Folorunsho Alakija: Billionaire with a Humble Difference

LAGOS, NIGERIA - DECEMBER 27: Folorunsho Alakija attends the Diamond Collection By Folake Majin Fashion Show at Iko Hotel and Suites on December 27, 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Eric Elezuo

Folorunsho Alakija is a businesswoman who is reputed to be the second richest African woman after Isabel Dos Santos and also the third richest woman of African descent in the world. She is a business tycoon involved in the fashion, oil and printing industries. She 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 is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion. As of 2015, she is listed as the second most powerful woman in Africa after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the 87th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

She was born in 1951 to the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara in Ikorodu, Lagos State. At age seven, she travelled to the United Kingdom to begin a four-year primary education at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales. After returning to Nigeria, she attended Muslim High School Sagamu Ogun State, Nigeria. Afterwards, she returned abroad for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London. She also studied Fashion Design at the American College, London and the Central School of Fashion.

Having been equipped academically and otherwise, Folorunsho started her career in 1974 as an Executive Secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria. She moved on to the former First National Bank of Chicago, which later became Finbank, and now acquired by FCMB (First City Monument Bank) where she worked for some years before establishing a tailoring company called Supreme Stitches. Her expertise and ability to turn things around within a short period led to the total respinning of the enterprise which rose to prominence and fame within a few years, and as 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.

Not satisfied with subjecting herself to a single field of endeavour, in May 1993, Folorunsho 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 located approximately 220 miles south east of Lagos and 70 miles offshore of Nigeria in the Agbami Field of the central Niger Delta. In September 1996, she 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. Subsequently, Star Deep sold off 8 percent of its stake in OPL 216 to Petrobras, a Brazilian company.

Recently, exactly on March 9, 2016, in recognition of her selfless activities which had affected in no small measure, she was named the first female Chancellor of Osun State University renamed Bola- Ige University.

Her Rose of Sharon Foundation helps widows and orphans by empowering them through scholarships and business grants. Her company is also a major sponsor of the Agbami medical and engineering scholarship scheme, one of the most reliable scholarship schemes in Nigeria with over a thousand people yearly as beneficiaries.

She also founded the Folorunsho Alakija Scholarship Scheme (FASS) which has consistently aided quite a number of indigent Nigerians who cannot afford good and quality education.

On July 1, 2013, when about 100 new heritage sites were identified, the Federal Government of Nigeria inaugurated the National Heritage Council and Endowment for the Arts and appointed her as Vice-Chairman of the body. While inaugurating the council, the then Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, charged the council, which was headed by Igho Sanomi, to “ensure the protection and conservation of places and objects of heritage significance and the registration of such places and objects.” In this capacity, Alakija did not fail.

She serves as the Chief Matron of Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs.

That she is a billionaire oil tycoon is not in doubt, but her rise to stardom did not come as a fluke. Yes, she was born into a wealthy, polygamous family, but she immediately began to carve a niche for herself; a move which saw her becoming the ceteris paribus today. A well known philanthropist, 65-year-old Folorunsho Alakija is worth at least $3.3 billion.

For a woman who knows what she wanted from the on start, Mrs. Alakija created clientele for herself, targeting the high and mighty who paid good money. It is therefore, not out of place to say that in the early 80s when she quit her job and went on to study Fashion design in England, she had already programmed the future. At Supreme Stitches, her fashion label, only the best was produced, and she sold these high-end Nigerian clothing to fashionable wives of military bigwigs and society women.

Much as she had no expertise or experience in running an oil field, Alakija put her best foot out; intelligence. In September 1996, she 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. Till date, Folorunsho Alakija and her family owned 60 percent.

The fact that she is one of the richest women in the world or that she had won more accolades than much women put together had not ‘entered her head’ as she is a practicing Christian, exhibiting the tenets of the religion to the best of her ability. Not only that, it didn’t stop her from stooping to fulfill her marital duties and obligations to her husband.

In a recent interview, she revealed that she still dotes on your husband like a teenager who just found love.

“My husband is my best friend, biggest ad­viser and supporter. We’ve known each other for 40 years and have been married for 37 years now and with four boys. Even though we work in the same office, I always ensure that we kiss twice in a day, morning and night. I washed his undies until recently when he insisted I should stop.

“I also prepare his special vegetable dish, do his manicure and pedicure regularly. I go to the airport to pick him whenever he’s returning from foreign trips. It gives me joy whenever his friends praise my vegetable dish based on what my husband tells them,” she hinted.

For her humility even when there is no reason to be, Folorunsho Alakija deserves the boss of the week status this week. Congrats ma!


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