For long, beauty pageants have been held to promote different causes through the exploitation of physical beauty in passing the message of the organizers. Some of them have received either flakes or praise from the society depending on their approach with nothing that the society can benefit from such pageants in the long run.
Also the quest by many Nigerian youths to seek greener pasture abroad through the dangerous Sahara desert because of the pull effects of foreign societies whose cultures have been amplified as the best over others and their way of life adopted through promotion of their practices – beauty pageants – which have made African cultural values to be abhorred by the youths is one that must be tackled by any society desirous of having a future.
This was why the Obijackson foundation, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm of the Obijackson Group, resorted to organizing Face of Okija pageant where intellect, character, language and cultural affinity through knowledge of the African, Igbo culture will make you the winner of N1 million, an official car, and an automatic employment as brand ambassadors for the foundation with a regular monthly salary for the duration of the reign.
Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi, founder Obijackson Foundation, on why it has institutionalized the cultural festival said the strength of a tree and its ability to withstand the vagaries of the natural elements largely depends on the depth of its roots like a tree firmly rooted in the soil is more likely to withstand flood, wind and other hostile weather conditions than others that may have shallow roots.
Obiejesi said they are concerned that Igbo culture with its very rich values appears to mean very little to a lot of youth today and like the proverbial tree with shallow roots, they can be blown off in any direction by a strong wind. Here are times that youths resort to social media as their moral compass and the inability to speak local dialect is no longer shameful but indeed a positive status symbol; a world where the narrative about African culture is being determined by foreign media and the internet.
“For us, we could not allow this sorry state of affairs to fester. We felt a sense of duty to contribute our quota to a cultural renaissance of some sort that will ultimately inspire our youths to become worthy ambassadors and raving fans of the Igbo culture. This is the vision behind Obijackson Foundation’s Face of Okija Cultural Festival – an annual engagement to engineer social change and cultural reawakening in our youth”, he asserted.
The Face of Okija pageant was designed as a platform to redefine the concept of beauty and pageantry in a way that’s completely different from the conventional definition where beauty is largely defined by vain physical appearance and cosmetic enhancements and was not only the answer to youth apathy to the Igbo language and culture, but was the natural response to an obsession for cosmetic physical beauty while true inner beauty based on virtue is largely overlooked.
Only indigenes of Okija were eligible to contest at the maiden edition of the competition with the idea being to identify and crown an Okija lady who would serve as a cultural ambassador for the entire Igbo land – promoting the Igbo values, language, fashion and dance while engaging in charitable works for public good, and after four editions, with the male segment included in 2016, the 2018 edition was opened to all indigenes of Anambra state so that the message of inclusiveness will be rapt.
The 2018 theme ‘Reengineering Our Moral Standard’ focused on the spate of illegal migration of the youths to Europe and the Middle East at great risks to their lives and how the belief that abroad is paved with gold is a ruse hence the need for all to work hard and believe in their country to develop in all ramifications.
To promote the message of cultural rebirth, the foundation brought in from Kenya, Patrick Lumumba, renowned pan-Africanist, activist, social crusader and a former anti-corruption czar to engage the youth on how to make the country lead the African race into development and sufficiency, and also Chimamanda Adichie, award-winning writer of international acclaim to mentor the youths.
“He or she who does not recognize his or her culture will be eternally a slave” and reminded the audience that the time has come for Africa and Africans to demand of the world that we can no longer afford the misfortune of communing with other civilizations as if we are children of a lesser god,” he said.
“We are here to tell ourselves that we can no longer apologize to our condition. We have come here to remind ourselves that we can no longer be nostalgic of the past without projecting into future. We have come here in order to celebrate the future as informed by the past and that is why the Face of Okija is the re-energization of what is, and the recognition that we must search for that Africa that is the cradle of humanity,” Lumuba said.
“But you know our civilization was rudely interrupted. It was a rude interruption that saw some of our men and women being spirited away into other parts of the world. If Europe is what it is, it is because of Africans, If America is what it is, it is because of Africans and if Latin America is what it is, it is because of Africans. If the Greeks are great philosophers, it is so because the great philosophers were in the land of Oduduwa, if the Jews have the gift of prophecy it was because of the Igbo of Africa”.
He said the Igbos didn’t come from Israel as being posited by some but that the Jews moved from the Igbo land to present-day Israel in the Middle East.
“As I have sometimes heard the Igbos say they came from Israel, No it was the Israelites that moved away from Igbo Land to Israel and then the Igbos say they worship like the Jews; I say no. It was the Jews that worshipped like the Igbos and I say this not to romanticize our culture and tradition but to remind us that for a long time we have enjoined ourselves too harshly and the time has now come to recognize ourselves for who we are.”
Adichie in her two-pronged message to the youths and their parents said the youths must always seek to be educated in all fields, should never stop learning no matter the degrees they have got and should make the internet a companion.
She said: “Consider yourself a life-long student, never stop learning – I have a post graduate degree but I consider myself a student, a person who will always be eager to learn. I want to ask you to get much formal education you can and also I want to say to you; stay in school. Even if you want to start a business, you will be a better businessman or woman if you are literate, if you can think critically and these are all things one gets from education and I say this, particularly because there are many of us in Igbo land that thinks that what matters is business”.
She urged parents, particularly parents of teenagers to keep communication open between them and their children as many parents today teach their children how to fear them but not to respect them. Fear is not respect, you can beat fear into a child but respect is what a parent earns.
“Do not shut your children up, listen to them. Give them advice without shouting. Actually, if you do not shout they are likely to hear you better and as you give advice, remember the fallings of your own youth, nobody is perfect” she added.
The real success of the initiative is its growing appeal and impact on Igbo youths which is evident from the number of entries and quality of performances at the festival, and it would not be out of place to conclude that Igbo youths are gradually embracing the cultural heritage of the Igbo nation and becoming the custodians of the Igbo culture and tradition, particularly with the feedbacks gotten after the event.
The success achieved at the last edition has made the founder look for further ways to promote the message of cultural rebirth and inclusiveness in Africa by bringing in revered persons across Africa to come and tell the people how they were able to develop their areas despite the difficulties experienced. The 2019 edition promises to be a watershed in the history of the pageant with the caliber of persons being touted to be brought in for the event.