There once was a time when it was unimaginable for a woman to work in complex multinational companies, giant marketing firms, and high-profile publishing outfits, let alone calling the shots or owning them in Nigeria. Or for the world superpowers to put women at the top of political and administrative positions. Little did we know that the best man for the job is a woman. For so long, women – even the brightest of them – have been cut out by the sharp edge of the glass ceiling and made to play second fiddle, even when their brains resonate, pleading for the opportunity to make a difference with the experience that can only harness on the job. However, patience is a priceless virtue that, most times, carries a long ‘wait’. Still, its benefits now come with reasonable weight and carats of gold, as Nigerian women have come out on their own over time and are now calling the shots in businesses and fields that used to be the preserve of men. What’s more, they are now defining new possibilities for what the nation can achieve if the men grow along with them. They bring a great measure of intuition to the table, penetrating insight and emotional intelligence into corporate governance outside the formidable credentials and intellectual endowments they have acquired.
As we prepare for International Women’s Day this month of March 2021, we need a new approach to women’s development, emphasising the need for society to adapt to the reality that gender equity is a norm that should be embraced by people, organisations, and the society as a whole.
Most of these women believe that there is no limit to what a leader can do or where she can reach if she does not mind who gets the credit. Women are not just coming, but they have arrived. Women are bringing for the men and the society to learn and profit from a treasure-trove of lessons. It’s with contagious pride that we unveil the face of women who help make it happen right in the New Nigeria of our dreams! Meet some of Nigeria’s hottest businesswomen, CEOs and entrepreneurs who are inspirational Nigerians!
Our women have arrived!
Cometonigeria is not about to provoke the battle of sexes. Broadway, in its mysterious ways, its wonders and blunders to perform, has done that to boiling points. Nor are we about to set up the already here facts, for even the short-sighted can see. The telltale evidence is all around us. They are pulling us all by the lapel to come to terms with the day beauty that our women have finally arrived and are taking the world by storm – Calling the shots and reigning supreme in the hallowed spotlight of boardrooms that used to be the exclusive preserves of men. Neither is this merely wishful thinking or the sensational flight of fancy of the copywriter who sees the world through tinted lenses. A look-around Nigeria and the world’s corporate landscape today reveals the power of women of substance, intellect, charm and gravitas, now bringing the right chemistry of charisma, compassion, character, class, sense and sensibility to corporate governance in Nigeria and beyond. And they are becoming the power of nature and irresistible magnet, drawing megawatts of goodwill, good fortune, positive investment and tourism, and global connections to Nigeria. So compelling is the sheer presence which this masterclass of female leaders transmits to the leadership environment that can forgive us for proclaiming them as priceless gifts in the critical area of restoring the nation’s almost squandered manifest destiny. With these women, we will no longer have to wonder where all the promises have gone.
The eclectic list is quite a revelation as the Nigerian women now hold sway in every conceivable and commanding height of human endeavours. Even to the credit of men, they are giving our breed of brilliant women credit long overdue.
Nigerian women worldwide, in business, politics, social enterprise, public policy, the corporate space, the creative sector are present and redefining what leadership and excellence mean. This list reflects that diversity and acts as a catalyst to motivate a new generation of female changemakers and innovators. Women have actively challenged stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, celebrate and recognise the contributions and impact of Nigerian women.
The Best of the Women
Among those best are: Joana Nnazua Kolo is a humanitarian advocate of good governance and the youngest serving commissioner in Kwara State. Joana is a 2018 graduate of Library Science from Kwara State University believed to be the youngest commissioner in Nigeria’s history. A grassroots mobiliser and an ardent advocate of community development, Joana was nominated for appointment two weeks before the end of completing the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
It’s an amusing thing about life. If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it, as demonstrated by the rise and rise of the Nigerian women on the totem pole of corporate and entrepreneurial leadership. No matter how tricky the business or terrain is, our women are making waves.
Women Of Worth (WOW) have unbelievably found the slippery, highly- combustible but profitable oil and energy business, a safe harbour to berth in and invest their all in, and what a success they are making out of it. Women like Hajia Bola Shagaya have never been out of her depth in this terrain, and she has made giant strides in the property and photographic materials industries. And there is the one of a kind, second to none, Princess Folorunsho Alakija, who pulls strings in a well-run empire involving oil and energy, lifestyle brands, hot properties, and so much more.
A great leader’s mark is to take his society from where it is to where it has never been. This great clan of can-do achievers has succeeded in inspiring our nation’s multilingual population to become the intellectual and technical centre of the world around us. These women have made a male-child-preferring generation do an about-turn, given pride of place in the scheme of things to the girl child so that the nation can go places at supersonic speed. “There is no need to be scared of simplicity,” a wordsmith once mused, “especially when it pays such rich rewards.” On this score, our Women Of Worth rate pretty high. There is also the persona and collections of Nike Ogunlesi, the mastermind behind Ruff & Tumble, the signature label for childrenswear. Her fantastic range of high-end clothing lines has magnificently succeeded in the bid to cut foreign brands to size.
Her designs and cut are light and lyrical; the sensuality, effortlessness, the chic quality of her work for children will resonate with those who genuinely treasure creations of immediate and lasting value that will give children a lift. Her work for children evokes passion and pride in the new emergent force of entrepreneurship well-choreographed by women in Nigeria that will provide foreign designs with a run for their money. Thank goodness the kind of clothes she gives to the world is one that children, the ultimate explorers, can Ruff around in and Tumble around in as well.
Another visionary in the mould of Ogunlesi is Ify Ighodalo, co-founder; Executive Director, Design Options (an interior decoration and furniture importing and manufacturing company) whose masterpiece creations include exquisite and classic furniture and home décor. Ify Ighodalo is a restless visionary with creative designs and virtuosity that can sit pretty well anywhere in the world. Whatever the item, you can be sure you rest assured you’re experiencing a unique, individual expression. Ify, like Ogunlesi, is a consummate artist of her time, and she’s pretty much ahead of it too! One common thing about the class of uncommon leaders is that they personified the work they do, and each commands the space around her — not in an imposing way but in a way that excites. And as far as style goes, each has got a great personal style all of their own — their hair, voice, clothes, and their luminosity. Each is also a woman of culture, born and raised in Nigeria, but finely bridging the African East and West with pure sophistication.
THEY HAVE GOT IT!
Just name it, and they’ve got it! This upper crust of female leaders holds the whole world in their hands. Consider the heartbeat of them all: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and international development expert. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the African Risk Capacity, a woman, unlike any other, who has made coming first her second nature. She earned cum laude at Harvard. First female Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic; first female Minister of External Relations; first female and African as the Managing Director of World Bank; and now has become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as director-general of the World Trade Organisation. Breaking the glass ceiling is a win for all women. She is the best for the job.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the great conductor who orchestrated the economic miracles, including the sheer magic of conjuring up total debt- forgiveness for Nigeria. She is also a master of the real art of conversation, not only highly versed in saying the right thing at the right time but also adept at leaving unsaid the wrong something at the tempting time. Twilight in her last days in President Obasanjo’s Government, the grapevine has been abuzz with the whispers that all was not well. Rather than give fuel to these rumours, she kept her dignity and left the Government with her image intact. Heads filled with wisdom have little space for conceit. Ngozi Iweala, Coordinating Minister of the Economy for the Federal Republic of Nigeria under President Goodluck Jonathan, a woman not given to self-glorification and self-advertisement, is on top of the world, calling the World Trade Organisation shots.
On the world stage, performing her signs and wonders that count for much in the development and wealth of nations, is another woman of ideas, passion and cutting edge innovation, Dr (Mrs.) Obiageli Ezekwesili. A proud member of Obasanjo’s economic think- tank, Obiageli is a no-nonsense, sharp woman. She did not earn the nickname “Mrs Due Process” just for the fun of it in the tight-as-wad budgetary regime of Obasanjo. Still, She made it by the sheer force of personality and stubborn insistence of compliance of the tight rein of fiscal and economic control and almost ascetic budgetary discipline, which helped keep the ship of state on an even keel while she reigned supreme. She pioneered due processes and structures in the strategic Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, State House, where she moved on to the Solid Minerals Ministry, before finally signing off at the trouble-prone Ministry of Education. Rather than flaunt the outsized image of her offices, she believes her role in shaping the nation’s destiny and millions of people as a minister should induce sobriety. As the enforcer of the sound, her virtuoso performance, sensible and straightforward in the Government of that golden era, attracted her more than a standing ovation from far and wide. It earned her elevation to the ideas-starved Ministry of Education that was truly deficient in basic lessons in modern corporate governance in the Obasanjo regime’s dying days. A self-assured peak performer who passionately believes that you can afford to consent to cringe when you’ve got the impulse to soar. She not only proved her mettle by outperforming peers across the gender prism but succeeded in earning the respect and trust of the general citizenry with the breath of fresh air she brought to the underperforming education sector when she became the Education Minister. Unfortunately, her labour of love could not give birth to the genuine revolutionary fervour and flavour she sought, as the Obasanjo regime soon came to an end. However, she did have time to introduce her innovative reforms such as Public/ Private Partnership (PPP) and Adopt-A-School- Programme. The Adopt-A-School initiative is a passionate appeal to the sense and sensibilities of Old Students Associations, host communities of Schools and the ‘billanthropists’, billion Naira weighted-and- rated philanthropists in the society, to help in saving the nation’s collapsing school and educational system by investing their time, talent and good money in rebuilding the necessary infrastructure and culture of excellence.
A great team player, Oby believes you get more of excellent performance and a lot of good things done when you do not care who gets the credit. At the Ministry of Solid Minerals, she threw her all into the challenge, reading up such laughable books as ‘Geology for idiots’, amongst others, to get herself in the frame of mind for the job on hand. Her relentless pursuit of perfection in the field helped uncover that Nigeria has about thirty-four mineral types in about four hundred and thirty locations. Driven for success in all she lays her hands and mind on, she under no illusion about the potency of the power of ‘We’, believing that coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. Like her compatriot, Dr Ngozi Iwealla-Okonjo, Dr Obby Ekwesili moved on to move up as Vice President, African Region, and World Bank.
There is, however, a self-effacing band of miracle workers who have been hard at work behind the scenes. This clan includes the likes of Hajia Amina Az-Zubair, Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals; Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations. Up until her appointment, she was Senior Special Advisor to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission; Amina Jane Mohammed is a Nigerian diplomat and politician who is serving as the fifth Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Previously, she was Nigerian Minister of Environment from 2015 to 2016 and was a key player in the Post-2015 Development Agenda process; Ifueko Omuiui-Okauro, the revolutionary, turnaround maestro at the Federal Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS); Ms Ijeoma Aso, Managing Director UBA Foundation, Dr Sarah Alade, Deputy Governor, Economic Policy, Central Bank, Ms Arunma Oteh Director General, Security & Exchange Commission; Mrs Folashade Laoye; and many more.
We must also remember Dehlia Umunna, Harvard Law School’s First Nigerian Professor and Uzoma Emenike, Nigeria’s first female ambassador to the US, are good examples of the new order. Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Tolulope Arotile, Blessing Liman, Nigeria’s first female military pilot and Chinyere Kalu, MFR (née Onyenucheya) is the first Nigerian female commercial pilot and the first woman to fly an aircraft in Nigeria also Rear-Admiral Itunu Hotonu is a Nigerian naval officer and architect.
On the high-voltage banking scene, especially since the global burst that affected a whole slew of big-league players in the business, the past reform-minded Governor of Central Bank, Malam Sanusi, called upon some women achievers to help salvage the situation and bring the affected banks back to life. They include seasoned hands such as Mrs Funke Osibodu, Group Managing Director/CEO Union Bank, and Souzane Iroche, former Group Managing Director, Finbank. However, in business, women are up in arms, smashing the glass ceiling, which has for a long time held them back, with renewed vengeance. Names that have become brands in Nigeria include Stella Okoli, founder, and CEO, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, makers of efficacious brands, which just their words will make the patient get well again. Late Florence Seriki; the former brand-builder extraordinaire and CEO, Omatek Computers; Ibukunoluwa Awosika, Founder/ Chairman, Chair Centre Ltd., a market leader in office furniture and banking security systems industry; Yewande Zaccheus, the brain behind Eventful Ltd, a high-profile events management company. She also has a varied interest in Zacchi & Krome Ltd, Corporate Leisure Ltd, and Fortress Microfinance.
Female Bank Directors and economic leaders are on the rise in Nigeria. This emergence will drive young people, especially females, to aspire to the peak of whatever career they have chosen. Most importantly, it is widely proving that women are good managers.
At the peak are Zainab Ahmed, current Nigeria’s Minister of Finance,
Arunma Oteh of Eco Bank Group, Sola David-Borha of Standard Bank Africa Regions, Toyin Sanni, CEO, Emerging Africa Capital Group,
Aishah Ahmad, the Deputy Governor CBN.
Others in the category are Oluwatomi Somefun, managing director/CEO, Unity Bank Plc., Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, managing director, Fidelity Bank Plc., Bola Adesola, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank Limited, Nigeria. Ibukun Awosika of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, adding to Mrs O. A. Demuren of GTBank and Mosun Belo-Olusoga as The Chairperson, Board of Directors of Access Bank Plc.
Nigerian women have become hot property on the global business front and are calling the shots. Omobola Johnson, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Manchester and a Masters degree in Digital Electronics, is Accenture’s Managing Director. When it comes to the high-risk publishing field, you don’t need gossip to spread the word that our women have arrived and follow the ‘tune steps’ set by the inimitable ‘Mee’ Ellen Ezekiel Damijo of fragrant memory. Top of the bill and the cream of the business include the media impresario, Betty Irabor, the master puppeteer pulling strings in the world of her pet brand, Genevieve, the high-brow magazine with essential female bias, but loved by all.
Prof. Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufai, a former Minister of Education, The Federal Republic of Nigeria borrow, mobilising the best and the brightest celebrities to spread the word about cancer in her Pink Campaign. Genevieve has become an ‘unputdownable’ ‘masterclass’ good read and a brand that has taken a stand against the march of the deadly disease. Betty, a dazzling lifestyle icon of the finest fettle, is the pretty face and bright minds of the magazine’s business- publishing should be! On the newspaper’s business side, ownership is Mrs Eniola Fadayomi, the founder and publisher of Financial Standard, which has become the gold standard in that pretty tough publishing genre. The brand has managed to find the best way to reach the target audience’s heart, usually sophisticated men and women of influence and affluence, whose taste is generally straightforward. They want the best while preferring a medium that can give them pearls of insights about what’s taking shape in the complex business world in a simple, smart and sharp language that will not put them to sleep. Simplicity, the ultimate sophistication, has been the style of this great newspaper covering every aspect of business and life.
If talk-shows have become the talking point of today’s bare-it-all-television programming, some awesome twosome have wormed their way into the heart of millions of people with must-watch talk-shows that have become top-of-the-charts.
Such are: Mosunmola Abudu, originator and presenter of Moments with MO and Funmi Iyanda. Mosunmola Abudu believes life is a blank canvas. It’s up to anyone to paint their dreams and potential, blazed a new trail after successfully stamping her imprint on Vic-Lawrence and Associates, her flourishing human resource outfit and Protea Oakland Park, Lekki Project. She was inspired to aspire to loftier heights in her long-nurtured passion for creating a common platform to project the uncommon feats and everyday concerns of the African to the world. She made the touchy-feely Moments with Mo. Rather than indulging in the orgy of denigrating ourselves or allowing the viewing of Africans through the sometimes jaundiced prism of the Western World, MO prefers to inspire Africans to show the sunny side of their beautiful lives to the world. In the word of a sage of another age, “He who praises himself has a congregation of one” Besides, it’s always better to light a little candle than to curse the darkness. MO has decided with no wrong choice to inspire others from the platform of Moment with Mo. It is a scintillating Talk show on satellite TV Mnet that has continued to be the ready handmaiden through which Mosunmola Abudu inspires others to be the best they can be and rise beyond odds. She’s since cast her net wide to capture a larger concept she has fittingly christened ‘Inspire Africa’. In her words: ‘Inspire Africa is her God-given vision to inspire the continent towards building a dependable media platform through which Africans can understand themselves, and the outside world can understand Africa better. It also encourages the West to understand and appreciate Africa culture and achievements. She believes that we have to put a positive spin on who we are and what we are about because no one will do it for us.’ Moments with Mo, which debuted on Mnet, now runs on some local syndicated stations to help ‘broadcast’ her rebirth message to a broader audience and now proud owner of EbonyLifeTV and EbonyLifeStudios.
The good works of Zain Ejiofor Asher, Arit Okpo, Chikaodinaka Sandra Oduah, Femi Oke, are inspirational to men and women alike. In music, Asa, Aituaje Iruobe, Tiwa Salvage, Teniola Apata, Sinach et.c., and in Nollywood, Liz Benson, Clarion Chukwura, Patience Ozokwor, Genevieve Nnaji, Funke Akindele, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and many others have done brilliantly well, excelling among women.
A Flashback To The Past
However, time is the lens through which one can achieve dreams when we tell the full story of the Nigerian woman’s struggle in search of a place in the sun. From genesis to revelation, one home truth will resonate. Nigerian women, who sometimes have had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts before they could even get a nod of appreciation, have indeed come a long way.
From the groundbreaking efforts of the rare feats of dogged fighters like Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Wuraola Esan, Hajia Sawamba Gambo, Ajia Dongoyaro in the dangerous war zone of activist politics to the administrative savvy and understanding of the unique breed of Princess Teju Alakija. And the pioneering role in the business enterprise of late Bisoye Tejuosho, Nigeria, can be endowed with a wealthy embarrassment of talented women who can hold their heads high in gathering great and living legends. On the trailblazers’ rostrum are such women of worth who hit the first in their chosen career: such as Francesca Emmanuel (First Nigerian Permanent Secretary); Engineer Ebele Okeke (First Female Head of Service of the Federation); Ambassador Judith Attah; Mrs Theresa Chukwuma (first female permanent Representative to UNESCO. Others are Professor Joy Ogwu (first female ambassador to UN), Honorable Alloma Muktar (first female Justice of the Supreme Court), Dame Priscilla Kuye (First female President, Nigerian Bar Association; Ms Chinyere Onyenaucheya (first female pilot). Other bellwethers include:
- Chief Bola Kuforiji Olubi (first female chartered accountant).
- Hajia Halima Ahmed (first female Secretary-General, ECOWAS parliament).
- Dr Doyin Ababa (first lady Editor-in-chief).
Mrs Patricia Eteh (first and the only female Speaker, House of Representatives); Agbani Darego (the first native Sub-Saharan African to win Miss World); Nigerian novelist, non-fiction writer, and activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (the most prominent of a procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors in Nigeria. Others are:
Veteran actress and director Joke Silva, the award-winning Nigerian actress with a successful and influential career, has spanned well over three decades. Guinness World Record Breaker, Kaffy, has something to teach every Nigerian talent – passion and consistency are the keys to a successful career. We have Farida Yahaya, Abimbola Bamigboye, Hajia Lami Tumaka, Busola Dakolo, Dr Wendy Okolo, and others doing great things. The heart-pleasing tune is even now more compellingly as the new jet-set women of substance have not only succeeded in blasting away the glass ceiling. But they have now moved to new levels in their diverse careers where they call the shots and dictate the pace of corporate governance in their environment. They have become productive incubators of breakthrough ideas and refreshing reforms that are galvanising the nation into a brand- new phase of development like never before, but have also become masters of the game and most admired household names along the way. They are Nigeria‘s most powerful women in business and corporate governance. They are the women who call the shots. They not only use all the brains they have but all they can borrow to make things better and make better things. They know by the power of intuition that the wise person is the one who continually wonders afresh and that if there is a way to do it better, they’ll be the first to find it. They are also the first to know that inspiration is a guest who does not like to visit lazy people.
Female activities have driven the movement to hold the Nigerian police force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad accountable for its crimes. Damilola Odufuwa, Odunayo Eweniyi, Layo Ogunbanwo, Ozzy Etomi etc., are members of the Feminist Coalition.
We also must remember those who worked hard to bring women into the limelight of politics and leadership. Women like Indra Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benezia Bhutto, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Julia Gillard have laid the foundation. And new generation women like Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Sanna Marin, and Kamala Harris have proved that they can lead without men’s fear. Like our Ngozi, the current Managing Director and Chairwoman of the IMF is Bulgarian economist Kristalina Georgieva.
Above all, they have large amounts of compassion and empathy because of their femininity. So they are sold to this principle of goodness: ‘little deeds of kindness, little words of love, help make the earth happy like the heaven above. In plain language, it’s good to do good. In the word of Vince Lombardi, ‘ we can obtain excellence if we care more than others think is wise. Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical. The best man for the job is a woman. Truth is better to be told, with these Women On Top, Nigeria’s future, the Wonderful Land of Bold, Brilliant, and Beautiful People, is brighter than anyone can ever imagine. Believe. Just Believe.