In a male dominated setting like ours, women are often relegated to the background in the scheme of things. Some cultures and beliefs even treat them as inferior to the men and they end up suffering for what they neither caused nor could change.
However, over the years women have advanced to a point where they compete favourably with their male counterparts. Newswatch in recognition of the advancement made by women in their chosen endeavour, presents a special supplement tagged: CORPORATE AMAZONS which focuses on women professionals and entrepreneurs who have helped to sustain the economic growth and development of Nigeria. Their selection was based on the performance and achievements of these women in their various fields.
BIOLA OKOYA-JOHNSON: DETERMINED AND FOCUSED
Being in business comes naturally to Biola Okoya-Johnson. As long as she can remember, she had always been doing one form of business or the other to earn a living. Thanks to a strict disciplinarian of a father, business mogul, Rasak Okoya, who does not believe that his children should depend on him for everything. This upbringing has made her so independent that she can prove her worth anywhere she finds herself.
She is an executive director in their family business-Eleganza Group, where for the past two years she has been in charge of the property section RAO Investments Property.
In a male dominated setting, such as Nigeria, Okoya-Johnson advises women at the top not to be intimidated or brushed aside, rather they should feel a sense of belonging in the current democratic setting. She wants more women to be involved in politics and business.
A workaholic even when she is on holidays, she appeals to the government to provide the enabling environment by providing infrastructure like light, water, telephone services, spare-parts, raw materials and create a forum where industrialists would meet, and parley with people in government, because as industrialists “we are employing people and putting them out of trouble, thereby also giving back to the economy”.
An advocate of privatisation, Okoya -Johnson looks forward to a time when Eleganza Group would be all over West Africa as their products are produced according to international quality control standards. She predicts a woman being the President of Nigeria in the next 20 years.
SOLA MOMOH: IN LOVE WITH BROADCASTING
Sola Momoh had fun growing up in a family setting of love, sincerity and good Christian ethics. As a child, she was in a hurry to grow up and used to joke with her father about wearing high heel shoes. The father advised her to complete her education, and the sky would be her limit.
Looking back at her life today, she fills fulfilled that she is in broadcasting, a profession she really loves. For her, nothing could be more fulfilling.
She was a broadcaster at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) where she met her husband, John Momoh also a broadcaster. Despite offers from banks and multi-nationals, they persevered in broadcasting until government deregulated the industry. They took advantage of this, and applied for a private television license which they got in 1992, and commenced operations in 1994. Handling her career and domestic life comes naturally to her as she believes that God must have taken this into consideration when he created a woman.
At Channels Television she is an executive director, responsible for the commercial, administrative, legal and other support departments. But as a professional, cannot overlook the editorial aspect of the job without losing her calm and humility.
Momoh feels bad about retrogressive ideas and practices against women and believes that with good education and counselling women would get to the top of their chosen endeavours.
She believes that the Obasanjo government needs time and prayers to perform because of the intrigues in politics, and scores the administration low in terms of bringing succor, hope, encouragement to the people. Momoh feels pained about our collapsed infrastructure since according to her, these things can be better with our money and manpower.
Sola Momoh is quite impressed with the broadcasting industry, which if allowed to grow will improve tremendously.
KOFOWOROLA BUCKNOR - AKERELE: THE ABLE DEPUTY
Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele was born on April 30, 1939 and at a tender age, she was sent off to a boarding school in London, where she was the only black girl. She never liked it because the weather was cold, lifestyle Spartan and the people discriminatory. The training was good though as she learnt at a very tender ago to be a survivor. Bucknor-Akerele has a sound educational background that spans CMS Girls School, Lagos, Kingsley School for Girls, Horley, England, Regent Street Polytechnic London, now University of the South Bank, London, a degree in Law and a diploma in journalism.
Being in politics, she said makes her forget she is a woman without losing her feminism, and learns to play like the men, whom she believes have no sympathy for women who make up 60% of the Nigerian population. She is not satisfied with the appointments given to women in the present democratic government and is of the belief that if women put up a united front, they will be able to network and co-ordinate better. She chides men for their chauvinism, the impression of most men that political positions are the exclusive preserve of men in Nigeria.
She was an SDP senator during the shortlived third republic. It was then she cut her political teeth, Akerele feels sad that the present democracy is rather chaotic. This she attributes to years of military rule and the fact that our politicians are yet to get over the military syndrome.
Bucknor-Akerele is tough and aggressive. She was in the steering committee of NADECO which earned her a detention with the late Pa Ajasin in Owo, after which she used to sleep with a packed bag in case they came for her. For all these she, had no fear because “fear is the worst fear of all.” She hates injustice and believes in whatever finds herself doing.
Her work experience spans the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Voice of America, VOA, Graham and Gillies Advertising (WA) Limited, Senate Committee for information and Culture. NADECO, Afenifere Lagos State, Louisa Kay Limited. She was Vice President, Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria, President, Federation for Advancement of Nigeria.
Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele is the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, the only woman in that position in the country. She believes that in the next three-four elections, we will see a woman president in Nigeria.
EMEM ESSIEN: A PERFECT MILLINER
For someone who has always been fashion conscious right from an early age, it is not out of the ordinary that she is in the fashion business. Emem Essien, born about 35 years ago in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State is the managing director/chief executive of Valentis, a Lagos based fashion concern.
She started her fashion business in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State in the early 90s. The Uyo market soon became too small for her hence the move to a wider and more appreciative Lagos market.
Presently, she has a strong bias for sinamay hats and spends all her time and resources producing them.
She grudgingly accepts the position African society places on women hoping that with time, the situation will improve. Essien calls for concerted efforts towards encouraging women to participate more in politics, business and the professions.
She sees Nigeria as a country with great potentials, which are not harnessed properly, and believes that if these potentials are put to good use, Nigeria would be greater.
A workaholic who hardly has time to unwind, she sees fashion business as very viable and appeals to more Nigerian women to embrace it.
She likes reading, music and playing with her two teenage sons.
BIMBO SOREMEKUN: TELECOM QUEEN
Her low-cut hairstyle, which gives her a girlish look, belies her age. But Bimbo Soremekun, mother of three, grandmother and managing director of Myloid Telecommunications Limited, is one of the leading lights of today’s corporate Nigeria.
Born about 50 years ago in the northern part of Nigeria into a polygamous home, she had her primary and secondary education there before proceeding to London to study Confidential/Secretarial Studies at the famous Pitman’s College.
A very determined person who hardly sees herself as a woman, since she “swims in the same ocean with the men,” she admits that it has not been easy as a woman, and a single mother. But because of her faith in God, she has been able to accept whatever comes her way as the will of God.
Before she ventured into telecommunications business, she had been mostly into the service sector providing jobs for people. Her interest for Telecoms came when her daughter got her involved with a United States based company which saw her registering Myloid Telecommunications with AT & T and applied for a GSM licence which she got in 1998 but later revoked along with others. This has not deterred her.
Soremekun sometimes works in her office till 2.am, and feels morally saddened to see women jostling for favours, rather than concentrate on productive ventures. Though some men hate her guts, she remains pushful and tries to get what she wants, without necessarily hurting anybody.
A very apolitical person, she shies away from even discussing politics but scores the Obasanjo government very high for his achievements for Nigeria, foreign investments and economic reforms.
She does not see why societal and cultural inhibitions should impede the growth of women, once they remain focused. She appreciates the prominence given to women in the present democratic setting, which makes her to believe that Nigeria would be ruled by women in 2008.
When she is not calling the shots from her spacious office in Victoria Island, the spiritually inclined Soremekum, who hardly socializes, is either in church, taking a walk, at the gym or getting herself busy with domestic chores.
TEJU PHILIPS: THE PEOPLES’ WOMAN
When her principal told her she would be a politician, she did not give it much thought. But later in life, she noticed that her concern for people was growing, she remembered the words of her principal.
She neither went into politics immediately after realising this nor held an elective position. She was quite involved in politics for many years, though silently and made enormous contributions to the political process.
These contributions have paid off today for Teju Philips, Commissioner for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations in Lagos State.
Born 45 years ago, she had her early education in Ibadan, before going to the Davies Tuition (Ballarbys College) Hove, England for her high school. She also attended the Aston University, Birmingham, Huddersfield University and Wednesbury College of Commerce and Management all in England. Back home in Nigeria she did her articleship with Peat Marwick & Co, worked as the Audit Controller of Deinde Fernandez Group of Companies and Commercial Manager, UAC of Nigeria, Plc, until she resigned in 1992 and went into private business.
She was the Chairman, Accommodation Committee of Imo 98 and Nigeria 99 (Lagos zone) and her experience cuts across valuation and management consulting, management services, credit management, real estate appraisal and management training.
WINIFRED AWOSIKA: CORE EDUCATIONIST
Winifred Awosika, an Owo princess and high chief is a woman of many parts. She has her hands in many businesses. She is the Managing Director of Chermo Pharma, Holy Trinity Estate Clinic, All Saints Medical Organisation and Chrisland Educational Organisation. But the one that most people easily associate her with is the reputable Chrisland Educational Organisation.
She had her primary and secondary education in Owo and Ibadan respectively, before going to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology Enugu, University of Ibadan and University of Lagos.
The Chrisland Schools which she started about 23 years ago has by the grace of God, contributed to the educational development of the country and the world as they have students from other countries enrolling in the schools.
The decay in the educational system gives her much concern though she sees it as a challenge to put in more effort and a positive attitude to get better results.
She believes government at all levels should be involved in women activities, by identifying some of the prominent ones and incorporating them into government activities and does not bring gender into her assessment of people.
As a widow she refuses to subscribe to segregating women because of her personal experience Awosika urges women to work hand in hand with men, cope with them without bringing gender superiority into consideration.
For the educational system to improve, she wants government to put the necessary infrastructure such as electricity, water and roads in place. "If we make all the efforts and the facilities are not there to support there will be problems" and she will not relent until she has been able actualise a Chrisland University, which is currently on the drawing board.
A positive thinker and believer in destiny, she does not shy away from politics if it is the will of God. She is a recipient of several awards including the Ecowas International Gold Award.
MUYIBAT OYEFUSI: HUMILITY PERSONIFIED
She is humble, receptive and barely speaks above a whisper that you could be tempted to mistake her worth. But Muyibat Oyefusi, born July 19, 1938 to the Shoaga and Nola families of Abeokuta is undoubtedly a woman of substance.
After her primary and secondary education here, she went to the United Kingdom and studied Secretarial Administration at the Palmers Green Branch of the reputable Pitmans College.
In those days when racial discrimination was at its peak, the delectable young Muyibat was among the first blacks to school abroad. So determined was she to excel that she ignored the taunting of the whites and excelled in her chosen career.
She finished tops at Pitmans and worked at Westminster Bank, Messrs. Sulzer Brother Limited, and the London Borough of Hackney before returning to Nigeria to work with Mobil Oil Nigeria Plc as a first class executive secretary. Upon her resignation, this dedicated, intelligent and fashionable wife of His Royal Majesty, Alaiyeluwa Oba S. A.A Oyefusi the Ayangburen of Ikorodu went into private business.
Today she runs a petroleum business and publishes a monthly newspaper, Nigerian News.
In recognition of her various contributions and relevance to the society, she is a recipient of many honours, titles and awards. Among these are “The most glamorous queen of our time,” and the most recent: ECOWAS Corporate Achievers Gold Award to mark the 25th year anniversary of ECOWAS.
She encourages women to break the shackles of cultural impediments and venture into all professions. She praises the Obasanjo government for the many things he has been able to change within a short period of time, which have affected our lives positively though she says it will take some time for Nigerians to actually appreciate what democracy means. The government she believes should improve our infrastructural facilities to reduce our level of dependency and despondency and hopes that in the next 25 years, God will provide more for the women, and as mothers and wives who run their homes they would be able to function better.
She deplores the low level of morality and intends to open a school for moral training, where moral values, day to day living, coping with stress, work ethics and a total re-orientation will be inculcated.
DOYIN ABIOLA: JOURNALIST PAR EXCELLENCE
Her whole career life revolves around journalism, and she has no regrets about it. Doyin Abiola, managing director/editor-in-chief of Concord Group of newspapers, did not get into the profession by accident. Born February 1, 1946, she started her educational pursuits at Queen’s College, Lagos before going to the University of Ibadan (1966-1969) where she bagged a Bachelor of Arts in English/Drama. She later went to the University of Wisconsin (1970-1972) for a Masters in Journalism, and the University of New York (1976-1979) for a doctorate in Mass Communication.
She started her journalism profession as a reporter with Sketch newspapers. She later went to Daily Times which was then the country’s foremost newspaper where she worked as the first Nigerian female features editor.
In the early 1980s, when the Concord Group of newspapers was established, she worked there as editor. Today, she is managing director and editor-in-chief of Concord and manages the various titles of the group including the Saturday paper as distinct from the daily paper.
In the course of her profession she has attended many seminars and trainings and participated in various media associations.
GRACE OSHINOWO: A COMMITTED TEACHER
If people were to judge her on achievements, she would be rated grade one. But Grace Oshinowo would not relent until a time comes when Grace Schools will be known as one of the best schools in Nigeria academically. This she leaves in the hands of God whom she has been serving dedicatedly right from childhood.
Born December 30, 1928 into a polygamous home, she had her primary and secondary education in Lagos before leaving for England to school at Froebel Foundation College, England (now University of Surrey Roehampton) and specialised in Child and Teacher’s Education. She taught at Teacher’s Training College, Mushin, Protestant Teacher’s Training College, Idi Araba for about 10 years till she got a scholarship to study at Piertmont Teacher’s College Australia.
Because of her love for sound education and convinced of the high prospects of a private nursery school which would provide quality education under a conducive learning atmosphere, she founded the Grace Children School in 1968. Her pupils then would pass the common entrance in primary four, but got posted to distant schools. On this background, the need for a good secondary school became more imperative and she founded the Grace High School in 1994.
A Deaconess of the Methodist Church, “mama” as she is fondly called by both her students and staff, believes that the man is the head of the family. She lives and relates with people on mutual respect.
She appreciates the efforts the Obasanjo government is making though there is still room for improvement in water supply, electricity, telephone services, which are terribly bad.
For her, if all women know God and are united, the men will begin to see the relevance of women in the society. At least, we have women managing banks, pastors, engineers, politicians, infact, professionals that were hitherto the exclusive preserve of the men.
With her vast experience in education at home and abroad, she feels the government has not done enough for the education as our administrators are self-centered and hardly think about the future of our children.
Oshinowo, who is a grand mother, expectedly is not an out-going person. She prefers to go home after work and play with her grandchildren. She enjoys indoor games like ludo, ayo and reading.
KEMI NELSON: THE ALTRUISTIC POLITICIAN
She talks convincingly, without wasting words that you get carried along. This trait undoubtedly serves her well as a politician. Born February 9, 1956 to the illustrious Tinubu-Meredith/Laja families, Kemi Nelson, the Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Job Creation had her primary school at Anglican Girls Primary School Surulere, and Anglican Girls Grammar School, Ijebu Ode. She taught briefly at Corona School Apapa before enrolling for Nursing and Midwifery courses at the University College Hospital Ibadan.
She worked at the University College, Ibadan, Bolaji Akinsanya Hospital Surulere, ITT Staff Clinic, Honda Manufacturing Otta, Ogun State before going to SmithKline/Beecham as the company’s medical representative for Lagos zone. She resigned in 1989 to head her company Kagmol Nigeria Limited, which was into business management and interior decoration. She owns an industrial cleaning outfit Titol Nigeria Limited and is a board member of Envoy Communications.
With an understanding federal technocrat for a husband and three children, Kemi Nelson, who holds the traditional title of Yeye Akeweje of Ikeja, programmes her time to accommodate all her duties and responsibilities.
A very confident personality, she believes women should be emancipated and participate in all spheres of human endeavour. The idea of men dominating cuts a sore point with her, because she feels if a woman is qualified for anything, she should be confident enough to pursue her conviction to the end. Little wonder then that since 1990 when she joined the defunct National Republican Convention as a founding member, till date, she has always remained politically relevant. She was the Party's Lagos West Senatorial Candidate 1992, Chairman, Republican Electrical Panel (RECA) in Osun State, member, National Ways and Means Committee and the National Finance Committee of NRC and a national delegate to the party's convention in Port Harcourt 1993.
She appeals to Nigerians to give the Obasanjo government time to implement its programmes, which she believes will impact positively on Nigerians and welcomes the Lagos State/Enron initiative in power supply.
For all her efforts, she has been honoured with several awards including the Distinguished Florence Nightingale Fellow (DFNF) award, Order of Merit by Rotaract Club, Award for Excellence by the National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS) among others.