Model, entrepreneur, former Miss Face of Nigeria and reigning Miss Africa World, Uche Umeagukwu recently returned to Nigeria from her base in the United States, garnering honours and accolades in droves.
While in Nigeria, the queen and her team toured various parts of the country, promoting her programmes such as KidsNHunger, digital skills marketing, online company card, Out-of-School Empowerment Foundation, waste reduction through industrial trash furnace, and development of television shows and films for Nollywood. She also distributed educational materials to children while promising to donate computers to many schools both in Lagos and Anambra State.
In this chat, Umeagukwu talks about the lessons she learnt while abroad for many years and her experiences in Nigeria. It’s sure a good read.
What do you miss most about Nigeria when you’re abroad?
I miss the food. I like pounded yam with ofe oha. I like Nigerian peanuts, roasted corn, and Isi-Ewu. I miss Suya. Since I came, I have been eating Suya everyday.
You have been abroad for over 10 years, what lessons have you learnt about life?
If not for anything, I have learnt moral principles. Being straight forward and time conscious. If I have appointment with you at 10:00a.m, maybe I have to show up at 9:45a.m. I keep my appointment quite professional.
Who influenced your growing up?
My mum. She has a huge influence on me. I looked up to her. She was a fashion designer and
a very strong woman. I look up to her, but unfortunately she’s no more. She passed away with cancer in 2008. I still keep my mum’s legacy. I have a foundation called ‘Uche Foundation’ that makes free hair (wigs) for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I donate free wigs to them.
What were your memorable experiences growing up?
I grew up in Enugu, which was the place I was born. I hope to bring down the projects I have in Lagos to Enugu. I have a project called ‘Out of School Children Empowerment Foundation’. We bring out-of-school children back to school. I want to expand that to Enugu and also empower women and youths.
What do you miss most about your mum?
She’s a strong woman. She always wants me to be focused and that I shouldn’t let anything distract me. She told me to always be on point by dressing well, wear my high heels, apply my lipstick, and go wherever I want. She always wanted to make sure I’m focused, which was the most important thing to her.
Why did you go into beauty pageant?
My first pageant was Face of Nigeria in 2015. I thought I was built like a model because of my height and physique. Someone brought me the Face of Nigeria (application) form; I contested and won. I live in Los Angeles and I have a hair company called, Uche Hair. It’s a luxury hair company; we import human hair extensions from Brazil and India. I have met with lots of decision makers in the US; so being a beauty queen is a good experience and a door opener for me.
As the reigning Miss Africa World, what does the crown mean to you?
The crown stands for hope and salvation. It means I have the power to use my voice to give hope and save others from despair. My mission is to always use my platform to empower women, youths and kids through service and charity.
You have many awards and traditional titles; can you talk about them?
A week before I came home to Nigeria, the Anambra women in the United States honoured me with a philanthropy award, because I support a lot of organizations even as non-member. I give them products and encourage them. The Mayor of the city of California also honoured me with an award. However, when I came to Nigeria, I went to see Oba Shakirudeen Kuti, the Elewu of Ewuland in Oshodi, he said I’m not leaving the palace without a title. He gave me ‘Yeye Oge’. I asked for the meaning and he said ‘the most beautiful woman’. I went to see Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu and he also gave me a title but I cannot pronounce it. I was told the meaning of the title is ‘the child that has brought glory to the nation’. I went to my Igwe in Uga, Anambra State; he gave me the title of ‘Adadioranma of Uga.’ I’m very impressed with what I’m seeing in my country. It means when you work hard, eventually it will pay off. That is the way I see it.
To cap it all, my governor, Willy Obiano made me the Senior Special Adviser to Anambra State in Diaspora. It means if you are in America or anywhere outside Nigeria and you want to invest in Anambra State or you want to showcase your talent, just tell me and I’ll bring you down to Anambra. The governor wants his people to come back home. So, that will be my job.
Would you marry a Nigerian or foreigner?
Right now, I am dangerously in love with an Anambra man. And I am looking forward to having the most glamorous wedding in a year or two in the heart of Beverly Hills, California.
What’s your kind of man?
He must be very tall and smart.
As a beauty queen, how do you handle male admirers?
I make friends with them.
What’s your style?
I like to dress up, even if I’m not going anywhere. I don’t like to appear casual. I like to be fully dressed at all times. I dress up, wear my high heels, even if I’m going down the street. My mum always wanted me to dress up, saying I wouldn’t know whom I’d meet at any point in time.
Her advice is this: make sure you dress up, wear your make up, put on your high heels and always wear red lipstick. So, I wear my red lipstick all the time. You can see I have my red lipstick now. I like casuals too, I like jeans and I also like to wear traditional (attires). Anything that fits my physique will fly for me.
What are your most cherished fashion accessories?
I like handbags. My shoes have to be high, like 6 inches and above, even though I’m 5.11 and half feet tall. When I’m on heels, I’m 6.11 feet tall.
What’s your advice for young women who want to be like you?
My advice to young women is to be focused, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.