Claret Onukogu is Ph.D candidate at Walden University and aspires to be a film-maker and interest in working for the United Nations. In this interview, she talks about her growing up, going to school in Nigeria, Nollywood and her problems with the Miss Nigeria In America Beauty Pageant since her crown.
Tell me about yourself.
I am the first child from a family of 8 and a native of Imo State, Nigeria who resides in the United States. I am an MBA/ Healthcare Administration degree holder from South University in Savannah, Georgia, and a PhD candidate from Walden University. I am also one of the new faces and rising stars in Nollywood with work ranging in cinema, soap-opera, home-videos, and co-host of a television show (music and vibes). Some of my awards include Who’s Who among American High School students, Who’s Who among American College students, Certificates of Academic Excellence, Outstanding French Student, National Dean’s List (sophomore), Minority Academic Awards, Academic Scholarships, Miss Nigeria in America (2009-2010), and Outstanding Nigerian (World Ebony Network). I am intelligent, spiritual, brilliant, articulate, hard-working, compassionate, and admirable.
What inspired you to be doing the stuff that you now do in the Nollywood entertainment industry?
I have always aspired to be an actress particularly in Nollywood at a young age, but I wanted to complete my graduate level education before I actively pursue a career in acting. As a child, I watched many Nollywood movies and I enjoyed them. I admired the culture, language, and stories and it kept me connected to home. Acting has always been a part of me even as a child and before I decided to become a professional in the field, I did it as a hobby and I loved it, besides, the industry has evolved and is taking a new and different dimension.
How would you compare Nollywood to Hollywood?
Although Nollywood is growing at an incredibly fast pace, it has not quite reached the level of Hollywood. I am optimistic that in the next few years, it will be close to Hollywood in terms of the technology, special effects and in other areas where it lags behind.
Is Nollywood getting better?
The industry is changing. Nollywood is now in cinemas and I happen to be one of the faces appearing on the big screen. Many producers are taking the risk to redefine and create new faces of Nollywood. There are young and talented actors and actresses on the rise. Some of the actors and actresses who have been in the industry for a while have ventured into filmmaking and most of them attended renowned schools to study the art and perfect their skills. I was very impressed at the work ethics and professionalism, talent, enthusiasm and educational backgrounds of some of the rising producers and directors that I was fortunate to work with; they were simply amazing and continue to search for ways to introduce new materials and reinvent the ones that are already in existence. I am definitely impressed at the frequency of growth of the industry.
You went to school both in Nigeria and the U.S. From your experience, how do you compare both educational systems?
I schooled in Nigeria for a few years during my childhood and the educational system then might have changed because it has been a very long time. I liked the experience of being educated back home because it goes beyond the regular academic environment. I learnt culture, language, values and morals as an African woman. I also like the experience of being educated in the United States because it broadened my horizon and exposed me to individuals and cultures from different parts of the world. The educational systems from both parts of the world made me who I am today and I cherish the experiences that I garnered from them. I am very grateful to God and my parents for giving me such an opportunity.
Let's talk about the Miss Nigeria in America Beauty Pageant. You were crowned queen in 2009, right??
Yes, I emerged as the winner for the Miss Nigeria in America 2009 pageant.
I read where you still claim to be Miss Nigeria in America after three years you have been crowned. In what supposedly should have been held annually, how come you still hold the crown?
I still have the crown because MNIA Inc. and its organizers have not been able to stage another pageant since September 5, 2009. My reign ended officially on September 5, 2010, but I have not been able to handover to anyone since no pageant has been held by the organization since 2009 and the public expects to see me crown a new queen who competed in the pageant system and earned the title.
who is Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja?
Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja was the first runner-up for the Miss Nigeria in America 2009 beauty pageant and long-term friend of the organizers at MNIA Inc. She now supposedly claim to be Miss Nigeria in America 2010-2011 with a false public message from her, MNIA Inc and its organizers that I relinquished my title and handed over to her while in actuality I have already served and completed my reign exactly a year after I was crowned from September 5, 2009 to September 5, 2010. Adelaja is currently facing legal actions for impersonation and defamation of character. She is a queen that MNIA Inc and its organizers falsely created for the continuity of the organization because they have not been able to afford any pageants. By doing so, Angel Adelaja has been posing with a purchased and unmerited crown and sash as the current queen with false justification to the public for the questionable act claiming that I (Claret Onukogu), the former queen waiting to hand over to a successor who competed and merited a crown at a pageant, relinquished my title for her due to a pursuit of an acting career in Nollywood which is FALSE because she bears a different title (MNIA 2010-2011) with her crown and sash which has absolutely nothing to do with me and my reign as MNIA 2009-2010. Most individuals are baffled by this unscrupulous act by MNIA Inc and its organizers because if a crown, sash and title can be given to an individual without a competition for the year that she claims to be queen, then the purpose of pageantry is defeated.
Why is she claiming to be the current Miss Nigeria in America? Since there hasn't been any contest from when you were crowned three years ago, how was she declared winner of the beauty pageant contest?
Mr. Ehirim that is exactly the lingering question that confuses me and everyone else; since my reign ended exactly a year after I was crowned, I moved on with my acting career and other activities. The answer should be given by Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja in court as to why she has been posing with a sash, crown and title that is unmerited. She should be able to answer the question effectively and defend her title without mentioning my name because I never handed my crown and sash to her, MNIA Inc or its organizers, since my reign and responsibilities as Miss Nigeria in America 2009-2010 ended a year after I was crowned like other queens in the MNIA Inc. pageant system.
From what I read, what happened to the show since you were last crowned?
No show has been held by MNIA Inc. and its organizers since the last pageant in 2009. I have not spoken to them after the conclusion of my reign. I traveled out of the country a few weeks before the end of my reign to engage in some charity work in Nigeria, which was highly publicized and recognized, and to begin my acting career a few months after my reign ended. I was astonished when people began to contact me with questions concerning my supposedly forged resignation and relinquishing of title as Miss Nigeria in America 2009-2010 according to MNIA Inc and its organizers. The first time that I received a call pertaining to this issue, I had my crown and sash in front of me. Even though the credibility of the organization and the integrity of its organizer became questionable to me while working with them, I could not believe that they would think about committing a dubious act and using my name for its justification. Apparently, six months and a few days after my reign ended, they lied on Facebook and on their website that I relinquished my title and resigned as Miss Nigeria in America 2009-2010 which is an expensive lie and defamation of character. Since I was out of the country, I could not take any actions towards the issue until I returned to the United States. For the past few months, I have been asked by several individuals and the media about the false and slanderous news until I decided to take legal actions towards the organization and Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja and to grant interviews to the media in order to clear my name and answer the questions that have been directed to me by many individuals. I do not sanction the use of my name in any crooked and questionable act and no one including the MNIA Inc and its organizers has the right or permission to dent the reputation that I have built for myself. I could not believe that MNIA Inc and its organizers had the audacity to fabricate an expensive lie with my name in public for their own interest. From the beginning of my reign (September 5th, 2009) to its end (September 5th, 2010) MNIA Inc specified verbally and in writing that my reign comes to a halt a year after I was crowned and it did; despite the fact that there were no contracts, agreement or conversation stating otherwise and none binding me to the organization stating that my reign will extend more than a year, the organizers of the pageant who reiterated to me during my reign on numerous occasions that they could not have another pageant due to financial and other organizational commitments, thought that it would be a brilliant idea to lie to the public that I relinquished my title in order to justify them crowning a runner-up from 2009 as Miss Nigeria in America 2010-2011 on February 2011 without a pageant which is an insult to those of us who worked hard and earned our crowns. To say that I am highly disappointed in MNIA Inc. and its organizers is an understatement. Please examine a few of the messages that I received from the organizers of the pageant during my reign and its pattern of change over the years. I have also included a response from Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja to someone making inquires about her being the current queen.
Email from Chichi Dike-Emeson “CEO, Executive Director, and Founder of MNIA Inc.)” On May 3, 2010 speaking concerning the end of my reign and management by regal affairs: “The meeting will discuss your management with Regal Affairs and my expectations from you and Regal Affairs. So please come with your ideas and we will draft a game plan for your reign from now till October.”
On July 22nd 2010, the executive director of the MNIA pageant sent me an email also addressing the Regal Affairs manager of the organization stating verbatim in her exact words “September 5, 2010 is the end of your reign and I will ensure that MNIA submits to you all the is due to you. I need a close-out report from you and that should include a reflection of your reign as Miss Nigeria in America 2009. As you know we will not be having any pageant this year but the next Miss Nigeria in America will be on September 3, 2011 in Washington DC. Queen, I also need a close-out report from Regal Affairs also for management of the Miss Nigeria in America 2009.”
Close out report from the executive director on July 29, 2010:
As we come to the end of your reign, MNIA, Inc. wants to thank you for all the work you have done in the past 12 months. As you may be aware, we will not be having the Miss Nigeria in America Pageant in 2010. Financial and other organizational commitments have forced us to move this event in 2011. Due to your hectic schedule and your ongoing work with the entertainment industry, your reign will end on September 5, 2010. MNIA has decided that in order to continue the work of MNIA, Inc, and our charitable/ non-profit mission, the 1st runner-up Miss Angel Adelaja will become Miss Nigeria in America 2010. Please note that the organization will have your EEE bonds to you before your reign is over. Please let us know if there is any thing that you may need. We wish you the best in your endeavors.”
“Los Angeles, CA – February 18, 2011 - MNIA, Inc. has announced today that the first runner-up in the 2009 MNIA Pageant - Angel Adelaja will assume the role and responsibilities as the Miss Nigeria in America 2010. In a statement issued by the President of the Organization, Angel will fulfill all remaining responsibilities of the former Queen, Claret Onukogu. Speaking on this change, ChiChi Dike Emeson, Executive Director said “We gracefully accept the resignation of the Miss Nigeria in America 2009 as of September 5, 2010.”
Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja: July 26, 2012 (Response from Angel to an individual making inquiries as to how Angel became Miss Nigeria in America 2010-2011):
“Anyway I was 1st runner up in the 2009 pageant, but the winner was asked to resign for reasons I am not at liberty to say, and as it is stated in the regulations, the 1st runner up assumes the title in situations such as these. Unfortunately there hasn't been a pageant since 2009, but there will be one this September in Washington DC and I will be handing over the crown to the winner.”
Information on the company website and a word document about Angel on google states:
“Dr. Angel Adelaja is the reigning Miss Nigeria in America (2010 -2011). Angel was the first runner up in the 2009 Miss Nigeria in America Pageant and assumed the role and responsibilities of the former queen Claret Onukogu who relinquished her title to pursue an acting career.”
Mr. Ehirim, please, you be the judge does this sound like I resigned or more like falsification of information and defamation of character? My observations and experience with MNIA Inc and the organizers of the pageant during my reign caused me to dissociate myself from them for almost two years now. It is frustrating and annoying for me to go back to issues concerning them again. It is obvious that MNIA Inc and its organizers are not straight forward and trust worthy. Besides inconsistency and questionable acts, they still owe money in the form of savings bonds and other rewards to me, many runner-ups, winners, and some other former contestants who merited items such as plaques. They lied and did not meet up to their obligations during my reign. Apparently, I am not the only one who is displeased with the unscrupulous behaviors of MNIA Inc and its organizers. From last year till recently, some of the winners who were owed for years before I came on board have approached me concerning the issue of payment or financial assistance that we never received from MNIA Inc as promised and we were planning to find a lawyer collectively to write a letter to the organization. I later decided to sue them because I felt like it will be the most appropriate thing to do at this point since it has become a trend by the organization to owe individuals especially the young ladies who competed in the pageant system. It is disheartening to know that an organization that supposedly prides itself of bringing Nigeria to positive light and empowering women is fraudulent, crooked, manipulative and prone to falsification. This was a message from the executive director on May 19, 2010 concerning my personal information for the supposed savings bond or money which I never received “Hi Claret, I cannot process your bonds without a SSN number so if you want to call me and give it to me so I can process in the bank, then you can call.” I am not the only person who completed the bond forms and never received the money and other rewards that was due to me. Legal actions have also been taken towards MNIA Inc and its organizers concerning the possession and possible use of my personal information. The United States federal government has been made aware of this problem and is actively working towards the issue. The last thing that Nigeria needs is another scam, fraud or dubious act attached to its name, not even in the form of pageantry. Please take note of the report from Better Business Bureau concerning the Miss Nigeria in America pageant:
This Business is not BBB accredited Miss Nigeria in America Pageant/ Danick, INC Phone: (202) 460-2919 1717 K Street, NW Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20036 http://missnigeriainamerica.org! Miss Nigeria in America Pageant/ Danick, INC is Believed to Be Out of Business ! Additional Information BBB file opened: February 22, 2005 Contact Information Principal: ChiChi Dike, Company Contact Business Category BEAUTY PAGEANTS # of businesses with 1-4 complaints in the past 36 months. Miss Nigeria in America Pageant/ Danick, INC is in this range.
I do understand that the organizers at MNIA Inc. are entitled to do as they please with their organization but they are not permitted to use my name in any questionable act to rectify their mistakes or set-backs. Common sense will tell anyone that a supposedly yearly pageant will have winners whose reign ends yearly. If Miss Nigeria in America 2009 was crowned on September 5, 2009 then September 5, 2010 will mark the end of her tenure. I cannot possibly resign on the day that my reign ends. The fact that MNIA Inc. and its organizers can falsify senseless lies makes one wonder about the integrity and the sanity of any individual who will do such. I did not have any form of communication with Chi-Chi Dike-Emeson, her husband Kenneth Emeson and friend Queen Gideon Uchekwe, who are the main organizers and producers of the MNIA pageant, on September 5, 2010 to discuss or hand over any form of resignation. No one forced me to resign. My reign ended when it was supposed to like other queens who served for one year and Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja should defend her crown and title as MNIA 2010-2011 (however it was obtained) without any claims that I relinquished my title for her because if I did, she will have my crown, sash and title as MNIA 2009-2010. I earned my title, crown and sash and never gave them to anyone. She is assuming her own responsibilities as MNIA 2010-2011 and not mine. If the completion of my reign that ended in one year translates to a false imaginary resignation to MNIA Inc. and its organizers, then it means that they are referring to every queen who won and completed their one year tenure with the organization. I went beyond the call of duty to conclude my roles and responsibilities as a queen. MNIA Inc, its organizers and Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja should please formulate another lie to tell the public as usual. The ones they falsified have turned sour. Individuals in the public are not fools, they know how credible organizations conduct pageants. It is imperative that Africans, particularly Nigerians, should join hands in cleansing our image by eradicating fraudulent, dubious and falsifying entities that bear our names and put a halt to the activities of the individuals behind those acts that drag our names to the mud especially in the international community.
Besides what's been going on, what are your interests?
I will like to venture into the production aspect of entertainment particularly film-making. I am also very interested in working with the United Nations.
What projects are you working on now?
I have been working on my PhD in Epidemiology; I have also been taking some classes for film production and screenplay writing. Humanitarian work is still a priority in my life regardless of how busy my schedule might be; I create time to do charity work. I am currently shooting a program in the U.S. that will be shown on Nigerian television networks. I have been privileged to own and operate a webstore with variety of goods at affordable prizes (http://claretijeoma.fscstore.com).