Here are selected 10 most powerful women making national and global impacts:
1. Aisha Buhari
Being a current First Lady automatically position Aisha Buhari as a powerful woman. Born 17 February 1971, Mrs. Buhari holds master’s degree in international affairs and strategic studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; and diplomas in beauty and cosmetology.
Formerly addressed as wife of the president, Aisha Buhari surprised Nigerians when she made it known that her role will be limited to whatever is constitutionally recognized, and promised not to overstep. But she later adopted the title of First Lady five years after President Muhammadu Buhari said he would scrap the office.
Aisha had in 2014 advised Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to resign from office as president of Nigeria, following a suicide bombing and an alleged assassination attempt on her husband.
Aisha Buhari is a vocal advocate of women’s and children’s rights, and this was a focal point during her campaign for her husband’s election in 2015. Aisha has, on several occasions, emphasized the need for young girls to get primary and secondary school education before getting married, saying that she believes no girl should get married before the age of 17. She has also criticized child marriage, homosexuality, sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
In 2015, she met with some mothers of the abducted Chibok Girls, and donated proceeds from her book to them, to the Buni Yadi boys murdered in 2014, and children suffering from malnutrition.
Despite being jokingly branded by Mr. President to have belonged to the kitchen, the living room and the other room in 2016, Aisha, however, remain dutiful to her roles and powerful until her husband’s tenure expires in 2023.
2. Folorunsho Alakija
Born to an upper-middle-class family, Alakija attended her nursery education at Our Ladies of Apostles, Lagos. At the age seven, Alakija travelled to the United Kingdom to continue her primary education and later returned for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London.
Officially the richest women in Nigeria, Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist.
Her nature of business include fashion, oil, real estate and printing industries. As of 2020, Mrs. Alakija was ranked by Forbes with a net worth of $1 billion, and as the 87th most powerful woman in the world.
Folorunsho started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria.
Other key positions she held includes:
- Executive Secretary to MD, First National Bank of Chicago, which later became FinBank now acquired by FCMB (First City Monument Bank).
- Head of the Corporate Affairs Department of the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria (formerly First National Bank of Chicago).
- Office Assistant to the Treasury Department.
Alakija followed her fashion passion after 12 years in banking world. Within a few years, her brand, Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, became a household name. As national president and lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), she left an indelible mark, promoting Nigerian culture through fashion and style.
In 1993, Alakija applied for the allocation of an oil prospecting license (OPL). The license to explore for oil on a 617,000-acre block—now referred to as OPL 216—was granted to Alakija’s company, Famfa Limited. The block is approximately 350 kilometres (220 miles) southeast of Lagos and 110 kilometres (70 miles) offshore of Nigeria in the Agbami Field of the central Niger Delta.
Alakija entered into a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Texaco) and appointed the company as a technical adviser for the exploration of the license, transferring 40 percent of her 100 percent stake to Star Deep.
After they struck oil, the Nigerian government claimed a 40% stake, followed by an additional 10%. The government’s argument was if Alakija and family were allowed to keep their bloc, they stood to make $10 million a day. Alakija disputed this claim and won.
On 17 July 2021, Benson Idahosa University, Benin City gave her an honorary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration. This was in recognition of her contribution to the business world.
3. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, to a professor dad, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, the Obi (king) of the Obahai royal family of Ogwashi-Ukwu in the Nigerian chieftaincy system.
Okonjo-Iweala was educated both in Nigeria and in United States. She earned first degree from Harvard University in Economics, master’s degree in city planning in 1978 and her PhD in regional economics and development.
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist and rose to the No.2 position of Managing Director, Operations. She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008–2009 food crises and later during the financial crisis.
She also site on boards of: Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, MINDS: Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, One Campaign, GAVI: Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Rockefeller Foundation, R4D: Results for Development, ARC: African Risk Capacity and Earthshot Prize plus others. She also previously sat on the Twitter Board of Directors, and stepped down in February, 2021.
4. Pauline Tellen
Appointed in 2019, Pauline Kedem Tallen OFR is a Nigerian politician and the current Minister for Women Affairs Minister and Social Development.
She turned down ambassadorial nomination in 2015 on the grounds that she was not consulted prior to the announcement of the appointment and that she would not accept the offer for equal distribution of power among the three senatorial districts of her native state of plateau because she is from same local government as Governor Simon Lalong.
Tallen presently a member, board of trustees of All Progressive Congress, and was honoured as woman of the year for her contributions to Nigeria at the 10th African Icon of Our Generation Award. She is a board member of National Agency for Control of Aids (NACA).
She kickstarted her political career started in 1976, when she was the clerical officer at Shendam local government council, then later ministry of local government affairs. In 2011, she joined Labour Party, then contested in the gubernatorial election of the state. By 1994, she was made a councillor in Plateau State. She was made commissioner in the state by the military government between 1994 and 1999.
In 1999, she was appointed Minister of State for Science and Technology, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a minister in that capacity by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Before the 2015 general elections, she decamped from PDP to APC, a move she believed angered some people in her state. However, she described the move as a calling from God, with no regrets.
In an interview with Leadership, she explained that as deputy governor she contested against the governor for the betterment of the state and because the governor didn’t have the interest of the people at heart. She also stated that the victory of President Buhari at the 2015 general elections was divinely orchestrated.
She has a degree in sociology from the University of Jos.
5. Amina Muhammed
Born in Liverpool, England, to a Hausa-Fulani Nigerian veterinarian-officer and a British nurse, Amina attended education both in Nigeria and abroad.
Between 1981 and 1991, Amina J. Mohammed worked with Archcon Nigeria, an architectural design firm in association with Norman and Dawbarn United Kingdom. In 1991, she founded Afri-Projects Consortium, and from 1991 to 2001 she was its Executive Director.
From 2002 until 2005, Amina coordinated the Task Force on Gender and Education for the United Nations Millennium Project, and later acted as the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
She later became the Founder and CEO of the Center for Development Policy Solutions and as an Adjunct Professor for the Master’s in Development Practice program at Columbia University. She served on numerous international advisory boards and panels, including the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. She also chaired the Advisory Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Monitoring Report on Education.
Mrs. Mohammed served as Federal Minister of Environment in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari from November 2015 to February 2017. During that time, she was Nigeria’s representative in the African Union (AU) Reform Steering Committee, chaired by Paul Kagame. She resigned from the Nigerian Federal Executive Council on 24 February 2017.
In January 2017, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced his intention to appoint Mohammed Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. In this capacity, she is a member of the UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.
6. Toun Okewale Sonaiya
Mrs. Sonaiya previously worked for Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation, Ray Power and Choice She is a media entrepreneur and broadcaster who has practiced in Nigeria and London.
She is a strong voice for women advocacy both in the field of career, politics and family concerns, especially where women are being relegated or not given fair share of visibility in media.
7. Bola Shagaya
Bola Muinat Shagaya MON, one of the richest women in Africa, is a Nigerian businesswoman and fashion enthusiast. The founder and CEO of Bolmus Group International, a conglomerate with holdings in real estate, oil and gas, banking and photography.
Shagaya attended Queens School, Ilorin, at secondary school level, and
Had her tertiary education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Armstrong College in California, where she studied economics and accountancy.
She kickoff her career with the audit department of the Central Bank of Nigeria before venturing into commercial activities in 1983. Her business experience started with the importation and distribution of photographic materials. She introduced the Konica brand of photographic materials into the Nigerian market and West Africa.
Hajia Bola Muinat Shagaya is also the managing director of Practoil Limited, one of the largest importers and distributors of base oil in Nigeria, serving local lubricant blending plants. Her business also includes investments in real estate, spanning across major cities in the country with over three hundred employees.
She is currently on the board of Unity Bank plc, a member of the recently inaugurated Nepad Business Group – Nigeria, a patron of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria.
Bola Shagaya is known for her constant relevance at different government regimes, especially as part of the Goodluck Jonathan’s inner cabinet. Though not visibly active in current federal government administration, but has a son, Muktar running for House of Representatives in Kwara State who is leveraging on his mother’s goodwill.
In 2010, Shagaya received the National Productivity Order of Merit award, and in 2012, received the Nigerian merit award of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). Also in the same year, she was listed among Forbes’ Ten Millionaires to Watch in Africa (2012). On 25th December 2022, the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman Kwara State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari CFR honoured her with the traditional title of Sarauniyan Mata of Ilorin Emirate.
8. Ibukun Awosika
She graduated with a BSc in Chemistry from Obafemi Awolowo University, but also took elective courses in Accounting. She holds post graduate and MBA certificates upon the completion of several business programmes at the Lagos Business School and IESE Business School – University of Navarra.
Ibukun Awosika established a furniture manufacturing company called Quebees Limited in 1989 before it evolved into The Chair Centre Limited and later SOKOA Chair Centre Limited following a venture merge with SOKOA S.A and Guaranty Trust Bank in 2004.
A fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and Aspen Global Leadership Network, Ibukun Awosika 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 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.
Ibukun Awosika is member of IESE’s International Advisory Board (IAB). She also sits on the board of Digital Jewel Limited and Cadbury Nig Plc.
9. Aisha Yesufu
An activist and businesswoman, Aisha co-founded the #BringBackOurGirls movement, which brings attention to the abduction of over 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria on 14 April 2014, by the terrorist group Boko Haram. She has also been prominently involved in the End SARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria.
Born and raised in Kano State, but from Agbede in Edo State, Aisha experienced the difficulties of being a girl in a heavily patriarchal environment. She completed her education at Bayero University Kano, with a degree in microbiology.
After the terrorist group Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls in 2014, Yesufu and Oby Ezekwesili co-founded the #BringBackOurGirls movement to push for their rescue. Yesufu was among the women protestors who marched on the Nigerian National Assembly, in the nation’s capital, Abuja, on 30 April 2014.
Yesufu has been a prominent member of the End SARS movement, which began in 2017 and draws attention to police brutality in Nigeria and draws its name from a controversial police unit in the Nigeria Police Force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). A photograph of her wearing hijab at an End SARS protest became an iconic symbol of the movement. Yesufu has said of the End SARS protests, “I will not be an irresponsible parent and leave this fight for my children. I am ready to sacrifice my life for my children to live. I brought them to this world, and I need to fix the world I put them in.”
Yesufu was among BBC’s 100 Women in 2020, included in a list of the Top 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine in 2020.
She is a Nigerian writer whose works include novels, short stories and nonfiction. Chimamanda was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors which is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”, particularly in her second home, the United States.
Adichie has written the novels Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah, the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck, and the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists.
In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. She was the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize in 2018. She was recognized as one of the BBC’s 100 women of 2021.
She completed her univeristy education at Drexel University in Philadelphia, United States.
Adichie has been awarded sixteen honorary doctorate degrees from universities including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Edinburgh, Duke University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Catholic University of Louvain, where she received her sixteenth in a ceremony on 28 April 2022.
Adichie said on feminism and writing: “I think of myself as a storyteller but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer … I’m very feminist in the way I look at the world, and that world view must somehow be part of my work.”
She also supports LGBT rights in Africa; in 2014, when Nigeria passed an anti-homosexuality bill, she was among the Nigerian writers who objected to the law, calling it unconstitutional and “a strange priority to a country with so many real problems.”
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