Out of 30 elegant ladiese that came into the competition, an undergraduate with beauty, brawn and creative instinct, Sophie Chidinman Dijeh emerged winner of the sixth Carnival Calabar Queen Pageant.
The audience at the recent sixth Carnival Calabar Queen (CCQ) pageant was descent. Most of them looked like people that descended from another outer space glittering, snorting the intergalactic colours in style. There were flashes of the high class mixed with a kind of metaphysical ambience. Fashion, evident in skimpy or long flowing curves, revealing gowns were on display by the ladies.
These fashion aficionados thumped the floor of Venetian Arena, venue of the contest with their high heels even as some were obviously uncomfortable in them. Some of the musical acts who entertained, especially Waje wore quilted deep blue satin material. Others were Real P, Special Eddy. The attires made them look gorgeous. But those who stole the show were single ladies that are still searching and wanted all the attention.
The popular Calabar Christmas Festival was having its annual beauty pageant. Comedians of note in the country led by Julius Agwu, celebrities, politicians, businessmen, fashion designers, broadcasters, top government functionaries amongst others gathered to see the next Carnival Calabar Queen emerge.
And they enjoyed every event on the programme preceding the climax. Venetian Arena is a nascent event centre in Calabar. It is spacious and has all the state of the arts equipment and facilities.
In 2007, CCQ was added to the long list of events that take place during the 32 days duration of the festival. Wife of the Cross River State Governor, Mrs. Obioma Imoke who introduced it, said the essence was to give young girls who are beautiful, morally upright and intelligent an opportunity to become role models to school girls besides being the mouthpiece of some of her pet projects. Whoever wins goes home with a brand new car and N2 million.
She must also travel round the state on advocacy and be a guest speaker in seminars and conferences. In short, she becomes the face of Cross River State as far as tourism is concern.
The road to the final contest begins with auditioning in Calabar, Lagos and Abuja. Successful candidates in these centres make it to Calabar in December. They are lodged in a hotel; where for two weeks ahead of the contest proper, receive lessons on singing, dancing, physical exercises, arts and crafts. Lectures are also delivered on various topics, especially on contemporary issues and visits to tourist sites is undertaken.
And for the two weeks, there is no dull moment. Everyday is filled with activities. The contestants get to know one another better, make friends and learn about so many things in the world.
They have chaperons who guide them and make up artists to beautify them. Fashion designers are not left out as they design what the girls wear on the final day. Since the competition is all about love and building cross-cultural ties, contestants must not steal, quarrel or fight.
Chinenye Uwalaka won the maiden edition held in 2007. The crown went to Queeneth Orok in 2008, while Mayen Ekpo succeeded her the following year.
In 2010, Adaeze Eluke drove home with the star prize of a car and N2million with Emem Udonquak doing the same in 2011. Chinenye afterward became a lawyer; Queeneth now owns a boutique and hair dressing salon for kids in Calabar; Mayen an event manager in Akwa Ibom State and Adaeze into acting (movie) and modeling.
The 2012 CCQ pageant was spectacular. For the first time, the ceremony held outside the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, located on the outskirts of the city.
Venetian Arena is nearer the city as it is on the Murtala Mohammed Highway where vehicular movement is readily available. Secondly, questions asked the final five contestants were done electronically. Each contestant picked a number of her choice to answer the three questions reeled out.
Two renowned broadcasters in the country, Mr. Maurice Inok and Adisuwa Onyenokwe were the comperes of the event and they did not disappoint. The judges came from different backgrounds.
Check them out: Mo Abudu of Protea Hotel and presenter of the syndicated talk show 'Moments With Mo'; winner of 1994 Miss Nigeria and executive officer of Romarox Resources Ltd, Rosemary Okeke; a chartered accountant, Chris Ndulue; Nollywood star, Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD) and pioneer chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr. Ransome Owan.
The first outing by the ladies was a parade in Lilac gowns, followed by self-introduction and good wish speech by the outgoing queen. A few minutes later, the contestants returned to the stage clad in national/traditional attires and finally evening wears with each explaining the significance of her attire.
Under this was an amazing mix of colours, style and poise as they cat-walked the stage beaming with smiles. Exhibition of talent by the eleven women standing was next.
Onyenokwe had announced that the judges were using the following criteria: intellect, diction, poise, cultural presentation and good looks. The judges for each of these awarded points. To win, a contestant must have scored the highest number of points. But the audience did not fail to applaud those contestants that thrilled in any of the events.
With all the activities performed by the ladies, anxiety took over. While the contestants had butterflies in their stomach, the audience was nervous. Who will wear the crown?
This question was soon answered as Miss Sophia Chidinma Dijeh, a final year student of the Department of Theatre/ Media Studies, University of Calabar was pronounced winner of CCQ 2012. For her gait, brilliance and creativity, she received a standing ovation immediately her name was announced.
The 20-year-old Anambra State old born lady contested as Miss Hope Waddell and went home with a brand new Chevrolet Spark Car and N2million. The Acting Governor of the State, Mr. Efiok Cobham, presented the key of the car to her on stage immediately she was crowned winner. She becomes the sixth winner of CCQ.
Miss Amarachi Uwakwe who contested as Miss Marina Resort emerged the first runner up while Miss Eyo Honesty; Queen Ekpo clinched the second runner up position.
With 19 women sent packing, the eleven finalists had an uphill task impressing the judges. Another round of exercise conducted saw this number trimmed to five. They were asked three questions each, but only the eventual winner, Dijeh, got all her answers correct just as she was outstanding in all activities of the contest.
Miss Dijeh who is also the reigning Miss University of Calabar for winning the contest has become the Face of Tourism in Cross River and Ambassador for Mother's Against Child Abandonment (MACA) project of Mrs. Imoke.
She is expected to continue from where her predecessor stopped and part of her mandate is to carry advocacy to schools, preach abstinence as the best method to stay free from unwanted pregnancy, HIV/AIDs and other STDs.
Initiator of the beauty contest, Mrs. Imoke said the theme of this year's pageant "A Fusion of Truth and Mercy" was carefully chosen because about 150 babies whose lives would have been terminated as a result of the handwork of forces of darkness were now being adequately catered for.
They are indeed living testimonies of truth and mercy. "CCQ is a melting pot of activities, as destinies are preserved; young ladies provided a platform where they can excel", she said.
She also urged all to encourage young girls realise their potentials and not to allow the mistake they make in life blight their future. In a video message, Mrs. Imoke commended all the sponsors and those who assisted in making this year's event a success.
In a valedictory speech, the out-gone queen, Miss Udonquak congratulated her successor. She expressed gratitude to Governor Imoke and his wife for coming up with the CCQ platform and revealed that her reign was amazing, eventful and enlightening.
In an interview later, new queen, Dijeh promised to build on the foundation laid by her predecessors as they all did well to promote the programmes and projects of the state's first lady.
She promised to be a good ambassador of the state and would take her advocacy programme to schools to educate the young ones on the danger of risky behaviour, how to avoid bad peer influence and the need to imbibe abstinence as the best way of avoiding HIV/AIDS.
For the CCQ pageant, young Nigerian girls have found an avenue to showcase their talents and flaunt their beauty for a prize. This is one platform that is giving them food as they go ahead to invest the proceeds of the competition.
And for the organisers, there is no better way to drum their advocacy message into the ears of young people than through a member of their age grade or generation. What a way to stay out of crime and prostitution.