Atinuke Oyelode won the first Miss Nigeria pageant in 1957. She was crowned queen at the Lagos Island Club in a contest that involved 200 young ladies from different parts of Nigeria. Following her win, she was given £200, a wardrobe filled with four beautiful cotton dresses and a trip to London.
Now in her 80’s, she still possesses the good looks and charm that earned her the coveted title 60 years ago. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, she speaks about her journey to becoming Miss Nigeria and her fulfilling nursing career.
PT: How would you rate beauty pageants of the past and now?
Atinuke: In my time, pageants were really beauty pageants and considered very prestigious. There were so many virtues a queen could emulate and a lot of lessons to learn from. If you check out most of the pictures taken at the pageant, all the contestants stood normally in photographs and not the regular posing that is the order of the day now. Participating and winning the first edition of Miss Nigeria earned me recognition, respect and accolades. I was not even in the country when my predecessor was crowned and I attended Miss Nigeria pageant for the first time in 2015 since I was crowned.
PT: Tell us about your journey to becoming the first Miss Nigeria?
Atinuke: I did not actually contest, as it is known today. All a prospective queen needed to do at the time was to send her picture to Daily Times in Lagos. I didn’t send my picture. I lived in Kano at the time (I was a staff of UAC) but my brother who was a broadcaster saw the advertisements for the pageant in the papers and entered me for the competition. I travelled to Kaduna State at the time.When I returned, my brother said he had something to show me but I should give him six pence. I gave him six pence, which was a lot of money then. He then brought out a copy of Daily Times and I saw my photograph there. I exclaimed, “God, how come? A poor girl living in Kano?’ At that time, I was working at UAC. One day, my manager came to my house very early in the morning even before I got ready to go to work. He said he received a letter, which stated that I should be in Lagos and that I would be flying down to Lagos. He then brought out a copy of the letter.
PT: What did you do next?
Atinuke: I was in a state of shock. After I was shortlisted, I had go to Lagos to be interviewed and it was the first time I ever flew in a plane. I was flown to Lagos and when I arrived I was driven straight to the Daily Times office. There was no form of luxury whatsoever. I was not even accommodated. I had to stay with my brother who is now late. On the day of the event, I dressed up in native attire and I tied my wrapper neatly. I was the only one dressed inIro and Buba that night.
PT: How did the pageant go?
Atinuke: There were 200 of us contesting and I was the only one who resided in Kano. I was asked simple questions about my background and funnily we weren’t even asked why we wanted to become Miss Nigeria. It was a good thing we weren’t asked because I didn’t have an answer ready. The competition was held on a Saturday in 1957 and we all converged at the Lagos Island club. We were offered drinks and asked to go to a wall and catwalk in front of the judges; there were three of them. I can vividly recall that the music of the late Bobby Benson was playing in the background and the judges left shortly after. However, after a short while, I was announced as the queen but I didn’t even hear my name being called. I don’t even know what criteria was used and still do not know.
PT: Were you surprised?
ATINUKE: Yes I was o! Someone had to touched me before I realised that I had indeed been crowned Miss Nigeria. I became queen that night and I had to find my way home.
PT: What were some of the perks of winning Miss Nigeria?
Atinuke: After I won the pageant, I was given 200 pounds and that was a lot of money back in the day. I also won a wardrobe filled with four beautiful cotton dresses and a trip to London. To me, 200 Pounds was a lot of money when I was earning 3 pounds a month. I also won a return ticket to London for two weeks.
PT: Do you think you have been given enough recognition as the first Miss Nigeria?
ATINUKE: Yes of course. Amongst my numerous recognitions, I was honoured at Miss Nigeria Pageant in November 2015 with a brand new Peugeot 601 saloon car.
PT: Not many are aware that you gained admission into the school of nursing, Ashford Kent, England shortly after winning Miss Nigeria.
Atinuke: Well, I completed my nursing training shortly after winning the pageant and I became a state registered nurse in 1961. Not yet satisfied with my achievements, I enrolled immediately at the school of midwifery, St. Thomas Hospital, London, where I qualified as a state registered midwife SCM in 1962. I also attended the Royal College of Nursing, England in 1971 and obtained a Diploma in Nursing and Hospital Administration and in 1976; I obtained another diploma from Ghana Institute of Management and Personnel Administration. While I was in the UK, I practiced in a number of hospitals between 1962 and 1963, notably Paddington General Hospital.
PT: When did you return to Nigeria?
Atinuke: On my return to Nigeria in 1964, I 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. When the civil war began in 1967, I was sent to Makurdi General Hospital where I headed a medical team from the then northern region, which prepared the hospital for receiving war casualties and treating them.
By 1970, I joined the Institute of Health, Ahmadu Bello University, as a senior matron and I became director, nursing services of the ABU teaching Hospital. I held the position until I voluntarily retired in 1985.
PT: It is safe to say that you had a fulfilling career.
Atinuke: Yes, I did. I retired in 1985 from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. I enjoyed my career and reached the highest position any nurse can reach in those days, which is the director of nursing.
PT: How are you spending your retirement?
Atinuke: I travel a lot within and outside Nigeria. I also enjoy reading.
photos courtesy:Miss Nigeria