International Women’s Day: Nigeria’s Trail Blazing Amazons

Ogunmola Sowemimo

Globally, International Women’s Day is marked every March 8 as the focal point in the movement for women’s rights. Therefore, to mark this year’s celebration themed “Balance For Better”, it was only fitting for Chiemelie Ezeobi to profile some Nigerian amazons who have blazed a trail in their respective fields

From the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was agreed in 1979 and ratified by 189 states, the fight for equality has come a long way from the days where women played second fiddle.

Notwithstanding the fact that presently, only six nations; Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden, have equal rights for men and women, it hasn’t stopped women across the globe from being the consummate mother, wife and at the same time, thrive in her chosen career. Perhaps, this achievement was possible because the declaration highlights the role of global agreements in advancing women’s rights.

In Nigeria, it is no different as some women have continually blazed a trail in their chosen careers as highlighted by Wikipedia-  be it fashion, arts, politics, social entrpreneurship, banking, music, oil and gas, aviation, media,

economist, politician and film maker, the list is endless. The underlisted Amazons are by no means the only ones blazing a trail but are just few out of many.

The Pilot: Adeola Ogunmola Sowemimo

For Adeola Ogunmola Sowemimo, a pilot, who seemingly worked in a male dominated profession, it was recently a season of firsts. She recently took the social media by storm and for a good reason too. She is the first Nigerian Female Pilot at Qatar Airways, as well as the First Nigerian Female Pilot to fly the gigantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner Aircraft. She is also the first Nigerian Female Pilot to fly the Boeing 767 Aircraft across the Atlantic.

Undoubtedly, Sowemimo definitely qualifies to be among the Amazons celebrated today and even beyond because with these accomplishments, she has joined the league of an increasing number of female pilots in Africa, who are making the continent and indeed the feminine gender proud.

Oil Magnate/ Philantropist: Folorusho Alakija 

Folorunso Alakija is a Nigerian billionaire businesswoman, one of Africa’s richest women, and one of the richest black women in the world. In 2014, she temporarily unseated Oprah Winfrey as the richest woman of African descent in the world. With her fingers in many pie; namely fashion, oil and printing industries. She is the group managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited and Digital Reality Prints Limited and the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited.

Presently, she is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion. But despite the accolades she has garnered in the business world, for Alakija, what she would rather be remembered for is her passion for widows, orphans and the less privileged in the society. This she has achieved through her Rose of Shalom Foundation, which is a home of succor for those in need. Over the years, she has gone above and beyond duty in catering for the needs of the widows and their children.

Banker/Motivational Speaker: Ibukun Awosika

Ibukun Abiodun Awosika is a Nigerian business woman, author and motivational speaker, who  currently serves as Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria. As a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and Aspen Global Leadership Network, Ibukun is a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, member of the board of Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund and former Chairperson, Board of Trustees of Women in Management, Business and Public Service. In 2011, she co-founded the Afterschool Graduate Development Centre, a career centre established in order to checkmate the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria.

On September 7, 2015, Ibukun became the first woman to be appointed Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria following the resignation of Prince Ajibola Afonja. She also sits on the board of Digital Jewel Limited and Cadbury Nig Plc.

Makeup Guru: Tara Fela Durotoye

Tara Fela-Durotoye is a Nigerian makeup artist and lawyer. A pioneer in the bridal makeup profession in Nigeria, she launched the first bridal directory in 1999, set up international standard makeup studios and established the first makeup school in Nigeria.

She is the founder and CEO of House of Tara International  and creator of the Tara Orekelewa Beauty range, Inspired Perfume and the H.I.P Beauty range. In 2007, she was awarded the Africa SMME Award and the Entrepreneur award in South Africa and in 2013, Forbes listed her as one 20 Young Power Women In Africa.

Doctor/Emergency Specialist: Ola Brown 

Through her Flying Doctors she has given her patients wings to fly, thereby cutting through several lawyers of paperwork and bureaucracy. Dr. Olamide Brown (Orekunrin) is a BritishNigerian medical doctor and Managing director of Flying Doctors Nigeria; a charity based in Lagos, Nigeria.

After graduation, Olamide worked for 10 years with the National Health Service, United Kingdom. As a helicopter pilot with specialised training in aviation medicine, she pioneered the first air operated Emergency medical services in Lagos, Nigeria; Flying Doctors Nigeria Ltd, which was motivated after experiencing the loss of her sister under difficult circumstances.

Brown is a member of both the American Academy of Aesthetic Surgeons and the British Medical Association. She was listed among Young Global leaders by World Economic Forum in 2013.

Flying Doctors have 20 aircraft and 44 doctors who can deliver care en route to one of Nigeria’s hospitals.

OAP/PLWD Champion: Adenike Oyetunde 

Adenike Oyetunde is a lawyer, on-air-personality and founder, Amputees United. She was diagnosed with Osteogenic Sarcoma (cancer of the bone) at age 20 when she was in her second year in university. Adenike eventually had to accept the doctor’s diagnosis and go for a limb amputation, after refusing to admit that she would live without one of her limbs for the rest of her life. She wasn’t deterred as she went on to become a lawyer, OAP and an activist. She has since gone on to live her life, breaking boundaries, and most recently released a self-titled book; Adenike.

Social Entrepreneur: Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

Oluwatoyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji , is a social entrepreneurand human development expert whose work cuts across entrepreneurshipeducationyouth development and public leadership. She is the founder and chief executive officer of Rise Networks, a Nigeria-based private and public sector funded Youth Interest social enterprise focused on using tech innovation to create advocacy and learning opportunities for the inclusive growth of youths with the core objective of preparing them for leadership and social change. She is also the founder of Passnownow, a mobile learning portal with access to curriculum-based education content with standardised assessments and exam review questions in digital format distributed via web and mobile to underserved high school students and teachers.

Lifestyle Entrpreneur: Uche Pedro 

Uche Pedro is an award-winning Nigerian entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of BellaNaija, a media tech brand known for entertainment and lifestyle content. Under her leadership, BellaNaija’s social footprint has grown through its collective brands –, BellaNaija Weddings and BellaNaija Style – to be the largest on the African continent with more than 200 million impressions each month.

Global Musician: Tiwa Savage 

Tiwatope  Savage, better known by her stage name Tiwa Savage, is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, performer and actress. She currently has a songwriting deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Savage signed a recording contract with Mavin Records in 2012, as well as signed a management and publishing deal with Roc Nation in June 2016, which she later confirmed via Instagram.

Her debut studio album, Once Upon a Time, was released on 3 July 2013. It was supported by the singles “Kele Kele Love“, “Love Me (3x)”, “Without My Heart”, “Ife Wa Gbona”, “Folarin”, “Olorun Mi” and “Eminado“. Savage’s second studio album, R.E.D, was released on 19 December 2015. It produced the singles “My Darlin'”, “African Waist” and “If I Start To Talk”. As a singer, her achievements include an MTV Europe Music AwardMTV Africa Music Award, two The HeadiesAwards, one Channel O Music Video Award, one Nigeria Music Video Award, and two City People Entertainment Awards.

Tech Expert: Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is a Nigerian Women and Girls Advocate Social Entrepreneur. She is the founder of Pearls Africa Youth Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation aimed at educating young girls in under-served areas in Nigeria with technology skills. On November 1, 2018, Ajayi-Akinfolarin was named one of ten CNN Heroes of the year. Later that month she was listed as one of BBC’s 100 Women.

Ajayi-Akinfolarin began her career working for E. D. P Audit and Security Associates. She worked at the company for seven years, beginning as an intern and being promoted to the level of Associate Consultant. Working in technology, Ajayi-Akinfolarin discovered a large gender gap. A government survey conducted in Nigeria in 2013, found that less than 8 per cent m of professional, management or technological positions are held by Nigerian women. Wanting to help close that gap and encourage more women in her field, she established the foundation in 2012 to assist girls in developing technology skills through various programs including; GirlsCodingG.C MentorsGirlsInSTEM and Empowered Hands. Since 2012, the organisation has trained over 400 young women to code.

Visual Artist: Njideka Akunyili-Crosby 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los AngelesCalifornia. Akunyili Crosby’s art “negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds. In 2017, Akunyili Crosby was awarded the prestigious Genius Grantfrom the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named Financial TimesWoman of the Year.

In 2016, a solo exhibition of Akunyili Crosby’s work was held at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. Highly respected art gallery Victoria Miro also started representing Akunyili Crosby that year. In 2017 Akunyili Crosby won the MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant.

Akunyili Crosby was one of the artists featured in Nathaniel Kahn’s 2018 documentary The Price of Everything where she discusses her career and attitude to the art market. It culminated with her painting Drown being sold at Sotheby’scontemporary art auction in November 2016 for $900,000.

Author: Chimamanda Adichie 

Chimamanda Adichie is an award winning Nigerian novelist, writer of short stories, and nonfiction. She has written the novels Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun(2006), and Americanah (2013), the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists(2014). In 2008, Adichie was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. She was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017.

DiplomatAmina Jane Mohammed

Amina Jane Mohammed is the current Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and a former Minister of Environment of Nigeria. Mohammed once coordinated the Task Force on Gender and Education for the United Nations Millennium Project and she later acted as the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2005, she was charged with the coordination of Nigeria’s debt relief funds toward the achievement of the MDGs.

Mohammed served as Federal Minister of Environment in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari from November 2015 to December 2016. During that time, she was Nigeria’s representative in the African Union (AU) Reform Steering Committee.

Economist: Ngozi Okonji-Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and international development expert. She sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered BankTwitterGlobal Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).

Previously, Okonjo-Iweala spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising through the ranks to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations (2007-2011). She also served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria (2003-2006, 2011-2015) under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan.

Politician/Activist: Oby Ezekwesili

Obiageli Ezekwesili, popularly known as Oby Ezekwesili, is a Nigerian chartered accountant from Anambra state. She was a co-founder of Transparency International, serving as one of the pioneer directors of the global anti-corruption body based in Berlin, Germany. She served as Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and then as Federal Minister of Education during the second-term presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. Since then, she served as the Vice-President of the World Bank‘s Africa division from May 2007 to May 2012. Ezekwesili was a 2018 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in transparency in the extractive sector. She has actively been involved in the campaign for the return of the Chibok girls, who were  abducted by Boko Haram. Her recent foray was into politics where she contested for presidency under the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN).

Media Mogul: Mo Abudu

Mosunmola Abudu, usually known as Mo Abudu, is a Nigerian media mogul, media personality, philanthropist, and former human resources management consultant. She has been described by Forbes as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman” and the first African woman to own a Pan-Africa TV channel. She was listed as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Global TV by The Hollywood Reporter in 2013 and received the Entrepreneur of the Year award by Women Werk in New York (2014). In 2014, she was honoured with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (Honouris Causa) from Babcock University.