
But not yet satisfied with her achievements, she said: “I enrolled immediately at the school of midwifery, St. Thomas Hospital, London, where I qualified as a state registered midwife SCM in 1962.”
Her journey to stardom continued with various accolades and positions including becoming the director of nursing at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, before her voluntary retirement in 1995.
after those fulfilling years in my career, I rest more. I travel within and outside Nigeria. I read more
She said: “I could describe mine as a story of determination and courage in the face of nothing to boost my resolve. It was also that of a commitment to both beauty and service because I didn’t just see the pageant as the ultimate achievement. That’s why I continued my ambitions towards achieving my dream to become a nurse.”
On how she then lets down the air, especially as a nonagenarian, she said: “It’s simple, after my fulfilling years in my career, I rest more. I travel within and outside Nigeria, coupled with my love for reading and I continue to inspire generations after me.
“That, actually, is the true life of service which I believe, is the real thing to be doing to showcase the profound impact of a journey that began with a simple photograph sent to the Daily Times back then.”
It was no wonder then that the 2023 organisers of Miss Nigeria chose to celebrate the woman, Grace Atinuke Oyelude, to give her a worthy and befitting 93rd birthday celebration.