Tunde OyedoyinFriday, November 15, 2002
London, UK


Sylvia Edem
hen 23 year old Sylvia Edem, a graduate of International Relations from the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, became the 46th young woman to be crowned as Miss Nigeria about eight months ago, it opened a lot of opportunities for her, but that's not all there is to it. Beyond meeting the high and lowly, it also goes further than standing at 5 ft 10" and having a stunning statistical configuration of 36,27 and 38, don't stretch your imaginations all you fellas-it posed some societal challenges to her among others. She was in London recently and Tunde Oyedoyin spoke with her before she went to Dallas and Paris.

Q: Who is Sylvia Edem?

Ans.: Sylvia Edem is 23 yrs,from Cross River state and the 46th Miss Nigeria. I was crowned on March 24, 2002, its been about 7 months now, I'm from a family of five and have two sisters and two brothers. I live in Lagos and I'm just an average young girl who wants to make the most out of life. I've been modelling for quite a while now, i've been modelling since 1997 and along the line, I got into this beauty pageant thing and decided to give it a shot. The first time was in 1998, at the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant and I was the first runner up. Although, I was not particularly prepared for that pageant, but it gave me something to look forward to as I then realised I had the potentials to be a beauty queen. I was prepared to do another beauty pageant and that was in 1999, and I was also among the first three. After that, I said to myself, I definitely had something going on for me as regards that aspect. Then in 2002, I decided to go for the Miss Nigeria beauty pageant and I won.

Q: How do you feel about being Miss Nigeria?

Ans.: It's been a good feeling and it's given me everything to look forward to. it wasn't easy, but I said to myself, it was my time, I knew I was set to achieve it.

Q: What does it mean to you?

Ans.: Over the years, it wasn't a big deal, but it has come of age. Gone are the days, when people thought beauty pageant is for a bunch of girls trying to parade themselves on the runaway, it's not so anymore. There's this awareness of Nigerian women looking at themselves as very beautiful compared to others from other parts of the world. So, it has really, really come a long way and for someone to walk in and say, I'm Miss Nigeria or the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, is really a big deal.

Q: What has this done for you in terms of opportunities?

Ans.: Most times, if you're lucky, you can sign a modelling contract for two or three years, but apart from that, it also links you up to who's who in Nigeria and It also allows you to give your views on societal issues and all that. But beyond that, you need to adopt a pet project which is the most important thing for a beauty queen, you want to see how you can help the lives of people around you, so that's the most important thing, adopting a pet project.

Q: Which project have you adopted?

Ans.: I've adopted a pet project called the Child Literacy Campaign Project, it's about trying to help as many children as possible to get back to school. I realised that the best thing for me is to change a few-because I cannot get all of them back to school of them and let them see education as an important aspect of their lives, something they cannot do without. For me to be Miss Nigeria, I had to get some level of education to be able to get there. I want, in my own little way, to try and encourage more and more children to get the basic education that they need, that's what the project is about. But along the line, i've always had to adopt something close to it, which is the rehabilitation of the motherless babies' home, orphanages and so on. I realised that in Nigeria, what people do is just go to those homes and distribute a few items of food and other things, they never do anything concrete for these homes, they 're still the same poor children in the same place.

I thought about getting them rehabilitated and moved to better homes. For instance, an orphanage with about 30 children living in a two room apartment is ridiculous, so I'm looking at how I can move these children to better places and also make them feel at home wherever they are, its a lot of work.

Q: How will you raise the money for it?

Ans.: It's a full time work, I try to raise money for the project and look at ways of financing it. I'm on my way to Dallas for the African Heritage programme, i've been given the opportunity to address a Youth Summit and will also be talking to different categories of children, i'll be talking about education and many other things about children. I'll then be off to Paris as a guest of the Nigerian Ambassador then and later attend a fashion show.

Q: How It has been since March?

Ans.: Its really been busy, its a lot more fun for me than if I was doing any other thing. Its what i've always wanted, its like a big challenge to me, because not too many Nigerians are tuned to charity, when you tell them about it and that you're setting up a Foundation, many don't really understand, they think its an avenue to make money, they don't really understand that there are people out there who we aspire to help in our little way. It's a big challenge for me and its always busy.

Q: What was it like contesting and winning?

Ans.: There were 20 contestants during the final at Eko Hotel in March, and these finalists emerged from the three zones where the preliminary contests were held. I came from the Northern zone, which was held in Abuja. It was a mixed feeling on the night of the final. When you're in a competition, so many things come to your mind, the fear of not winning and sometimes, you get the confidence of being the best. You tell yourself, okay, i've seen the other girls and I think I can beat them this time. A whole lot of feelings go on in your mind, but the worst part is when you're among the five shortlisted for the final of final. At that time, your confidence increases, but when its about time for the winner to be announced, you're almost dropping dead, because it may not be you.

It's as if you're confused and all that, but when they finally say its you, I don't know how you'll feel, but I couldn't sleep that night. I was given a presidential suite at the Eko Hotel-which was a treat itself-i had the chance to run around the suite and put myself together, it was really a life changing experience.

Q: What was your experience at Ife, did anyone talk about your chances of being a beauty queen someday?

Ans.: I had a lot of people telling me, you're very beautiful, you have to go for this thing, you don't need to be in this country and all that. You have a whole lot of people telling you and the best part is when your family supports you. I had many and some of my lecturers said the same thing. In fact, some of them still call to remind me of what they said while we were at school, so I had a lot of support coming from the outside world.

Q: How do you live up to your position?

Ans.: Part of what I do is try to set up a forum where I can talk to young girls, it's not as if I'm a big star or something, but I try to improve the lives of young girls in my own little way, because I believe that there's nothing you want to achieve in life which you can't as long as you have a focus. I've tried as much as possible to be focussed in the past years and that has helped me a lot. So, I try to encourage young girls in their own little world, to see what they can get out of life; depending on what they want. Not many girls want to be beauty queens, but I still try to inspire them in my own little way.

A moment in time
Q: With a degree in International Relations, where were you heading to?

Ans.: Definitely, one of the Embassies. I had the feeling that having studied International Relations, let me see what I can do from the outside. I've grown up in a society where people talk negative about the country, so I was thinking of going out there and see what I can do for the country. It has always been on my mind to study International Relations, work for an International organisation and see how I can project Nigeria's image, so winning Miss Nigeria is a stepping stone to achieving that, because I'm in a position where I can talk about my country and also feel good about it. I still intend to do my Masters in the same course next september and hopefully, one day after my reign, i'll be working for an international organisation like UNICEF. I believe in children a lot, I have a way with them, so maybe UNICEF might be the ideal place to work.

Q: Have you met Darego Agbani, the current Miss World?

Ans.: Definitely, even when she won the Most Beautiful girl in Nigeria pageant, we have a lot in common. We have the same designer and many times, we used to meet there. We talked a lot, it 's not as if we were really close, but we talked and I used to say, this is a young girl, I hope she makes the best out of it, I wasn't even Miss Nigeria then. I remember telling her on one occasion, now that you've become a millionaire, I don't want to see you going around in taxis, I hope you buy a new car? we used to get along a lot and even when she became Miss World and i, Miss Nigeria, we still get along very well.

Q: How has this title impacted on your social life?

Ans.: I've tried as much as possible to still keep my friends because this is just a one year thing which I have to make the best out of. I also carry all my friends along, that's what I have been doing.

Q: Are you in any way disappointed that you won't be representing Nigeria at the Miss World?

Ans.: We can't have two contestants from the same country, but whatever the case, its the glory that matters. If someone who's a Nigerian goes out there and becomes Miss World again, i'll really be excited myself. It will be the second time we're winning it and it will mean a lot to the country. However, I'm so particular about being in Nigeria and doing a few things and now that I know I'm not going to contest in the Miss world, I'm not stressing myself about any other international pageant, I'm more focussed about my pet project and what I can do in Nigeria.

Q: What other benefits go with your office?

Ans.: Well, a lot, with Miss Nigeria, you have to be comfortable and the Daily Times of Nigeria has made sure I'm as comfortable as possible and obviously, I will not tell you I earn a particular amount because you won't tell me yours-burst into laughter, "We're public servants I said," really? I am too, she replied - It's really comfortable and convenient for me to be Miss Nigeria, I have a new car at my disposal and this trip is all expenses paid, its just a wonderful opportunity for me and I'm trying to make the best of it.

Q: Where do you see yourself this time next year?

Ans.: I should be starting my Masters by then at one of the Universities here.

Q: What's your thought on the Sharia and the Miss World?

Ans.: I'm not going to condemn the Islamic faith, but i'll condemn the Sharia.Personally, its just a way of destroying what Nigeria has been trying so hard to build. Democracy is here and its something we've always wanted to achieve and now that its here, we're having this obstacle coming up to attack it and that really hurts. Now that it is an African country and its Nigeria, things are really looking a bit funny, but I think it shouldn't be at all, Nigeria is as safe as any other country. Fine, the Sharia thing is there and the government is looking for a way to handle things, but its not going to be a problem to host the Miss World in Nigeria, its not going to be a problem at all.

Q: Any advice for Nigerian girls who prostitute in Italy?

Ans.: The first lady, Mrs Titi Abubakar has a Foundation which is about women trafficking and all that, what I proposed to her some months back was to get involved in her project and see how I can help, because it's not just Nigeria, it's actually Africa as a whole. Women trafficking, prostitution and so on, these are societal ills which we need to address, and in my own little way, i've been talking about how we can help. But it's not just for individuals to tackle, it's also for the government to try and help, because if we have the awareness and education, these girls will realise they have to be in school. Although it's not easy getting education, but its a problem we all need to collectively address.

Q: What was it like growing up and all that?

Ans.: I had a wonderful and normal childhood during my days at Bright Star Day Nursery School in Gbagada and the Command Day School at Maryland. Although my parents listened to me concerning my ambitions, but my father was a bit sceptical about it at first, it was my mum who was overruling everything and saying, let her do what she wants to do and let's see whether she'll make anything out of it. My family supported me and that's the best thing about my childhood. My mother always said one thing, 'Don't let people decide for you, let them advice you".I don't allow people to take decisions for me, that's my responsibility."

From about 15 or 16 years, I was a proper lady not a swollen one, we all laughed always wanting to wear make up and dressing like a lady. I was always particular about beauty pageant and I remember the most beautiful girl in Nigeria pageant, the one Bianca Onoh won. I was watching the TV all day long and wanted to be like her. I said to myself, it's a big deal to be the most beautiful girl in Nigeria and I do have a lot of people who inspired me over the years, but I think Bianca was one of those people who wanted to go into beauty pageant.

Q: But let's be serious about it, how do you feel at not being able to represent Nigeria at The Miss World Contest?

Ans.: Before now, it was a big problem and I used to compare myself with the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria winner and I was saying, 'Well, you can do better than her," but now, I don't think that way again. I've told myself, whosoever is going to represent the country should make the best out of it. I'm not hurt anymore because I know I can also achieve a lot of things without contesting for the Miss World. Moreover, I have people out there who have been able to project me the best way they can and that's good enough for me. I don't feel hurt or anything, I just want everything to be in Nigeria's glory.

But why is Miss Nigeria not representing
her country at the Miss World?
Q: Are you single?

Ans.: Part of being Miss Nigeria is to remain single until you hand over the crown.

Q: But what if someone talks to you on the way to the US without even knowing you're Miss Nigeria?

Ans.: I'll be as polite as possible and my chaperon will step in, I don't have to say yes, and I don't have to say know no. Part of studying Internationational Relations is being very diplomatic about things, so you don't just say yes, that can actually cost you a lot.

Q: But why is Miss Nigeria not representing her country at the Miss World?

Ans.: (provided by her chaperon, Mrs Odunuga) Daily Times of Nigeria,DTN, gave the franchise for Miss World to the organisers of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant some 15 years ago during a change in the management of DTN.The management at that time told the organisers of Most beautiful Girl in Nigeria to send their contestant and since then, they've held on to it. They went on our franchise and plans are on to get our queen, Miss Nigeria to have it back.

Q: What's your opinion on the Bakassi issue?

Ans.: Well, well, particurlarly because I'm from there, I think Bakassi was originally from Akwa Ibom state, everything there was taken care of by the then Military Administrator. It hurts to see two countries fighting over it. In international Relations, we know there's no free lunch, the fight is because of the oil, but the locals knows it's Nigeria's. We have been taking care of it and if we live Bakassi, we don't need to go to war over it.