Former Miss Nigeria, Ene Lawani, tells Ada Onyema about her long reign as a beauty queen, her life and why she loves older men
How was it being the longest reigning Miss Nigeria from 2004 to 2010?
Well, it wasn’t my wish to be the longest reigning queen. Unforeseen circumstances that had to do with the office made my reign so long; but at the same time, it was great. I was able to impact on lives positively. I led a national awareness campaign tour with emphasis on promoting a healthy lifestyle, which was part of my pet project of preventing of malaria. I had endorsement deals for companies and others. It was really an eye-opener for me and it opened a lot of doors for me as well.
Was being the longest-reigning queen a distraction in any way?
Yes partly, especially my education. I had to stop school for a year and when I couldn’t hand over on time, I was home for three years before I finally started school again. So, it affected my academic life.
Did you have to stay at home for three whole years?
Well, not really. But I was hoping that whenever I handed over, I would continue my education abroad.
How true is it that beauty queens go out of their ways to get the crown?
I really don’t know about that. I think my winning the crown was a miracle. I had actually given up that day because my costume and everything I was meant to use for the show did not arrive until the night of the show. I don’t know about pressing buttons, although I heard stories that somebody had been paid to win; but I just went for the fun of it. I had already given up, but when my costume arrived, I just thought I could give it a trial and I won. I wouldn’t say all beauty queens were under pressure or press buttons and all that. If you have all the qualities – beauty, charisma, carriage – and have all it takes to be a beauty queen, you will win.
People look at beauty queens as people who use their bodies to get what they want. What do you think?
I don’t think so. It is like every normal pretty girl. When you are a pretty girl, you go places, doors open for you. I don’t think it is just only beauty queens who do that. On that platform, you have opportunities to meet people you least expected and dine with the high and the mighty. It is just an opportunity.
How come we did not hear much about you despite your long reign?
I was busy with school. I started school in 2007 and that took a lot of my time. Also, I was trying to start my business and that made me to lie low. I was not hiding, but just busy.
There was nothing spectacular about your reign. Why?
Nothing spectacular? Well, then Daily Times was privatised so things kind of crumbled. I don’t really know the whole story but then I still made use of it. I was able to impact on lives with my pet project and I think that is the most important thing during my reign.
How did you feel being a queen during such a crisis?
Yes, it was immediately I came in. I understood it was a new organisation, new management and all that. After a few months, things crumbled, which led to lots of people losing their jobs, my crown being put on hold as well. It wasn’t my doing really. I felt sad in the sense that I didn’t get most of the things that I was promised. I didn’t get to go for the international pageant and I did not complete my pet project and I really feel sad but all the same, everything happened for a reason.
While growing up, did it ever cross your mind that you were going to be a beauty queen?
No, never, but I remember while I was in secondary school, I used to act a lot. I was in the social clubs. I won several awards for acting but being a beauty queen, no. I never envisaged that. I had taken the Universities Matriculation Examination and I was waiting for my result. I had this cousin who kept pestering me that I had all the qualities to go for a beauty queen competition. I just thought of giving it a trial. I was not doing anything, just to while away time, and I won. It was not something I ever imagined to be.
While giving the pageant a trial, did you get your parents’ full support?
At the initial stage, I didn’t tell my dad, but my mum knew about it and was in full support. My dad didn’t know until the day of the pageant. He was at home watching TV with my sister and they started watching the pageant, lo and behold, he saw me and he was shocked to see me on TV but after a while, he called me and gave me his blessings. I didn’t want to tell him because he was a disciplinarian. I knew that he wouldn’t encourage it.
It was rumoured that you were out of the limelight because you had nothing doing.
No, as I said, I was in school. Yes, I was not working, but I was in school. That was what kept me out of the limelight.
As a former beauty queen, what would you like to be remembered for?
I will like to be remembered as a role model, for the lives I have been able to impact positively, the girls I have been able to help achieve their dreams.
What do you find attractive in a man?
Confidence, I don’t care about your physical looks. Once the confidence is there, you’ve got my love.
You recently launched your Turban collection; what inspired that?
I have always liked tying my hair. I love hair pieces and as they say, the hair is a woman’s crowning glory. Anything you put on the hair is catchy. Right from secondary school, I have always been tying my hair because I went to a missionary school. After that, it was Miss Nigeria and people loved the way I tied my hair and the accessories I used. So I decided to go into it and moreover, I didn’t want to go into the regular clothing. I wanted something different. It’s been really great. People are now going more for turbans than the regular gele because it is something you can pair with any outfit. It is just a way of accessorising an outfit.
Are we expecting to hear the wedding bells soon?
I don’t know. When it happens, it happens.
And your ideal man?
He is someone who is sure about himself and knows how to treat a lady well. I really don’t care about the physical looks because that could go in a minute. As long as you know how to treat a lady well, you have won my heart.
Do you plan to marry your long time lover?
I don’t know. At the right time.
We heard that you didn’t date men of your age group, you prefer older men.
Let’s just say that I understand the older ones better and they understand me better than the younger ones.
Not because of their money?
No, I can make my money myself. It has nothing to do with their money. I learn a whole lot from them; I like to hang out with people I benefit from intellectually. Most importantly, I learn a lot from their experiences.
Another person may say that school is probably going on for too long for you. What do you say?
Well, I’m doing a part time programme and it is for five years. I’m in my fourth year now. It has nothing to do with me. If I had my way, I would finish today because honestly, I’m tired. I want to hurry up and graduate. I thank God everything has been great. I will like to graduate and I’m hoping it comes very soon.
What determines your dress sense?
Sometimes, my mood does that. If I’m in a playful, romantic mood, I express it in my outfit.
What do you think could be done to bring Miss Nigeria to its former state?
The new organisers are handling it and they are not doing badly. It is even better now because they are making it family oriented; no swim suit. They are doing well.
What is the misunderstanding between you and Nike Oshinowo-Soleye about?
I have no issues with her. She was my boss and I lived with her for about three months when I won and that’s where it ends. After that, I didn’t see her for a while, until she started a new pageant, which I was one of the judges in. I don’t have any problem with her. It is not like we used to go partying and hanging out together. We moved together when I was Miss Nigeria, but I’m no longer Miss Nigeria. She has a new queen now who she works with. We are not fighting, she is a wonderful woman.