International Women’s Day: Celebrating the resilience of the Nigerian woman

International Women’s Day: Celebrating the resilience of the Nigerian woman

Everywhere around the world, March 8th has been significantly set aside as a global day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements o

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Everywhere around the world, March 8th has been significantly set aside as a global day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The international women’s day also seeks to honour the work of suffragettes, that is women’s right to vote, celebrating women’s success, and reminding one of inequities still to be addressed. It is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of their countries and communities. In celebration of this year’s theme, ‘Be Bold for Change: Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’, we highlight the achievements of a few Nigerian women who have broken the proverbial glass ceiling and distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavor.

Flying Officer Blessing Liman

She is the first Nigerian Air Force produced female combat pilot, that is, the first female Military Pilot in Nigeria. Born over 29 years ago, the Kaduna State indigene who graduated from the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology is a product of the SP-24A set of pilots referred to as the Knights of the Air that completed the direct short service course in 2010/2011 that earned her the combat pilot title. Of the 126 Cadets of the 325 ground training group that attended the course, Liman was the only female who scored this laudable achievement.


Chinyere Onyenaucheya Kalu

Being a pacesetter in  the aviation sector in Nigeria is no mean feat and this, Captain Chinyere Kalu, the immediate past rector and chief instructor at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, exhibited as the first female commercial pilot in Nigeria with over 33 years flying career.


Mosunmola Abudu

The Ondo State indigene who holds a Masters Degree from the University of Westminister, London is a member of the British Psychological Society. Her last paid employment was when she joined Arthur Anderson for Esso Exploration & Production, Nigeria Limited now ExxonMobil in 1993 to head their human resources and training unit, a position she left in 2000 to establish a privately owned specialist human resources development company known as Vic Lawrence & Associates Limited. She soon evolved to become the executive producer and the host of a television talk show, Moments with Mo, the first syndicated daily talk show on African regional television. Under her Inspire Africa foundation, Mo Abudu on July 1st 2013, launched Ebony Life Television, Africa’s first global black multi-broadcast entertainment network founded with a mission to create original, premium and inspiring content with an African soul that showcases the best of Africa for a global black audience, thus making her the first woman on the African continent to own a pan-African TV channel.


Grace Alele-Williams

The octogenarian made history as the first Nigerian woman to become the Vice Chancellor of a Nigerian university, the University of Benin to be precise. Her teaching career started at Queen’s School, Ede, Osun State, where she was the mathematics teacher before she left for the University of Vermont to become a graduate assistant and later assistant professor. She would later be appointed a professor of mathematics at the University of Lagos in 1976. By serving in various education committees and boards, Alele-Williams made useful contributions in the development of education in Nigeria. She is currently on the board of Chevron-Texaco Nigeria.


Ola Orekunrin

Ola Orekunrin is a medical doctor, helicopter pilot and managing director of the Flying Doctors Nigeria Ltd, West Africa’s first air ambulance service and a crucial link for critically injured people who, like many across the continent, are far away from hospital care. A graduate of the University Of York in Britain, Orekunrin is one of the youngest doctors in the country and has worked in the National Health Scheme for nearly ten years. She has a specialist interest in trauma and pre-hospital Care, buttressed by her private work at motor-racing circuits across the country and her work with air ambulance services in the UK and Japan. An author, she was in 2008, awarded the prestigious MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship and produced groundbreaking research in the field of regenerative medicine, focusing on induced pluripotent stem cells. She is also a member of the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and is considered a national expert of disaster medicine and pre-hospital care.


Olatokunbo Somolu

She is the first woman head of the Engineering and Technology Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Group General Manager, Engineering and Technology of the NNPC. Prior to this, Somolu was Manager of the Engineering Division supervising the construction of the NNPC headquarters in Abuja. In earlier years, she had supervised the building of the Satellite and Warri Depots, the Warri and Port Harcourt NNPC office buildings, as well as the Department of Petroleum Resources office complex in Lagos. Prior to starting her career with NNPC, she had worked with Omisore, Afolabi & Partners, a group of consulting engineers, before which lectured at the Yaba College of Technology’s department of Civil Engineering where she rose to become the department head. Somolu has a Doctorate in Structural Engineering from the University of Lagos, making her the first Nigerian woman to earn a doctorate in any field of engineering. She also has a Bachelors of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the same university, where she graduated at the top of her class. She is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.


Ivy okoronkwo

The Nigerian Police made history in October 2010 when it appointed its first female Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ivy Okoronkwo. This appointment automatically made the degree holder in sociology and criminology to be the second in command to the Inspector General of Police. Okoronkwo holds the enviable record as the first female officer to be appointed Commissioner of Police for a state command and that was when she served in trouble-pruned Ekiti State. The native of Arochukwu, Abia State was also the first woman to head a zonal command in the 148-year history of the Force when she presided over the affairs of Zone 7 Police Headquarters at Abuja, overseeing operations in the Federal Capital Territory, Niger and Kaduna states. She has since been retired.


Chioma Ajunwa-Opara

She is a former athlete who specialised in long jump. After various setbacks in her career, she finally achieved fame when she became the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal  in long jump with a jump length of 7.12 meters on her first attempt during the finals at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta and to date remains the only individual Olympic gold medalist. Ajunwa is also an officer with the Nigerian Police Force  and is currently a Divisional Police Officer. As a professional sportswoman, Ajunwa originally played football for the Nigerian women’s team and was a member of The Falcons during the Women’s world cup in 1991, but as she was constantly benched, her skill was seldom used making her to leave the team’s camp and face track and field. She specialised in 100m, 200m and long jump, eventually competing at the African Championships in 1989 and the All Africa Games in 1991.


Ebele Okeke

An engineer by training, she is the first female Head of the Civil Service in Nigeria; the first female engineer Federal Permanent Secretary and the first female civil engineer in Nigeria. She began her career as a Public Health Engineer with Sanford Fawcett Wilton and Bell, Consulting Engineers, London. She held other positions including Highways and Transportation engineer with Obiukwu Okeke Associates and Gifford and Tolefe Consulting Engineers, Deputy Director Water Supply , Director Rural Development, Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Water Resources and Head of the Civil Service of the Federation of  Nigeria. She is a fellow of Nigeria Society of Engineers, Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain & Ireland, Nigeria Academy of Engineers and Nigeria Institution of Civil Engineers. 


Ronke Kale

She is the first Nigerian woman to ever become a Major-General, two-star general, to be precise in the Army and in any of the three wings of the Nigerian Armed Forces including the Navy and Air Force. Her record remains unbroken till date in the Nigerian Army. A trained medical practitioner specializing in psychiatry, Kale decided to enlist in the army when fewer women were donning the uniform of the military. As a colonel and medical commandant in the Nigerian Army, she attended the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, and upon graduation, she returned to the Military Hospital, Benin, Edo State and resumed duties as the Commanding Officer. She was later moved to Lagos State where she served as the Deputy Commandant of the Nigerian Army Medical Corps, Ojo and later promoted to the rank of a Brigadier General, thus becoming the first woman in Nigeria to become a one-star general. She was later promoted to became the first female military officer as a major-general not only in Nigeria but in Africa. She later bowed out without any blemish in her medical or military career in 1996 under the Abacha regime.


Diezani Alison-Madueke

She first became Nigeria’s minister of transport in 2007, got moved to Mines and Steel Development in 2008, and in April 2010 was appointed Minister of Petroleum Resources. Upon graduation from Howard University, she joined Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, rose through the ranks and became the first female Executive Director of Shell in Nigeria. A woman of many firsts,  Alison-Madueke is the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources in Nigeria, the first woman to head a country delegation at the annual OPEC conference and the first female Minister of Transport.


Aloma Mariam Mukhtar

Mukhtar is equally a woman of many firsts. The Chief Justice of Nigeria is the first female lawyer from  Northern Nigeria, the first female judge of the High court in Kano State judiciary, the first female justice of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, the first female Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the first female  Chief Justice of Nigeria.


Elizabeth Ngozi Ebi

A seasoned investment banker of high repute and integrity, she is the first female stockbroker licensed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Ebi has an academic foundation in Business / Management Studies with a First Class degree in Business/Health Administration from New York University among others. She has over the years acquired in-depth and broad knowledge as well as extensive professional experience in finance and investment management in both the Nigerian and US money and capital markets. Her meritorious career has taken her through reputable organizations like Chase Merchant Bank. An expert in the structuring, documentation, securitization, marketing of capital market issues and asset & liability management, Ebi who is also the Special Trustee in Africa to the European Economic Development Council is the managing director of FutureView Financial Services Ltd.


Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu

Her dream was to join the services of the Nigerian Army but was bluntly told that the army had no place for women when she applied in its engineering corps. Undeterred, she got into the Nigerian Navy and is not only setting the pace in the force, but has gone ahead to become the first woman to attain the exalted rank of a Rear Admiral in the history of the Nigerian Navy, equivalent to a two-star-general in the Nigerian Army and the second female two-star general produced in the Nigerian Armed Forces. 52 year old Hotonu, an indigene of Badagry, Lagos State, was among the first set of architects to be enlisted into the Nigerian Navy and it is on record that she was the first female military officer to serve as a Directing Staff at the famous Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji. She was also the first female military officer to attend the then National War College, now National Defence College, where she emerged the best overall graduating student and won the Commander-in-Chief’s prize as well as the Commandant’s prize for the best research.


Folorunsho Alakija

One of the world’s richest black woman with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion is a business tycoon with tentacles spread across fashion, oil and gas and printing. The 65 year old indigene of Ikorodu, Lagos State who was born into a wealthy, polygamous family 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. Alakija started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos from where she moved on to the former First National Bank of Chicago, now FinBank, where she worked for some years before establishing a tailoring company called Supreme Stitches. In May 1993 she applied for and was granted an allocation of an Oil Prospecting License to explore for oil on a 617,000 acre block. With no expertise or experience in running an oil field, she was intelligent enough not to sell off her license but instead, entered into a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Texaco in 1996 and appointed the company as a technical adviser for the exploration of the license, transferring 40 per cent of her 100 percent stake to Star Deep while retaining 60 per cent.


Fifi Ekanem Ejindu

A great granddaughter of King James Ekpo Bassey of Cobham Town in Calabar, Nigeria, Fifi an architect, businesswoman and philanthropist is the first black African woman to graduate from the prestigious Pratt Institute School of Architecture, a private design college and one of the leading design schools in America. Today, she is regarded as one of the most sought after architects in Nigeria today. As the chairperson of Starcrest group of companies involved in the sectors of building construction, project management, real estate, oil and gas, the Calabar Princess has used the influence of the company to initiate investment forums in the United Arab Emirates to attract investors to Nigeria. The most successful one was on June 11th, 2012 where she invited former president Olusegun Obasanjo, to lead a powerful Nigerian delegation to a forum with 50 of the most influential businessmen in the U.A.E. A number of these businessmen have started investing in different sectors of the Nigerian economy in partnership with Starcrest Investments Ltd.


Professor Adetoun Ogunseye 

She is the first female Professor in Nigeria as well as the first female student at the University of Ibadan where she received the prize for the best female graduating student and got a scholarship to proceed to Cambridge. She became a Professor of Library in 1973.


Professor Remi Sonaiya

She is the first woman in Nigeria to seek the highest seat in the land running as the Presidential flag bearer under the Kowa Party at the recently concluded 2015 Nigerian Presidential Elections.  She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in French from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) graduating with the best result in her faculty and also received a PhD in linguistics from Cornell University.  She became a professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics in 2001.


Ambassador Adenike Ebun Oyagbola 

She is the first woman to ever be appointed as a Federal Minister in the history of Nigeria under the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. She was also a Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico.


Maureen Nkeiruka Mmadu 

She is the first Nigerian women’s football coach attached to a top European club at Avaldsnes. She is a former Super Falcons midfielder and is the first Nigerian to have played 100 games for the national team.


Sandra Aguebor 

She is Nigeria’s first lady mechanic. She studied mechanical engineering at the Auchi Polytechnic graduating in 1991 as the first Nigerian woman to be certified as an auto-mechanical engineer. Sandra opened her own garage in Lagos, established a solid customer base and began to bring other women into her profession. Today, she is the founder of Lady Mechanic Initiative which trains females mechanics. She also launched an After School Club Project, in partnership with the MacAthur Foundation aimed at grooming young female public school students in Lagos State for gainful employment.


Agbani Darego 

She is a former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria best known as the first native Sub-Saharan African to win Miss World. She has gone on to judge numerous pageants, and fashion and modelling competitions including Miss World 2014, Miss England 2002, Mr. Scotland 2002,and Elite Model Look Nigeria 2012 and 2014. In 2010 she launched a style and fashion reality show Stylogenic on Nigerian television. Three years later Agbani showed us her entrepreneurial side with the launch of her denim range, AD by Agbani Darego, which includes jeans, dresses, sunglasses and bags. She also studied Psychology at New York University and graduated in 2012.


Tara Fela-Durotoye

She is a makeup artist and lawyer is a pioneer in the bridal makeup profession in Nigeria and was the first to launch the first bridal directory in 1999 and to set up an international standard makeup studio as well as the first well established 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 while Forbes listed her as one 20 Young Power Women In Africa in 2013. She is a graduate of the prestigious Stanford SEED Transformation Program and this has aided her work as a mentor for thousands of young women across Africa and a standout entrepreneur. She recently celebrated her 40th birthday.


Dr. Salamat Ahuoiza Aliu

She is a neuro-surgeon at National Hospital, Abuja. She is the first indigenously trained female neuro-surgeon in Nigeria as well as the first female to be certified a neuro-surgeon in West Africa.


Olabisi Alofe-Kolawole

She is the first female public relations officer (FPRO) of the Nigeria Police Force. She has a degree in law from Ogun State University and a master’s in police leadership and management from University of Leicester, UK. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002 and has also served in the following United Nations Missions; in East-Timor 2000, Kosovo 2004, Liberia 2006 and at the DPKO UNHQ, New York 2007. She is also a member of the pool of investigators assisting the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the investigations of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence as international crimes/


Captain Abimbola Jayeola (Captain AB)

She is Nigeria’s First Female Helicopter Captain. In February 2016, Captain Jayeola was widely celebrated for her heroism in saving the lives of 11 Nigerians onboard a 5B BJQ Bristow helicopter headed to Lagos from Port Harcourt. Jayeola’s shrewd decision-making and astute skill has been hailed as exemplary and one of the main reasons why no lives were lost.


Dr. Abimbola Ayodeji Abolarinwa 

She is first female Urologist in Nigeria. Her medical career started in 2004 after graduating from University of Ibadan. She worked as a Medical officer for two years before she commenced her residency training at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. In 2013 she became qualified to practice as a Urologist and emerged as the first female Urologist in Nigeria. She’s currently working as a Urologist in the Department of Surgery of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, (LASUTH) Ikeja.


Chief ‘Folake Solanke (SAN) 

She is the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the first Nigerian female lawyer to wear the silk gown as Senior Counsel. She is the first Commissioner of Western State and is a former Chairperson of the Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC). Solanke has received numerous awards, including the National honour of the Commander of the Order of Niger and the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award