Nigeria's Miss Universe contestant is Emirates airline flight attendant Maristella Okpala

The public health graduate says she's proud to represent "the whole of Africa" at the Miss Universe 2021 pageant

Miss Nigeria, Maristella Okpala. AFP
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Miss Nigeria Maristella Okpala was "nearly disowned" by her father when she decided to become a model.

The flight attendant for Emirates airline, who moved to Dubai in 2019, told Nigeria's The Sun that her first foray into the modelling world was not easy because she comes "from a staunch Catholic family".

"My father nearly disowned me, and in my early days in the modelling industry, I was alone. My mother and grandma were my support systems. But after proving to my dad that I could be a successful model with integrity, he became relaxed," she says.

Okpala, 28, who now has a number of beauty titles to her name, will hope to add another one at the Miss Universe 2021 pageant, the winner of which will be crowned on Sunday in Eilat, Israel.

The public health graduate is among 80 beauty queens competing at the global contest, which is celebrating its 70th year.

"She's a strong advocate of early childhood education and the prevention of child abuse. Through her work, she has been able to empower more than 1,000 children with free education by providing all the essential materials needed for them to study, and also humanitarian services to people living in the slum area of the Makoto community in Lagos, Nigeria," Okpala's biography on the Miss Universe website reads.

A former football player in college, Okpala was crowned Miss Universe Nigeria in September.

"It still feels like a dream. It's such a great honour and a big shoes to fill. I have always desired this opportunity since I was a child," she said after her crowning.

Ahead of her trip to Israel, Okpala said was proud to represent the "whole of Africa" at the competition.

"As I embark on this journey I intend to represent not just Nigeria but the whole of Africa with dignity and I hope to bring back the crown," she posted.

On Friday, for the national costume round, she paid tribute to her Nigerian roots showcasing a masquerade costume.

"This beautiful creation is inspired by a famous traditional masquerade of the south-eastern tribe of Nigeria called Mmanwa. Mmanwa is a female masquerade costume that's designed for ceremonial and festive purposes to celebrate the rich Nigerian cultural heritage, paying a closer attention to the strength women possess," she said.

"I picked this particular costume because I see a self-reflection of my cause in this Mmanwa which protects children and women against any form of abuse. Finally, this costume pays attention to the strong will of women in attaining whatever heights they want to attain, no matter the challenges faced while reaching their desired goals."

Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures of the national costume round at Miss Universe 2021:

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