Meet Rukaiya El-Rufai, First Female from North to Become PwC Partner

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Rukaiya El-Rufai

Rukaiya El-Rufai has joined the elite partnership of PricewaterhouseCoopers Nigeria, making her the first female from the northern region to be elevated to such a position in a ‘big four’ accounting firm.

Yesterday the company announced its class of 2020 partners, which also includes Akinyemi Akingbade, Chioma Obaro, Kunle Amida, Olusola Adewole, Tosin Labeodan, Wura Olowofoyeku, and Yinka Yusuf.

Prior to the admission, Rukaiya worked at the company as the Associate Director of Risk Advisory and Head of Sustainability.

PwC is the second largest professional services firm in the world and the largest in Africa with operations in 157 countries.

It provides a broad range of services related to auditing and assurance, taxes, consultancy, private wealth, business management, and so on. In Nigeria, it has over 1,000 employees and, with the latest admissions, close to 40 partners.

“It has always been my dream to be the first partner that will be a role model for female accounting professionals because there hasn’t been any partner from the northern part of Nigeria at all in any big four accounting firm,” said an excited Rukaiya.

“To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been anyone who has been able to stand there long enough. It is a tough environment so, of course, it’s been a dream come true. I was excited, humbled, honoured; the journey starts on another level.”

The 37-year-old Rukaiya, who describes herself as results-oriented and having a keen eye for value creation, studied accounting at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, graduating with second-class honours, upper-division.

She is certified by the UK-based Financial Training Company and graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a Master of Public Administration in 2007. The following year, she got a Master of Public Policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Germany.

Her journey at PwC did not just start. She had interned both at the Lagos and Abuja offices in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

She has also worked at various times as Group Financial Analyst at IHS Nigeria; Specialist, Corporate Quality and Excellence at Etisalat; Associate, Management Consulting at KPMG Professional Services; and Senior Manager, Risk Advisory at Deloitte & Touche ㅡ the last two also members of the “big four”.

Working with Nigeria’s finance minister as a special adviser, she has led the development of the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiatives (SRGI), a revenue growth and management blueprint for the country.

“It’s been a very insightful opportunity I will always cherish,” she said about the project, which led to the review of tax laws after many years among other key reforms.

“Of course, we are celebrated as having one of the largest GDP in Africa but we find it a challenge to translate this into revenue. We are not able to raise fund to build infrastructure and invest in human capital. Since the honourable minister was appointed, she had always said revenue was her priority because when you solve the revenue issue, you are able to solve many other problems.”

Rukaiya sees her new role as a Partner of Assurance Services, where she will be overseeing functional sustainability and climate change issues within the public sector, as a window for inspirational leadership.

“My career has always been built on purpose,” she emphasised. “I hope to establish a legacy of being a respected thought leader in my areas of responsibility and I also hope to be a role model for others, especially other women as well, beyond building a successful practice.”

Though there are different layers, a partnership is the highest designation within an accounting firm which comes with both great benefits and obligations. Partners are part-owners of the company and Rukaiya is glad more women are being promoted to the top decision-making rank. Three out of the eight latest partners are female.

If there was anything the average girl child in Nigeria, especially from the northern region, could pick from her exploits, she hopes it would be a can-do spirit. “You have to believe in yourself and be consistent,” she said.

“You have to have grit. It is tough … with a lot of cultural barriers and there will be times when you feel like giving up but you just have to be strong, focused, and have that grit all the through the journey.”