Folorunsho Alakija never went to university, yet her Famfa Oil company, where on book she is the executive vice-chairperson, owns a 60 per cent stake in OML 127, one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil blocks.
Oprah Winfrey, the American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist who has for years been regarded the richest black woman on earth, is estimated to be worth about Sh262 billion, less than half of the riches of the Nigerian mother of four Folorunsho Alakija
The world’s richest black woman is a Nigerian who started off as a secretary and never went to university.
Her name is Folorunsho Alakija, and with an estimated fortune of Sh661 billion, the 62-year-old oil tycoon has spectacularly unseated Oprah Winfrey from the throne of the richest black woman in the world.
Forbes estimates Oprah to be worth about Sh262 billion, or about a third of the riches of the Nigerian mother of four.
During the 2014 United Nations International Youth’s Day in Lagos, Ms Alakija said she had lived a full life, having learned to make the best of anything that came her way, from being a secretary to becoming a banker, a fashion icon, a corporate promoter, a real estate dealer and a printer.
“I did not have the privilege of stepping in a university class and am proud to say so because I do not think I have done too badly,” said the woman who rose from nothing to become the managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group, which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited and Digital Reality Prints Limited.
She is also the executive vice-chairperson of Famfa Oil Limited, a Nigerian oil and gas exploration and production company.
In the pan-African magazine Ventures Africa’s list of 55 known billionaires in Africa who are jointly worth Sh13 trilion, she is ranked fourth.
The second annual ranking of Africa’s wealthiest people, published on November 11 last year, still has another Nigerian, Aliko Dangote, as the richest African, followed by Mike Adenuga (Nigerian) and Johann Rupert (South African).
Ms Alakija grew up in the UK up to the age of 11, when she and her sister returned to Nigeria to join their polygamous family. Her father had nine wives and 52 children — Ms Alakija’s mother was the first wife.
She married a lawyer, Modupe Alakija, in 1976. By then, she had already started a career as a secretary at the International Merchant Bank (IMB), where she worked for 12 years. Because she did not have a university degree, however, she did not have much career growth prospects, and in an industry that valued education more than ability, she was tossed from one department to another.
“I did an in-house banking course together with other workers, most of whom were holders of masters degrees,” she said during a recent business forum in Lagos, explaining her desire to try to fit in despite her lack of education.
Every now and then, Ms Alakija would use her savings to fly out to Italy, United Kingdom and France to buy products and sell them to her friends.
“I traded in stocks and shares and saved up to build my first house. At the time, the banks gave us loans at three per cent interest,” she said.
She left the International Merchant Bank when she realised that the bank was hiring university graduates and putting them above her.
ROLLED UP MY SLEEVES
“I had rolled up my sleeves and put in my best efforts, and so I felt cheated. I felt that the bank was being unfair to me.
They appreciated my work but they were not very good at showing me that,” she said.
Given the way her employer was treating her, she did not foresee herself ever becoming a manager, which meant she would stagnate in the same position, and so she decided to quit. Top positions, she said, seemed so far away from her reach.
On quitting her banking job, she went to study fashion design in England in 1985, and after two years she went back to Nigeria to set up a fashion label, Supreme Stitches.
“After the launch, I was invited for a fashion competition by the Daily Times Group, which I won. That marked the beginning of my success because the Daily Times really marketed my label. I was all over the papers and other media,” she said.
After winning the competition, her fashion company got several clients from all walks of life, giving her enough money and clout to borrow loans from banks and start a real estate business.
Within a few years, she ventured into the UK property market before eventually investing in the oil industry.
Today, her Famfa Oil, where on book she is the executive vice-chairperson, owns a 60-per cent stake in OML 127, one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil blocks. She also owns luxurious apartments in the UK and a private jet.
The OML 127 oil block is located in Nigeria’s offshore Agbami deepwater field, approximately 350 kilometres South East of Lagos, and is said to contain about one billion barrels of oil. It produces in excess of 200,000 barrels per day.
Ms Alakija acquired the block back in 1993 with the oil prospecting license OPL 216, which was later — in 2004 — converted into the current OML 127. At the time, she was a close friend of the deceased wife of former Nigerian military dictator, Gen Ibrahim Babangida.
Famfa immediately entered into a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Ltd, a subsidiary of Chevron and Brazil’s Petrobas, ceding a 40 per cent stake to the company.
Famfa recently won a 12-year court battle with former Nigerian President Olusegon Obasanjo, whom it accused of forcefully acquiring a 50 per cent stake in the oil block and transferring its ownership to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The Nigerian Supreme Court set aside the acquisition by the federal government in May 2013 after it held that the Minister of Petroleum Resources did not follow due process and the law in the forceful takeover of OML 127.
The court rejected the argument of the federal government that there was an agreement between it and the plaintiff (Famfa), allowing it (the government) to take up a 50 per cent stake in the licence.
“Everything I have today and every aspect of my success, I attribute it to God. It is all because of God’s favour,” Ms Alakija said during a recent business forum in Lagos.
According to Ventures Africa, the richest African is Nigerian manufacturing tycoon Aliko Dangote, who is worth about Sh2.3 trillion.
Over the past three decades, Mr Dangote has systematically built his fortune, and with current expansion plans for his Dangote Group, shows no signs of stopping.
His net worth has jumped from Sh1.8 trillion last year to the Sh2.3 trillion reported this year.
Ventures Africa estimates that Mr Dangote has created a total of 23,900 jobs while his immediate follower, Mike Adenuga, also from Nigeria, has 6,080 workers under him.
South African Johnathan Rupert and Ms Alakija are estimated to have employed 1,465 and 800 people, respectively
The second richest African woman is Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. She is now worth about Sh317 billion, or half of Ms Alakija’s worth.
So, how did the uneducated secretary from Nigeria amass all this wealth?
“For as long as I can remember,” she has been quoted as saying, “I have always wanted to have my own businesses.
I have succeeded because of hard work, diligence and persistence. I chose not to give up nor compromise, even in the hardest periods.”
In Nigeria she is regarded as one of the top philanthropists, with over 1,000 widows and orphans under her care and support.
She has also published several inspirational books, most of which target women who wish to excel in business. One of her publications; Growing with the Hand that Gives the Rose, is quite popular in Nigeria.
“Every person has a potential,” she says. “There is no excuse not to succeed. All we need to do is be loyal, committed, and persistent.”
The woman who prides herself in her sense of fashion says she believes that women are the foundation of success in the society since “they are patient, persistent and loyal”.
“The problem,” she adds, “is that they do not have the funding in most cases, and that is where the men need to support the women.
“Countries in Africa need to discover that women are a great resource and put in place a strategy of giving them low interest loans and empowering them.”
African countries also need to get rid of all the barriers that bar entrepreneurs from doing intra-Africa trade, she said during an interview with a Nigerian TV station.
KENYANS ON RICH LIST
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