GRACE OYELUDE: FIRST MISS NIGERIA, 1957
Just as the country was be busy today watching the grand finale of the Miss Nigeria contest in Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, the traditional rulers and people of Okunland, the ceremony was not with much fun-fare 56 years ago when the first Miss Nigeria emerged. Precisely in 1957, Miss Atinuke Oyelude became the first ever Miss Nigeria in the history of Beauty Pageant in the country.
It was a different ball game all together in those days. There was no keen or actual contest as it is known today. All one had to do then was to send the picture to Daily Times in Lagos, and that was all. Atinuke was away to Kaduna from Kano for some days. She did not send her picture. She was not aware of any beauty pageant going on. It was her younger brother saw the advert in the Daily Times, took her picture and sent it to them without her knowledge. By the time she came back from her journey, her picture has been has been published as a contestant.
When she came back, her brother demanded for a six pence for him to show her ‘something’ which she did. He brought out a copy of the Daily Times and she saw her photograph there. It was too true to be believed.
Atinuke was working with UAC at the time. Her manager came to her house one day very early in the morning and told her that he received a letter from Lagos requesting that she be flown Lagos. He said he received a letter that I should be in Lagos and I would be flying down to Lagos. He brought out a copy of the letter. For someone who has never been on a plane, it was an experience that could stirred up a great excitement in her.
On arrival in Lagos, there was no luxury of any kind and she was not accommodated. She had to put up with her brother. On the day of the event, I dressed up in a native attire, tying my wrapper neatly. I was the only one dressed in Iro and Buba that night.
The event took place at the hall of the Lagos Island Club. We all sat watching Bobby Benson playing that night. Later in the night they asked us to walk round the big hall and we walked round twice. It was not any special kind of walk, nothing like catwalk. It was just the normal way of walking.
Recounting the event in an interview, Atinuke related that, “Around midnight, Lady Alajkija and one man, I couldn’t remember his name, but they called him “the boy is good”, both of them stood by my side and raised my hand as Miss Nigeria. I was now taken to the stage. That’s how I became the first Miss Nigeria.”
“There was nothing like a designer or beautician or a make up. I was just natural in my dressing. You know the lady I said sat beside me was just beautiful. She used make up. I learnt she just came back from England. Her hair was nicely done. I thought she would be the one. I learnt she was a physiotherapist.
“When I was announced as Miss Nigeria, there was no much fanfair as you have it today. But on the second day, they took me to a saloon where they used a hot comb to do my hair. I was looking somehow a ridiculous (laugh). They gave me 200 Pounds Sterling, for our nice cotton dress. To me, 200 Pounds was a lot of money when I was earning 3 Pounds a month and a return ticket to London for one week.
What kind of quality could she have possessed to make her emerge as the winner? Atinuke did not use any make-up and she was clad in her native attire of ‘iro’ and ‘buba’ which could not reveal any statistics. Stylish or not, Atinuke was chosen as the first Miss Nigeria.
Asked how she felt and how she was received in her Kano base, she replied, “I went back to my job. No fanfare. There was no television that time. It was newspapers that carried my photographs and news. I got back to Kano to continue my normal life. Before then I had applied for scholarship to study abroad from the former northern region. Let me say this, when I went to London for a week’s trip as Miss Nigeria, I visited Ashford School of Nursing at Ashford Kent England. When I came back to Kano, I was living my normal life. I was riding my bicycle.”
There was no official engagement, no contact and nothing again was heard of the new Miss Nigeria. The good thing, however, about winning the contest was that it came handy when she was going abroad for her nursing training. She had gained admission to study Nursing before the contest took place. She therefore used part of her 200 pounds to travel to London. It cost 93 pounds to fly to London that time. I’d started my training as a nurse at Ashford School of Nursing before my scholarship was approved.
Born in Sabon Gari, Kano on November 16, 1932, to the Christian family of the late Pa James Adeleye Oyelude and late Mama Marthan Datanu of Isanl in Kogi State, young and charming Tinuke had her elementary and secondary education between 1940 and 1952 in Kano.
After her secondary education, she had a stint with the United African Company (UAC) of Kano in 1957 at the age of 25. She hit the world headlines when she was crowned the first Miss Nigeria few months after she gained admission into the school of nursing, Ashford Kent, England.
She completed her training and became a State Registered Nurse (SRN) in 1961. Not yet satisfied with her achievements, she enrolled immediately at the school of midwifery, St. Thomas Hospital, London from where she qualified as a state registered Midwife SCM (NRM) in 1962.
Her thirst for laurels took her to the Royal College of Nursing, England in 1971 and obtained a Diploma in nursing and Hospital Administration (DNHA) and in 1976, she obtained another diploma from Ghana Institute of Management and Personnel Administration.
While in the Untied Kingdom, Chief Oyelude practised the professional in a number of hospitals between 1962 and 1963, among which Paddington General Hospital stood out. On her return to Nigeria, she became a nursing sister at the General Hospital, Kaduna between 1964 and 1965, then senior nursing sister-in-charge of the former Kaduna Nursing Home (now Barau Dike specialists Hospital, Kaduna) from 1965 to 1977.
At the outbreak of the civil war in 1967, national duty took her to Makurdi General Hospital where she headed a medical team from the then Northern region, which prepared hospital for receiving war casualties and treating them.
By 1970, she joined the Institute of Health, Ahamadu Bello University as a senior matron and became director, nursing services of the ABU teaching Hospital, the position she held until she voluntarily retired in 1985.
In recognition of her professional qualifications, competence and public spiritedness, she was made an external examiner for the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria. Between 1980 and 1983, she was the chairman, Kwara State Health Management Board. She was honoured in the year 2001 in the Gambia by the West African college of nursing as the “WACH’s Florence nightingale of the 20th century.”
When Atinuke became Miss Nigeria in 1957, there was nothing spectacular about her crown. She got it and simply went about doing her studies.