‘Why we’re providing free fibroid surgery to 100 women’
The O.B. Lulu Briggs Foundation, named after the national statesman, High Chief (Dr) O.B. Lulu-Briggs, who passed away on December 27, 2018 in Accra, Ghana is providing free surgery and after-care to 100 women living with fibroids. The programme will be launched with an awareness raising campaign that would kick-off on the Foundation’s 18th anniversary celebration today. Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, Dr (Mrs.) Seinye Lulu-Briggs, spoke with KOLAWOLE IGANDAN on this and other related matters.
The O.B. Lulu Briggs Foundation is celebrating 18 years of its philanthropic work. How has the journey been like for you?
It has been a fulfilling journey and I am proud of the work that the Board and staff of the Foundation have been able to do over the years. Primarily, I am grateful to God who has enabled us to have the resources to do this-and who has equally blessed us with the wisdom to celebrate him in this way. On September 21, 2001, I formerly announced that I had established the Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs Foundation. I did so to honour and institutionalise my husband’s prolific giving. High Chief Lulu-Briggs’ love and commitment to humanity shone through his charitable and philanthropic acts. For years, he had provided funding to build and support structures that secure people’s spiritual and material well-being. He was very proud of our accomplishments. The Foundation has, therefore, fulfilled its role and is a fitting Institution to warehouse his philosophy of sharing joy and ensuring that his philanthropic legacy lasts in perpetuity.
For its annivesary celebration, the foundation is focusing on fibroids. What makes this ailment of concern for you?
It was as a result of findings at the second medical mission we hosted this year in Bakana, Rivers State from May 20-24, 2019, where 3,853 people were treated and received health awareness information- earlier in the year in Akinima, 5,105 people received treatment. We do perform surgeries free of charge during our medical missions.
In Bakana, one of the services we offered was ultrasound scanning. We were surprised by the number of women who found out they required urgent fibroid surgery. Regrettably, due to the nature of the surgery and after care requirements needed, we were unable to provide fibroid surgeries during the mission.
However, we promised the women we would cover the cost of the fibroid surgery and after care they required. In the process of planning for their treatment, we discovered about 80 percent of women over 50 years old have fibroids and about 30 per cent of this group will develop symptoms such as undue discomfort of heavy and painful menstrual bleeding, premature labour, miscarriages and even loss of fertility.
We, therefore, decided to mark our 18th anniversary by addressing the many myths and beliefs about fibroids in our communities through a month-long fibroid awareness-raising campaign. We also felt that our campaign would not be complete without us also offering, free of charge, the most common treatment women with fibroids in Nigeria are prescribed- fibroid surgery and after-care to 100 women who need urgent surgery but cannot afford the high costs associated with it. Fibroid surgeries cost about N500, 000. This is in keeping with our commitment to raising public knowledge about diseases that are prevalent in our communities.
In that case, the foundation has done a lot to promote the health of the people of the Niger Delta.
That is very much true. Past health awareness campaigns include Parkinson’s Disease, Prostrate Cancer, Kidney Disease and Diabetes. You must be aware that we recently provided N50m to endow a chair in Geriatrics at the Rivers State University College of Medical Sciences. For the fibroid project, we are partnering with the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and Rivers State University Teaching Hospital.
The Foundation actually began its life with the Care for Life Programme, a project that provides healthcare, shelter, caregivers, food, social and spiritual engagement and a monthly cash stipend to elderly citizens in Rivers state who have no resources to care for them. That still remains our flagship project. Since 2005, we’ve provided quality healthcare services, health awareness and education to 124,826 men, women and children through 32 free medical missions in rural and semi-urban communities in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers State. We provide potable water, build potable water points and toilets in communities such as Ogonokom 1 & 2, Oproama, and Opu Ogbogolo, and in public facilities like the Degema and Port Harcourt prisons, to enhance well-being and public health. And through our education programmes, we build and renovate schools and provide scholarships (add numbers here). We also provide funding to teachers and trainers. Let me add that beyond training, the Foundation also provides working capital, equipment, skills building and training to micro and small business owners, particularly women and youth in our region, over 1,000 have benefitted.
Many would ask why you are doing this when your husband is yet to be buried, close to a year after his death and your family appears to be in a turmoil…
Unfortunately, you are right in a way. My beloved husband, High Chief (Dr) O.B. Lulu-Briggs, our grand benefactor, passed into glory in Accra, Ghana on December 27, 2018. It has been nine months of drama and needless controversy since then. Left to me and a majority of the children of my husband, we would have obeyed his wishes and given him a befitting burial months ago. But his three eldest children seem to have a different plan and they have done everything to keep the burial on hold. But in all these, despite lawsuits and trials by petitions to various law enforcement to tie me and the other children down, we have remained strong and unshaken because we know we are on the side of truth and no matter how long it takes, truth will always prevail. My husband will be buried at the God-endorsed time.
How do you feel, as the matriarch of the family, to see the image of your family negatively splashed across the pages of newspapers?
It is distressing, but perhaps inevitable, because the stakes were high for some people in the family. The initial idea was to blackmail me and falsely paint me as this Jezebel husband killer, but God has been on my side. All efforts to entrap me have been nullified. I have been told other plots are in the offing, but I remain unmoved because my conscience is clear. I lived with and nursed my beloved husband, an extraordinary God-fearing Christian, loving, kind, total gentleman, for years and I will remain loyal to him till my last breath. He taught me so much and reposed a lot of confidence in me while he was alive. As husband and wife, we were one and he died still confident that I would best protect his legacies. That is a huge responsibility that I will never run away from. In a way, I understand that the hostility that has come my way is a continuation of the family tensions and betrayals that my husband managed with grace and fortitude while he was alive. Those who are close to the family are well aware. I also know some of it is due to the contempt that some people in our society have for women. They don’t believe women have any rights or social standing. They are wrong, of course and in my case, I am thankful that my husband a paramount ruler himself had a contrary opinion. He took me to all functions with him, even the chiefly ones, where I was often the only female present. Indeed, I was his better-half.
What are your expectations over an early resolution of this crisis?
One can only hope. Let me state here that I am grateful to the committee set up by our traditional ruler, the King-Amanayabo of the Kalabari for its efforts to resolve the matter of the non-burial of my beloved husband. High Chief’s friends, contemporaries, associates and even acquaintances including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Rtd.), High Chief Abiola Ogundokun and many of my late husband’s friends- (most visibly High Chief Abiola Ogundokun), have waded into the matter based on their love and respect for my husband. Our governor, Nyesom Wike has also weighed in. I remain grateful and indebted to all of them, but it takes two wings for the eagle, or any other bird for that matter, to fly. I believe when my husband’s three eldest children finally realise I am beyond manipulation, they will see reason to give due respect to their father, announce a burial date and let his mortal remains be laid to rest as mandated by our Christian faith. I always find it curious that people appear fixated on inheritance, without giving a thought to the fact that the person that worked and built up the assets is no longer here with us and should be given the dignity of a peaceful and loving burial. But the work of God is unstoppable. My life’s mission is to uphold and enhance the legacy left behind by my husband. I will continue to do that, and I believe that he would have been delighted that the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation is continuing its duty of care for humanity as he wished and thoughtfully planned for in his lifetime.