Beauty Diplomacy
Embodying an Emerging Nation
Oluwakemi M. Balogun





On November 16, 2001, Agbani Darego, an eighteen-year-old computer science and mathematics major from Rivers State, Nigeria, won the Miss World Pageant held in Sun City, South Africa, making her the first Black African to achieve this feat in the international beauty contest’s fifty-year run. Upon her return to Nigeria, public carnivals, receptions, and official state functions were held in her honor. Throngs of cheering well-wishers chased after her chauffeured car from the airport to her father’s house in Port Harcourt, a major southeastern city. The National Assembly stalled legislative activities for a courtesy visit from the newly crowned beauty queen, and the federal government bestowed upon her the national honor of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). A portrait of her was hung in the National Assembly. In addition, the oba (a traditional ruler) of Lagos, Adeyinka Oyekan, awarded her the high chieftaincy title of Omoge Agbe Wage Agbaiye (Lady who has lifted us worldwide).1 The president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, hailed Darego’s win as a source of national pride and a direct reversal of the dominant image of Nigeria mired in “the dark days of military rule [and] the number one haven for corruption and bad governance [to] number one in beauty and intellect.”2 Dele Alake, a Lagos state commissioner for information and strategy, concurred, declaring: “This young and gifted lady symbolises the new Nigeria and a democratic dividend. . . . ​[Her] victory has now opened doors to our youths to compete with the best in the world.”3 Adokiye Young-Harry, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oil and Gas, commented, “This is good public relations for Nigeria and we [the House of Representatives] want to set the pace in ensuring that this opportunity is recognised as such.”4 In a welcome address for a reception held in Darego’s honor at the National Centre for Women Development in Abuja, a representative for the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Youth Development said, “Darego [has] become the greatest ambassador of Nigeria and of the continent. . . . ​Darego [will] have access to areas that even diplomats may not be able to reach.”5

In these statements, politicians and government officials linked a single crowning moment—literally, of a woman’s body—to Nigeria’s trajectory as a nation, claiming it had successfully jettisoned its dismal past. Darego’s Miss World title symbolized the promise of promoting continued development within the country as well as the prospect of launching Nigeria as a bona fide member of the international community due to a world-recognized competitive edge. It also solidified the country’s long-standing desire to be a trailblazer for the African continent. Within the continent, there is a specific narrative about Nigerian exceptionalism in which, due to access to vast human and natural resources, it should be a worldwide success story of economic prosperity and political stability. However, a series of economic and political stumbling blocks stifled its potential, and it is often described by pundits, development specialists, and policy makers, through the lens of failure. By referencing Nigeria’s return to democracy and the changing demands of the global economy, state officials viewed winning the Miss World competition as proof of the country’s readiness to successfully engage in other types of competitions within political and economic arenas. Darego’s crowning was not just a cultural triumph; state elites also viewed it as having reverberations for the nation’s political economy. Agbani Darego’s win served as a litmus test for and symbol of Nigeria’s brighter future, repairing its stigmatized image. The elaborate meanings attached to this crowning moment, linked to issues of gender, nation, globalization, and embodiment, spark the underlying questions behind this book. How do beauty pageants link everyday aspirational identities to national and global politics? How are embodied discourses and bodily practices used to engage in nation building within the context of globalization? How are categories of gender, race, ethnicity, and class mobilized through these social processes?

These contests position Nigerian beauty queens as ideal role models to communicate specific narratives about femininity, respectability, and embodiment. Various stakeholders capitalize on contestants’ embodied labor for specific political and economic ends. In Beauty Diplomacy, I examine how Nigerian beauty pageants are both shaped by and inform Nigeria’s shifting position in the global economy, contentious cultural politics, and gendered power. As civic-cultural institutions—that share properties with cultural and creative industries like entertainment, performing arts, and tourism and civic organizations that foster engagement with citizens and champion the public good—these beauty competitions expose and conceal anxieties and aspirations of nationhood and subjectivity. In addition to their own self-interests, organizers, contestants, corporate sponsors, fans, and critics of beauty pageants all have agendas related to the Nigerian nation. Together, they transform them into institutions that highlight the complex relationship between culture, politics, and the economy. As the fastest-growing economy in Africa, pageant participants echo the sentiments of many Nigerians, that the country remains the inevitable leader to ensure a vibrant future for the region. However, they do so against an uneasy backdrop in which they must engage in repair work to redeem Nigeria’s spoiled reputation. Well-known stories of turbulent politics, fraudulent business schemes, and communal conflict have marred Nigeria’s image. Beauty queens view themselves as public figures who understand the high stakes involved in restoring an untarnished reputation.

I have coined the term beauty diplomacy to explain how different groups mobilize the strategic position of beauty contestants—young and upwardly mobile women—to stress goodwill, connect with Nigerians, cement relationships with others around the world, and gain worldwide recognition. Beauty diplomacy simultaneously contends with internal and external logics and politics. Through beauty pageants, women’s bodies symbolize the aesthetic center of the nation by unifying an otherwise ethnically diverse country as well as signaling Nigeria’s economic potential. Using Nigerian beauty pageants as a lens, this book documents attempts to rebuild national and individual credibility, visibility, and acceptability.


Beauty, through the vehicle of pageants, is a site where national identities are managed in relation to a larger global landscape. In Nigeria, colonialism drew national boundaries around a region of considerable ethnoreligious diversity, which complicates the project of constructing national identity in Nigeria, as elsewhere. Nigeria’s national borders are an inherited legacy of colonialism, when European powers negotiated and portioned national borders in oftentimes arbitrary ways, without regard for ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences. Splits between Christians and Muslims and among over 250 ethnic groups (with three main ethnic groups associated with specific regions in the country: Yoruba in the Southwest, Igbo in the Southeast, and Hausa in the North), in addition to a widening gulf between the super-rich and those facing crushing poverty, have led to contentious ethnopolitics and class divisions. This postcolonial history means that, in the Nigerian context, national identity has conventionally been thought of as fragile at best. Yet an ambition for self-determination, economic growth, and cooperation has helped position civic-cultural institutions like national beauty contests as moments to understand points of conflict and consensus surrounding the nation. I view Nigeria as an emerging nation to understand this budding process of how a country both comes to terms with itself as a nation, given incredible ethnoreligious diversity, class stratification, and shifting geopolitics, and also gains global traction as a prominent center for culture and capital.

Despite many obstacles, Nigeria aims to become one of the largest economies of the world as an emerging market. Emerging markets are countries that development scholars have identified as places undergoing rapid economic growth, which often outpace established economic hubs, and as being in the middle of a transition between developing and developed status.6 The most well-known examples of countries that have made that transition are Brazil, Russia, India, and China, which as a group are known by the acronym BRIC.7 Scholars consider them ripe for investment based on factors such as a burgeoning middle class, and believe they will be pivotal in reshaping the international political economy. According to the World Bank, between 2005 and 2015 Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew almost 6 percent, at a time when many other countries’ economies were contracting.8 Several international investment firms and information companies have dubbed Nigeria a frontier market and predicted it will be the next to join the BRIC nations.9

Demographers, economists, and cultural critics often point to Nigeria as leading the charge of a broader “Africa rising” narrative, capturing the high expectations for exponential growth in Africa. This narrative was expressed in the 2000s by development finance agencies, which recognized much of the African continent as an untapped market. These financial experts center their assertions on optimistic figures such as high GDP, low inflation, well-performing stock markets, increased consumer spending, leapfrogging technological advances, and a demographic dividend. Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world and the most populous nation in Africa. Demographic experts predict that by 2050, Nigeria’s population size will come close to tying or surpassing the United States for third place. The population is not only predicted to continue to increase in size, but the makeup of this population explosion is expected to be increasingly younger and more middle-class.10 These changes counteract dominant images of Africa as crisis-stricken and show the growing global importance of the African continent.

Beyond its economy, Nigeria is also experiencing a global cultural moment. A boom in literature by novelists like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor; lively Naija pop stars such as Tiwa Savage and D’banj, who, like several other popular Nigerian musicians, have inked 360 deals with major American recording labels; cutting-edge couture fashion lines such as Jewel by Lisa; and the influential Nollywood film industry have fueled what cultural critics have termed Nigeria’s creative golden age. These cultural shifts point to a wider aspiration among many Nigerians to be seen as movers and shakers who shape international trends. These cultural industries focus on aesthetics to move and disrupt the global order.

The optimism about Africa’s rising movement tempers the perennial “African crisis” narratives that hone in on autocratic kleptocracies, political uprisings, chronic disease, and famine; yet some critics have said that a focus on Africa rising is too hopeful. These “African realists” advocate for a more cautious perspective, which examines needed infrastructural changes to support demographic and economic changes. An African rising-realist approach frames the position I take in this book, in that I take seriously the work beauty pageants do to manage aspirational politics and mold emerging identities, while also being mindful of the structural realities that constrain this work. My approach recognizes three prisms through which an emerging nation is filtered: crisis politics, redemptive politics, and mirage politics.

Crisis Politics

Nigeria has been battling its negative reputation for decades. The country’s poor image is due in large part to persistent corruption, best epitomized by advance-fee fraud schemes that originate in the country. Around the world, spam emails filled with misspellings, florid prose, and subject lines like “My Dearest One” and “Urgent Matter” sent by supposed members of Nigeria’s royal family, officials from state agencies, or prospective romantic partners, have flooded inboxes. These emails promise a cut of large sums of money (typically several million dollars) once recipients send a few thousand dollars to release the funds and transfer the money out of the country. These Internet cons are typically perpetrated by everyday hustlers. On the other end of the spectrum, more established, high-ranking government officials are also riddled with corruption. The Nigerian populace has largely become accustomed to news accounts exposing public officials accepting bribes, skimming off the top of budgets, and maintaining undisclosed offshore bank accounts. For example, in 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the government agency tasked with investigating and prosecuting money laundering and corruption, seized cash bundles in dollars, pounds sterling, and naira () currencies totaling $43.4 million, £27,800, and 23.2 million from an unoccupied upscale Lagos apartment that was traced to a career diplomat, the then director of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency.11

Visitors to Nigeria oftentimes directly confront corruption immediately upon entering the country. The US State Department has issued travel advisories on the country, sometimes targeting specific regions of Nigeria. From 1993 to 2000, travelers in US international airport terminals encountered warning signs posted by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advising passengers about security conditions at Lagos International Airport and cautioning that the airport failed to meet the minimum standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The airport was notorious for criminal activity, with federal customs and immigration officials routinely requesting bribes from travelers for entry into and exit out of the country.12

These scams, colloquially known as 419 after the section of the Nigerian criminal code that targets fraud, constitute part of the “Nigerian factor” that potential business investors, tourists, and diplomatic envoys input into their plans. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures citizens’ public opinion of corruption based on their interactions with police, corporations, and the court system among other public institutions. When President Obasanjo made his remarks praising Darego for her 2001 Miss World win, the country was ranked the second most corrupt country in the world with a CPI score of 1.0 on a 10-point scale (with 10 being very “clean”). Recent figures give the country a score of 27 (under a new scale with 100 being “very clean” and 0 being “highly corrupt”).13 While there are ongoing efforts to clean up corruption, for example through the EFCC’s whistleblowing policy, which rewards informants, conducts asset recovery of stolen public funds, and engages in the criminal prosecution of fraud, bleak figures like the CPI show that Nigeria’s poor image both within and outside of the country rests on the widespread perception of corruption. Indeed, as anthropologist Daniel Jordan Smith points out, Nigerians express an ambivalent relationship to its pervasiveness by both condemning it yet perpetuating it through everyday acts of deception.14 In Nigeria, persistent corruption remains part of the social backdrop, and increasingly public anti-corruption campaigns to target graft, bribes, and scams implicate both state officials and the general public (see Figure 1.1).

Nigeria’s tumultuous political history also contributes to its bad image. After experiencing shifting military dictatorships and short-lived civilian administrations ever since securing independence from Great Britain in 1960, the country returned to democracy in 1999. Sani Abacha’s 1993–98 military junta solidified the government’s international status as a political pariah due to well-known cases of human rights abuses such as the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an environmental activist who led the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, a social movement focused on the ecological damage caused by crude oil extraction in the Niger Delta.15 Ethnoreligious and regional conflicts within the country, such as activity by militants in the Niger Delta, who have engaged in piracy and kidnapping to counter global oil corporations and the state’s inequitable distribution of oil funds, sectarian violence in the Middle Belt regions, and the rise of Boko Haram, an insurgent jihadist group active primarily in the Northeast, were conflicts that largely gained momentum in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of political jostling for power and competition over economic resources.16

FIGURE 1.1. Airport sign instructing travelers to report any instances of corruption. These types of official campaigns show how corruption remains central to Nigerian public discourse. Source: Photo by author.

Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on oil revenues, which account for an estimated 80 percent of government export earnings. As a rentier petro-state that derives the vast majority of its revenues from foreign sources through oil exportation, Nigeria appears to be a quintessential example of the “resource curse,” in which nations with high levels of natural resources nonetheless face steep poverty rates and infrastructural problems.17 “Resource curse” is a term used by development economists to explain the paradox of countries with abundant natural resources that nonetheless experience slow economic growth and are prone to autocratic governments and violent clashes. It can be likened to lottery winners who, after hitting the jackpot, squander their newfound wealth and usually end up in worse economic circumstances and with their personal lives in ruins. The most common explanations for the curse include volatile commodity pricing, lack of economic diversification, extractive exploitation from foreign powers, and political mismanagement. As evidence of Nigeria’s resource curse, even though it is the eighth largest oil supplier in the world, there are often fuel shortages in the country, and it imports refined oil because it lacks the infrastructure to provide consistent gasoline to Nigerian consumers. The worldwide oil bust of the 1980s and 1990s caused Nigeria’s economy to nosedive with a devaluation of its currency, the naira, high national debt, and soaring inflation rates. The state introduced a comprehensive Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) as a measure to rehabilitate the economy, but this reform effort only further plunged the country into economic crisis. The SAP was effectively dismantled at the end of Ibrahim Babangida’s eight-year rule in 1993, with the approval of the 1994 budget.18

Redemptive Politics

While the conditions described here paint a poor picture of the country, Nigeria’s image has not always been so terrible. In the oil-fueled wealth of the 1970s, astronomical economic growth and fast-developing state-sponsored infrastructural development certified its status as a poster child for economic progress.19 During the 1970s, the naira was valued above the dollar at $1.60 and its GDP grew at close to 300 percent.20 Rather than focus on Nigeria as stuck in a constant cycle of crisis, a redemptive logic emphasizes reclaiming the nation’s potential through a strategic course correction.

Agbani Darego’s pageant win seemed to momentarily suspend a barrage of critiques about the country—at least among some segments of the Nigerian populace. The press, politicians, and pageant affiliates expressed hopefulness about a successful course realignment of Nigeria’s image. In the lobby of the headquarters of one of the most widely circulating Nigerian newspapers, Mr. Marachi Omo,21 a seasoned journalist, reminisced about Darego’s homecoming, which included seismic crowds:

In Nigeria, whether you liked beauty pageants or not, the fact that a Nigerian won the pageant, made them like it. Agbani beat almost 81 girls and won the crown. You should have seen it when she came back; everybody wanted to have pictures with her. You should have seen when we took her back to her [home] state; it was [like] a public holiday! Imagine, what millions of naira [Nigerian currency] could not do for Nigeria, an 18-year girl did it. You can put an article in the paper and spend millions of dollars on it; it didn’t give Nigeria the goodwill [that] Nigeria got when Agbani won.

The “millions of dollars” spent on newspaper articles referred in part to high government expenditures poured into attempts to rehabilitate Nigeria’s image through media blitzes. Mr. Omo emphasized that Darego’s feat served to energize the public’s national pride in a way that state-sponsored campaigns could not. Darego brought “goodwill” to Nigeria, he claimed; he compared the Miss World Pageant to the Olympics or the World Cup.

The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), a parastatal (quasi-state-owned) board charged with regulating and promoting Nigeria’s fledgling tourism industry, invited Darego to a series of international tourism exhibits in Berlin, London, the Netherlands, France, and the United States. The director of the agency at the time explained to me the underlying motives for actively involving Darego in trade fairs and travel expos in 2002:

I saw a reason to promote her all around the world when she became Miss World. The international community won’t say anything good about Nigeria. . . . ​For three months [after her win] I never read or saw anything about her. Not in the papers or the television. Nothing! This is the first African to win Miss World and as I’m talking to you it hasn’t happened again. The first African to win is a Nigerian and CNN is not talking about that. They are talking about our bad roads in Lagos, about Ajegunle [a densely populated slum in Lagos], about our dumpsites. As if they don’t have dumpsites in New York! . . . ​Every country has a blend of the negative and the positive. I realized that if we don’t tell our story, nobody will tell our story for us. . . . ​Agbani Darego became the brand for Nigeria to the international community.

FIGURE 1.2. Nigeria’s 2002 booth at ITB Berlin, a leading travel trade show, which included large photographs of Agbani Darego. Source: TAG Nigeria. Reprinted with permission.

The exhibitions displayed large life-size photographs of Darego posing with her Miss World title, crown, and sash prominently displayed against a backdrop of pictures from Nigerian tourist locations (see Figure 1.2). A news article described the effect of her attendance as “magnetic, as other exhibitors momentarily abandoned their stands to either have a glimpse of the most beautiful human being on earth, or to [have her] sign autographs, and most importantly, make enquiries about Nigeria and its tourism assets.”22 In a country better known for its Internet scams than its tourism industry, the NTDC thus sought to parlay Darego’s win into a large-scale campaign to redeem Nigeria’s poor image abroad and develop the country’s tourism business. Thus, the win opened up venues of representation through which to reposition Nigeria in the global scene.23

FIGURE 1.3. 20 and 50 stamps issued in honor of Agbani Darego. Source: NIPOST. Reprinted with permission.

The state took an active part in using Darego’s win to mold and advance a new image of Nigeria as a nation, long after her reign ended. In 2006, the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), the nation’s national postal carrier, sold 20 and 50 stamps honoring Darego’s reign with an image of her wearing the Miss World crown (see Figure 1.3).24 The state directly embraced Darego as a visual showpiece and as a spokeswoman for a newly democratic and internationally acclaimed nation. While the state’s intention has had limited success at best, Darego’s own career has flourished and she has risen to become a beauty icon. After her win, Darego, who is now a globetrotting entrepreneur based in Lagos, extended her fame through a modeling contract with Ford, a L’Oréal cosmetics campaign, a hosting gig on Stylogenic, a Pan-African style and fashion reality show, and a premium eponymous womenswear clothing line. In 2012, she reenrolled at New York University and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 2010, during Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee celebration, which marked the country’s fifty years of independence, Darego was featured in a government-endorsed event titled “50@50—Nigerian Women: The Journey So Far,” which commemorated the nation’s fifty top women achievers.25 A video montage celebrated Nigerian women’s “strength and diversity” and how despite the “odds against her, [she] holds up her head to be counted.” It heralded a long tradition of women’s contribution to the nation from “antiquity to present-times,” making mention of the “farmers, traders, and warriors of yesteryears” which paved the path for professionals in finance, law, medicine, business, education, the arts, and entertainment today. These examples showcase how women’s visibility, status, and achievements are used to corroborate national advancement. Women’s bodies and their labor symbolically stand in for the nation, elevating national profiles and materially integrating countries into the global economy.

Darego’s victory revitalized hope in improving Nigeria’s image, and also its beauty pageant industry, particularly the leading “Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria” (MBGN) franchise, which is the national pageant, whose victor goes to the Miss World Pageant. From the late 1950s to the 1970s, the Miss Nigeria Pageant, Nigeria’s first national pageant, which began in 1957, had earned the reputation as a respectable national institution, but it floundered in the mid-1980s due to the military governments’ takeover of the Daily Times Nigeria, which was the contest’s main sponsor. This steady decline provided an opening for MBGN to enter the industry, but to find participants, organizers relied heavily on personal contacts to convince women to attend small-scale auditions with a handful of aspiring models. According to pageant owners, in the year immediately following Agbani Darego’s win, parents escorted their daughters to open screenings where hundreds flocked from all walks of life, clamoring for a chance to participate in the contest. Whereas public opinion toward beauty pageants had been largely ambivalent—driven by a perception that beauty pageant contestants were promiscuous dropouts—pageant insiders noted a palpable shift in which many people now saw beauty pageants as a viable platform for career advancement and national promotion.

To maintain the momentum behind Darego’s win, Nigeria placed a bid to host the international Miss World competition in 2002, the year following Darego’s victory. When I asked Mr. Uzoma Kalu, one of the organizers, why they had been determined for Nigeria to hold the contest, he stated:

The first reason was to make history in Nigeria and about Nigeria. You remember, Agbani was the only Nigerian and Black African to win the Miss World contest. It is prestigious. Then, the idea of why can’t Nigeria host it came up and the emotions of Agbani’s success set in. In short, it was a logical thing to take it from there.

It seemed, to this organizer, to flow logically—if a Nigerian could meet and excel at the standards for world beauty, then surely Nigeria had arrived on the global stage sufficiently to host the pageant. While even this organizer himself was a little bemused by the idea of history being made through a beauty contest, he still regarded Darego’s win as an important historical milestone that continued to hold cultural significance and political heft even when I interviewed him over eight years after the event. Nigerian organizers anticipated hosting the Miss World event as an opportunity to build the country’s infrastructure, boost tourism, and attract global investment. They believed that by managing the logistics of an event scheduled to be broadcast worldwide, they would present Nigeria as ambitious, efficient, and worldly. Their expectations contained a twofold strategy of solidifying national consciousness and securing international legitimacy.

Yet as Nigerian organizers prepared to hold the contest, two dramatic sets of conflicts emerged simultaneously which led to the 2002 Miss World Pageant being moved to London. Nigeria found itself in the middle of a global public relations nightmare. Protestors, both within and outside Nigeria, used this moment to announce their political platforms. These conflicts were tied in part to religious differences among the country’s almost evenly split Christian and Muslim populations, but they also involved broader political and economic dynamics.26 The first conflict was international in scope. Citing the mistreatment of women under newly codified sharia law (Islamic legal doctrine) in Northern Nigeria, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International called for a boycott of the pageant. The Amina Lawal ruling, which sentenced a woman accused of committing adultery (zina) to death by stoning just a few months before the start of the pageant, captured international attention and increased tensions over issues of regional sovereignty. In the second conflict, riots and bloodshed erupted, largely in Kaduna city, a Northern Nigerian state capital. Nigerian organizers and opponents, most of them from Muslim religious groups, clashed due to an offensive news article about the Prophet Muhammad’s likely approval of the beauty competition, published just a few days after delegates arrived for preliminary events. More than two hundred people in Kaduna died in the riots, with a thousand more injured and the homes of close to eight thousand people razed to the ground. Either one of these conflicts would have been enough to justify the pageant organizers’ eventual decision to move it to London; together they constituted a perfect storm that thwarted organizers’ hopes to recast Nigeria’s image. Although they appeared to be separate protests, a newly emerging politicized conversation about gender, the nation-state, and international politics linked them. The Miss World crisis happened at a critical historical moment, which was rife with conflicts over sharia law and Nigeria’s newly reinstated democracy. The hosting of the pageant became a heavily contested site for national representation. The events of 2001 and 2002—Darego’s triumphant win and Nigeria’s lost opportunity—bookend Nigeria’s national narrative of exuberant promise and its crushing problems. The events set the context for how contemporary national pageants frame their efforts to gain a position as global leaders and assert national credibility.27


1. There are many royal families in Nigeria who reign over specific areas or regions of the country. Though stripped of their constitutional power as a result of colonialism and largely relegated to a ceremonial status, traditional rulers continue to wield significant economic, cultural and political power in Nigerian society. For more on the historical relationship between indigenous rulers and state power, see Vaughn (2006).

2. “Government Congratulates Darego, Miss World,” ThisDay, November 22, 2001.

. “You Are a Pride of the Black Race, Tinubu Tells Darego,” ThisDay, December 10, 2001.

4. Muyiwa Adeyemi, Joseph Ollor-Obari, and Oghogho Obayuwana, “I Know Agbani Will Go Places, Says Father,” Guardian, November 24, 2001.

. “Darego, Be Good Ambassador,” ThisDay, December 7, 2001.

6. Joseph (2008).

7. Scholars use other acronyms in reference to emerging markets, including BRICET (BRIC + Eastern Europe and Turkey), BRICS (BRIC + South Africa), BRICM (BRIC + Mexico), and BRICK (BRIC + South Korea).

8. World Bank (2018).

9. These financial organizations include Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), the Financial Times / London Stock Exchange (FTLE), and Goldman Sachs (which also coined the term BRIC to refer to the fastest growing economies in the world).

10. Haub and Kaneda (2015); Kaneda and Bietsch (2016).

11. Adelani Adepegba, “13bn Ikoyi Cash: EFCC Declares ex-NIA DG, Oke, Wife Wanted,” Punch, March 25, 2019.

. In 1993, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration suspended commercial air service between Lagos and the United States (Rokita 1994). Direct flights between the two countries were unavailable until 2001, when they reopened for major foreign carriers (Nigerian-owned airlines could not fly into or out of the United States until 2009).

13. Transparency International (2001); Transparency International (2018). There has been a slight improvement over the years, but CPI figures for the last fifteen years have been mostly stagnant.

14. D. Smith (2007). See also Pierce’s (2016) exhaustive historical account on corruption in Nigeria.

15. Falola and Heaton (2008).

16. Adunbi (2015); Okonta (2008); Ukiwo (2003).

17. Yates (1996).

18. Falola and Heaton (2008, 217–21); Lewis (1996).

19. Apter (2005); Lewis (1996); Watts (2004).

20. Anthropologist Andrew Apter’s (2005) work on FESTAC77 (the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture) vividly captures a moment of the petro-state’s self-assurance as a global cultural, political, and economic epicenter during the late 1970s. Apter documents how the economic boom of the 1970s and the financial bust of the 1980s shaped changes in the political economy that directly impacted cultural spectacle and reputational politics.

21. I’ve used pseudonyms for all interviewees.

22. “Agbani Lifts Abuja Tourism in Germany,” Daily Trust, July 18, 2002.

23. As further evidence for my point about emerging nations and using aesthetics as a means of changing the global hierarchy, when the United States won the Miss World Pageant in 2010 and hosted it in 2016, there was not nearly as much media attention or framing of the event as reorienting an American national trajectory as in Nigeria. Since the United States is already considered a cultural hegemon, this same degree of framing is not as necessary.

24. Adeyemi, Ollor-Obari, and Obayuwana, “I Know Agbani Will Go Places.”

25. This program was linked to First Lady Patience Jonathan’s “Women for Change” initiative.

26. The exact breakdown of religious groups is disputed. Moreover, there is also a minority population that subscribes to indigenous and syncretic spiritual beliefs.

27. In 2004, Silverbird Productions, the owners of MBGN, hosted the “Miss Silverbird International Pageant” in Lagos, with organizers hoping to have the event serve as a reset after the disastrous 2002 Miss World hosting. Redoubling their efforts, they also devised a strategy of sending multiple winners to different types of international pageants to further maximize their chances.