‘’Never in a million years would I have thought that I, Shatu Garko, an 18-year-old average girl from Kano state, would ever become Miss Nigeria.’’ – Shatu Garko , 44th Miss Nigeria.
Shatu Garko’s emergence as the 44th Miss Nigeria and the first-ever hijab-wearing model to win the Miss Nigeria pageant was one which sparked conversations around the modern-day Muslim woman and pop culture—with the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), backed by the Kano State Hisbah Board’s decision to question her parents over their daughter’s participation in the pageant.
For Shatu, religion and culture should not constitute barriers to one’s dreams in life. ”Do not let religion and cultural beliefs stop you from pursuing your dreams and achieving them. The key is finding the right balance between it all. Never in a million years would I have thought that I, Shatu Garko, an 18-year-old average girl from Kano state, would ever become Miss Nigeria. But, if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be here.” she says.
Can you share a little bit of your story for those who aren’t familiar with how you got into the world of modelling and pageantry?
I graduated high school in 2020 and was waiting to get into the university. Then the Covid-19 pandemic and I had no choice but to stay home. I hated being idle, so I decided to engage in activities I love – sports, fashion and beauty. I started playing basketball, but it was hard for me to cope. It was at that time I took an interest in modelling. I wasn’t sure it would work out, but I was determined to try. I applied to international modelling agencies but heard nothing.
My first modelling audition was rocky. I was initially selected, but the people in charge later said I needed better management, so they rejected me. But that didn’t discourage me. Instead, it encouraged me to do better and push harder. My mom said, ”You can’t just start this thing and be successful immediately.” She made me understand that it is okay to fail before one succeeds. So, I kept trying until I saw the Miss Nigeria advert on Instagram. Knowing no girl from my state (Kano) had ever competed for Miss Nigeria, I decided to apply. And here we are today.
What moment has been the most surreal for you regarding your career?
Hearing my name called out as the 44th Miss Nigeria. I still haven’t gotten over that moment. It’s amazing. Also, when I think about the thousands of lives, I have been able to impact through my outreach programs, it’s mind-boggling to think that this time last year, it never would have been possible.
How would you describe the journey since you were crowned?
Pure fantasy. Most people don’t realise the importance of self-discovery and awareness at a young age, but I did as a teenager, thanks to the Miss Nigeria Organisation. It has helped me become more self-aware as an 18-year-old. As a result, I am confident of my worth.
Is the journey turning out to be what you were expecting?
It’s more work than I expected. From Instagram, it looks glam, but I’ve been very busy with The Green Girl Company Limited outreach programs and brand endorsement obligations.
What does it feel like to be a beauty queen?
Amazing. So far, I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons. I’m more punctual, responsible, and environment aware. I’ve met many people, learned about their lives, culture, and beliefs, and travelled the country. Most importantly, I love that I could show other young women like me what is possible. When people see people of their kind make groundbreaking achievements, they get inspired to do the same. Even other girls who do not wear hijab will see me and be like if a hijab model can do this, how much more me? So, there is representation and inclusion. When I was crowned, I received many congratulatory and encouraging messages from social media users and other beauty pageant contestants worldwide. From countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Somalia, Malaysia and Tunisia, telling me that I inspired them. I am pleased that I can be a source of inspiration to others.
Let’s talk about the backlash when you became Queen. How were you able to handle it?
At first, it was difficult, but I can only say that I don’t let some things bother me because it may not be worth it. No one can judge me or any other human being except God. Alhamdulillah, I was able to cope by blocking my ears and remaining true to myself and my originality. Negative comments about you can cause you to doubt yourself and sometimes lead to depression. I didn’t want to go through that, so I followed my heart and went about the business of becoming the 44th Miss Nigeria.
In your opinion, why is it so important for young Muslim women everywhere to see someone like you on the cover of magazines or on the runway?
Aside from the reasons I gave earlier, I believe seeing someone like me, a young Hijabi model, on a magazine cover or the runway will inspire girls – regardless of religion, culture, or race – to become who they want to be. To dream bigger and go for their heart’s desires. I am grateful to the few Hijabi models already breaking ground globally before I became Miss Nigeria.
I look forward to seeing this become normal.
As a Muslim woman, what advice would you give younger women trying to balance tradition, religion, and fashion?
Never sacrifice your faith, culture, or beliefs for fashion and beauty. Losing your identity follows. However, do not let religion and cultural beliefs stop you from pursuing your dreams and achieving them. The key is finding the right balance between it all. Never in a million years would I have thought that I, Shatu Garko, an 18-year-old average girl from Kano state, would ever become Miss Nigeria. But, if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be here. So, I encourage young Muslim women and girls everywhere to go for their dreams! Just do it.
How has your faith inspired your approach to fashion and modest dressing? And what would you say the biggest misconception about modest dressing is?
: Dressing modestly is like a religious art for a Muslim woman. It is an act of devotion and submission. Modest fashion requires looser fits, but not baggy clothes. You can be stylish and keep up with the latest trends by choosing waist-defining pieces with gathers, sash belts, or tie fronts.
What do you hope your career says to women worldwide?
Lots of young girls want to do many things, but they stay in their shells because they’re afraid of what others will say. I hope I have paved the way for such girls and young women. Despite the negativity, I’m getting better every day, Alhamdulillah. I pray my story inspires others, and I can hopefully continue to be a beacon of inspiration.
Your reign wraps up in a couple of months. What plans do you have as you hand over the crown?
I am continuing my work with the incredible team at Miss Nigeria and the Green Girl Company for the rest of my reign. Alongside other projects, I am focusing on eliminating period poverty or at least significantly reducing it. No girl should be denied an education because they do not have access to period products. These are necessities, not luxury items. I am also delighted to share the news that I have been accepted to study at a highly regarded institution in Dubai. Fortunately for my education, the Miss Nigeria Organisation has decided to extend my reign. This way, I can complete all my outreach programs across other states in Nigeria.
Nigeria turns 62 this weekend. What are your hopes and desires for her going forward?
Because my love for Nigeria is just as profound as my love for my family and closest friends, I want to wish her same things as I do for my family and friends : success, happiness, prosperity, and peace.