When listing the names of beauty queens that have been crowned in Nigeria, Grace Atinuke Oyelude comes first. History remembers her name as the first-ever woman to be crowned Miss Nigeria.
Grace became Miss Nigeria at a time when contestants were not required to flaunt physical assets, wear swimsuits, dance to the merry of the audience and, swing hips to the rhythm of claps and music.
Grace Atinuke was the first Miss Nigeria in 1957. At this time, contestants were required to send a picture of themselves to Daily Times headquarters in Lagos. Finalists were shortlisted and then invited to compete in the live final contest at the Lagos Island Club.
That year, Grace’s younger brother saw the advert of the beauty contest in the newspapers and applied on her behalf. The result came in and it read that she should be in Lagos for the the interview to be selected as a Miss Nigeria contestant.
Though from Kogi State, Grace represented Kano State because she was born and also lived there.
Here is what she had to say when asked what the contest looked like in 1957;
We were asked to come report at the Daily Times office. We all met, about 200 of us but I was the only one from Kano. We were interviewed. They asked how we got to Lagos and I told them that I flew for the first time in my life. So, we were asked to come back the next day.
There was really no interview that time. They asked where you come from and your parent’s background. They didn’t ask why we want to be Miss Nigeria because I wouldn’t have known what to say.
So, on the D-day, we didn’t have any interviews or rehearsals. That day was a Saturday in April 1957. We all met in Lagos Island Club. We were offered seat and drinks. And then someone came to tell us that we would be asked to walk through a hall. There were many people around.
Later, we were asked to walk around in the hall. There was music on and it was late Bobby Benson that was playing then and we walked round three times before they asked us to go and sit down. We didn’t dance.
A lady, late lady Alakija and a lawyer came and one stood behind me on the right and the other on the left and while I was wondering what they were doing behind me as I didn’t know them, I was announced as the Miss Nigeria for 1957. I didn’t even know my name had been called until the two people behind me led me to the stage. And that night, I had to find my way back.
I was given 200 pounds, four beautiful dresses and a trip to London. And after that, I was never a queen. Nobody knew me as Miss Nigeria again because I went to England to study Nursing at the university.
Now 89 years old, Grace Atinuke remains a woman of poise and grace. A successful woman whose success isn’t only tied to her crown but also to the many lives she has touched with her profession as a nurse and her role as a mother and grandmother.