Bianca Ojukwu, is wife of Former Biafran leader, the Ikemba Nnewi and two time- presidential candidate of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Twenty years ago, precisely on December 4, 1988, young Bianca won the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MGBN) pageant. That was when she struck limelight. She did not stop there.
Rather, she went ahead to clinch Miss Africa, Miss Intercontinental, Miss Drushbah and African Queen of Beauty. Before then at London College, she’d won the Miss Martini contest.
In this encounter with Dennis Agbo, Bianca, daughter of Chief Christian C. Onoh, former Governor of old Anambra state, talks elaborately on the pageant industry, fashion and style and of course on the romantic nature of her husband, Ojukwu in their new palatial villa at Enugu GRA.
If you were asked, how would you introduce yourself?
I’ll say I am the fifth daughter and sixth child of Chief Christian .C. Onoh, the Okaome Ngwo and former Governor of the old Anambra State, and Chief Mrs. Caroline Onoh, a former school administrator who became a house wife to carter for her children.
My early life was in my hometown, Ngwo, a place that I still remember with a lot of nostalgia. I grew up in the village and that has given me the grounding that I have today.
I went to All Saints Primary School, from there I went briefly to Queen’s School, Enugu from where I transferred to Ackworth School in Pontefract, West Yorkshire England , where I sat for my GCE O levels. After my O levels, I attended the St. Andrews College as well as the Cambridge Tutorial College for my A levels.
On getting my A level result, I went to the University of Buckingham for a combined honours degree in P.E.L (Politics, Economics and Law).
And from there, I came back to the University of Nigeria where I attended the Enugu Campus of the University for my Bachelor of Laws degree programme and after that I went to the Nigeria Law School and moments later, I got married.
I worked briefly as a lawyer, from there I moved on to my main passion which is in the area of aesthetics. I’d wanted to set up my own skin care line, build my own brand of skin care cosmetics, which I manufactured. I also run an interior decoration outfit known as Meriabela Interior and as well as other business concerns.
What is it like being wife of Ikemba, Odumegwu Ojukwu?
He is a wonderful man and I thank God because when I got married, it was a call for concern, not just for my parents and my family but for the society at large because of the age difference between myself and my husband.
But the amazing thing is that by the time I met him, we were almost like soul mates. We have same interests and because we both grew up in affirmative ways abroad, we had boarding school education and so forth. And because we both had privileged backgrounds, we have common interests. So when I met him, I knew that we have basically most things in common, because he is like a friend and I think my instinct hasn’t disappointed me, and since we met each other in 1989, we’ve been together.
In 2009, it will be 19 years and it’s amazing because I’ve known friends who had gotten married and divorced in that space of time and these are people who are in more conventional marriages and not many people gave this marriage a chance.
There were too many factors against it and people always ask and say what makes it so? For me, it looks like it is not long ago and we prepared for the children who will try to be there for us. My husband is a romantic man.
He remembers the birthdays and makes sure that he provides you with appropriate roses and buys you the most wonderful gifts. I am not by nature very romantic, but he is funny, very funny.
In the evenings, we could sit down and play cards and share jokes over a bottle of wine and we could go do that the whole day. It’s amazing, in areas where you don’t expect him to know very much, I fill in the gap. But there are so much I learn from him, historical events and so forth and he has an amazing insight into the country and how it is run.
I learn every day from him. For every couple, there is always the challenging time but if you keep the lines of communication open, you will be able to dialogue and talk about things to make sure that the marriage is on the right footing.
For me, coming from a culture where marriage is important, it’s not negotiable. It’s the most important aspect of life as a woman in Igbo culture. I think that mothers have a role to play in telling their daughters it’s important.
It’s not that you have to come into marriage to be a slave but at the same time there should be a degree of tolerance and women have to accept that a man should be given respect for the house to prosper. Even my son who is 10 years old, I mind the way I talk to him and once you identify these areas of conflict, there won’t be problem because it’s still a man’s world.
You have a political background and married to same background. Do you nurse any political ambition?
I always say it’s not an immediate plan because I have a young family and there are still many sacrifices to be made at this moment.
I have to make sure that first and foremost, my children become independent; that they are grown and that they don’t need much of my presence. It is only at that time that I might consider any kind of political contribution but at this moment in time, it is not something I am thinking about. I have my hands more than filled in running this house. It’s almost like an airport where every politician of different political parties and views congregate.
Tell us about Bianca Blend.
Bianca Blend is a company that I established in 1996 and it is essentially a skin care company. We have a manufacturing plant and we have our own range of skin care products. It’s a luxurious skin care brand and we have so many different products in the brands because the products are customised.
It’s targeted towards the African consumer to address skin care concerns that are peculiar to African skin and have over 25 products in our signatory collection. We also have a spa collection that has about 15 different products. .
You talked about your NGO, what is about?
Yes it’s called the Hope House Trust. It’s an NGO essentially centered towards rehabilitating juvenile offenders.
There are a few boys and girls also who get into trouble with the law and because they didn’t have the education, they derail in life; where they appear to be in school but are out their picking pockets. So when their issues are addressed and they get out into the society, what we do is to offer them opportunities to learn skills and we are affiliated to various skill acquisition centers where they learn trades, such as welding, cooking, baking, even computer skill training. Some also go back to school.
Why is this your palatial villa called Casabianca?
My husband will tell you that it means Bianca’s house. Why he called it so is because when I met him, he was living in Lagos and he wasn’t keen on coming down to settle in Enugu.
But I said if we are going to raise children, they should have a little comfort and experiences that I had. That I can show them the streams in the village that we used to go and fetch water; the village squares where we used to go for moonlight tales and the little farms.
But more than anything else so they can learn my language and identify with our culture. So we needed to move down to the East, and eventually he agreed and we moved into our house, which is smaller than this one.
So, I said to him, now that we are here, we need somewhere a lot bigger where you can have conferences and a lot of politicians come. So we need something palatial and big with lawns. So he said this house when I build it, will be dedicated to you for the sacrifice that I made to come down here to live with you, so it’s yours.
You still look very stunning. What is the secret of the continued beauty?
A lot of people still do not realize that I won the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBFN) pageant. It was actually when I enlisted for my law programme at the University of Nigeria that I went into the pageant business. But prior to that I’d won a pageant in England. I’d won the Miss Martini pageant which came with a one year modeling contract in Tokyo.
But being a student at that time and being absolutely petrified that my parents would be totally against the idea, I had to hand that title over to my first runner-up and went back to school. So, I didn’t actually take it up.
Yes, I won the MBGN pageant in 1988. It’s actually twenty years this year. Precisely on December 4, it will be 20 years. And somebody asked if I will be celebrating.
I laughed because it’s not like winning the Noble prize or anything but I think to a large extent, it’s over rated in this society. It’s just a rite of passage that most girls want to go into.
For one year, you are into international limelight and you become the icon of beauty. But it’s something that lasts for one year, and after that another girl gets the chance for her own place in the sun. It’s a year of your life that you have to dazzle. But at the end of the day, it’s what you do with that opportunity that matters.
Because it doesn’t require much in terms of skill to be beauty queen or much of intellect. If you are able, after being a beauty queen to dive into other areas where you can make meaningful contribution to the society at large.
I think, essentially, that when you will be utilizing the skills that you have acquired, may be, in negotiations and diplomacy, it gives you a platform to stand on to make contributions to development.
You can still win that beauty contest again. Don’t you think so?
(Laughs long) See, I always think that like I said before, it’s a rite of passage- because I had gone in, took that chance and I won and I hadn’t realized it won’t stop there.
Because from there I had to go to Miss Africa in Banjul and surprisingly all the African delegates came to the pageant and I saw some amazingly beautiful women. But when I won that pageant, it was a shock and surprise. Most people in Nigeria then knew I was homeless because my father was not in support of the whole venture.
So, after I won Miss Africa in Banjul and flew back into Nigeria , it was Christmas time and people came to talk to my father before he said, ‘okay you can come back home’, and I had opportunity to spend Christmas with my father.
After that was the Miss Inter-continental pageant, which was more of an international event. And to prepare me for that pageant, I had to go to Singapore for grooming. In Singapore, I did a lot of fashion shows and so forth.
When I came back, I was ready for that pageant but what I found most happy is that for the first time, my father was excited and he said to me whatever it takes, whatever you need, I am going to provide. So he paid for my evening gowns and a lot of other things I required for that pageant.
And by the time I won that Miss Intercontinental pageant, it was then a matter of pride for him. And of course I went for Miss World and I won the African Queen of Beauty.
It’s different now because in 20 years the culture of pageantry has evolved. In our time it was the winner-takes- all.
As a result you have one person going for different pageants. In a year, I visited thirty different countries, which is amazing for any young girl because you are treated like a diplomat. But these days, it is now democratic because you have five queens.
You have the winner, you have the 1st runner up, and the 2nd runner-up and they all share all these different pageants, which give more girls opportunities for international pageant. But what that has also done is that it is detracted from the iconic status that the national beauty queen had.
For instance, if I have to remember all the queens that came after me, about 19 or 20 of them- but I can only remember three or four at most, and it’s the same thing for everybody if you ask them. But I find it amazing when I go to my children’s school and these are people of 6-7 years old.
They weren’t even born, and they scream, ‘Oh, my God, is your mother Bianca?’ And people say it’s amazing how I have remained in national consciousness almost like an enigma.
In my school, when people want to say a girl is beautiful they say you are Bianca (laughs). It’s ridiculous but I think it has to do with what one wants to relate with.
At the end of the day, I think the pageant industry does a good job to give young girls a wider aerial view of the world and try to assist them get ready for making more meaningful contribution to national development.
Do you think the Nigerian pageant industry needs improvement?
Oh yes, because a lot of people are beginning to see it as opportunity for goldmine. In my own time, you had to be begged, even bribed to come out and take part.
These days, you get these unscrupulous individuals who ask girls to pay large sums of money for forms to take part because it’s an opportunity to get into the modeling world, own a nice car, huge salary and so it becomes a terrain for unscrupulous individuals, who shortchange the girls. It’s sad and there should be a regulatory body that should look into the pageant organizations that deliver on the claims they make so as to protect the young women in the country.
What informs the way you dress?
It has to be simple and comfortable. I am not usually dictated to, in terms of fashion and style because I am not really impressed with people who dictate fashion, styles and projections. For me, my clothes have to be simple.
They have to be comfortable. It doesn’t have to be a designer label but it has to be of very good quality. I am against clothes that make you look like a masquerade just to grab attention and make false impression.
Nigerian women like dingles and daggles but it has to be classy and appropriate for the time and for the event. I think that certain fashion styles are privileges and not rights because you have to look at your body shape or height. It must not necessarily have to be in vogue for the time but how well it suits you.
How about your make-ups?
It does require much detail because I think in Nigeria now, it’s almost like a uniform, depending on the product you choose to use. But make up is what most have to do to enhance and build on their natural attributes.
Do you have a favourite designer?
I like designers that create fashions that flatter the famine figure and that’s why I think that designers like Chanel, Versace, even Escader make amazing creations for women. But in terms of having a hard core favourite, when I look at collections for the season, it is easy to pick out a few that would accentuate your figure as well.
How about Nigerian designers?
Nigerian designers are amazing. From what I have just said, there are certain Nigerian designers whose works can compete with their international counterparts-designers like Frank Oshodi who takes constructions of fashion around art form.
There are many others who are also very talented. Generally speaking , they have been projecting Nigeria in good light, and in few years from now, Nigeria is going to be known as one of the world’s fashion capitals because so many of those coming up are not just emulating the international designers but are trying to carve a niche for themselves, interjecting around cultural forms into their designs and that is where they have the advantage.
How about music?
You know, I’m very old fashioned when it comes to music.
I like people like Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. But my favourite form of music is salsa; people like Eddie Santiago, Ruben Blades, Oscar D’leon. You know Buena Vista Social Club. As a matter of fact, salsa is my main.
I love salsa but Jazz… I also like instrumental jazz, and music for me is like oxygen. I can stay in my room and listen to music for an entire day, if I am given the opportunity. For me, it is a spiritual thing, so long as it is the one that I like.
What is your impression about Nigeria musicians?
The same way as I commend the designers. Rather than trying to emulate, they have come up with music that takes cognize around sense of rhythm, around experience, our form, our way and our norms. So, when you listen to them, you can identify with them as a Nigerian.
The wordings are pidgin, the experiences are just so familiar and the way the music is arranged and the instruments used is creative genres of music and the level of acceptance it has received show that we Africans have been hungry for it and now have something of our own, created out of the multiplicities of our experiences.
I commended them though the language sometimes could be vulgar but all in all they are doing a good job.
Are you choosy about colours?
I have a favorite colour, which is pink.
But if I am going to choose anything, I will first of all work towards black and from black I could move to other colours because it is more versatile and it matches everything. In as much as my favorite colour is pink, I have very few pink items.
Are you crazy about cars?
I drive a hummer but if I have to choose, it wouldn’t be the car of my choice. I like cars that do not really need to have amazing features; that look imported from outer states. I am still very feminine in my preference for cars.
I like cars that are comfortable; that is easy to get into and out off, that drives you from point A to point B. I see cars on the roads and I don’t know what they are called. I don’t even know when they are modern or old fashioned.
It is not really my area but I think a car should have car-conditioner, won’t give me problem, good music system and comfortable seats. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be an aesthetic symbol. No!
How do you keep fit?
In any given year, I probably have two months and another two months, making it a total of four months where I take time to do the exercise that I need to do. And I have a pool in my house. So, it makes it easier to take out time to swim. But it’s not something I can sustain everyday. I also have a gym within my house, and perhaps, every two days, I go on for half an hour. But then I have weeks and weeks of nothing. I am not on diet but I try to be in moderation.
What is your favourite food?
Breadfruit, locally known as ukwa.
That’s what I really love and luckily for me, people ask me what makes this town I live in so wonderful and I say if not anything else, but the food, because this is where you get local food that still retains that indigenous taste. Being somebody that was raised in the village, I know….
If I eat something that doesn’t have the right taste and flavour. I used to go to eat with my grand mother when she was alive. The food with the variety is what makes this place, Enugu, the place to be.
What is idea about feminism?
I think that to a large extent, what women should be agitating for is proportional representation and not gender equity. We have seen that no matter how you look at it, men and women are simply not equal and biologically, it is not designed to be so.
I think that women should be given the opportunity to contribute for effective representation and because they have what it takes but they should not demand it purely because they are women. It should be on merit.
If you are a woman and you can deliver, that’s good enough but I don’t think this thing should be handed over to you on a platter of gold because you are a women. Don’t use your gender as an excuse and don’t also use it as a blackmail weapon.
If you are a woman and you are qualified, yes, you should be given the opportunity to make contribution for national development. But you should not be given that opportunity solely because you are a woman.
We have also seen that women when given opportunities have made outstanding contributions and have managed to distinguish themselves in chosen fields of operation.