The ‘Yeye Oge’ of Lagos, Chief (Dr.) Opral Benson, who, among many other titles, is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Liberia in Lagos, as well as founder and CEO of Opral Benson Beauty Training Institute, she is a renown philanthropist committed to humanitarian services. In this interview with Patrick Aigbokhan, she gave her assessment of Nigeria’s private sector, as well as her expectations for a peaceful co-existence in Nigeria, among other issues. Excerpts:
Ma, what do you think of the government of President Muhammad Buhari’s administration?
I wouldn’t get into that now, because I don’t want to assess anybody now. I am not in politics, so, I would rather stay where I am, which is the Non-government organization and the private sector. I don’t try to assess the government.
But, on the part of the country’s private sector, would you say it is thriving or stagnated?
I think every sector of the country has some good and bad. And I think in the private sector, we have different categories of persons. Some are doing well and doing their best, while others are not doing the best that they can. But you cannot avoid it, because this is life.
But I think that, with the private sector, there has been a great contribution that is being made to the development of this country, and it has always been that way. And I think that it would, and should continue.
A great number of youths in our country today are already caught up in the ‘get rich quick’ syndrome, ma, what do you have to say about this, and what do you think is actually influencing such trend?
It’s not a good idea at all to just get rich for the sake of getting rich. What is the relevance of riches if you on your own are not happy due to making others unhappy? I think that is an idea that should be dropped. I don’t think the ‘get rich quick’ syndrome is something that young people should really pursue. But, instead, they should develop themselves and help each other, help their parents, help the community and stop talking about riches. What is riches at the end of the day if it causes problems?
Now, tell us a bit about yourself, ma, how old are you now?
I was 80 years old in February 2015, so, I am going to be 81 by February 2016.
You don’t actually look your age, what is the secret to that?
Well, quite a lot of people tell me that, but it is God who has been good to me, and I am trying to do the best that I can do. I still go to work everyday, doing the best that I can.
As you can see, I am now the Honorary Consul for Liberia in Lagos. Apart from that, I run my beauty school, which is the Opral Benson Beauty Training Institute. In the institute, we would be having our 30th graduation in December. I am also in many organizations that are in public interest, basically women and young people. And that is what I enjoy doing.
Ma, you have been a great woman in Nigeria, and you have made landmarks, what has been the source of your inspiration?
I have always been a person who wanted to interact to the tune of helping other people. And since I wanted to be helpful, and I don’t like problems and confusions, I try to stay out of things that are negative. I like to have positive views about individuals and life.
If you have a positive view of life, and you look into it that way, God will be on your side.
I am a person that believes in God for what nobody can do for me, and I try to believe that way.
When actually did you start your beauty school and what prompted you into the business?
I started it as far back as 1985. When I left the University of Lagos, I wanted to do something good on my own, and so many young people were coming to me, because by that time, the Oba of Lagos had given me the title of “yeye oge of Lagos, which was conferred on me in 1973. And I thought of doing something to promote that tittle, so I opted to do something good to support the beauty industry.
And so, many young people were interested, so, I started the school.
And so far, the institute has done very well; we have turned out thousands of young people. Some of them are working for themselves, while some are working for other organizations, and the beauty industry has today grown and flourished. I am very glad I was able to contribute to that.
When you pulled out from public service at the University of Lagos to start up your beauty business about 30 years ago now, were you the first to launch out with such initiative in Nigeria then?
Well, as far as I knew then, there was no other person as at when I started. But I understand that there are also quite a few of them today. At that point, I only knew one person that was in it then. I knew that there was a big demand from people who wanted to be in the industry. They wanted to look well and dress well, so, I started looking into that.
What have been your challenges so far since you ventured into your own business, and how have you been able to whether the storms?
For me, I think the challenges that everyone has, including myself, is to be able to excel in whatever you have made up your mind to do, and to do your best.
I think the major challenges I had were that, there were people out there who just wanted to know how I was doing what I was doing. They wanted to learn from me, so I also needed to be doing the best that I could.
What’s your philosophy of life?
Do the best you can do in life, help others, try to live a life that you feel satisfied with, so that, at the end of the day, you would feel that you have done your best. Always do the best that you can for yourself and for others.
My philosophy is to always try to be positive, do the best I can, and I try not to offend people, because I don’t think that you are going to feel happy with yourself if you go about making troubles for people.
So, I live a quiet life by making sure I don’t get involved in problems and naughty things of life.
My philosophy is just, be a natural person and be good the best way I can.
Considering your age, coupled with the fact that you are a woman of many parts, who is engaged in family, business, official assignments and all the organizations that you are involved in, locally and internationally, how do you cope with your daily busy life schedules?
I try to do the best that can, and I don’t take up more than I can handle at a time. I have a way of dividing myself and participating in any activity. But I do the ones that I can do at a time, and leave out the ones that I cannot do. I don’t try to overdo any thing.
I understand that there are certain things I can do in life, and there are those that I cannot do at a particular point in time. I make sure I do what will bring satisfaction. I don’t have to do what everybody wants me to do.
Looking at the kind of path that you have trodden in all your life exploits, would you like your children to follow suit?
Yes, I think so.
Do you have any regrets in life so far, ma?
I don’t have any regrets in life. I think I have been able to do what I should do to help other people and myself. And I feel very good and honoured that people have respected me for that. I have had a good life in Nigeria, and I feel very proud of all that I have done.