Folorunsho Alakija has consistently over the last decade been widely recognized as one of the richest people in Africa. Born on the 15th day of July 1951 to a middle class family in Lagos Nigeria, Alakija has travelled the world and worked her way to the top. With business interest spanning many sectors including oil and gas, transportation and more, she has cemented her place has one of the wealthiest people not just in Africa but in the world. She made it all the way to the top without a University degree. A sign that if you are determined and committed, you can achieve anything you dare to.
As at 2019, she is worth a staggering $2.1 billion according to Forbes. Making her the fourth richest person in Nigeria and among the list of the wealthiest African women. She is only behind Isabel dos Santos.
She is the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Famfa Oil company which is one of Nigeria’s leading Oil Exploration companies. The company which shares a joint partnership agreement with international giants Chevron and Petrobras is till date one of the most prominent and promising indigenous oil companies in Africa.
With an interest of about 60% of block OML 127 of the Agbami field, which happens to be one of the Nation’s largest deepwater discoveries, Famfa Oil is duly credited with the production of not less than 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Surprisingly, Famfa Oil isn’t her sole business endeavour as she is equally 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 which are all situated in Nigeria.
By way of record, in 2014, she temporarily unseated Oprah Winfrey as the richest woman of African descent in the world and Forbes ranks her as the richest woman in Nigeria and the 2nd most powerful woman in Africa, as well as the 87th in the world.
The Start of her Business Life
Despite all this plethora of success, Folorunsho Alakija’s rise to fame and fortune wasn’t handed to her on a platter of gold as is the case of many wealthy people today. Mrs Alakija was born on the 15th day of July 1951 to the family of L. A. Ogbara who was a titled chief in Ikorodu, Lagos State.
At the tender age of seven, she was privileged to travel to the United Kingdom to kick-start a four-year primary education at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales. Upon her arrival in Nigeria, she attended Muslim High School Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria (as she was born a Muslim and into a staunch Muslim background).
Afterwards, she departed Nigeria and left for abroad for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London. She was equally given the opportunity to study fashion design at the American College, London and the Central School of Fashion.
Professionally, Folorunsho Alakija commenced her career in the year 1974 starting as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria. She then proceeded to the former First National Bank of Chicago, which later hanged name and was subsequently addressed as FinBank and is currently acquired by the FCMB (First City Monument Bank) where she was employed for a couple of years before she decided to start her own tailoring series called Supreme Stitches.
In little time, the brand achieved unprecedented success and fame and became a household name. Its quick fame and success were quite amazing and incredible at the same time and it birthed the Rose of Sharon House of Fashion. During her time as national president, and in her current role of being a lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), Folorunso has set many super standards and left indelible imprints for others to follow.
Her Oil Business Venture
It is remarkable that Folorunsho Alakija’s fortune in the oil business started with much difficulties and challenges. According to her, the journey started in an aeroplane 36,000 feet above sea level when a friend of hers who she met on a plane asked if her partners could be of help to lift crude oil from Nigeria.
Alakija set up a meeting with the petroleum minister to this end but she was met with a reply that was discouraging when the minister told her that the government was only interested in being partners with those who were interested in investing in the country. She gave her friend the feedback and without an intention to invest in Nigeria, that window of opportunity was lost.
However, Alakija’s resilience coupled with her ingenious mindset didn’t let her easily lose sight in the very promising and blooming oil sector. Born into a large polygamous family where there were 8 wives and 52 children, Folorunso learnt the art of being competitive and business oriented at an early age and she was indeed very hungry for success.
During her stint in the banking sector, she observed that there was machinery, skilfully set in place which was intended to delay promotion of officials of the bank. Folorunsho Alakija realized how negatively that would affect her growth and development, thus she quit the job and pursued the training in tailoring.
Her Transportation Business Venture
It was one of her customers in the tailoring business, Maryam Babangida who is the wife of a former head of state who was able to help her secure an appointment with the then minister of petroleum, Jubril Aminu.
After meeting him on her friend’s behalf and getting the discouraging reply, she proceeds to set up a series of meetings with the man. She told him to she’d like to render other series for the oil industry, like catering for the entire industry but she was informed that there were already many caterers on board and there was no room for her. She was dejected by the outcome but not discouraged.
After this meeting, she decided to conduct personal research and investigations and she got to discover she could make a fortune from rendering transportation services to the sector.
Some Challenges Folorunsho Alakija Encountered
However, she had to wait for a very long time before she could get another audience with Aminu. But she received another heartbreak when he told her that the government was about putting away the use of all oil trucks for oil movement and replace them with oil pipelines. The news further saddened her and she asked him what he would suggest she should do. The minister in all sincerity advised she considered oil exploration but she thought he was being sarcastic and didn’t mean what he said. She claimed to have cried all night after receiving his reply.
However, the fighter in Folorunsho Alakija didn’t let her succumb to defeat. She met with Maryam Babanginda who consoled her and assured her of the minister’s well-meaning interest. She then decided to do her homework and met with a friend of her husband who was already in the oil business who then allayed her fears and worries. Subsequently, she then applied to the ministry for an oil block.
All seemed to be going according to plan until Aminu was replaced by another minister. She had to restart the application process and it was a funny thing that the new minister was again replaced by another minister. During the period, Folorunsho Alakija nearly lost hope and she continued to apply and disturb the petroleum ministers until she was eventually given a licence.
When she eventually gained the line, it was discovered that the oil block given her was the farthest and was situated very far offshore in a place where other oil top shots refused to explore because there was barely enough technology to explore such depth at that time.
Alakija and her husband, Modupe Alakija had to use all their life savings to pay for the license as the government had threatened to withdraw all unclaimed licenses if full payments were not made. The initial partners she had secured all left her thinking the oil block was of little or no value but she was patient and calm in her resolve and it eventually paid off.
Initially, the agreement was that she was to hold 60% of Famfa Oil’s worth, while the government held on to the remaining 40%. However, the government claimed that holding such a stake would make her and her family earn about $10 million on a daily basis, the government thus reduced her stake to a paltry 10% and she immediately sued the government.
The legal battle lasted for a little over twelve years and the whole world believed it was sheer stupidity to sue the government and win but Folorunsho Alakija and her husband weren’t deterred and this paid off when the court mandated that the government returned their stake to the initial 60%. This is how she was able to reclaim what was rightfully hers from the tyrant and oppressive government and grow into the richest woman in Nigeria today.