If there is anything that is so dear to the heart of the Finest Girl in Nigeria International 2017, Miss Esther Adoo Gum, it is to see that the girl child acquires education no matter her status, tribe, religious affiliation or clime. In some sense, she is like Pakistan’s Malala, who is passionate about giving educational opportunities to girls in her country. In this interview with Sunday Sun, the reigning Finest Girl talks of her passion for education and the propelling factor behind this laudable passion.
Give us a “selfie” of your background…
God Almighty in His mercy and faithfulness caused me to be born into the family Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Gum from Logo Local Government Area of Benue State. My father is late. I had my early education at Standard Nursery and Primary School, Nyanyan, Abuja, after which I proceeded to City Royal College, Nyanyan, and then completed my secondary education at NKST College, Mkar. I’m also a graduate of Benue State University, where obtained a degree in Mass Communication. I’m the last of eight children consisting of six boys and two girls.
Tell us how you became the Finest Girl in Nigeria.
Well, I never really had a thing for pageants initially. But while I was in the university during our traditional week, I wore my traditional attire and on getting to school, people saw me and were excited about it. They said I looked good and pretty in the attire. One of the students suggested that I should be the Kumase of CTS, BSU, which is the Tiv Beauty Queen on campus. And then, it was just two days to the event. That was in 2015. I went into the contest and to the glory of God, I won. From there, I started developing passion for pageants. I also went ahead and contested for the national Kumase in 2016 and I won that too. Then I contested for the Finest Girl in Nigeria in 2017 and won too. When I won the national Kumase, I discovered that most of our girls don’t go out for fear of failure. So, I said I was going to give it a try. When I saw the advert regarding the Finest Girl in Nigeria, it was quite big but I wanted to give it trial. I went to Abuja. The contest took place at Sheraton Hotel. And I emerged among 36 contestants.
What is your experience as a beauty queen?
Well, it’s really tough; it’s sweet, it’s sour. You know, people have this very awful impression about pageants and beauty queens. Actually, some girls go into pageants because they want access and they use such access to engage in misconduct. So, I wouldn’t blame people for having that awful impression. But all the while, I’ve been trying to erase that impression that people have and revive the good image of pageants in Africa and so far, I believe that I’ve been able to do that a little bit. And being a beauty queen is quite challenging because sometimes you go out to seek for sponsorship and people try to take advantage of you. But I always tell my fellow queens that that is not an excuse. It’s just like a normal guy seeing you on the road and he likes you and asks you out. It’s up to you to accept or reject. And so, a lot of people talk about the challenges involved and to me, it’s not an excuse although it’s challenging but you just have to do what you have to do. People criticize you a lot but if you know that you want and what you are going after, then, I don’t think that would be a challenge.
Talking about the difference you have tried to make to ensure people don’t cast awful aspersions on beauty queens, what exactly have you done in that regard?
Throughout my reign from 2015 to 2016 up to 2017, my offices have never recorded any form of misconduct and I have tried to reach out to so many orphanages and the less privileged. I have done a lot of projects to show people that this is what pageants are supposed to be about – supporting the less privileged.
You are a very young woman. Can you give us an insight into the challenges that you have faced in life so far?
Before I became a beauty queen, I had this challenge of people trying to take advantage of me. My dad was a wealthy man but before I got into the university, I lost him. And so, in the course of trying to solicit for funds from his close friends, they tried to take advantage of me. They were giving me appointments at hotels where they wanted me meet them. I was shocked. I said, ‘This man is supposed to be my late father’s friend, why is he asking me to meet him at a hotel?’ So, I said to myself, it’s not a do-or-die thing. I had to look for other way to pay my bills. There are so many challenges. People come after you, they want to have one thing or the other. You just don’t have to let them.
How was growing up like?
I was quite little when my father died. Then, I never knew what the world was all about. I had no worries at all. I was free. And then, when I finished from secondary school, I was just living with my mum and my siblings. We are many like I said. We are eight in number and it’s no joke at all. And to the glory of God, all of us are now graduates. It was quite difficult growing up. Sometimes, I had to go to the school management and appeal to them to allow me take my examinations because most semesters, I wouldn’t have the money to pay. But I knew that there was a God and
He would definitely come to my aid one day. And so, I didn’t have to misuse my body or get school fees or any other thing. My mum was quite supportive in terms of food items. I never lacked food in school but it was quite tough in school moneywise. Losing a father is something I wouldn’t wish for anyone because if I tell you what I went through, you would not believe it.
What lesson has life taught you?
Well, life has taught me to be patient. Life has taught me to be persistent. Life has taught me to be faithful and have hope because life is full of challenges that you can’t avoid.
What pet project are you currently working on?
I have two pet projects which was recently unveiled on April 14, this year titled, “Educate a Child and ReachOut to Them.” Educate a child is targeted at public schools while Reach-out To Them focuses on children in IDP camps.
What is the scope of this project?
Educate-A-Child is aimed at donating learning and relief materials to public schools across Nigeria. As for ReachOut, we go to IDP camps to provide learning materials and also organize seminars to educate them, especially the girls and women on the dangers of sex, pregnancy and abortion.
What exactly propelled you to take on that project?
For the Educate-A-Child project, I was inspired by the story of a young lady who I know very well. When she was growing up, her father preferred to sponsor the boys in school while the girls were left at home. The girls were not recognized or taken as anything. But because she had passion for education, she so much wanted to go to school but her father wouldn’t let her go even though he had the resources. Meanwhile, the man had a very big orchard, so she went there, plucked some oranges, hawked them for a week; she got money and registered herself in school, paid for a uniform which was given to her with some books.
But on the first day she went to school, her father didn’t know. On arriving home, the father saw her and was so furious, he gave her the beating of her life, burnt her uniform, tore the books, drove her away and she slept outside for three days. And even when the mother begged, he said he would only take her back on the condition that she would never ever go to school. That woman happens to be my mother. My mother is not educated. And that was why I chose that project, to educate a child. Educate-A-Child has a vision where every individual is given the opportunity to get quality education and I want to educate girls that have issues like my mother’s case.
If you were not a beauty queen, what profession would you take to?
Well, I actually never thought of that because while I was in school, I had a different dream before going in for pageants. When I went into pageants, it was like I discovered myself, I discovered my passion, I discovered what I love most which is helping the less privileged. Even before I became a beauty queen, I used to do some of those things for the less privileged. Sometimes when I have little food, I share with friends. Sometimes, when I had excess money even though I wasn’t getting much, I used to share with some who didn’t have much to sponsor themselves in school. So, helping the less privileged has been my passion all along.
Is the notion about sexual harassment in exchange to win pageants true?
It is not true at all. I’m saying so because I have never experienced any of such. I would say that the beauty pageant for the Finest Girl in Nigeria was my toughest conquest. When I was going for that contest and coming from Benue State where pageants are not so supported, I spoke to some persons who discouraged me to the point that I was weakened. But my mum encouraged me. Though not educated, she however understood things about pageants. She had vowed to ensure that all her children got education which her father deprived her of and that’s why all eight of us are graduates today. So, my mum urged me to believe in myself and that moral support strengthened me by the time I got to camp and saw very beautiful girls from wealthy homes. Most of those girls had home based support and I was just alone without any backing except that of my mother. I followed the girls for some time, pretending to be who I was not just to save my face.
It started with the food we were served at the camp; we ate pizza, noodle, shawarma and stuff like that. And you know, I come from Benue where we eat pounded yam and so on, so I wasn’t comfortable with the meals in the camp as I started purging after two days. To that extent, I started requesting for Semovita and lots of the girls criticized me. However, I continued with what I could eat satisfactorily because I couldn’t cope with shawarma. There was also the belief that you don’t show your costumes to other contestants when you go for general rehearsals. If you were a minute late to rehearsals, you were also given one form of punishment or the other. So, many girls avoided the section whenever they were late.
Others refused to do punishment meted to them, but I observed mine. I did whatever I was asked to do and obeyed all instructions without the slightest idea that it was counting for me. I was also friendly and started doing my rehearsals before other contestants as I didn’t know where to hide and do so. I stood up for myself and stopped pretending to be who I was not; I rehearsed Idoma, Tiv and Igede dances of the Benue people. And that attracted some girls to me. At a point, they forgot my name and started calling me the Benue girl in camp. On the day of the event, no one approached me neither did any of the girls confided in me that the organizers demanded anything from them. At Sheraton Hotel where the final event took place, I had no fan base among the audience like the other girls but my performances during the occasion built instant live supporters for me.
I was aiming at the crown and did my best to achieve it by using the stage to put up credible performance which drew the crowd’s attention to me in all the three times I showed up. I won all the different prizes including the one for obedience in camp and to top it I was announced as the winner of the contest. So I have never been sexually harassed in the industry.