My jail story

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Some years ago, Joy Ugwu, an  indigene of Eha-amufu in Isi-uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State and the then reigning queen of Miss Asaigbo Beauty Pageant, was accused of involvement in a scam. In this interview, she narrated the untold stories around it, especially how her reputation and foundation suffered throughout the period. 

The orphan, with a degree in Insurance and Risk Management from Enugu State University of Science and Technology, also added how she has turned her fortune around since then. According to her, her little time in prison has turned her into an advocate for prisoners.

What does being a beauty queen mean to you? 

Being a beauty queen or simply being famous has its related advantages and disadvantages. The common public perception is that celebrities and famous personalities have everything in life. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? The truth is that there are as many downsides and disadvantages of being a celebrity as there are the number of benefits. Who said being famous was always fun?  Though being a celebrity has impacted positively on me.  It was a great experience. Asaigbo beauty pageant paved way for me to help others around me. As for what I want to be known for after I have exited this world: I just want to be known as Joy, the philanthropist who helped as many people as she can.  I see charity work as an avenue and or channel of giving back to the society that helped me find footing in this life and encourage those seeking a foothold. As s a reigning Asaigbo Queen in 2017, my pet project then was  Asaigbo Girl-Child Foundation and Feed the Poor Initiative. I used Asaigbo Girl-Child Foundation to help and assist many people. The Foundation paid some of their school fees while engaging in other forms of assistance to people in need. The Foundation received most supports and donations from well meaning Nigerians, but since the incidence that made round in the media about me being a scammer, it really made me reluctant in hosting fund raising events. The damage by the allegation to my reputation was inestimable. This prompted me to work harder since I had to continue to sustain all the charity works solely from my income. This birthed my online fashion business Fashionjoy.

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What challenges have you faced in your life, career, position as a beauty queen and businessperson?

Life after being a beauty Queen has been blissful except for a good number of people who till date still sees me as a scam and would not want to associate with me for any reason and it made me learn one thing. You can go after a man’s business even his associates but other than family, the only thing off limits is a man’s reputation. When you give false allegations against one, it will be whispered and repeated by those who envy their success, no matter how thoroughly you repudiate them.  Lots of endorsements were withdrawn and I almost went into depression, at some point I attempted suicide, the humiliation and allegations were just too much for me to handle but I thank God for my family and friends who stood by me from then till now. I have really bounced back and have started to build a better reputation for my name and personality.

Tell us about the criminal action instituted against you and how you came out of it?

Till today, I can’t still believe that I was incarcerated because I chose to be a hard working lady instead of living a wayward life. You see all through my life, I love challenges, I like trying my hands on new things. I guess you know about MMM and other business of that nature that were all over the world and in Nigeria too. Many persons participated in the schemes then, including me. Several of us have sad stories of the attendant losses incurred. It was all about a peer to peer scheme known as Me 2U that was trending along side with MMM .How the scheme works is that you send money to someone who registered on the platform and after a stated number of days, you get some percentage of interest on your money, which I did and was paid half of my money before the website crashed and the scheme became extinct.  After several months, those who participated in the scheme like me, petitioned the police, which arrested me for engaging in scam. I was amazed at such unfounded allegation because I did not scam anyone but I participated like every other person, in a scheme. I explained the entire process to the police and how I also lost money upon the cessation of the scheme. I also provided the police with all available evidence of the person I paid money to, under the scheme and while I was still in the process of clearing my name of such unfounded allegation, when on the 17th of June 2017 , my name was all over the newspapers, social media platforms etc. That trend of events complicated things and made it harder than it already was, such that the press  concluded in their report of the events that I was a bad example to the youths. The police and the law court played their respective roles and everything was sorted out and my innocence became glaring but the damage had already been done .But I have overcome. You know why I was worried and suspicious of the motive behind all these brouhaha then was that I was the reigning Asaigbo Queen that year, so what they did after trying to ruin my reputation was calling my boss; the CEO of Asaigbo Foundation, the organisers of Miss Asaigbo Beauty Pageant, Prince Mike Akubueze to dethrone me. Haba!  These people didn’t know that as dutiful Queen, before I even ventured into the business, I informed my Agency (Asaigbo Foundation) and my CEO approved. When they requested that I be dethroned, he asked them on what basis? You accused a promising young lady, trying to smear her name, took her to court and here you are trying to destroy her future too. He asked them to wait till the end of the case or at most should get court injunction for that. Prince Mike  Akubueze was so magnanimous and supportive throughout the case. While I was in there and to my surprise, he was my chief spokesperson. Till death, I will be grateful to Asaigbo Foundation for contributing immensely in making me who I am today.

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What did you learn from the false accusation. Do you seek revenge?

Yes, that question keeps on coming from left and right and even some people are advising me to do this and that to my accuser . As a human, the first impulse is to take up a lawsuit, but as Joy I have chosen to forgive them since they have realised their mistakes. I know myself, also, my family knows who I am and my real friends and business associates also can vouch for me. What matters is that I remain the good girl I am. My charity work continues and finally as a practicing Christian, I have forgiven all.  I really need to appreciate the police and the court for doing a yeoman’s job during the investigation and the court proceedings which led to my exoneration. And my counsel, Barrister Chamberlain Chinwike Ezebube who took up the case and handled it like I was his daughter and didn’t ask for a penny. He fought relentlessly and I forever remain grateful to him.  Most importantly the case made me learn that family is everything. Prayers were going on in heaven for my sake from all over the world. A friend of mine travelled to Rome, yes Vatican, Rome to say a prayer for me. I couldn’t believe how much love I got from friends and fans too who almost started a viral hash tag on my behalf. It made me realise how very blessed I am.

What would you like to change about the Nigerian judicial system?

In as much as I give kudos to the police and the judges that handled my case, I think many things need to be changed for our judicial system to be in tandem with international best practices. In saner climes, investigations are completed before the police arrest but here the reverse is the case. Also, we were told that justice delayed is justice denied. For instance, in one of my philanthropic visits to one of Nigerian prisons, Correctional Centre as it is called now, I met a lady who had spent years in detention awaiting trial of a minor case that might not exceed 6 months jail term upon conviction, but she had already spent two years in incarceration, yet her case has not been heard.

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What do we call such?

With the benefits of hindsight and from my experience there, I have assisted more than six indigent inmates by providing lawyers who intervened in their cases and they are free now.

What is your advice to your teeming fans and admirers?

My advice to them would be love yourself, follow your passion and learn that patience is a virtue, nothing in life comes easy and there’s no shortcut to success. Work hard and smart, don’t expect anything from anyone because no one owes you anything. Finally, do not judge yourself by the perception of others about you. It’s what they think and it shouldn’t matter to you. Be happy!

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