That naïve teen who won the coveted price at the event , a $150,000 modelling contract with Elite Model Management, unarguably one of the best modelling agency in the world , is no other person than Oluchi Onweagba.
If she hadn’t graced the runway that year, the then 17-year-old best chance of survival would have been to live life as a sex worker, based on antecedent of the community she grew up.
Ayilara where she was born is better known as one of the commercial sex haven of Nigeria, so if someone’s got the smashing and captivating allure of Oluchi…, then trust the pimps will leave no stone unturned in luring a naïve angel with enticing gifts and sugar coated mouth to the world’s oldest profession.
Back in the 1980s and 90s, a street called Ayilara in Ojuelegba, the heart of Surulere, was popular and notorious for obvious reasons. It was an area dominated by prostitutes of various categories. It also served as a hideout for criminals. This long stretch of street is divided into two. One half of Ayilara cuts from the Lawanson road and veers right, and comes out to Clegg Street and leads to the Barracks end of the Western Avenue. The other side is the red light district. Right from Ayilara bus stop, one would be harassed by the sight of ladies of different shapes and sizes beckoning for attention and patronage. The entire street including the adjoining ones were usually lit with red bulbs with blaring sound of music especially lewd tunes. This side of the long street curves to the left to continue at the right, bursts out to Western Avenue bridge towards Ojuelegba, and ends directly opposite Abalti Barracks on Western Avenue.
—An excerpt from the Sun Newspaper’s review of Ayilara, a community in Ojuelegba
But providence smiled on her at an age she would have wanted to exploit the coming of age as a teenager, she won the maiden edition of what can be tagged as Africa’s first reality show.
Before long instead of hustling the streets of crime infested Ayilara, hawking bread and obviously left the mercy of the men, she was debuting on the runway for Marc Bouwer , the renowned fashion designer and being courted by Francoise Nars to become the new face of Nars Cosmetics.
By September of 1998 she was already walking the runway for Chanel, Christian Dior, Gucci, and Tommy Hilfiger in – the fashion capitals of the world ( Paris, Milan, and New York).
1999 after dazzling Paris, Milan and New York she land a contract with Gap, appearing in print ads and billboards and her photos were splattered for a spread in fashion defining magazine, Vogue.
By the time she turned 21, on 1st August 2001, she was already wining and dining with the very top echelon of the modelling world .
6 feet 1 Oluchi in 2004 enrolled for a degree at the New York University to study leadership and management , but the her work schedules saw to it that she didn’t have a degree in kitty until 2010.
In 2004 she featured in a Hollywood movie, After the Sunset where she played the girlfriend to a thug.
Career on the rise, nowhere near decline, in 2005 at St. Barts she exchanged the Yes I do vow with designer Luca Orlandi. Eight years on the marriage is blessed with a six year old son.
After 17 years in obscurity, the next 14 has been one spent in fame, Oluchi hasn’t forgotten her roots, today she is a role model to many, from being wet behind the ears, she is now an icon and brand., to look up too.
Soon 12 contestants will be looking up to her to groom them into world class models as she hosts Africa’s version of Next Top Model.
With auditions already underway, it will surely be a pleasure if may be the fortunes of other starry-eyed 17-year-old Oluchis in the red lights district of Soweto, Nairobi, Kinshasha and other downtrodden parts of Africa will be changed by her latest quest.