Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


Agbani Darego of Nigeria, Miss World 2001
Agbani Darego of Nigeria, Miss World 2001, is the first Black African woman to win in the pageant's history. After Darego's crowning, Nigerian leaders seek to host the 2002 event and boost tourism. Protest against the staging of Miss World in Nigeria quickly spreads internationally because of the treatment of women under sharia law practiced in 12 northern states. Some Nigerian Muslims oppose the event as morally indecent. (AP/Wide World Photos)



2000s
A Pageant Is Born - 1950s Decade of the Indiscreet Contestant - 1960s Feminists Attack the Pageant - 1970s Miss World’s Facelift - 1980s A Globalized Culture Clash - 1990s The Show Must Go On - 2000s

The Show Must Go On
Old tensions between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria flare up after a local newspaper wrote that Prophet Mohammed would have made one of the Miss World contestants his wife. A group of Muslims attacked the newspaper's offices in Kaduna and fighting spread to the poorer suburbs of the city.
Old tensions between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria flare up after a local newspaper wrote that Prophet Mohammed would have made one of the Miss World contestants his wife. A group of Muslims attacked the newspaper's offices in Kaduna and fighting spread to the poorer suburbs of the city. (APTN)

After nearly a half-century, the Miss World pageant was staged for the first time without its architect, Eric Morley, in charge. Morley died during preparations for Miss World 2000. Even though Morley's wife had long ago taken over the day-to-day operations of the contest, fans mourned the death of the man they knew as "Mr. World."

But the new millennium also ushered in exciting firsts for the Miss World competition. For the first time, viewers from around the world could weigh in on their favorite contestants by telephoning in votes. The competition also broke its record for the number of international delegates competing for the title.

In 2001, Nigeria's Agbani Darego became the first black woman from Africa to be crowned Miss World. When Darego proclaimed in her acceptance speech, "Black is beautiful," she made pageant history. Her crowning also ignited the worst year of trouble for the Miss World contest.

After Darego won the title, Nigerian leaders grabbed at the chance to host the event in 2002. They banked on the promise of the boost to tourism expected to accompany the pageant. They hoped to improve Nigeria's image. But as soon as the country's leaders won the bid for the 2002 Miss World contest, protests began.
A Muslim woman walks past a church destroyed during riots in Kaduna, Nigeria, in November 2002.
A Muslim woman walks past a church destroyed during riots in Kaduna, Nigeria, in November 2002. Violence erupted between Christians and Muslims after a newspaper article about the Miss World pageant suggested that Prophet Mohammed might have chosen one of the contestants as his wife. More than 200 people were killed in the riots, with hundreds more injured and thousands displaced from their homes. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Human rights advocates called for an international boycott of the contest, protesting the treatment of women under sharia, the code of law based on the Koran recently enacted in 12 of Nigeria's northern states. Some Miss World contestants answered the call to protest. Several countries' delegates dropped out of the competition and rallied behind the campaign to save a Muslim Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. Amid growing international attention to the case, the Nigerian government promised that Lawal's sentence would not be carried out.

The Miss World contest would go on. But inside Nigeria, some Muslims expressed their own discontent over the competition, condemning it as an indecent spectacle. Contest organizers tried to quiet the criticism by postponing the pageant, originally scheduled during Ramadan, until after the Muslim holy month.

But after a young fashion writer in Nigeria wrote that Prophet Mohammed probably would have chosen one of the Miss World contestants as his wife, old tensions between Christians and Muslims exploded. Riots erupted in the northern city of Kaduna, where two years before, 2,000 people had died in religious clashes. The trouble spread to Nigeria's capital, Abuja. The death toll exceeded 200 people, with hundreds of others reported injured.

With smoke from the riots still billowing over Kaduna, the Miss World competition ditched its Nigerian venue. Pageant president Julia Morley boarded a charter jet for London along with 90 contestants. The competition was held in Britain, where Miss Turkey was crowned the 2002 winner.
Miss World beauty contestants board a chartered flight for London after violence broke out in Nigeria. As the women flee the country, smoke from the riots still billows over the northern city of Kaduna.
Miss World beauty contestants board a chartered flight for London after violence broke out in Nigeria. As the women flee the country, smoke from the riots still billows over the northern city of Kaduna. (FRONTLINE/World)

The restaging of the Miss World contest didn't spare its organizers from further controversy. London's mayor blamed the contest for bringing "tragedy and strife" to Africa. British author and broadcaster Muriel Gray opposed the competition's relocation, charging, "These girls will be wearing swimwear dripping with blood." No British television channel agreed to broadcast the event.

But even with bloodshed linked to Miss World, the world's oldest beauty pageant has persevered. In 2003, contestants will pack their bags for the tropical shores of the island of Hainan in South China. The ever-expanding Chinese market offers contest sponsors the prospect of a huge audience and offers Miss World organizers enormous potential for advertising revenue. But China also is known for its poor human rights record, which promises to draw the attention of activists from around the world. When this year's beauty entrants face off for the Miss World crown, protest against the competition is sure to strike again.

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