LORETTA OGBORO-OKOR, the audacity of an Edo Princess

Loretta Ogboro-Okor is a United Kingdom trained Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist, Medical Simulator Expert and a Global Good Will Ambassador. She has been able to blend her work in the science field of medical practice with being an author, a passionate motivational speaker, women and youth health advocate and educationist as well as a social entrepreneur and an ardent blogger.

She earned her MBBS degree from University of Benin in Nigeria. She has an MSc in Public Health Research and another in Clinical Education from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield Hallam both in the United Kingdom.

She is currently doing a PhD in Law and Criminology (investigating human trafficking and contemporary slavery) at Sheffield Hallam University.

She is a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist in the United Kingdom, and has worked in the National Health Service (NHS) now, for over 15 years.

She co-founded the Ashanti Graham Health & Education Initiative Foundation (AGHEIF) in 2010, a charity with the vision “21st Century Health Care for Africa.” The charity has made significant progress in enabling capacity development in Nigeria through healthcare training for medical professionals, providing important equipment, hardware, and soft skills for medical institutions.

Furthermore, she has formal peer review exposure with the British Medical Journal and Cytopathology WILEY-on-line, and is also an Obstetric Skills and Drills Provider for Practical Obstetric Multi- Professional Training (PROMPT) with the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a position where she not just teaches, but also leads reviews, updates, and develops multi-professional Obstetric simulation training modules for staff to ensure reduction in preventable harm for women and their babies with the overall goals of reducing poor maternal outcomes.

Loretta is the current President of the University of Benin Alumni Association, United Kingdom branch, the Lead of Edo Focus Group Worldwide and The Edo Diaspora Working Group.

Her husband is a distinguished UK trained consultant Neurosurgeon and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, who moved back to Nigeria 5 years ago to do his bit and catalyse the concept of “brain gain” in the Nigerian healthcare sector.

What experience of your early years and influence would you love to share?

Growing up for me was bliss… I had a jolly time. My parents were what one could call “worlds apart” – with my mother being 30 years younger than my father and he being more travelled, with more paper certificates, I just loved growing up in their different yet joint realms which formed a healthy balance for me. While my father exalted Opera singing and ballet, my mother rocked to Osayomore Joseph and Ulele Power Sound. My mother with her innate intelligence would manage the home and teach us practical DIYs in the kitchen and around the house. My father would on the flip side, listen to VOA, subject us to BBC and discuss all the trending world affairs with us as they made breaking news. Discussing his subject of epidemiology and preventive medicine like it was bread and butter while ensuring that Benin history was a daily additive to whatever we did. He ensured we were in touch with our roots and taught us to speak our Benin Language.

All of this influenced who I have become today. I can thrive in any environment. I remember my father telling me “to learn to eat with paupers and dine with kings”. I appreciate everyone for who they are, I was raised to cut across strata, to see beyond societal status and appreciate people for our shared humanity.

Growing up, I first wanted to become a Doctor, then an Architect while always wanting to do my authorship and poetry. The reason for Medicine was not hard to decide under the influence of my Epidemiologist and Public Health Consultant Father who worked with WHO Malaria Control Unit and who went on, to establish the School of Health Technology in Benin City, Edo State. Furthermore, my love for reading and writing can be attributed to the fact that by 2 years, my father was already reading to me and making me read and write – he nurtured my love for literature.

Then, I began writing essays when I got into JSS1 and winning them all. I gave my daddy my first manuscript at 12 years which he tactically left to grow mould in a side drawer (maybe he was scared I would dump Medicine.) I travelled round the country to receive one prize or the other while in secondary school. That was when I fell in love with building and construction. I decided to become an Architect. I took up building construction in Federal Government Girls College Benin as well as Technical Drawing however, when it was time to fill my JAMB form, I went back to Medicine because, my father was very unwell, and I did not want to move far from my daddy. There was no Architecture in UNIBEN. So, I gave it up and came back to Medicine.

Share with us on being a UK trained Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist and Medical Simulator Expert

In Medical School, one of my Professors, Friday Okonofua, former Executive Director of FIGO made Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Research very attractive to me. Furthermore, I did not want to see women die in the course of their reproductive duties. So, after my NYSC when I left Nigeria for the UK in 2006, I did my Master’s in Public Health Research and proceeded to start my training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In my sojourn and training to become a Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, I worked in 13 hospitals across the United Kingdom from Scotland to England. I wrote all the relevant examinations and acquired all the required competencies – this was a long curvy road that God saw me through and family supported me on.

I then came to a realisation that in Medicine, especially the surgical specialties, we teach our trade to the next generation every day at work. Yet, most of us, though skilled in our specialties, are not necessarily good teachers. We are a product of how we were taught. Hence, I became determined to master the art and act of teaching and be better than my own teacher. I sought more knowledge – did a Masters in Clinical Education at the Sheffield Hallam University, in Sheffield. As though I saw the future, I took special modules in virtual space teaching (like I knew Covid-19 would hit the world and change the face of education forever) as well as in simulation. Following the completion of my course, and certification, I took more courses in medical simulation training on how to use high fidelity manikins, to create obstetric and gynaecological emergency scenarios where healthcare providers are trained.

I am a Consultant Obstetrician, Gynaecologist and Medical Simulator, Member of the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians on the UK specialist Register who is keen on repatriating my knowledge and capacity acquired in my adopted country back to my home country in Nigeria. The advance in healthcare by India was spear-headed by her Diaspora population- Nigeria can also adopt and optimise this brain gain model.

Tell us about how you blend your work in the science field of medical practice with being a passionate motivational speaker, women and youth health advocate and educationist, as well as a social entrepreneur and an ardent blogger

I believe that when one is blessed, to have had a father and upbringing like mine, it would be tantamount to sin, not to share the recipe on how to tackle life with others. It is mine to share and theirs to absorb if they wish. So, I share my experiences and help to lift others up. I am no stranger to difficult times and unsuccessful attempts in life. I lost my father in 200 level going on 300 level in Medical school and had to grow up fast. Every one of us, needs inspiration why horde the little we can share?

Furthermore, I love celebrating others and letting the world know how the “iceberg phenomenon of success” works. Everyone you consider successful today, worked and toiled through the years having understood the meaning of delayed gratification. We often do not see the huge number of times people stumble and fall. We do not see their toils and their pain. All we see, is the tip of their iceberg, the tiny part that has all the glitz and glamour. Take me for instance, I wrote one of my exams 9 times in the UK, but no one saw that. This gave rise to the Loretta Reveals motivational e-blog which I run with an erudite team of great minds from all sectors. We celebrate the iceberg nature of success and feature write up on unique achievers amongst us…from graduate turned akara seller to the most powerful black man in the United Kingdom. Following Covid, we are on a revamping hiatus.

I am an ardent writer for many platforms. I am in the women’s reproductive healthcare business, who better to advocate for them than me? I understand the power and vulnerability of youth – an age when we need direction. I champion their cause.

Summarised, I see myself as a positive disruptor, without borders, no limits and determined to put all that is in me at the foot of humanity. I am able to do all this through an understanding of a life of sacrifice and the help of family members. As a woman in science and specifically as a surgeon, it is a tough world where the margin of error is slim. However, my passion has always been to affect our world on a huge scale, and I somehow knew very early in life that the 4 walls of a hospital or surgical theatre is too small for me to do that. I understand that my vision is one that must utilise the vehicle that is the hearts and minds of men and women, and all I do, reflects just that which is the blend of all my God given attributes.

When you decided to pursue an MSc in Public Health Research and Clinical Education from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield Hallam both in the UK, what did you have in mind?

Public Health deals with a lot of disease prevention and how diseases affect our populations which is far cheaper and wiser than cure. Research is the key to make new advancement in all walks of life a first-hand experience which I got when I worked as an associate researcher in medical school with the women’s health and action research centre (WHARC). Clinical or Medical Education is key to empowering the next generation of healthcare providers.

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So, early in life, my father showed me the beauty of Public Health and Professor Friday Okonofua of WHARC, solidified my value for research. While my desire to teach better than how I was taught drove me to unlearn old styles of knowledge impacting and seek new ones as I stated before.

I have always had a clear goal, which is to affect humanity positively and engage in policy formulation. Policies that are properly implemented, change the world on a large scale. I realised that early. So, as soon as I left medical school, off I went to Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine to Master Public Health and Research. The rigors of surgical training and practice did not stop me from getting Education and Simulation training. Each day, I see how my preparation and conscious steps taken to positively affect humanity was the right thing to do because, “our shared humanity is the true religion”.

Why the choice to study PhD in Law and Criminology (Investigating Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery), despite being a consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist?

It is still about research, women’s health, and policy formulations that affect humanity for better. Edo State where I come from, statistics from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has shown, bears the huge burden of human trafficking and illegal, migration.

Who better to investigate this menace and find lasting solutions for the issues than me?, a Benin Princess and daughter of Edo State. I was raised by my father who told me of the great exploits off our ancestors and how they did business with the Portuguese all those years ago. He told me how the British invaded our land and how my grandmother, his mother, went to exile with her grandfather Oba Ovonranmen in 1897.

So, I decided it was time to work at this menace and put forth solutions my work will unearth while at the same time, portraying Edo State to the world, so the world knows that not all Edo State women have Italy as “our corporate headquarters”.

That’s how and why my PhD in Law and Criminology, with special interest in Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery began and soon to end by the Grace of God.

Share with us about founding Ashanti Graham Health & Education Initiative Foundation (AGHEIF)

AGHEIF is dear to my heart. In 2010, my husband and I, co-founded this charity.

AGHEIF is a registered charity with the vision “21st Century Health Care for Nigeria”. The goal of AGHEIF is to collaborate with individuals, groups, governments and private sector key players for the development of a new Nigerian healthcare delivery eco-system comparable to that which obtains in resource rich nations. AGHEIF was specifically founded in 2011 to foster the development of surgery and surgery related specialist care in Nigeria. The foundation has been involved in donations of sophisticated, highly needed equipment, worth millions of Naira to teaching hospitals in the south-south region of Nigeria. The AGHEIF team is dedicated to building real leaders for the next generation; true leaders with the passion, potential, capacity and political will who believe in the ongoing inevitable transformation of our country. AGHEIF in the continued bid to celebrating excellence, promoting scholarship and “catching them young” has been awarding annually, a brand-new laptop and 100 Pounds Sterling to the best graduating medical student in the department of surgery at the Hippocratic Oath-taking Ceremony of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) Medical School.

Since 2012, till date, AGHEIF has presented this award without failing. In addition to this baseline prize, 3 years ago, AGHEIF in collaboration with the UBEMSA-BUDSA UNIBEN Alumni 1983 set (Medi-DentiBen’83), added an extra 100 Pounds Sterling to the cash prize. Many thanks to Dr Austin Oraka who makes these donations on behalf of Medi-DentiBen’83, AGHEIF Scholars now get a total of 200 Pounds Sterling and a brand-new laptop, being presented to the best student in Surgery.

In marking 10 years of the AGHEIF prize this 2022, United Kingdom based Chief Aloysius and Ihezie Foundation have added on 200 Pounds Sterling to the monetary Prize. The next best graduating student in Surgery 2022 will get 400 Pounds Sterling and a brand-new laptop, which has already been procured by High Chief Musa Amedu, also in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, AGHEIF in collaboration with Canada based Dr Esosa Aghedo, initiated an award of a brand-new laptop for the best Mentor and Lecturer in the Department of Surgery. This award is aimed at encouraging good and effective mentorship of medical students by the Senior Residents and Lecturers. The process of selecting the awardee is entirely up to the students of the final year MBBS class via electronic voting in line with mentorship-based criteria established by the Board of Trustees of AGHEIF.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of AGHEIF, I wish to encourage medical students and their teachers in UNIBEN and Nigeria as a whole, to remain focused in the pursuit of holistic and not just academic excellence. I also thank the leads of the Department of Surgery, the management of University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) and UNIBEN for their continued support of AGHEIF and her partners. To the AGHEIF Scholars past, present and future, we thank them for continuously availing themselves of the platform that is this Foundation, as we work to make them better versions of themselves as well as positive disruptors for change on the Nigerian Healthcare ecosystem and world stage. Remember, as the Founder and one of Nigeria’s foremost Neurosurgeon Dr Douglas Okor says, we do all this because “the Nigerian patients are worth it”.

Let us in to being an Obstetric Skills and Drills Provider for Practical Obstetric Multi- Professional Training (PROMPT) with the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

I work with the Practical Obstetric Multi- Professional Training (PROMPT) in the Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where I provide simulation training in Obstetric emergencies. I draw up training modules and create scenarios that utilise high fidelity manikins (a concept that started with pilot training). This is how we achieve continued professional development/ training for members of the team starting from the CEOs to the hospital porter staff. This is a concept that we must strive to adopt in Nigeria. Simple first aid, CRP, to more complex training is needed in a multidisciplinary setting

In what ways are you passionate about cultural integration in African communities as a means to tackling women’s reproductive and mental health issues, as well as the ills of human trafficking?

Women are often marginalised in many communities but more so, in our African communities. I was raised by a father, who built my self-esteem and taught me to interrogate things I do not find palatable for me or others. To interrogate is not rebellion as our sociocultural milieu in Nigeria makes it out to be. No. Rather, it means asking why, with a view to gaining better understanding and reflecting on if what is happening is promoting or demeaning to our collective humanity.

So, early in life, I realised, thanks to my daddy, that there are things in our culture, like the neglect of the girl child and her dreams, our widowhood rites, and so on which are not quite right. Also, there are things in other cultures, like women empowering policies, girlchild education that we could adopt. Despite those cultures having their own negative draw backs e.g poor care of their elderly in the homes, non-respect (not fear) for elders and a lot more, cultural integration is taking what is good in our culture and merging it with what is good in other cultures, while discarding what is bad in both cultures. It is getting a synergy of cultural bests. I presented a paper on this in my 3rd year in Medical School at UCH in Ibadan. Even the more resourceful rich nations have a lot to learn from us, adopt from us, as we too have to learn and adopt from them.

This is the way to tackle women stigma in issues like infertility, domestic abuse, and inhuman widowhood rites. Furthermore, mental health issues and stigma will be better dealt with when we break down barriers that hold us bondage due to cultural traditions that are limiting.

As a young girl in Benin in the late nineties after my father died, “a gazillion” offers on why I and my siblings should illegally migrate to Italy or marry some “akata man” abroad was sold to us as the shortest route to success.

However, the training instilled in me by my father that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and I can be any thing I want to be, clearly made me not heed to all the pimp recruits.

Looking at me today, I took the long and narrow road that leads to success at the expense of the broad short cut.

I cannot watch others make any of these mistakes I was fortunate to avoid. Therein lies my passion. All of it stems from my own life experiences. A lot of these are embedded in my book “My Father’s Daughter”. There is a lot to do in our world….and who are we, who am I, not to do a little bit of it?

As the current President of the University of Benin Alumni Association, UK Branch, Lead of Edo Focus Group Worldwide, and The Edo Diaspora Working Group. What are your responsibilities and how are you carrying them out?

I often jokingly say that there are two schools in the world. University of Benin and the rest. Born a natural leader, it came as no surprise when the alumni members in the UK sought me out to be president of the UK national alumni branch. We hosted one at the UK Sheffield reunion in 2019 where the Vice Chancellor at the time, Chair of Council, the 2 deputy Vice chancellors, over 20 professors and 5 administrative staff of the University and over 200 Alumni members across the world were present.

I have maintained that “the success of a university is directly proportional to the strength of her alumni body”. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Edinburgh and so on, are adjudged successful because their alumni bodies are strong with far reaching network. For UNIBEN alumni, my team and I seek to plant and nurture the seeds of a formidable alumni network before we hand over next summer.

Edo State Focus Group and the Edo in Diaspora Working Groups which I lead, are groups made up of vibrant Edo State people who took the reins into our hands during our last Edo State Governorship elections where the Diaspora played a palpable role in ensuring a progressive visionary leadership was voted into power.

How important is it for women to take care of their reproductive health? What must they do to keep in check?

Our health is our wealth. As women, we must take responsibility of our all-round health – sexual health, mental health, reproductive health, financial and spiritual health and our entire state of overall well-being. We must not leave this in the hands of some other person to make the decisions for us. Not even a husband /partner/parent. We must be the drivers of our health but can make joint decisions with relatives/children/partners.

We must

1. Research and seek knowledge. Your phone and internet is not only for Facebook/What’s apps

2. We must do all the well woman screening as at when due – cervical, breasts and so on

3. We must take charge of our diet and exercise routine to reduce diseases of choice

4. Contraception is not a mirage – it is real and for real women like us

5. We must be empowered financially to count and take our place at the table

6. Women must seek to reach out to other women and lift them up and actively seek mentors too

7. We must seek hobbies that uplift us and surround ourselves with positive energy

8. Invest our time and money wisely

9. We must invest in our spirituality irrespective or the religious sect we belong to

10. Be kind to ourselves and take care of us – we need some self-love and me time

How are social and cultural barriers affecting women and their health in Nigeria?

Our socio-cultural environment portrays women as second fiddle even from the day we are born. If a girl is born, they go “na half current” and when a boy is born, it is tagged “full current”

The girl child education is compromised. “Give the girl child a pen and not a penis” to enable her optimise her health and productivity to meet up with the SDGs. Child marriage is a sad thing

Poverty of all forms (Mind, Soul and Physical Poverty) is an issue. There is also the “What will people say” syndrome. All of these can be grouped into intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect women’s health. Those things within us, for example, our self-esteem extrinsic are those things external, for instance, financial empowerment. However, they are all a closely knit web.

What burdens your heart on the state of Nigeria’s healthcare? What can be done to make it better?

What burdens me the most about our country’s healthcare state, is the lack of value for human life displayed at all levels. The federal government, state and local government levels – check out what fraction of our budget is allocated to healthcare.

To change this, we must embark on massive advocacy, Public Private Partnership, task shifting and training the trainers concept, capital infrastructure, human capacity in health and converting brain drain to brain gain. We must understand that the Nigerian patients are worth it.

Are you worried about the exodus of medical professionals like yourself from Nigeria to other countries? What is the solution to its reduction?

I am not worried. We must first deconstruct to re-construct. People need to go out to understand what proper and standard healthcare is like where there is value for human life. The right attitude is needed. Reversing brain drain or brain gain is the way to revamp our healthcare issues in Nigeria.

Sadly, while this exodus is on-going, our people suffer. So, our government must reason out of the box to help us realise a formal migration that can be tied to returns of our people.

Share with us on being a Global Goodwill Ambassador, and how you are carrying out your responsibilities?

Global Good Will Ambassadors work on worldwide humanitarian projects as a team. Richard DePillar is worldwide lead of a select global team that intervenes where a humanitarian need is ascertained. Needs like menstrual product projects and flood managements are met.

How do you put your study of Health economics and Health Care Systems to effective use?

As part of my Masters, these were core modules I studied. As a consultant, this comes in key in my managerial role and running the institution that is healthcare provision. Managing scarce recourses to provide safe and quality care, while working in and MDT fashion is also core.

How are you able to design audits as well as monitor and evaluate intervention processes, guidelines, and policies, to improve health indices/outcomes within designed frameworks?

I really love this question. Without auditing in healthcare provision, we cannot work out how health care provision meets the adopted standards, what is called key performance indices or KPI as it is called in other industries. I am trained to design audits, implement interventions as well as improve service provision within designated frameworks. A rigorous process that is a must if healthcare provision is to have safety and continuously improving standards embedded at its core.

Tell us about your books

‘My Father’s Daughter’ is an inspirational true story of a father and his daughter.

For centuries, people have had the privilege to study and learn about the lives and times of men and women who have positively impacted and influenced their world and achieved success in family life, business and other spheres of life. Their stories are sometimes documented as biographies centred on how they evolved to be who they are, family genealogy, how they were raised, developed life skills, got over difficult situations and their ability to accept their weaknesses and build a legacy for posterity.

My book, ‘My father’s daughter’ is a memoir of an inspirational story about myself and my father R H Ogboro of blessed memory. These days when few men truly understand fatherhood and are fathers indeed, it is imperative that this story of a father and his daughter be shared with the world to empower all who read it.

His words and teachings guided me through adversity, helped and still help me make life’s difficult choices, built rock solid confidence in me, guided me in choosing who to marry and built moral values into me. Overall, he developed in me, a unique character and an attitude to face life with a positive mind-set.

It is my intension that ‘My Father’s Daughter’ provides young women, adolescent girls and boys the impetus for a great life as it does adults, fathers, mothers, guardians or carers the tool kit for parenting excellence.

I hope to influence the youths, biological and non-biological parents using the teachings from my beloved father and my life transformational experiences. I set out to do this with the book which is a never before written inspirational story to mentor and inspire not only the present generation, but also future generations of youths to greater heights.

The second one titled ‘Heart webs’ is a romans fiction. This is about when two most unlikely persons in the world find themselves in a web of lust, love and blood, they desperately seek for answers. Alas, the answers lie in generations past and life beyond. What should they do next? Should they turn back the hands of time enjoying their certain past or figure out the confusion that is their present and ride into the future unknown? ‘Heart Webs’ is an enthralling captivating story as never told before, of loosening bonds, fading boundaries and the tangled lines of love and lust.

You are doing so many things and multitasking efficiently. How are you able to do this combined with family responsibilities?

God first and my family next then my friends in that order. I want to use this opportunity to say a big thank you to God for seeing me through the dark times any time they come and helping me cope with times when succeeding looks elusive. God is always present.

I thank my most supportive husband who not only supports me to fly but works with me to keep the wind beneath my wings. I thank my ever-patient children whose magnitude for selflessness cannot be quantified. My mother who is with me in thick and thin, my mother in-law, my siblings and my very understanding friends. They accept my weaknesses as much as they celebrate my successes. I am, because all these people are.

I still see myself as work in progress. I am in competition with myself. Pushing my own boundaries. Painting on my own canvas and acting my own life script – I look neither east nor west, but like Kwame Nkrumah said, I face forward. I am not on this planet to act the script of society or of someone else (I have been described as a perpetual non-conformist in the past); but come to think about it, why should I conform when my Daddy raised me to be a left-handed person in a right-handed world without any qualms.

I do not even believe I have started anything yet…I am still working to leave my mark in the hearts of men and women by optimising my service to humanity in all my multitasking efforts. God sends us all helpers. We must be discerning enough to identify and not strangulate or pursue them.

What is more, when I see women like you Kemi Ajumobi and all you do, I am doubly inspired. I cannot give up!

We must celebrate others and give of ourselves too for it is in the service of others, that we find our being.

Final words

A tree cannot make a forest, but a tree can start a forest. Is there anything you wish to change or reform? Start today— start now, pray like you are not working and work like you are not praying. Blaze the trail, start small, push boundaries, see no limits….and watch the forest of minds and sea of people snowball as you add value to humanity. I remain my Father’s Daughter and I am unapologetic about it.