Modupe Ozolua is a reporter’s delight any day. She speaks her mind in a manner that is rare in this part of the world. She has adorned the cover of countless celebrity magazines, but it will surprise many to know that this lady who established the first cosmetic surgery business in the country detests being called a celebrity. The BEARS Foundation founder prefers to be seen as a role model. Correspondent, Kemi Yesufu got the woman whose been in many men’s dreams talking. She spoke on why some people think she is controversial, why she doesn’t calculate how much she has spent on charity and the vexed question about her single status despite her sex symbol image. Ozolua equally talked about her latest project The Queen Pageant.

Why are you venturing into beauty pageant?

First of all, to be honest, I have never been a fan of beauty pageants. I have been a judge on a few pageants but I have never been a big advocate of pageants. Because the girls are not properly presented in the sense that I haven’t seen how their lives would be improved from what it was before the pageant. Apart from a short lived exposure, even Agbani (Darego) after one year, who knows where she is now. Being a feminist I totally believe in female empowerment. The Queen Pageant is more about empowerment. The truth is a lot of the young girls these days are more interested in beauty pageants and modelling competitions, so there are many ways to skin a cat. There are a lot of bright girls who come from poor homes, who don’t get to finish secondary school not because they aren’t intelligent but their parents can’t afford to pay their fees. It does not mean that these girls do not have the potential of becoming the next president, minister, inventors in Nigeria, but they can never get to this point if they are not given the opportunity to excel. This is why the prizes for the Queen Pageant are life changing, the winner gets a brand new car, $15,000, brand new wardrobe; job placement, an all expense trip to America and she will be the goodwill ambassador for the BEARS Foundation. Also, the contestants get a laptop each, they get educational programmes through which they can improve their skills. It’s a pageant yes, but it will not be about beautiful girls strutting off on stage. None of the girls will be wearing a bikini on stage; it will be more about what you have in your head.

You sound like you will be selecting contestants from less privileged backgrounds.

When we start screening contestants, we will not be asking them if their fathers are rich or poor or if their mother is wealthy, that’s none of my business. If they come it’s because they believe they can benefit from the opportunity the pageant presents. The truth is, it’s not all children from wealthy homes who benefit from their parents’ wealth, some of them are more desperate than those whose parents can barely eat two meals a day. So, it’s an open pageant for anyone your background notwithstanding. Even the age range for my pageant is 18-30 unlike other pageants, which are 18-25.

Is the Queen Pageant your own way of giving back to society?

Well, if you see it that way, fine. I feel we all have the responsibility of empowering those around us. It’s definitely a great gesture from BEARS Foundation to society, the truth is most of us complain about our workers. I have young girls working for me and there are other people like me who complain that they have graduate workers who cannot even draft a letter. I wonder what they are teaching young people in the schools. A lot of people ask what sort of young female graduates do we have these days. These kinds of complaints will continue if we as entrepreneurs don’t start putting structures to change the situation. The Queen Pageant is my own way of helping to change things for the better.

From your handbill, you said you want a queen who is kind, beautiful, respectful, and intelligent, loved and admired by all. Is there a woman who has all of these traits all wrapped up in one?

What is my definition of a beauty queen? She is attractive, she is intelligent, she can answer questions other than ‘what is your name?’

She is respectful, she is hardworking; when you have these qualities, you are admired. You should be celebrated. I don’t know what you think but girls with these qualities should not be rare, these are not difficult to come by. If they are then what kind of society are we living in?

What I mean is that you are probably asking for a lot, for one woman to be as you put it “competent, attractive, intelligent…

I think it is extremely insulting for you to say that it’s a rarity to find girls who are attractive, competent, intelligent; it is derogatory for you to say this. Are you saying that you as a woman, that you’re not attractive, you are not competent, you do your job and I as a woman who is attractive and competent are rare breeds? Then, we (society) are in trouble.

I get the feeling that the contestants are in for a tough time with you being in the panel that will screen the candidates.

What are the intending contestants to expect?

Well, you must remember that we are not only looking out for beauty but intelligence too. It’s not just because somebody is pretty that means that she will have a nice personality. There are some people you meet and they look good but when they open their mouths, you see that their attitude is so nasty. You forget the girl looks absolutely stunning. The girls we will be selecting do not have to be six feet tall; this is not what I am looking for. The team working with me on this pageant is made up of people who have bought into my vision. So, the girls who want to come for the screening shouldn’t worry how they look that much.

What have you been up to recently with the BEARS Foundation?

Recently, we have put machinery in place to ensure sustainability. BEARS Foundation since 2003 has contributed to the society with free corrective surgery. BEARS Foundation is bigger than Modupe Ozolua. Just because I am the founder doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people who push the dream. The major constraints we have come from the state governments who we have to work with. Each time we carry out medical mission, we have to use state-owned hospitals. We all know that the government hospitals are under staffed and over stretched so there is quite a strain on the doctors and nurses and the facilities. So it is quite difficult for us to show up and say, give us one week, shut down your services, give us your operating rooms. What we are doing right now is to raise funds for the purchase of mobile surgical units specially built for BEARS Foundation. By so doing we are not dependent on the states. We will still be collaborating with the government doctors and other good staff, but we will have our own equipment. We can pull up under a tree in the most remote village, screen our patients if they pass their medicals, we carry out surgeries right there. We hand them over to the nearest hospital for post surgery care. We have also introduced preventive care to our programmes. In the beginning, we were providing reconstructive surgery. In 2005 we included other surgeries such as hyena, ovarian cysts and fibroid.

When we went to Kwara State we worked for about 10 to 11 days of surgical hours and we treated 110 patients all for free. Also, we donate clothing, food, books to the patients, we donate medical supplies to the doctors we work with. Now with this preventive care like free HIV testing, malaria testing, immunisation, we have become a well-rounded organisation.

Still talking about the challenges you face working with state governments, what is the position of things between you and the Edo State Government?

We resolved the misunderstanding before the exit Lucky Igbenedion. Don’t forget I come from Edo State, so I wouldn’t want to be having problems with my state.

How many people have benefited from your interventions?

We have treated over 500 people.

How much money have you spent in providing help to the over 500 people?

I don’t count how much I have spent because I will get upset if I do. Even my own staff ask me, what I am doing and I tell them I don’t know. When you do something from your heart you don’t count how much you spend.

Where do you get the inspiration for the work you have done with BEARS Foundation?

It’s the knowledge that I am privileged to be an instrument in God’s hands. It’s a huge sacrifice; you have to be selfless to do what I do. But not everyone has the opportunity to be chosen by God to do his work. I don’t want to sound pretty Biblical but the truth of the matter is God loves all of us, but there are some people he will send on a mission like he has sent me. Regardless of my financial and emotional sacrifice, I am happy doing what I do. I get great spiritual satisfaction doing what I do.

Talking about spiritual satisfaction, one wonders how often you go to church.

Not every day, not every Sunday. I don’t have to go to church every Sunday.

Then you are probably considering exploiting the good you have garnered with BEARS Foundation to contest for public office.

I will not be running for public office, not now, not in the near future.

What if your people insist that you represent them?

You see, people have their different definitions about how they can serve the people. I could understand why people find it shocking that I use my resources, my time. Each time BEARS Foundation is carrying out its programmes, I empty my account. If I have N1,000 for a programme I withdraw it, because if I don’t, I wouldn’t have peace of mind. It’s that bad. Most Nigerians worship money, I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, money is necessary. I for one love my lifestyle and I work hard to afford the things I like, but I don’t worship money. It is easier for me to give money than anything else, because I can make it back even if it means to work 24 hours a day. People over here see politics as a way of making money, but I see politics as an opportunity to serve. So, I would rather stay away from politics and serve the people in my private capacity and make money through legitimate means. I don’t want to make money after which I will be driving only at night and having sleepless nights. If I were ever to go into politics it would be when I have made so much money and I am ready to retire into serving my people. Right now I don’t have enough time for myself, between body enhancement and BEARS Foundation I don’t have time for myself. So I won’t be incorporating politics into the things I am doing. I won’t have time for that (politics). As a true representative of the people, in order to serve your people, you have cause to explain to them every step you take. I don’t have the patience for that. As it is I am serving the people better than those who they elected, but I am doing it at my own call.

You earlier mentioned that you are a feminist and that you don’t believe in going to church every Sunday and that you would rather serve the people from the outside not in a public office. One wonders what your influences are.

I gave you the reasons why I am not a Sunday to Sunday church going person. I work from Monday to Saturday, I wake up at 5.30 in the morning and my day ends by 11 p.m. I have two offices in two cities, on Sundays I am on the flight moving from one state to the other. I don’t have to be in church pretending to be what I am not. I am not saying I am perfect, besides, perfect is quite boring. But my God is in my heart and it is not what you say but what you do. Talking about my guiding principles, I am not going to make it sound complicated. I was raised to be fair to as many people as possible. I believe frankly that whatever you do, will come back to you. If you do good, it will come back to you and if you do bad, the same will come back to you. I have the fear of God, this is all that I need to guide me.

Isn’t it amazing that you are a close associates with one of the world’s most recognised clergymen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and you don’t go to church?

What has my going to church got to do with anything? You are a journalist, you are the ones who report stories like “pastor rapes girl.” “pastor impregnated that girl”, “Imam rapes girl”. Are these the kind of people to instill spiritual values on the society? I work with my own conscience.

When you started out with the body enhancement business in Nigeria, it was a novel idea. These days facelifts and other cosmetic procedures are becoming commonplace for both men and women. An increasing number of people know exactly what they want to change about their bodies if they have the money to undergo cosmetic surgery. Why do you think the craze for the perfect body has taken over the world?

It is all part of human nature, we all want to keep improving ourselves and there is nothing wrong with this. I am happy that people take their time, they go on the Internet and they come here for consultations with the information they have gathered.

So you’re saying that business has improved for you?

Business has always been good for me, it has never been slow. Let’s get that straight, business has always been good. What I mean was that these days, people are better informed and it makes things much easier.

The general belief is that most people still prefer to travel out for cosmetic surgery. Does this affect the patronage that comes your way?

Considering the fact that I don’t know who and who travels out for body enhancement procedures, I don’t worry because it is about freedom of choice. I have clients, I have people who come to me to carry out things that are completely unrealistic and unethical, I tell them no. It doesn’t matter how much money you want to give to me, I will not be comfortable doing what they asked for. So I can’t be worried if somebody chooses to travel out for surgery. After all, I did not invent plastic surgery; their travelling out is a matter of choice.

There was this time one Alhaji took a full page colour advert in a national daily to wish you happy birthday and profess his love for you. Aside from him I know you have many rich male admirers, it is a surprise that you have remained unmarried.

Is it everyman that proposes to you that you must marry? Well, it was a friend that took that advert; it came as a surprise, because we are platonic friends. With my schedule having a personal life is quite difficult, especially with the fact that a lot of Nigerian men have a problem if the girl they are dating can afford to buy her own dress. I know a lot of young girls who can afford to buy a small car to move around, but won’t because of their boyfriend, to make him confident that he is the man. Girls pretend that they cannot afford to buy a car. So, you can imagine someone in my capacity. Generally, I think that lack of confidence among Nigerian men is a major problem. Another thing is that I have always been a tomboy. I feel more comfortable around men, I have a lot of male friends because men tend to say what is on their minds. I have very few female friends because at the end of the day men make better friends. I enjoy my work so it doesn’t look like work to me, then; I have a son who is my husband.

So when are you getting married?

It is left for God to decide.

Lots of people would like to know why you make yourself look sexy most of the time when you don’t seem to be interested in the men around.

When I go out I am not looking for ‘toasters’ or lovers. Fine, I go out and many men are staring at me, how many of them are single? Among the staring men, how many of them are bold enough to come speak to me? Then, if one or two of them are bold enough to come speak to me, do they have good intentions? How many of them will not come with the complex that I have to prove that I am the man in the relationship. You know when you deal with people that have a complex they start to cause problems for you, they could become verbally or physically abusive. I am not saying that I haven’t been in a relationship, I was in a three-year relationship but I chose not to be married. Whenever I decide to you will be the first to know.

There have been times when you were involved in some controversies like the one when you took the Edo State government to court and there is the one about you and the Late First Lady. Would it be right to say that you are a controversial person or that you are greatly misunderstood?

I think the major reason why you’re saying I am misunderstood is because I don’t fit into the norm of the Nigerian lady. The Nigerian lady has 10 to 20 girlfriends, they move around together, attend parties together, they are more than quick to tell the press their private lives, who and who they are dating. When you see me at an event I am alone, I roll solo. People don’t understand this. I mind my business, I go to work and I go home. About the Edo State Government, just because I have a heart of gold that does not mean that I am a push over. It is the last thing I can be. There are two sides to me the lovey-dovey side and the side I completely flip to if I am tested. In relation to Edo State we had an agreement, I brought in equipment worth millions of naira they failed to honour their own side of the agreement. Why should I sit back and watch them? But like I said we have settled the issue. About the First Lady, I only invited her to collaborate with my foundation on a project. A lot of issues came up and I terminated the agreement. But when you do good and your hands are clean, God will always back you up. When she passed away, we were not speaking, but I did feel bad about her passing away. I had just come back into the country from visiting Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was preparing for my father’s funeral, I had my own issues, how Modupe Ozolua came into the story was totally interesting.

I am looking at an award plaque, which shows that you are on the Deans list, which makes you a brilliant person. Does it annoy you that most people perceive you as this pretty young thing, whose specialty is making herself and others beautiful?

It goes to show how people are. I was the first to bring in laser treatment to Nigeria. What I do is cosmetic surgery, it is medicine, I am not a beautician or cosmetologist. I surprise my doctors when we discuss medicine. It shows the lack of intellect of a person who would perceive me as being all about beauty.