Way back, Nigerians looked down on fashion designers
Why I was named Iya Oge
BY CHRISTY ANYANWU
Although she is an Octogenarian, Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson (OON) is still bubbling with life. Popularly known as Iya Oge of Lagos, the veteran beautician has bagged several titles including: Iya Mesho of Ikorodu, Lika of Imota, Alatilehin of Ijede, Atoloye of Ile-Ife, Yeye L’afin of Ode-Remo, Yeye oba of Ipakodo among others. Chief Benson, who is the founder of Opral Benson Beauty Training Institute,Yaba is the Honorary Consul, Republic of Liberia. Speaking with Effects recently, the beautician spoke extensively on her status as Honorary Consul, her passion for the beauty industry and what makes her tick at 81.
What keeps you going at 81?
Working hard keeps me going. I keep myself busy. I don’t have time to sit down and complain that I’m idle. I think when you are busy and occupied, you have things to do and enjoy doing them, you’ll feel okay. I think that has kept me going because I stay busy all the time. If I sit down at home, what will I be doing?
But most women of your age sit at home complaining about body pains or health issues?
If you have body pains you should seek a way to stop the pains but that doesn’t stop you from doing the things you need to do and keep yourself going. I don’t say that women of my age don’t experience pains. I do sometimes, but we have to do something about it rather than sit back and complain.
Can you reflect on your memorable lifestyles when you were in your thirties and forties?
Life was very much enjoyable because you could go out to functions and I still go out to attend functions. Today, I’ve spent the better part of my day going through mails from people requesting me to receive an award, help to do one thing or the other. I find it very interesting. It’s a good way of engaging oneself so that at the end of the day, you don’t just feel empty.
Way back then, I attend several functions, parties, I attend functions that were out to help the community. I don’t go to all occasions, I decide the one that I like and the ones I can contribute to, to help others. Its not all occasion that you were invited to that you would go. Not even in a place like Lagos. I work with the Sickle Cell Foundation; I was one of those people that were used to set up the National Youth Service Corp. At the time, it was set up in 1973, I was the Director of Students Affairs at the University of Lagos. I think if you can do things like that you are participating in development of the country.
You have seen it all?
Yes I have. I have worked with all manners of organizations and I’m working with so many currently. I have met many people and I’m very glad about that. I don’t have any regret meeting many people because there, you tend to see different people.
Does your name attract people to you?
I don’t really know because Opral Benson is just another name but people connect with me because they think, together, we can have something going for each other, maybe some contributions or something. I don’t know if it’s the name because some people have beautiful names but they are not being sought after.
What has life taught you?
Life has taught me to be helpful, honest with myself. It has helped me to be able to make a contribution when I can, know that there are ups and downs in life. It’s not always up. You have some good days and some bad days. You have to cope with whatever situation you find yourself in and that I have been able to do. Life has taught me that there are people all around me and that I have to learn from all of them. The good ones the bad ones, the ugly ones, and decide which one of them you can interact and connect with. Life has taught me to be humble, make friends with those who want to be friendly and help the society as much as I can.
You are 81 but you still look good fashion wise?
I don’t know about fashion but I try to make myself comfortable, feel good when I go out and feel good about myself. I have been in the fashion industry. I am one of the trustees of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). When I bagged the title, Iya oge of Lagos, it was because of the way I carried myself that made Oba Adeyinka Oyekan of Lagos to think that as the person promoting fashion. In those days, fashion was not something that everybody wanted to do. I was selected as fashion queen at that time.
How do you relax?
I watch television and I read a lot. I read all the newspapers. For me, it’s relaxing. I read several newspapers everyday. And I watch TV sometimes. If there’s party and I’m invited, I’ll go. That’s also relaxing.
You come to this office as a consular everyday?
I’m the honorary consul for Liberia in Lagos. It’s my personal office; the chic afrique office. When you are a honorary consul, you can work along with your own things that you are doing. The honorary consul can work as a business person because your duty really, is to connect with business people, institutions, and organizations and to help the country which appointed you. We give people visas and certificates to travel to Liberia, honorary consul can do that also.
Do you speak any Nigeria language?
A little bit of Yoruba.
Which Nigerian food do you like most?
I like amala and when I go to a lot of places where people ordered different foods, I’ld just order my Amala.
Your beauty school is one of the foremost in the country, What’s your perception of training of beauticians in Nigeria?
I think beauty is an industry that I have been interested in for a long time. When you say beauty training, you want to make sure that those persons that want to participate in that industry know how to do it. They know how to please people that they work for and have passion for it because if you don’t really know what beauty is all about and you don’t believe in it, of course you wont be involved. For me, beauty training is a way of bringing in people who are interested in their profession and who are able to benefit from it and pass it on to others. The school is 31 years old this December; we’ve held our 30 years anniversary already.
Why did you start the school in the first place?
I started a school because I saw a need for it. At that time, I think not much attention was being paid to beauty and people thought it was something for people who didn’t know much or not academic inclined. Although I have been working. I worked in the University of Lagos for ten years and I wanted to do my own business. I decided to go into the field I like and I felt there was the need for other people to learn and to benefit from it and to help others.
How well has the business thrived?
I think its doing great. I’m proud to say that a lot of young people have come to the school and we have programs, hair shows, we hold sessions when people come in to learn how to do various things after which they go out and work with professionals like you do during NYSC year. They go to salons to work before they graduate. They go to other institutions and show what they have done and by doing that, some of them gain employment after that. I think it has benefit many young people and I feel good that I have been able to contribute to their development because it’s not every body that would go further to bag Bachelors or Masters Degrees in the university. Some people want to deal with other things and the beauty industry has grown so much in the last few years. These days you see assorted kinds of hairs. Sometimes, I think we are doing so much of hair, we need to stop at a certain point and figure out where are we going from here. To be frank, I think it’s a profession that have been needed and appreciated. We trained students from the Niger Delta and I pray that we can train people from other states as well who want to train their youths how to make some income for themselves and at the same time engage in a profession of their. We are willing to take more people from other states.