For a pageant that kicked-off in 1957 with the very gracious Grace Atinuke Oyelude emerging as the queen selected from Kano; one would attest to the fact that pioneers of the pageant which include late Alhaji Babatunde Ajose , Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Otunba Olusegun Osoba, Dr. Ugochukwu Onyema, Chief Sam Amuka and the Late Tunde Savage of blessed memory have set the pace and standard for this one and only national pageant ‘Miss Nigeria’. For Leesi Peter-Vigboro, the reigning Miss Nigeria, so much has not changed about her personality as she has always kept her integrity, strived hard and always wanted to be the best in all her dealings. The journey as the queen seems not easy as it comes with its challenges and benefits knowing that people, especially youths, look up to her. This ever-radiant Computer Science graduate of University of Port Harcourt has shared stage with other top beauty queens, has been involved in charity works and carried out her personal project as the reigning queen. In this chat with GuardianWoman, Leesi whose tenure will be wrapping up in a few weeks, bares it all as she speaks about her next plan after the pageant, why she wants to encourage more ladies to be part of this year’s edition, her take on domestic violence, among others.
It’s been almost a year since you emerged Miss Nigeria, how has it been so far?
It’s been a very wonderful journey for me. At first it was such a challenge to settle into the role and handle so much attention especially from the media, as I’m usually a very introverted person but eventually I started getting the hang of it. I look back on the girl I was months before I won this and see that I have grown into a much stronger and better woman. This is one experience I’m eternally grateful to have experienced.
What exactly have you been able to achieve so far as regards your community project as a queen?
I have been involved in so many different community development projects and it’s such a beautiful thing that I am in a position where I can positively impact my society. Asides from my visits to orphanage homes, I collaborated with Sebeccly Cancer Care Organization on a few projects, we visited Community Girl’s Secondary School where we educated the girls on how to carry out breast self-examination and I also got to talk with them about my journey and motivate them. I also collaborated with Sebeccly to carry out a “Run For Cancer” campaign at the Okpekpe Road race in Edo State where we raised awareness about breast cancer, carried out free testing for the community women and we were also able to raise some funds for an initiative tagged “Change Her Cancer Story.”
I am currently running a community development Project in Port Harcourt called “Project Young Minds”. I am working with young volunteers from other West African countries to train and equip the students in community schools with basic computer skills like Microsoft office, graphic design etc. We are also about to launch a project called the “Green Girl Project” on the finales of this year’s edition of the pageant aimed at empowering young women in areas with environmental degradation issues, by training and equipping them with project management skills and good environmental practices that can enable them be active in the fight for environmental sustainability. We are focused on women because women generally have the most interactions with the environment, especially in rural communities, yet their contributions and significance is hardly recognized.
What’s next for you?
Hmmmmm, this is probably the “most asked ” question in my life right now. Well, right now, my interest is in Conceptual photography and so I will be going ahead to pursue that path. However, I am generally in love with the arts and I’m still In the process of discovering and defining who I am, so I’m open to exploring even further and seeing where it leads.
You have been a queen for almost a year now, what lessons have you learnt from this platform?
The most important lesson I learnt during my reign as Queen is that one has to know who he/she is and work with that because there will always be pressure to meet certain expectations. So, it is important to know who you are so you don’t get carried away. I also learnt to not be too hard on myself and treat myself with patience and realize I’m a work in progress.
This position has brought you fame, exposure. How were you able to cope with it?
I tried my best to stay grounded. It’s really very easy to get carried away with all the fame, but like I said, I tried constantly to remind myself why I do what I do. My family and close friends have especially been helpful in making it easier for me. They have been so understanding and have provided emotional support, which have been invaluable really. I also think one habit that really helped me is meditation, there are times when it seemed like there’s so much to do in such little time and it’ll get overwhelming for me. Meditation basically calmed me down and helped me gather my thoughts again.
Very soon, another queen will emerge. As an outgoing queen that already knows her way round, what advice would you give her?
For the incoming Queen, I would advise her to focus on her goals, understanding that her reign is unique to her and so she shouldn’t feel the need to be like any other Queen but herself. I would also advise her to make the most out of the experience and still have fun in the process.
What’s your take on domestic violence?
Domestic Violence is such a big issue in our society; it happens regularly to the point that we sometimes turn a blind eye to it and regard it as the norm. Thankfully more individuals are speaking up and fighting against it. Domestic violence happens to both men and women but women are mostly the victims. Personally I think there should be stricter and more effective laws protecting women against such abuse in Nigeria. In most countries it is a huge crime to hit a woman or abuse her and so before anyone thinks of such, they most probably will consider the implications. It is a bit different here, I notice that people who carry out this abuse don’t exactly hesitate because at the back of their mind, they know that it will not exactly cause them any major problem. I really believe that if these laws are passed, there will be less of these issues. It also takes so much courage to speak up as a victim of domestic abuse because of the shame and embarrassment, so I think people that speak out against it and/or share their story should be encouraged and supported.
It is believed that models especially the female ones do have intimate affairs with the organizers of the event so as to emerge winner. How true is this?
Another question on my list of “most asked questions” lol….. I can understand why people usually feel that you have to do such in the modeling industry because there’s been a lot of such reported stories. While I cannot speak for every organization because I haven’t exactly been involved with them, I can say for a fact that such type of thing does not happen in the Miss Nigeria Pageant. The pageant believes in upholding the values and exemplary qualities of a Nigerian woman and so the winner is selected purely based on merit, ensuring that they are truly able to represent those values.
Are you in a relationship?
I’m currently not in a relationship
What has been the impact of the pageant on your lifestyle generally?
One major way this pageant has impacted me is in the way I dress. I’m usually a very laid- back person and wear a lot of casual clothing, but as a queen, I have to go for a lot of events, interviews etc and so this requires me to make sure I’m always dressed all the way up. More importantly, because I constantly find myself in situations where I have to interact with people, give speeches and interviews, my confidence has greatly increased and this is one aspect I’m really happy about, as I feel more empowered and ready to chase even bigger goals.
What parting project are you currently working on at the moment?
Right now I am still working on the computer-training project I started in August (Project Young Minds) but I hope to implement the “Green Girl Project” before I hand over.
Parents and guardians tend to discourage their wards from going into any form of pageantry, as a queen, what advice do you have for parents and also for intending participants?
It’s not a denial that most parents scold their children from participating in any form of pageant, but I stand to correct the several negative notions most parents have against pageants. As an individual who has been part of one, I can categorically state that I have never encountered any form of abuse before and during my reign as a queen. Platforms differ and I can attest to the fact that the organizers of the Miss Nigeria pageant have the interest of the contestants and whoever emerges as the queen in mind, as they serve as guardians towards the positive representation of the brand itself. I want to seize this medium to encourage young ladies to turn out in large numbers and be part of history as the 40th edition of the pageant beckons soon. Like the Chairman/ Publisher of Daily Times usually say, the pageant is not sectionalized and that is why it is a national contest cutting across all the states of the federation.
For clarification sake, where they any form of body revealing during your season as a contestants before you emerged the queen?
Like I said earlier, it all depends on the platform your are contesting on and for the Miss Nigeria team, body revealing outfits was zero as the organizers from day one did not tolerate any form of indecency. All through my stay at the boot camp, the camp coordinator made sure we were all properly dressed at every outing and surprisingly unlike other pageants there was nothing like bikini /swim suit moments all through and for that, I think the Miss Nigeria Pageant stands out in all ramifications.
What is your take on this year’s theme ‘ Empowering women beyond beauty’?
I am so glad and happy about the theme of this year’s edition as it further shows that the organizers are keen at empowering not just the winner but also the entire contestants. The platform is not about your beauty alone, but a total package of you and your intelligence as an individual. During my reign, I was opportuned to attend a couple of empowerment programmes that have shaped my life and I was equally privileged to carry out some as pet projects. As a reputable platform; we are bent on making the core founders of the pageant that includes Otunba Olusegun Osoba, Mr. Babatunde Ajose and all others proud of what is an heritage to all. As a platform also, the organizers also crave the indulgence of all media houses that the pageant belongs to everyone even though it is a Daily Times initiative.