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Rags to riches is a familiar narrative, but when it comes to Folorunsho Alakija, a self-made-millionaire, the third richest Nigerian and the second richest woman in Africa, that classic cliché is not her fairytale.
Rags to riches is a familiar narrative, but when it comes to Folorunsho Alakija, a self-made-millionaire, the third richest Nigerian and the second richest woman in Africa, that classic cliché is not her fairytale. Hers is a story of hard-work, perseverance, commitment, determination and most importantly, a strong will to follow her dreams.
But that’s not how it started for the business tycoon involved in oil, fashion, real-estate and printing industries. At the start of her journey, she lived her father’s dreams and desires but it was not long before she set out on her own path.
Alakija was born in 1951 to a family of a wealthy polygamous chief in Ikorodu, Lagos States. She had seven step mothers and 52 siblings. At the tender age of seven, Chief Ogbara sent her and her sister to Northern Wales for her primary education.
Afraid his daughter might be influenced and lose the rich African culture and traditions, the chief called her back home. By this time, at eleven years, she had completed her primary and was ready for high school which she was enrolled at in Nigeria.
Four years later, she was a grown up with a mind and dreams of her own. Still, she went back to London and studied a secretariat course to please her father.
In 1974, she returned to Nigeria and started her career as a secretary for Sijuade Enterprises. After one and a half year at the job, she was done living someone else’s dream. She quit and switched to the banking sector where she was appointed the first head of corporate affairs in International Merchant Bank.
Two years later, she moved up the ranks to a financial position in the treasury department. Still, she was not satisfied with life, her dreams were pinching on her heart and the banking sector was flooding. She decided to quit and follow her heart. She went back to England to study fashion with the aim of starting her own business.
After a year of study, in 1986 Alakija returned to Nigeria where she created Supreme Stiches, her own fashion label catering to the wives of the political elite. There, she met, Maryam Babangide wife of Nigeria’s former military president Ibrahim Babangide and they became close friends.
Her fashion house rose to prominence and was rebranded to Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, as she became a household name winning award after award. Later, due to her influence in the fashion world, she was appointed the national president and lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), to promote Nigerian culture through fashion.
In 1993, on behalf of one of her friends, she inquired about the mining industry from Ibrahim Babangide. When her friend lost interest in the industry, ambitious Alakija took the risk and a leap of faith and invested on the industry. With the help of Maryam, she acquired a mining license through Famfa Oil, a company that made her now massive fortune.
Having been allocated an unwanted oil bloc, the ambitious lady in 1996 appointed Chevron as a technical adviser for the exploration of the license, transferring 40 percent of her 100 percent stake to it. Chevron later sold its 8 percent stake to Brazilian company Petrobas.
Currently, Alakija is the vice chair of Famfa Oil, a company which explores oil and gas. She still owns the 60% in block OML 127, part of Agbami field, one of Nigeria's largest deep-water discoveries.
Aside from her astounding success in the oil, gas and fashion industries, Alakija has invested heavily in the real estate sector in London and in Nigeria. Among the companies are, Rose of Sharon Towers located in Victoria Island in Lagos, and Dayspring Property Development Company.
The accomplished business woman is also involved in charity causes including Rose of Sharon Foundation that empowers widows and orphans with scholarships and business grants. According to CNN, Alakija founded the organization to help widows who are mistreated by in-laws after death of their husbands.
She is also one of the main sponsors of the Agbami Medical and Engineering Scholarship Scheme, one of the most reliable scholarship schemes benefiting a thousand Nigerians. In 2014, she helped in the construction of a 350–seat Lecture Threatre in Niger State University.
In 2013, she was appointed as the vice chair to the National Heritage Council and Endowment for the Arts body. She also serves as matron for Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs.
She is the second most powerful woman in Africa after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the 87th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Her net worth is $1.6 billion.
As Alakija continues to influence aspiring entrepreneurs, it is expected her star will continue to rise not least for her philanthropy and mentoring work.
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