Claret Onukogu became the fifth woman to win the Miss Nigeria in America beauty pageant, joining a lineage of Nigerian-American women who have served as ambassadors of empowerment for African women in the Diaspora. Since her reign, she has devoted her time in creating awareness on major issues facing Nigeria and Africa including health, education, violence, and crime. In this interview Onukogu talks about life as a beauty queen, education and her passion.
Inspiring other women
I try to be a voice on issues that affect women and encourage other women to speak up on these issues as well. In many parts of the world, women are expected to be subordinates to men and are still being treated as subordinates. As women, we need to start being more vocal and active in the way we think. If women can stand up and start being active, some change can be incited. I will like to urge women to further their education because education is power. When you are educated, you are informed, and being well informed equips you with the necessary tools to make the best decision for yourself. I also encourage women to utilize their potential to the maximum. I want women to believe that they can achieve any goal they set for themselves regardless of what those goals are. If you want to be a soldier, model or actress, an engineer, a doctor; anything you want to do, go for your dreams and maximize your potential.
If you didn’t win Miss Nigeria in America, who among the other contestants do you think would have won?
I believe everyone that I competed with were a good competition. Each and everyone of the women are very competent and beautiful. All the delegates really deserved to be in the competition. MNIA Inc is very selective about the quality of candidates that compete in the pageant. All the young women who compete excel in their respective fields and academics. I competed with women who were pursuing their Masters or Doctorate degrees in various fields. Anybody could have won this competition and I would have been happy for the person. I do believe what made me win the crown was my confidence, my boldness and my talent. I was able to show the judges my passion in the way that I presented myself.
Perception of beauty
Beauty is in the eyes of beholder. Every culture has its definition of beauty. For me, true beauty comes from within. It comes from having a good personality, ability for a woman to carry herself in a dignified manner, being intelligent and also being eloquent. However, when it comes to physical beauty, just about any woman can make herself beautiful. There are many items available to beautify one’s self. You have skin care products, make-up, hair extensions even plastic surgery. Anybody can be beautiful.
Most inspiring African beauty queen
I have met Miss Guinea, Miss Ivory Coast; I have also met a Nigerian who is a beauty queen here in USA- Miss Black Connecticut i.e. Miss Osas Ighodaro. She will be representing Connecticut in the Miss Black USA pageant this August.
I have not really had an opportunity to engage closely with them to determine who inspires me. But from my brief interaction, I will say Osas, because she is a Nigerian woman who competed here in the US and she won. Also, we share similar interests like acting and modeling. She is an inspiration.
I relocated to the US in 1998 for my high school.
Beauty and Brain
I’ve always been very driven especially when it comes to my education. I started school at a very young age. My academics have been going well for me. I received a scholarship to attend Armstrong Atlantic State University where I got my Bachelor’s of Science in Public Health. I got my MBA and a Masters in Healthcare Administration from South University. I am currently working on my PhD in Epidemiology at Emory University.
I am very passionate about making the world a better place. I am passionate about being a humanitarian. I believe if everybody in this world was to contribute in making this world a better place, it will be bearable, there will be less crime, less violence, etc. It will just be a better place.
Getting her hands dirty as a beauty queen
I believe being a beauty queen comes with the responsibility of giving back to the community. The fact that I play an active role in AACAN makes it easy for me because I don’t need to go out looking for where to do community service work. That does not mean that I do not support other organizations. In Atlanta, Georgia where I live, I have worked with the Cobb and Douglas County Community Services Board.
AACAN [African American Crisis Network] is a family-based non-profit organization that was started by my parents. Our goal with the organization was to be like United Way, The Salvation Army etc. We wanted to give back through the organization. We have a lot of donors and as a result, we are able to assist those in need.
Leaving a legacy
I would like people to see beauty queens as not just superficial women, but also as caring and intelligent and passionate women. There is a big misconception when it comes to beauty queens and I want to change that perception. I want to make an impact, not just in Nigeria but also around the world. I want to be remembered for someone who cares for humanity.
Life after your tenure
I hope to continue with my education. I hope to actively pursue my acting and modeling career. I hope to work for the United Nations as an Ambassador and I also hope to keep being a humanitarian, taking things to new heights.
Relocating to Nigeria
I would love to if the opportunity presents itself. In the mean time, I will travel to Nigeria regularly. Even though I am in Miss Nigeria in America, I am still Miss Nigeria. I am still connected to Nigeria even though I live here. MNIA Inc has different projects and I chose to work on Project Women’s Education (Project WE). The program focuses on the advancement (social, financial and sustainability) of the Nigerian woman through education. This project aims to assist women in rural villages and cities with funds to cover education costs. I have spent most of my reign working on this project.
Favorite childhood memory
It is sitting with my grandmother on her porch; she’d have her drink and read bedtime stories to me until I fell asleep.
I keep my skin very clean.
Photography by Ted Mebane. Photos Courtesy of MNIA, Inc.
Story culled from The Nation Newspaper via The Glamor page.
Jen Ehidiamen is committed to exploring and using the media as an advocacy tool for youth development and empowerment. She writes a column called “Dis Generation” in The Nation newspaper and blogs at Youth Making Change. Jen is CP-Africa’s Features Editor.