African princess continues fight for Boko Haram victims others have forgotten

Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua
Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua

Princess Modupe Ozolua didn’t originally set out to help Northeastern Nigerians affected by terrorists. Princess Ozolua, a member of the royal Benin kingdom family, was first busy pioneering cosmetic surgery in West Africa, but when she saw that many deformed people in poor areas of Africa could not afford reconstructive surgery, her big heart kicked in. She first founded Body Enhancement Annual Reconstructive Surgery (BEARS) to help those with cosmetic challenges, but she changed the name to Empower 54 and decided to also assist those affected by the devastation brought on by Muslim extremists, Boko Haram.

While Empower 54 has made amazing strides in bringing food, shelter and medical assistance to terrorist victims, more can always be done. This is why on April 30, the organization is holding it’s annual event called Rise Above Terror, which is an auction of African artwork held at the Besharat Gallery in Atlanta. Funds raised will go toward rebuilding schools that were ruined during terrorist attacks.

We caught up with Princess Ozolua, and she gave us more insight on the upcoming auction, her feelings on Boko Haram, and more.

Tell us about your background.

I’m from Nigeria, but I’m a Nigerian-American; I have dual citizenship. I’m from the royal family from the Benin kingdom. My great-grandfather is known as the legendary king warrior who was on the throne in Benin when the Portuguese came. He refused to trade slaves with the them. Quite a few of us are very light-skinned and have curly hair because of the Portuguese bloodline. I went to primary and high school in Nigeria, and then I went to college here in the U.S.

While in Los Angeles, I decided to pioneer cosmetic surgery to West Africa in 2003. Due to my private business, Body Enhancement Ltd, I was featured on CNN, BBC, and the works. A lot of privileges and underprivileged people were asking for constructive and reconstructive surgery. Many couldn’t afford reconstructive surgery, which is more expensive then cosmetic. I was disturbed and couldn’t understand why people with obvious deformities couldn’t get help. I moved back home in 2001, so in 2003, a couple came to me — the wife had fire burns. They told me they had been seeking assistance to pay for their reconstructive surgery, but they couldn’t get help. I was disturbed because I was raised being told that you help people, and it’s what you give that makes you who you are. So innocently, I decided to do something about it. The couple asked me why I don’t try helping people like them, since I have the resources.

Princess Modupe Ozolua assisting an underprivileged area of Nigeria. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)
Princess Modupe Ozolua assisting an underprivileged area of Africa. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)

So at that point, I decided to create a nonprofit that was called Body Enhancement Annual Reconstructive Surgery (BEARS) Foundation, but the name changed to Empower 54. We’re very blessed to have Archbishop Desmond Tutu as our patron. So now 13 years going, we use our contacts and resources to bring people together. Initially, it was a medical mission, but we expanded because there are a lot more needs than deformities.We treat them for free, we do everything for free. We added the hunger education program, so we give out food to places where there are hungry, underprivileged people. We have women and girl empowerment programs and educational programs. On April 30 in Atlanta, we’ll have our campaign, Rise Above Terror, which is focused on rehabilitating women and children who survived the Boko Haram attacks in Northeast Nigeria.

Were you surprised by the outpouring of support that your organization has received from the U.S.?

I’m not surprised. What’s embedded in the spirit of being an American is having empathy to help people. In Nigeria and in Africa, it’s about individual interests, which is very frustrating — the general attitude is that if it doesn’t affect them directly, they don’t care. So that’s a huge task on people like myself; we have to make people understand that you should want to help without expecting anything in return.

Artwork by Abdulrazaq-Ahmed to be featured at Rise Above Terror on April 30. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)
Artwork by Abdulrazaq-Ahmed to be featured at Rise Above Terror on April 30. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)

Where do you think that attitude of not caring has grown from, and what could change it?

I think it has to do with the survival instinct. You have to remember that Africa has gone through a lot, so everyone is about “me, me, me.” The only way it can change is when the masses see people like me. I don’t come from an underprivileged background, but yet myself and my team use our resources to help. When you do something good, you don’t realize people are watching you. I keep getting phone calls and emails from people who want to emulate what we’re doing and be a part of our family. It’s a process, but you lead by example, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

A previous Rise Above Terror event. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)
A previous Rise Above Terror event. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)

What do you think could lessen the Boko Haram attacks or end the violence?

It’s a tough one, because it has political, socioeconomic undertones. But for us to achieve anything — not just Boko Haram, Isis, and the other terrorists around the world — we have to understand why people are even attracted to this in the first place. So in respect to the Northeast, we have a lot of underprivileged and deprived men and women, young boys and girls. The factors that come into play is the level of poverty, and you have to look at the culture and religions. The women are not allowed to go to school. In those areas, the women don’t even look you in the eye. If a little boy tells them to move, they will obey. They’re programmed to be submissive, so it isn’t difficult to understand why they’re easily being brainwashed and used as suicide bombers.

The same thing applies to the men. You may have a man with multiple children and wives, and some of those women as young as 30 years old could have about 15 children. So imagine the number of family members. They may have a lot of children they cannot afford or fend for. They have a misconception that if they have access to education, they will be mislead into being wayward. And in the Islamic schools, all they teach is the Quran. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they aren’t even incorporating basic math and English. They’re now trying to push that in Nigeria and congress that Islamic schools should include basic math and English, because how are you supposed to survive in the world if all you can do is read the Quran?

So it’s a breading ground for religious fanatics. So you have that and the politicians. When you look at the whole scope of things, the first thing that must happen is you need to give people hope — a reason to wake up in the morning. How you do that is by helping them to have skills so they can work, empower themselves, and feed themselves. Then, they need basic education.

Artwork by El-Dragg Okwoju to be featured at Rise Above Terror on April 30. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)
Artwork by El-Dragg Okwoju to be featured at Rise Above Terror on April 30. (Photo credit: Princess Modupe Ozolua)

Do you think strides are being made to prevent more attacks in Nigeria?

Last year, there were a lot more bombings. The new government is very dedicated to ending the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria. So there have been less [attacks].

Is there anything else we should know about Rise Above Terror?

Every year, we’ve been holding this African art charity gala. So what we’re doing is combining different cultures and arts of Africa. This year, the giving focus is raising money to contribute to the schools we’re currently rebuilding in the northeast that [were affected by] Boko Haram. This year, we’re focusing on the art of my tribe, which is the Benin kingdom. We’re renown for wood carvings and brass sculptures. So we’re auctioning off the art pieces. We want people to get tickets and come and take a look at the art. We’re a registered nonprofit here in the U.S., so we have a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. So that helps.

To register to attend Rise Above Terror, visit Follow Empower 54 on Twitter and Instagram @Empower54.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Read more about:

Also read

Watch this video

What's new

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x