• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Ezinne Akudo Anyaoha, fighting sexual violence against women through ‘The Eight Foundation’

Ezinne Akudo Anyaoha, fighting sexual violence against women through ‘The Eight Foundation’

Miss Nigeria is an annual pageant show which showcases the positive attributes of Nigerian women. The winner portrays exemplary qualities and serves as a role model for young women in the country.

The Miss Nigeria Beauty Pageant since its maiden edition in 1957 has continued to represent the ideals and dignity of the Nigerian woman which is a rare combination of beauty and brains. The Miss Nigeria Beauty Pageant also provides a unique platform to communicate the beauty and rich cultural heritage of our country to the rest of the world.

The beauty pageant promotes Nigerian pride and patriotism with the belief in each contestant that she is capable of achieving the unthinkable.

My ‘date’ for this week is the delectable Ezinne Akudo Anyaoha who is a law graduate and the 2013 holder of Miss Nigeria.

One day Ezinne isn’t quick to forget was when her friend ran to her, crying, because she had just been raped while walking to class to read at night. “I didn’t know how to react or how to cope with the anger that was burning inside me.” Says Ezinne.

Ezinne Akudo
Ezinne Akudo

This was what influenced the establishment of Ezinne’s foundation named ‘The Eight Foundation’ which is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to highlighting the issue of sexual violence against women and committed to providing victims with the necessary support or services that would help them feel better at a traumatic time in their lives.

Ezinne grew up just like the ideal ‘girl next door’ that wasn’t allowed to interact with other people living in the neighbourhood. Her parents insisted that she and her siblings remained indoors and whenever they complained, they would be told ‘a person that is always in his house stays out of trouble’. This didn’t make sense to me Ezinne until a few years ago. “I was raised just like every other regular girl, my siblings and I had every important thing we needed even though we didn’t have the privilege of certain luxuries at the time and we were taught not to get excited about them and to be content.”

“Looking at today, I can say that I am grounded, that’s the way I was raised and it has helped shape my character. I have friends that call me an old woman just because I don’t get excited about certain material things or because I always prefer to stay indoors instead of going out with them to ‘turn up’ especially on Friday nights”. Ezinne says.

Reminiscing back to when she decided to move to Lagos, Ezinne narrates “I remember when I decided to move to Lagos, I thought my parents would say no but they let me go and stay on my own even at the age of 23 just because they knew I could handle it well and not bring them any form of grief. That is what happens when you train your children properly.” She says and continues “I will forever be grateful to God for giving me such parents that raised me to be humble, homely, and well grounded. These traits have helped me stay out of trouble, avoid messy situations and most importantly get a lot of favours from people I never thought I would meet and also build long-term relationships.” She quips.

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Before Ezinne purchased the form for the Miss Nigeria competition, she was going through a funny phase in her life. “A phase everyone must have gone through” she says. At this time, Ezinne didn’t know exactly what next to do with her life because she had just graduated from the university and she didn’t want to continue with any regular activity.  She knew the world had more to offer and she wanted more. It took a lot of convincing from her friends to get her to register because of course she wanted to be a beauty queen but didn’t know if she was ready to leave her comfort zone. “I didn’t know if I was ready to go all out in pursuit of my dreams, I didn’t know if I was ready for that life. So I was caught in the middle of not knowing what I wanted, then figuring it out and not being ready for it.”

“It was a tough phase but anyway I got the forms, scaled through auditions and screenings, went to camp with 35 different girls which was a new experience for me and then eventually I had to summon courage for the final day. When I heard my name as the winner, my legs suddenly became too weak for my body, I didn’t know what to do, or say. That’s a day I will never forget in a hurry.” Ezinne admits.

After being crowned Miss Nigeria, a lot changed for Ezinne and she shares some with me. Hear her “A lot has changed about me. I had complex issues before and accepting myself was a challenge , I always thought one thing or the other was wrong with me or my body and I always felt the need to explain myself to people or impress them. That’s not me now, I have found myself and I’m confident in who I am and what I am made of, everything I thought before doesn’t matter to me anymore. I have handled situations, I’ve made mistakes and I’m wiser. It’s all part of who I am.” Says Ezinne.

One of the major reasons why Ezinne catches my attention so much that I scheduled this interview is because of her foundation- ‘The Eight Foundation’ with a vision that was shared at the beginning of this interview. “We promote the needs of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence by providing them with medical care and social rehabilitation. I am particularly passionate about this because of my friend who went through a similar experience and she had just me to be there for her.”

“I know how difficult it is for rape victims to speak up to anyone about what they have gone through because we live in a society where it’s difficult to find that kind of trust or solace in a person and that’s why the foundation is currently working on a centre where victims can come to for any form of assistance. The centre will also have counsellors working full time and we are trying to get a toll free line that girls will be free to call in case they need to report a particular situation or need help from a counsellor.”  Very inspiring you would say.

Being a former Miss Nigeria, I asked Ezinne for her views on pageantry in Nigeria and it was truly enlightening. Again, she speaks “I think pageantry in Nigeria is slowly getting to that point where everyone is tired of it and to make this better, the organisers need to focus on getting a queen that isn’t just the prettiest or the richest but the most outstanding and by outstanding, I mean someone that understands the dynamics of reigning as a Queen.”

“It’s really tough being a queen, people have various expectations of her, young girls look up to her and she must live your life bearing in mind that she represents not just herself but every single young woman out there. If she can’t cope with that, then the crown shouldn’t be for her because she will end up opening her door to every scandal that comes knocking.” She expresses.

I am sure you have heard of the terms ‘beauty and brains’, it is more like a cliché however, Ezinne has her view on this. “Beauty and brains in my opinion should go together. A woman’s beauty might help her attract but her brains will help whatever or whoever she attracts to stay. It’s sad to see a clueless pretty girl or a pretty girl with a nasty attitude.”

“Every time I tell God I want people to look at me and say beauty is 20% of what makes me attractive. Women need to build themselves up to the point where everything goes together because the world is moving fast and every woman needs to back up her beauty. There are several beautiful women out there; something else needs to be special about you.” She admonishes.

Sometime beauty queens decide to go for other competitions but Ezinne begs to differ, for her, “Miss Nigeria was the first pageant I went for and I have no intention of contesting for any other pageant. Sometimes you just take what you need from a particular platform and move on to greater heights and new things”.

Having said that, I asked Ezinne where she sees herself in a few years and she says “I see myself in the United Nations as a special envoy. I don’t know how it works to get there though but since childhood, it has always been my wish and prayer so I am saying Amen to it”. She tells me with a grin on her pretty face.

Speaking about her challenges, she has this to say “I have been blessed by God, I have a family that will do anything to support me, I have loyal friends and fans that love me and I have good mentors that watch my back. Calling anything a challenge will make me sound ungrateful. I have learnt to cope with real life and strive amongst whatever I’m faced with. I will not call any unpleasant thing I face a challenge because my mom raised me to see everything as real life and deal with it.”

To every girl that intends to go into beauty pageantry, Ezinne concludes on that note saying “please make sure you are strong and properly grounded. It’s quite tough out there and that’s the only thing that will keep you going and keep you out of messy situations.”

KEMI AJUMOBI