Five months ago strange adverts began to appear on our television screens.
Adverts that claimed that, what many say is the most watched event, the Miss World 2002 will be held in the Abuja Stadium on December 7. It seemed like a 419 joke taken too far. Another example of Nigeria's deluded confidence, almost similar to the election posters of men and women who have not even scaled through their party primaries.
But it wasn't a joke.
Agbani Darego, the 19-year-old who rendered the greatest underdog-comes-up-top feat in any competition, had given the Nigerian government and Silverbird Productions, the company who holds the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria competition that birthed Darego, ideas. If the Miss World judges could find beauty in a black African, then maybe they would open their hearts to the idea of hosting the competition in Nigeria? In a way it almost seems as though Nigeria was playing Oliver Twist - after winning the crown, she now wanted the kingdom.
And she got it.
As the idea became a reality, it also aroused dissent from many groups of people. The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them. The irony is that Algeria, an Islamic country, is one of the countries participating in the contest.
The pragmatic wondered what the point was in spending so much money and attention on something as cursory as a beauty pageant when there are bad roads, collapsing businesses, galaxy-wide unemployment, power shortages and poverty, which are not being given half as much commitment as a beauty pageant. Also, the contest is taking place in Abuja and Cross River. Two states, in a 36 state federation, are not much. For the rest of Nigeria, every morning these women spend in the country would not make a direct impact on the daily grind of their lives. Most of the contestants come from privileged western countries like Holland and Australia.
The feminists, (how can we forget the feminists), could not understand what dignity there was in women being willing to trade on physical beauty instead of intelligence and character. The problem with beauty is that it's not something you work for so it seems terribly unfair that someone should get so much attention for something that they had no say in. Their fame relies on a coincidence of DNA and genetics.
The civil rights activists lifted up Amina Lawal, the Sharia 'adulteress' convicted to death by stoning, as a good reason for Nigeria not to hold the Miss World contest. They felt that an international boycott would put pressure on the federal government to intervene in the ruling. In that way the pageant would be living up to its motto - "Beauty with a Purpose."
For some time their protest worked.
Contestants from Denmark, Switzerland, Austria and Costa Rica have decided to pull out, and France, Canada, Belgium, Ivory Coast and Norway have already announced they will not take part in the contest. Sylvie Teller, who was to go as Miss France, said: "When a woman faces the most agonising death, there are more important things in life than winning a crown for being beautiful." However the boycott movement seriously backfired when Amina Lawal, the woman they were campaigning for, pleaded that countries should not boycott the competition.
Since the contest officially began with the first pretty girl waving happily from the aeroplane steps as she daintily stepped on the granite hard tarmac of the Abuja International Airport, these voices of dissent have been finding it difficult to find an appreciative audience.
No one is listening anymore.
And this is mainly because the Miss World wagon has rolled on with incredible efficiency and prosperity. As they say money talks. Nigeria reckons that it would make over $40 million from hosting the event. But it's likely to be more than that because of the multiplier effect. Restricting the contest to Nigeria's more palatable states, Abuja and Cross River was a potent PR move. Chaotic Lagos is glaringly left out. The girls will never get a chance to see the real Nigeria and they would return home with a Hollywood frame up- all glam and glitz with no grits.
Also, the potential in tourism is enormous. If Miss World is the most watched event, a big IF, then the number of people who should be flying in to fill the seats of the International Conference Centre, Abuja, would provide the country with a much needed image boost.
An important note.
When the initial adverts for the contest began appearing, the venue was the yet to be completed Abuja stadium. The plan was to fuse the stadium's opening with the glamour event. Luckily, the organisers saw sense and realised that it would be impossible for the stadium to be ready on time and even if it was, most guests would be too busy wondering if the ceiling was going to cave in on them.
The brains behind Miss World have also been quite diplomatic. In many ways they have tried to soothe the pains of their critics. When Muslims protested that the original date for the event, September 30, fell during the Ramadan fasting period, the pageant moved it two weeks forward to December 7, the present date. For the feminists, the Miss World contest has scrapped the swimsuit segment that got their backs up. Instead there is a photo shoot - with the contestants in swimsuits. It took place in Calabar. For the civil rights activists, the competition has managed to drag out several high profile comments from the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Dubem Onyia, that the federal government would not allow Amina to be stoned. Regardless of how flighty one must think the Miss World Beauty pageant is, and in the scheme of things it is a fanciful event, it can not be denied that the cultural and sociological significance of Agbani Darego's win is comprehensive. If Miss World is a competition that judges beauty, then the crown Darego will hand over on December 7 is a statement to the physical beauty of black African women. This year's competition harbours African contestants from Kenya to Ghana, each vying to be the next Miss World.
However, has Nigeria taken the easy way out by drawing national pride and glory from the winner of a beauty pageant instead of from good governance? It is improbable that when the curtains go up, and the lights shine on the pearly smiles of the 6ft beauties on parade that anyone will be dwelling on this.
Article first appeared on 16 Nov. 02 in ThisDay, Nigeria, then, with apology 1 and apology 2 erased, fatwa declared, first mirrored by zem
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