In early 2013, after almost losing her mother to a sudden head injury, Ganiyat became disillusioned by the entertainment and events industry and fell into depression. The only way she could get out of what she calls “the dark place” was to put all her focus and attention into a new project.
Whilst attending a beauty pageant in London towards the end of 2013 she was asked why there was not a Miss Nigeria UK pageant. Ganiyat had an “A Ha moment” and began researching the beauty pageant events sector in the UK and discovered that there had not been one for the Nigerian diaspora community since 2009. With her interest now piqued she decided to add the male element to the show and Mr & Miss Nigeria was born.
Coral Lifestyle had a chat with Ganiyat Alli to discuss her motivation and her struggles with fear and depression. Read the interview below.
The Birth of an Idea
We love the idea of a joint pageant- Mr and Miss… Why did you decide to combine both?
I wanted to do something different to the norm. I had worked on several pageants before and felt that the atmosphere could be very catty, I felt that adding the Mr element to the show would not give the male Nigerians a platform to shine but to also create a better atmosphere.
What was the first one like? We imagine it must have been crazy, but how did you cope?
The first show was a massive success but the lead up to it was a complete and utter nightmare. When I first thought of the idea I honestly thought it would be easy to get people to back the idea, oh was I wrong. Because I am new in the game it was harder for me to gain contacts from those who could potentially be of help to the brand. I learnt a lot about humility through this process.
How do you fund the Mr and Miss Nigerian UK (MMNUK) Peagant?
Currently myself and my business partner fund the event with money we earn from full time jobs. We have been able to gain a few investors but that is to help with securing a venue, in the end it comes out of our own pocket.
Please tell us about the law suit that never was at the beginning of this journey.
When we initially launched the brand we received complaints that we can’t do Miss Nigeria UK as someone was in the process of buying the former brand. Before releasing anything we registered the brand and Trademarked everything so after seeking legal counsel it was later revealed that we had every right to continue with our brand without any backlash as there was no current reputation for another similar brand
Ganiyat Alli’s Struggle with Self-doubt and Depression
We read somewhere where you said your biggest fear was Self-doubt and you mentioned that organizing and running the pageant helped you overcome that. How did this happen?
Growing up I’ve never really stuck to anything because I always felt I wasn’t good enough and I found it difficult to get support from those closest to me. I now know that this event was placed in my heart by God, He needed me to stop doubting myself and using my optimistic and positive nature to change people’s lives. I have never really been great at anything so I found it difficult to recognise my purpose but it is evident what my calling is in life.
Can you tell us about your struggle with depression and how it impacted on your life? (Lots of African women are struggling with depression, but they don’t talk about it).
I think depression is something I suffered with for many years but didn’t want to admit it, it was in 2013 that I realised how bad I really had it. In December 2012 my mum was really unwell, she was back and forth to the doctors with no clear answers as to what was going on, at the time I was also suspended from my job for something I didn’t do but was caught up in.
It was a hard winter, the day I went back to work I received a phone call saying my mum had collapsed and is being rushed to hospital. She had suffered from an aneurysm and could have died if no one was with her at the time. Me and my mum had a very close bond so this was one of the biggest struggles I’ve ever had to deal with, I started drinking heavily, going out all the time but I was never really happy.
I felt so alone, I reached out to one or two people but they couldn’t really understand what I was going through. 5 out of 7 nights a week I would usually cry myself to sleep (something I used to do a lot when I was in secondary school). I felt like I was trapped in a box and although my mum fully recovered I think that was the trigger that brought my festering sadness to light.
For those that know me I am an extremely bubbly and outgoing person but during all this I became very angry and negative and people began to notice, this is when I had to analyse what was going on and make a change.
How did you overcome depression? Did you see a counselor…what practical steps did you take?
Since you began the pageant, have you ever been tempted to give up? What keeps you going?
All the time, not so much now but during the preparation for the first show I really questioned why I even bothered. It wasn’t fun anymore, but at the same time I think it was God’s way for moulding my character because I find it so easy to give up. I thank God also for the people he brought in my life who have supported the vision, none of them would let me quit and I am forever grateful for that
Ganiyat, MMNUK and Looking Ahead
Has the Mr and Miss Nigeria UK beauty pageant had any impact on the Diaspora community?
I think MMNUK has a long way to go before impact will happen in the community, a lot of people still don’t quite understand what the show is really about, but I know with the right funding and the right winners we can certainly begin to make a change. There are people who have been part of the show and gone on to do great things in the community and we want to get to the level that we can support all that they want to do.
Could you talk about the MMNUK Foundation and the ‘Nigeria’s Next’ project? What is it about and is it running already?
The foundation is now called ‘I Am The Next’ as we want it to eventually be a project they is available to all Africans in the Diaspora and those in Africa. The idea is to train and teach young people practical skills that will help better their prospects in life, we want people to feel like they have purpose in life and in turn will avoid getting into depressive states. At the moment we are trying to raise money to set up a mentorship program for young and vulnerable Nigerians.
Do you think that Nigerians abroad should be more connected with those back home and how do you see MMNUK providing that bridge?
I do believe that it is always good to connect, I think that it will show the Nigerians back home that life in the UK isn’t always as sweet as they might think. By bridging the gap we can teach each other new ways of doing things. We definitely want to be that bridge but it will definitely take a lot of work.
Ganiyat’s Advice for when you’re not sure of your purpose
Finally, there are many who are struggling to find their purpose, like you were. What do you have to say to folks like that?
I would say don’t give up, every single person on this Earth was created to do something and no one should ever feel like what they are doing is insignificant.
I wish more people would follow there dreams rather than settling because the only thing in life that is guaranteed is death so you want to live each day like its going to be your last. It may sound cliche but no one knows what will happen in life so we need to actually live it.
Purpose is not something that is found at the same time, some people know what they created for at 18 and others by 50, one is for sure that there is no rush. Everything happens for a reason so let it and don’t let society make you feel like you are lacking or irrelevant.
And that’s it from Ganiyat Alli. We are so inspired by her success and wish her all the best as she organizes the Mr and Miss Nigeria UK peagant.
Mr & Miss Nigeria takes place in London on September 25th 2016.
Winning contestants are expected to work very closely with Nigerian based charities, making a change to the way Nigeria is seen by many.
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