Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye O. B. Lulu-Briggs, an ardent social entrepreneur and President of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, has over the years dedicated her time and resources to taking care of the elderly in the society. In this interview with Mary Nnah, Lulu-Briggs, who reflected on her life after she clocked 60 on September 21, also revealed why she started taking care of the elderly. Excerpts:
How does it feel being 60?
I really don’t know how I am supposed to feel because I feel really good. People sometimes tell me that I look good for 60. Once again, I wonder how I am supposed to look. I usually smile whenever I hear such compliments because as a Christian, I have a lot of optimism and live with great zest for life. I believe in God’s mercy and also that He has a plan and purpose for me. When you find your purpose and understand it, you are happier because you will be more useful here on earth. I thank God for giving me the purpose of bringing joy to people’s lives by shouldering their burdens by His power. Every single day, I try to make people smile and when I do this, I feel happy because I have been useful to another human being.
To return to your question, I am not one that’s really into birthdays and age. But sometime this year, when I checked my date of birth and I knew that I would be 60 this year. I asked myself how many people I have impacted positively in those 60 years. How much more would I have done when I wake up, by the grace of God, 10 years down the line and I am 70?”
This is my motivation; this is what keeps me going: to do what my Father in heaven sent me to do, which is to love my fellow man as I love myself. If Jesus Christ tarries, I have accepted there is a lot more to be done and I am saying ‘Here I am Lord, use me’. So, let 60 come. I am not afraid of 60. I am not shy to tell people I am 60 years old.
What has life taught you?
The drive that I have is greater than the pain I have actually experienced. For me, the more I encounter challenges, the more energy and resilience I have. Everything becomes more simple and clearer to me when I understand and accept that whatever I can do is not by my might or power but by the Spirit of God. And my Bible tells me that I can do all things, not some things, but all things through Christ who strengthens me. I could not do all that I do by my strength. It is not possible! If it was by my strength, I would be tired. Just managing the oil company alone would tire me out. We have other businesses in our group, which I also supervise. Managing my household is a full time job, and there is my beloved husband to whom I give hundred per cent of my time. So, it is obviously not by my power. I can firmly say it is by the power of God. When I close my eyes and count the things that I am managing, even when I think about the things I have to do physically, I just remove all thoughts from my head.
I believe that we are created to conquer challenges, and I also believe that whatever you put in your mind and accept as the truth is what controls your physical body. I have no reason to be tired. I am ready. If it has to be done, it will be done. The little time I have to spare, I will get on my bed and in five minutes, I am fast asleep. If I have to wake up two hours later, then, I am up again. It is amazing but it is not me. God has been so faithful. The various businesses do not lack my attention. My home and family do not lack my attention. I am a hands-on mother and personally take my son to and from boarding school. I give God all the glory.
Looking back at your life in the past 60 years, any regrets?
My only regret would have been that I did not say ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ earlier. Honestly, if I had the strength that I now have all along, I believe I would have covered more ground. But God works in miraculous ways; He is able to take very long steps to cover up for those lost years. In that case, I have no regret at all.
What were the things that influenced your childhood?
In my growing up years, I always loved people. I lived with my parents and I had a grandmother. Because of my position as the middle child of the family, I was the handy person. I was the only person my mother would send on errands and chores. My two younger sisters were too young to do chores and my big sister would not go on errands when I was available to do them. So Seinye was the person my parents always called to do things. It was my responsibility to take care of my grandmother. She had health issues and needed assistance to move about. I would get up early in the morning, assist her to go to the bathroom, prepare her food and even feed her. For me, it was just a normal thing to do.
Even though I was doing so much housework, if I went out for personal reasons, it was a problem. So I planned every morning in such a way that even before my parents asked me to do my chores, I would quickly take care of them and look after my grandmother so well that when I finally went out to play or visit my friends, no one had any need to look for me. Doing those things gave me pleasure and I often looked forward to doing chores. It meant nothing to me because that was how I grew up. In school I had friends. Some came from wealthy homes and some didn’t; but we lived and shared things together. I think it is the way God created me. I will not say I am such a nice person but I don’t know how to be selfish. I appreciate my friends.
How did the idea of establishing a foundation come about?
When I met my husband, I just saw a man who had a large heart for loving others; I saw a great philanthropist. There was however no kind of structure in his giving. He would say, ‘go and bring the bag with money’, ‘go and bring the cheque,’. It was just like that. People would come to our home for different kinds of assistance. The next day, the same people would come again for the same assistance. I felt there had to be a way around this. When God gave me the idea to start a foundation, I went to my husband to present the structure to him.
So the thought of the foundation came because I saw a huge gap in the care and assistance being given to people and that is in the care of old people. There are two incidents that made me take that decision. The first one was a woman who was bedridden. She lay in a room whose roof was leaking and whenever it rained, it rained on her too. She had no brother, no family, no children living with her; all of those who could assist her were in Port Harcourt and she was in the village. Another instance was the woman who came to my husband because she wanted money to treat illness. People were preventing her from getting to my husband, and she kept screaming and saying ‘leave me alone, I am going to my father. Give me money; the doctor said I should bring some money to treat myself in the hospital’. Eventually, she made it to where my husband was and he gave her some money and as she was leaving, blood was dropping from her body. She was over 80 years old. I am not sure whether she was able to get medical attention. I was new in the family then; that was less than a year after we got married, so all of this was strange to me. I kept thinking of this woman and her travails. I wondered who would take care of her.
The thought of this woman occupied my mind for so long that when the opportunity came to address the issue of the foundation, I went to my husband and said to him: ‘Yes, you have the money. Yes, you are willing to give it out, but let us put some structure to your giving, so that it will be truly effective’. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him there were many old people like that woman who had insisted on seeing him. I told him that we could buy them food, take care of them and pay doctors to see them regularly. He accepted my proposal on the condition that it had to be first accepted by the community, because at that time people in the villages usually didn’t like to accept food from others. So we recruited some women to go from house to house in each compound and ask if there was an old person, man or woman in the house. The sad part is that such old persons were usually kept in the inner room and wouldn’t be allowed to come out. They were not dead, but they were confined to the bed and they were not part of society any more. Once we knew that there was an old person in any house, we would take down their details and that was how we started to care for them.
So what has become of the foundation today?
Today, we have over 200 of such elderly people that we take care of. We signed them on and they remain our responsibility till they die. We take care of their feeding, medication and social life. We have even built recreational centers for them. Apart from that, on a monthly basis, we give them food items. They are all very happy now; their relations now come around because there is regular supply of food and they are all taken care of. We have also employed caregivers to take care of the ones that are not able to take care of themselves.
The foundation today is now on a strong footing. We have grown from just caring for the elderly and have added other programmes that make up the activities of the foundation. My husband has been very gracious. When we started the foundation, as the Chief Executive of Moni Pulo Limited, he funded every activity of the foundation.
Today, by the grace of God, I am the Executive Vice Chairman of the company and the family of O.B Lulu-Briggs has remained the sole benefactor of the foundation. We have had some corporate bodies that assisted us, but the family supports over 99 per cent of our expenses till date.
Exactly in what ways has the foundation touched lives so far?
Well, under the Care for Life programme, the foundation gives daily care to the aged and infirm in rural communities by providing them food and medication for as long as they live. The foundation has built and furnished two recreational centers for the elderly in Abonnema and Abua, both of which are communities in Rivers State. These recreational centers have modern facilities where previously home bound and ignored senior citizens can interact daily, receive nutritious meals and medical attention. We also organise regular five-days free medical outreaches and during each of these, we treat over 4,000 people. The O.B. Lulu Briggs Foundation also initiated the Visual Eye project.
In 2013, we donated two blocks of sanitary facilities and potable water outlets with multiple fetching points to the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison. We place high premium on health and have come to terms with the fact that even though the prisons are designed to be a rehabilitation and correctional facility for those who may have violated the rule of law, the government can achieve the corrective and rehabilitative objective of the modern prison through the collaborative efforts of its citizens.
The Excellence Award is another initiative under the portfolio of our foundation’s Education and Scholarship programme. It is located mainly in the rural communities and its objective is to promote academic excellence amongst pupils as well as harness their potentials at quite an early age. The flagship of this initiative started in 2013, with pupils of St. Augustine’s Nursery and Primary School, Abonnema in the Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The O.B Lulu –Briggs Foundation has provided significant financial support to students of Rivers State origin in the different campuses of the Nigerian Law School, to supplement the payment of their tuition fees. On September 6, 2018 we gave N120, 000,00 and a brand new HP laptops to 57 Law School students. The purpose is to assist each law student offset the crunching financial difficulties they usually face, thereby helping them face their studies squarely and hopefully graduate with flying colours. Since 2009 till date, the foundation has assisted 557 law students.
We have also organised an Entrepreneurship Seminar which 882 youths attended absolutely free of charge. This seminar was organised to guide and enlighten aspiring young entrepreneurs on various business opportunities that abound in areas such as Autodesk computer training, jewelry craft, fashion design, catering, welding and fabrication, scaffolding, borehole and filling energy solar inverters, media production and design.
Since we are a very hands-on foundation and it is our desire to assist people be the very best versions of themselves, we paid the examination fees of 100students in Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) and enrolled them in preparatory classes for the 2018 examination. In the same token, running the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation as its chair, board of trustees is another huge responsibility, given the strong vision behind its establishment 17 years ago.
You are a multifaceted entrepreneur who is doing so well despite the challenges in growing business in Nigeria. Can you tell us briefly about your businesses and how they started?
Well, it is a process that God Almighty started and He planted me in a place where I never thought I would be at the helm of affairs. It never crossed my mind because in the traditional setting that my husband belongs to, he is a paramount ruler and in our culture it is not normal for the wife of a man, how much more a paramount ruler, to take over from him or to even be involved in her husband’s business. I will say that the Holy Scriptures are totally fulfilled in my life and that is because I am in agreement with the scripture that the man and the woman will become one. So whatever my husband is, I am.
I believe this was what played out because when I entered the family: my husband was the head of the family and I do not also think that it occurred to him that I could even be part of the business. I was not part of the business, although I was always with him. I was part of his life, but as things turned around, it occurred to him, I believe, that it was time to involve me in the affairs of his company. The actual business itself wasn’t new to me because from day one, we always went to work together and returned together. I had no work portfolio, but he liked me to sit in his office, in one of the visitors’ chairs. I would sit there and whether you came to discuss a million dollar business or a family matter, he would never ask me to leave. So most times, I did not know the people he was meeting with. I didn’t also know the topic of discussion, but he made sure I was there and that was how things were for 10 years before he officially and actively began to involve me in the business.
Today I am the Executive Vice Chairman of the company, Moni Pulo Ltd, and things are going smoothly in the company. We are starting to do exploration work on one of our new blocks and this was the work my husband himself did over 15 years ago in our first block. The journey so far has been successful. There have been some terrifying issues; there have been many problems, and I want to say the journey may not have been too smooth, but the end result is victory and we are still standing. God has granted me the grace to be victorious in all, yes all situations.
What legacy would you love to instill in the society?
I know that what God has started, He will continue and complete. I see growth in so many areas. I see growth because of increased awareness. Individuals and organisations across the nation and the outside world are getting to know about our work. We have not yet begun to seek external support and already people have taken notice of our work. Having achieved this much, the next logical step for us is to seek meaningful partnerships in order to exponentially grow our reach and impact.
The resources of our main benefactor, High Chief (Dr.) O.B Lulu-Briggs OON, DCF, DSSRS, have been set aside to support the foundation. This is very reassuring because lack of funds can truncate the work of any organisation, be it for or not-for profit. So by the grace of God we are building on solid ground. That is the legacy that we, my beloved husband and I want to leave behind, whenever the Lord calls us home.
I am also considering how to ensure that fewer people die of water borne diseases. Our focus after now will be to work in the smaller islands in our riverine areas. The people who live there that don’t even believe they are in Nigeria. It will cost us a lot in terms of men, money and time, to reach these people.
I am also looking seriously at encouraging entrepreneurship on a scalable basis and helping graduates from the Niger Delta Region become more employable, because this is one of the ways in which we can sustain what we are doing. This is the vision behind “Conversations with Seinye”, a programme that I have only recently initiated. At our maiden session, we had over 600 youths in the room, discussing and proffering solutions for the lack of development in the Niger Delta. We plan to organise more of these sessions and regularly run well thought out, needs-based programmes to help our youth truly become the leaders in whichever aspect of endeavor they wish to pursue.