Mrs. Opral Benson (Iya Oge of Lagos) radiates and glows at 86. She bares her mind in this interview to FLORA ONWUDIWE on her passion for beauty and fashion and sundry issues. Excerpts…
After the tenure of the former president of the Republic of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who appointed you as Consular, we thought you would leave with her…
Yes I exited with her when her tenure ended.
But you are still in the Consulate office in Liberia?
No, I’m still in my office; my office has always been here at Yaba, Lagos, even before I got the Consular appointment. I am still with the Chic Afrique Beauty Company and Opral Benson Beauty Training (OBBTI) Institute; I am no longer the Consular. The ambassador is in Abuja, he does all the things for the country. I am just here in this office because this has always been my office. And I have the Opral Benson Beauty Training Institute here and I have the Chique Afrique Beauty Company that is why I come to my office.
For the period it lasted, would you say that you enjoyed it and the people of Liberia benefited?
The main thing really is to have the representative on the ground that can look after Liberian issues, that can look after Liberian citizens who might be visiting or who are living in Nigeria and I think those are the main issues that you have to focus on. And quite a few Liberians come to Nigeria for various reasons; so if you are be able to get them some assistance on whatever it is that they are looking for, then of course you will feel that you have done something. And I think I appreciate having to do something for anybody that comes from Liberia, since I myself come from there.
So your impact on the citizens was felt…
I think the impact really is just to get two countries to appreciate each other more, to be able to visit each other and to have people from both countries who will appreciate what the governments of the countries are doing; there is no other impact except to be friends, because I think all other African countries are trying to be friends. And Liberia and Nigeria are close to each other, they’re almost spelt the same way, Nige(RIA) Libe(RIA). So, I think cultivating friendship between the two countries is the right thing.
The coming on board of Mrs. Johnson- Sirleaf as Liberian President was a challenge to other black women; her period ensured that the political violence in Liberia was resolved. I would recommend someone like her, who was a dogged fighter, for Nigeria?
Well, I don’t really know if I can answer that question, because I think it depends on who the women in politics are; what are the objectives of such women? What they really want to achieve, what they want to give to the public and I think if Nigeria has got those kinds of women. If the women come out and say this is what they want to do and participate in what the men are doing, they might be able to do the same thing that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf did in Liberia.
If they sit back and do nothing, nobody will go and call them and say ‘please come because you are a woman I want you to do something,’ No. Since the demise of your husband, perhaps, you are the last of his wives, you know a typical African man does not believe in one wife, one had thought there would be another partner or someone closer to your home? Are you suggesting that I should go on and find a man at this age?
Not at this age, but he died many years ago… How do you expect me to go and start looking for someone else?
I have no need of another person. Since my husband died, I think I’ve being okay. I don’t have the need to go and look for another man and I don’t even think it is the right thing for me to do. I think I’m quite satisfied since my husband left. I have families, I have friends and to be looking for somebody… No I don’t think I need it, no.
What do you consider as most interesting about the two cultures, especially the Yoruba culture where you late husband hailed from in Nigeria?
Well, I don’t want to speak too much about people’s cultures, Liberian and Nigerian cultures. But I think each country has got its own culture and has a reason for adopting a culture. I think in all of Africa, some things are similar and that applies to both Liberia and Nigeria. But if they have got things which are different from each other by way of what they do and how they do it, I think those cultures will remain.
With all the beautiful awards, as they are hanging on the wall, which among them do you consider as the most precious?
All of the awards are special to me. I cannot select one award and compare it to another one. I think the two biggest ones are those you get from countries, and the ones you get from organisations come second. But I think that I am not going to say that this award or that one is better because everybody has got a reason for giving an award. I think when they gave you an award you should appreciate it; you shouldn’t try to compare it with what another country or another person gave you.
Having gone through your intimidating academic profile, you were not in any way connected to having studied beauty and fashion, is it a trait from your mother?
No, it’s not from my mother or family because I personally like beauty. I like things that make people feel good about themselves. I have always been interested in fashion and beauty and I was given title as Iya Oge of Lagos a n d I think t h e rewas a reason that I was selected for that purpose. I like the beauty industry and I started enjoying it, enjoying things that are beautiful, that are nice; may be that was why they decided to select me for that particular honour. But apart from that, what brought me into the industry is the fact that I enjoy and like it.
What would you recall in your time as the Director of Students Affairs, University of Lagos?
I was working with young people; I was Director of Students Affairs University of Lagos because I like to interact with young people. Young people like me and I like them and we get along fine. I was able to solve some other issues that they have. I know I can say I am the boss and you are the junior , so maybe this is what is all about ,and they wanted someone that could interact with the students and that was how I was made the director Students Affairs, University of Lagos.
When you reflect at 86 and above, any regrets?
No I don’t regret anything at 86; I think I have done the best that I could. People expect me to do some things and I find out that I have done them. I think I have tried to do certain things that are good, things that are respected, appreciated by organisations, friends and families and I think I have done the best that I can and so I don’t think I have any reason to have any regrets.
What is your philosophy of life?
You should do the best you can for yourself and the best you can for others and I tried to do that.