In 2017, YNaija committed a big part of its time and resources towards carefully documenting the big stories happening in the country and on the continent and highlighting the efforts of young Nigerians and Africans challenging the tired narratives around the continent through personal achievement and social good. Sometimes these stories are forgotten, buried under the avalanche of a year’s worth of news reporting and spot analyses.
Our reporting has been diverse and extensive, and we have chosen to start our reporting in 2018 by returning to these stories, to remind ourselves and our readers just how much ground was covered in 2017 and reaffirm the level of quality and care we commit to telling our stories in 2018.
We hope they resonate with you now, as well as they did when they were first published.
by Edwin Okolo
Never has Nigeria had so many reasons to look inwards, to fix the yawning chasm that has become our country. From Boko Haram in the North, the agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South East, Niger Delta militancy in the South-South, deadly ritual cults in the South West and Fulani herdsmen in the North Central, there is bloodshed, conflict and an unwillingness to put the concerns of others over self. This is a motif that is repeating all around the world and it suggests one thing; we are all losing our empathy.
Empathy was the reason millions of Germans risked their lives to shelter Jews from the pogroms, why the Allies fought to end the Second World War, it is why we donate to GoFundMe’s even when we have no personal connections to the person to whom our money is going. Empathy is why people open their homes to strangers, advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. It is that intangible trait that elevates us, the ability to lend our privilege and our voices to causes that do not personally benefit us.
It is important that empathy be celebrated, especially in these times when it seems the fake news cycles are dedicated to promoting bigotry. As the Christian Good Book says “Faith comes by hearing”, and it is important that these stories of empathy are told with the care they deserve. We have chosen 100 Nigerians, all incredibly different from each other, who in their own ways have shown empathy even when it was inconvenient and even sometimes dangerous. We celebrate them and highlight their work so that others may be inspired and they might see that they are appreciated. To use SJW lingo, we have called this a ‘Woke list’ but in reality it is a tableau of humanity at its best.
- Ire Aderinokun
Ire Aderinokun is an unlikely person on this list because she isn’t nearly as vocal as many of the women on this list. But based on her personal achievements and the philosophy she promotes through her work, Aderinokun has become a beacon of sorts for the woman who is neither genteel and domesticated or street smart and world-weary. As one of only three Google Developer Experts in Nigeria, and the only female Dev Expert, she has spoken at international conferences and challenged the conventions about technology Nigerians have.
But she doesn’t just let her life do the talking, she created Muslim Condemn, a site that compiles instances on Twitter of Muslims condemning terrorism, racism and misogyny as a response to trolls trying to shame all Muslims for extremist behaviour. She also partners with non-profit, For Creative Girls, to mentor future programmers and has recently offered to sponsor five female developers to earn a Nano-Degree in a field of their choice.
She is making the change she wants to see, with the opportunity her privilege has given her, and with her wallet.
- Editi Effiong
Anakle boss Editi Effiong is well known for his often insightful opinions on matters of patriotism, governance and the place of a complacent citizenry, often from a detached, casual observer’s standpoint, a stance many techpreneurs quickly adopt because of how volatile Nigerians are to this specific caste of entrepreneur. But social media pundits are a dime-a-dozen, and CEO’s who do the same just as many.
However, a trip to the multi-million dollar Ibom Golf Resort and a chance meeting with a widow who lives in a dilapidated shack with 4 children just outside the resort’s grounds, inspired Effiong to go from punditry to activism. He started the #WriterKids hashtag as a lodestone for a campaign he began to help get the children from the ranch into formal education and rebuild their mother’s house. The project is still on-going but Effiong has made headway. And he makes headway into our list because all you need to change a country is to alter the life trajectory of a single family.
- Wana Udobang
Former radio girl Wana Udobang, didn’t really come into her own till she took the plunge and quit her job to become a freelance creator. Unconstrained by the limits of a 9 to 5, Udobang began to take on the projects she really cared about, freelancing as a commissioned writer for publications like the UK Guardian where she wrote about LGBT life, religion crazy Nigeria and made films that explore the depths of mental illness and self-care through a series of YouTube shorts called Room 313.
Udobang preaches a courteous but uncompromising message of body positivity and self-acceptance for young girls, especially after extreme trauma. This has led her to some dark places, like the creative non-fiction piece where she unpacks the complexity of her mother’s violent marriage, and the spoken word poems she writes that begin the depths of self-despair and work through to end in the triumph of self-acceptance. As she works towards her debut spoken word album, she continues to exist in spaces as a mentor for younger women and an example of otherness being a positive thing for all women.
- Oghenekaro Omu
Too many people feel compelled to help solve everyday injustices but are often crippled by the sheer scale of victims, especially when these injustices are gender-based or against sexual minorities. Not Oghenekaro Omu. When she discovered in late 2016, following the recession that sanitary pads, already expensive necessity for many young girls, had been nearly doubled in prices, forcing the most disadvantaged to forgo using them altogether, she started a Sanitary Pad Drive right from her Twitter Page. Seven months later, Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls (S.A.N.G.) is a fully fledged NGO which has already reached thousands of girls in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Yola, providing vital sanitary care for free.
But Omu doesn’t let geographical constraints limit her, she recently started a GoFundMe to help Mariam Nabatanzi, a Ugandan woman who made the news because of Hyper-Ovulation, a medical condition that predisposes her to frequent pregnancies and multiple live births. So far the GoFundMe has raised 6000 Pounds and helped Natabanzi find healthcare. What could be more inspiring?
- Jola Ayeye
Jola Ayeye, otherwise known as Jollz fell headlong into activism after she finished her undergraduate degree and joined the writing team at youth-oriented e-zine Zikoko. Primarily interested in feminism, sex and gender relations, Ayeye has been very vocal on social media about activists and NGOs expanding their focus from small outreaches to lobbying for better government policies. But she is also as hands-on as she is vocal, helping raise funds for persons internally displaced by Boko Haram and working as a freelance volunteer for Stand To End Rape, and helping shape the conversation on Nigeria’s NGO regulation Bill.
- Deaduramilade Tawak
Few young women are as inspiring as UNILAG Psychology undergraduate and hands-on volunteer Deaduramilade Tawak. Tawak is best known for her work with sexual abuse and domestic violence NGO Stand To End Rape, where she has volunteered since 2014, putting her time and resources towards educating young women like her about the often ignored dynamics of consent in sexual relationships, and providing safe spaces for victims, through social media campaigning and physical outreaches.
Tawak has also helped raise funding and volunteered with community crowdsourced outreaches like Christmas in the Streets, Ball for Borno and IDP food drive. She is also a strong advocate for education through extracurricular learning and started the non-profit Book Barter NG as a way for young people to barter fiction and non-fiction books. She is living proof that it is never too early to start to change your community.
- Neemah Arigbabu
Not even a scandal could deter Neemah Arigbabu from advocating for the Internally Displaced People who had to suffer through the horror of a famine exacerbated by government negligence and Nigerian apathy. Personally moved by the terrorism wrought by Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria, Arigbabu used social media as her tool to create awareness of their plight and a series of physical events called Ball For Borno to raise funds for a Food Bank for the Borno IDP. She helped feed hundreds of people, travelling cross country several times to personally overseeing the process in Borno. In mid 2016, she was accused of misappropriating funds, a claim that turned out to be unsubstantiated, and Arigbabu shrugged off the bad press and got right back to what matters, the IDPs for whom she has become an unexpected lifeline.
- Olutimehin Adegbeye
Olutimehin Adegbeye is first and foremost a feminist. Her feminism is bold and unapologetic and while it has earned her ire of many traditionalists and quite a few attacks from Twitter trolls, Adegbeye takes it all in her stride and uses the attention the trolls bring to educate via social media about the far-reaching effects of a limited definition of rape, rape culture and consent.
But the activism Olutimehin Adegbeye does online is only a small part of her oeuvre. Olutimehin was one of the first freelance activists to begin to document the Lagos State Government’s injustices against the waterfront communities of East Badia and Otodo Gbame, bringing their plight to the world in 2015 through an article that was translated and published in a Norwegian syndicated daily newspaper. An event that led to Adegbeye being invited to Norway for the international conference organised in preparation for 2019’s Frankfurt Book Fair where she met the Crown Princess of Norway. Talk about activism taking you places.
- Adenike Oyetunde
Little could be worse than the horror of being told at 20 that you’ve developed cancer in one of your legs and need to have it amputated. That was exactly what happened to On Air Personality and activist Adenike Oyetunde. It has taken her eleven long years since her amputation to work through the discordant feelings and depression that followed and turn her life around. Oyetunde is living her best life, doing what she loves and encouraging others through her radio shows where she relentlessly promotes body positivity and tries to create opportunities for people who are differently abled.
She since started the Amputees United Initiative, a non-profit group that seeks to build a community for amputees and foster self-confidence and a sense of camaraderie, especially for younger amputees who are struggling with living differently abled.
- Funmilade Adeniyi-Taiwo
The conversation around mental illness is finally starting to shift, thanks to the efforts of the millennial generation to tackle the stigmatisation of mental illness head on and offer crowdsourced alternatives. Funmilade Adeniyi-Taiwo is one of such pioneers. After spending considerable time in Nigeria for education, an experience which helped him unlearn a lot of the toxic values Nigerians have as it regards mental illness, Taiwo moved back home, intent on finding a user-friendly way to engage young people on issues of health and provide care, people to talk to and advice as needed. He found his way through PsyndUp.com, a platform that is part Reddit, part Medium and almost entirely crowdsourced.
PsyndUp’s regular Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with the site’s in-house licensed therapists are introducing younger people to mental health care and connecting them to other young people struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses less conspicuous than Schizophrenia and Dementia. Taiwo might eschew the spotlight but his work definitely speaks for him.
- Amanda Iheme
Licensed psychologist Amanda Iheme struggled a while to find her calling, working as an On-Air Presenter at Beat FM Ibadan and in the fashion retail industry before she finally decided to practice as a therapist. But Iheme’s decision is greatly inspired by her own well-documented struggles with depression and anxiety and the catharsis that comes from publicly naming her struggles.
Refusing to be defeated by the incompetence, bureaucracy and inaccessibility to care that plagues our government sanctioned mental health facilities and the therapists and psychologists who do want to offer help, Iheme is circumventing the process and using the dual tools of social media and crowdsourcing to offer easily accessible mental health care to young millennials. Her practice ‘Ndidi’ offers much-needed affordable group therapy sessions and she is already partnering with non-profit Stand To End Rape to offer therapy sessions for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. All it really takes is one person.
- Chimamanda Adichie
Is there any Generation X-er who has been as influential in changing the mindsets of young Nigerians as Chimamanda Adichie? You’d be hard-pressed to find her an equal. As a writer, Chimamanda’s insightful explorations of Nigerian womanhood in the past, present and future has endeared her to a global audience and elevated to stratospheric levels of fame and influence at home. So much so that she is often referred to as the true heir of Nigerian literary legend Chinua Achebe. But if she is his intellectual heir, she has also inherited his taste for activism.
Chimamanda has used her literature and her platform to advocate for progressive, unabashed feminism. She has given world renowned speeches including the ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ TED Talk that has been made into a booklet, translated and distributed around the world. And of course, her follow-up pamphlet ‘Dear Ijewele’. Chimamanda continues to use her platform to push our understanding of feminism and decry the toxic legacy that colonialism and misogyny has wrought, and she lives her principles, which more than we can say for many vocal activists today.
- Funmi Iyanda
Funmi Iyanda recently said ‘I am no one’s mother or aunt’, in response to young millennials who have become drawn to her in the last few years calling her their ‘aunty’ or ‘mother’. For Iyanda who relocated to the UK after a successful but controversial decade on National Television running her independent talk show New Dawn, those words, while good willed, represent the boxing of Nigerian women who are often thrust in nurturing roles.
But that doesn’t mean Iyanda, who actively championed feminism, social justice and LGBT rights long before it became fashionable here abhors the idea of mentoring and nurturing young people. She revels in it, returning back to media with a series of YouTube videos that tackle pressing topics that young people seek answers to, perhaps suggesting that we see that she is just as much of the time as we are. A good trait for anyone who is advocating for us, today.
- Obiageli Ezekwesili
As a government official who has held several roles in successive governments, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili continues to defy the stereotypes that Nigerian politicians eventually fall into. She has remained an active activist and rouser of young people, engaging them physically and on social media, pursuing the issues she strongly believes in whether she has thousands in support or just a handful of other mothers marching behind her to Aso Rock, placards in hand to protest the government’s disgraceful treatment of the Chibok girls.
Mrs. Ezekwesili persistence and unwavering principles are an example that many millennials seeking to eventually run for public office need to see. She is the kind of woke many of us need to be.
- Aisha Yesufu
It’s hard to believe that only four years ago, Aisha Yesufu was simply a wife and mother, devout to her faith and happy in her life. This was before she was compelled to act following the forced abduction of 237 girls from Chibok in Borno and then government’s insistence on ignoring the crisis and dismissing the abduction of the girls we now refer to as the Chibok Girls as propaganda from the opposition party. Aisha Yesufu was one of the first to rally call, protesting before the Nigerian Government’s physical seat of power, requesting that they ‘Bring Back Our Girls’. The slogan soon went viral, drawing the attention of many high-powered people, including Michelle Obama, the then first lady of the United States of America.
Three years have passed since, and about a 100 plus of the girls abducted have either escaped or been released into the custody of the Nigerian government. Aisha remains unsatisfied and continues to protest with Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, vowing to do so until all the girls are found and brought home.
- Mildred Okwo
Mildred Okwo, through her production company, the Audrey Silva company challenges all the stereotypes we’ve come to expect of Nollywood. She challenges the poor quality of films made and places value in longevity over frequency. But most importantly the films Mildred Okwo makes challenge the stereotypical views we have of women. They feature women who we come respect for their drive, or character or their ambition, instead of their beauty or charisma.
And Okwo is quite vocal too on social media, offering often insightful commentary into the mechanics of the Nigerian film industry and how it is delicately weighed to exclude women from positions of authority or influence.
17.. Bassey Ikpi
Writer and poet Bassey Ikpi has long been vocal about her struggles with depression and mental illness, her battle against suicidal thoughts and how her personal struggles for a while forced her to put her career on the back burner. However, she strikes the most chords with her cutting expositions on the ordeal that is being an immigrant and how the process inevitably shapes young creatives. Her candour has attracted many millennial creatives, looking for an older authority figure who is honest about the pressure of creative careers especially as it regards Nigerians, and put her at the forefront of the New Wave of confessional writers, poets and creatives.
Ikpi signed a book deal to document her life and struggles in a memoir and she was recently announced as an editor at literary magazine Catapult.co, where she’s vowed to help young Africans at home and in the diaspora a home for their unconventional and deeply confessional stories.
- Bukky Shonibare
There is so much that could be said for activist and serial achiever Bukky Shonibare, but there is one story that will always be referenced when she is spoken of. For three years, Shonibare has made a small ritual into one of the country’s biggest and most enduring civil protests. She has chosen to use social media to document every day, the number of days the Chibok Girls, abducted by extremist Muslim group Boko Haram from their school while they were writing exams have spent in captivity.
Even after the initial furore and media circus around the Chibok Girls’ disappearance rose and waned, Shonibare stayed consistent, and her lone candle in the dark has repeatedly galvanised young people and activists to resume protests for the safe return of the Chibok Girls. Her quiet resolve has paid off in part, 100 of the girls have either been released or escaped. Shonibare however, will not stop till they are all home.
- Olumide Makanjuola
Olumide Makanjuola has made it his personal mission to actively advocate that LGBT people in Nigeria be granted the same rights and privileges as anyone else in the country. To this effect, he helped found the non-profit The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) the most visible LGBT advocacy group in the country. Through TIERS Olumide has helped shift public perception around gay people, scoring one of the organisation’s biggest coups when it got high profile straight actors Daniel K. Daniel and Enyinna Enigwe to take lead roles in the 2016 film ‘Hell or High Water’.
When Makanjuola is not helping to run TIERS, he is all over the world offering his unique perspective on LGBT peoples in the third world countries and how the unfortunate confluence of postcolonial religion and repressive governments have kept their lives at risk.
- Wole Soyinka
Professor Wole Soyinka has always been political, and unapologetically so. Using his literature as a megaphone for his political beliefs, Professor Soyinka criticised Nigeria’s successive military governments and their repressive, violent governing and was thrown into jail for his work and then exiled. As an eccentric elder statesman, Soyinka has nothing to prove, but that doesn’t stop him from still advocating for better governance and calling out the failings of our democratic government.
Soyinka’s activism isn’t only political, he has helped a number of literacy-related projects and offers his support to the Ake Book and Arts Festival created by his daughter-in-law Lola Shoneyin. There aren’t many creatives with as much fervour as Soyinka anymore and that is a huge shame.
- Zannah Mustapha
Some activists become so as a result of the public position they hold and the audience it gives them, others work quietly in the shadows, facilitating the much-needed progress that we all fight for. Zannah Mustapha is not a name that you will immediately recognise, but he is certainly one those people.
In 2007, Mallam Zannah Mustapha, a practising lawyer, started the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation school in Borno State as a catchall for Almajiris, the orphaned and poor Muslim children unable to access conventional and often expensive primary school education. It was meant to be a small dent to be a huge pool of need but the start of the Boko Haram insurgency moved Mustapha to open the school to the children of soldiers and government officials killed by militants as well as the children of slain militants. For him, it was a way to reintegrate both factions and quell hate.
This gave him credibility with Boko Haram, a credibility that was vital when he became a mediator between the terrorist group and the Federal government in 2015. After two years of negotiations, Zannah Mustapha successfully negotiated the release of 87 Chibok girls after three years of captivity. Zannah Mustapha never gives up, 82 lives that will forever be changed because of that tenacity.
- Betty Abah
Many suggest that true journalism is amoral, and can only happen in the absence of personal bias or emotion. But journalist and activist Betty Abah is proof that this approach to journalism is at best a theoretical fantasy, that real journalism can only come to a place of true empathy for the subjects of a story, no matter what roles they have been cast in.
Betty Abah’s journalism has always been influenced by her activism and her empathy for women and girls. It is this empathy has continually spurred her to take on cases deemed as hopeless by others, worrying at them till something gives. Abah was one of the first journalists to take on the case of the 238 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and persistently followed the story even when public interest waned. She helped break the story of Ese Oruru, the young girl from Warri abducted and forced into marriage by Yunusa Dahiru. But Abah is best known for her journalism and activism about the environmental impact of oil mining in the Niger Delta and her coverage of the women whose lives are directly affected by the side effect of the legal exploration, the illegal pollution and illegal bunkering.
Abah started CEE-HOPE as a way to streamline her activism and make it more efficient and she spends her personal time working for the non-profit. Journalism should ultimately be about people, and Betty Abah makes it so.
- Isabella Akinseye
Often when we think of service for a greater cause, we tend to think in grand gestures of social justice activism and environmental activism, but service needn’t always be so grand global, sometimes it might be in the service of a misunderstood industry and the people who have dedicated their lives to it. Isabella Akinseye is passionate about Nigeria, especially its creative industries. She is so passionate, she left her position at Nestle Nigeria to work in the industry, offering her unique talents and unbiased perspective to bettering the industry.
The industry is plagued with extremes. On one end of the scales, we have harsh, unyielding critics, expecting global standards from Nigerian creatives without considering the unique limitations that they face in their quest to create. On the other, sycophantic supporters who aggressively praise everything that comes out of the industry no matter how mediocre, creating an echo bubble from which no growth can come. Akinseye through Nollysilver which she started in 2012 and African Literati which she started in 2016, provides a healthy middle, where context and nuance is valued and Nigeria’s film and literary societies are introduced to the world without bias or prejudice.
- Lola Shoneyin
As the daughter-in-law of celebrated writer and activist Professor Wole Soyinka, Lola Shoneyin has seen first-hand the power of literature to chronicle history, protest oppressive governments and in effect change the world. But she has also had a front row view to how emotionally draining and physically tasking it can be to be at the forefront of literary activism, how much sacrifice you have to make to use literature as tool for liberating others. So her decision to join this fight to make literature accessible to everyone is not one she’s made lightly, and we are all better for it.
Mrs. Shoneyin has forged her own path as a writer an activist, first through her work as a writer and her critically acclaimed novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, which asks many important questions about gender, sexuality and the expectations placed on men and women. She has also worked tirelessly to ensure that there are safe spaces stories that are politically correct be told through her publishing house Ouida Books, and the Ake Book and Arts Festival in Abeokuta. She recently helped facilitate the first Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAF) bringing a much needed celebration of female writers of Northern descent to a part of the country where literacy is being increasingly frowned upon.
Shoneyin believes that education levels the playing field, and that a person able to write is a person able to tell their own stories, and her work proves that it is not just empty belief.
- Tunji Andrews
Fiscal activism seems like some fancy buzzwords, but the widespread illiteracy when it comes to personal finances and how our individual finances are a result of trickle down from bad economic policies at the federal level cannot continue. This is where people like Tunji Andrews, lead economist at Time, Trade and Communities Africa (TTAC) come in.
Andrews is passionate about improving economic literacy in Nigeria and has partnered with web channel Ndani TV to produce a web show educating young Nigerians about everything from how the National Oil Policies affect foreign exchange and in effect our salaries, to how to spot and avoid Ponzi Schemes. But he has had the most success through social media and his insightful and accessible presentation of complex economic policies in easy to understand language. Economic literacy is vital if we are going to help disadvantaged peoples and Tunji Andrews is devoting his time, experience and knowledge to bridging that gap.
- Zuriel Oduwole
Zuriel Oduwole is probably the youngest person on this list at 15, but that doesn’t mean she is any less accomplished as a journalist or self taught documentary filmmaker and advocate for the rights of women and girls across the continent. Oduwole’s interest in activism was spurred ironically by a school project that required her to research on the “Ghana Revolution”. As part of her research, the then 12 year old met with Ghanaian presidents John Kuffour and Jerry Rawlings and was able to advocate for the rights of women and girls in Ghana.
Since then Oduwole has set about lending her voice to the global conversation about nationalism, gender, equality and discrimination. Her work has seen her profiled by some of the most respected magazines and newspapers in print today, put her in the same room with 24 presidents from across the world, and international honours. At 15 Oduwole is only at the start of a long career in activism if she so chooses, but more importantly she is a beacon for girls her age and younger, an honest-to-goodness example that you are never too young to speak up for someone else.
- Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin
When Josephine Odumakin was 14 years old, she told her family she wanted to take the vows and become a Roman Catholic nun. Her father was so invested in seeing his only daughter married that he printed an obituary in her name and threatened to disown her, asserting that a daughter who refuses to procreate might as well be dead. Her father won that battle, but he woke something in Odumkain, a desire to go into activism and fight for the rights of women who are not allowed to make their own decisions.
There are few women who have stayed on the forefront of women’s rights activism as Dr. Josephine ‘Joe’ Odumakin. She has spent 30 years on the frontlines, taking on 2000+ cases of human rights violations against women perpetrated by husbands and fathers, lovers and brothers, hospital staff and policemen. She was such a force in the 80’s, she was detained a record 17 times by former dictator General Ibrahim Babangida. Now in her 50’s, Odumakin is now an International Women of Courage Award recipient, and actively representing disadvantaged women through her non-profit, The Women Arise for Change initiative.
- Ekpoki Naomi Onesenema
Few women have embrace philanthropy with the resolve that Ekpoki Naomi Onesenema, an education activist and philanthropist whose work focuses on children education has. Through her NGO, the Senema Love Foundation, Ekpoki raises funds for financially challenged secondary and tertiary students. Ekpoki is passionate about putting an end to child poverty and ensuring every child receives quality education, drawing inspiration from her own personal experiences and the opportunities a formal education offered her for self-advancement.
She regularly campaigns against child trafficking and child labour and believes it isn’t merely enough to provide for educational needs of others, without peer to peer interaction and mentorship, even the most brilliant students can fall through the cracks. So she recruits student volunteers and organises physical outreach efforts to children in orphanages, disadvantaged communities and children in the Internally Displaced Camps. Through her outreach, she provides educational materials, food, and other essentials to the children.
Ekpoki has reached about 1300 children through her work. Through donations from partners, she helped pay exam fees of two girls in her community who are now studying in university.
- Yagazie Emezi
Self taught photographer Yagazie Emezi occupies many liminal spaces. As a half Igbo, half Tamil woman she has had the privilege of being properly immersed in two cultures greatly misrepresented in contemporary media and understands how misrepresentation can hinder communication and integration. This is why she left a flourishing career as a fashion photographer in Lagos after her degree in cultural Anthropology in New Mexico to move to Liberia and work as a documentary photographer chronicling the lives of the citizens there, trying to rebuild their lives after decades of civil war and an Ebola Epidemic, with a particular focus on the at-risk girls of Monrovia, trying to secure themselves an education in the face of a system that seeks to exclude them.
Emezi’s photographs are never varnished or posed, they capture something we rarely see, disadvantaged people photographed with their humanity intact, allowed to tell their own stories. If Africa is going to get to change the narrative of poverty around it, story tellers like Yagazie Emezi, who can offer nuance even in the most two dimensional of situations will be invaluable to that process.
- Titilope Sonuga
Poetry cannot be dead, not while poets like Titilope Sonuga still exist. As a young poet in Canada, Sonuga spent most of the late 00’s and the early 010’s trying to find her place, make the choice between the prospects of a safe career in Engineering or the calling to advocate for and tell the stories of disadvantaged women and girls through the medium of poetry. After getting the opportunity to meet renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou, Sonuga took the plunge and quit her day job. She soon relocated to Nigeria, taking her poetry to where she felt it most needed to be heard.
Sonuga’s work has always revolved around themes of womanhood and empowerment, and she has made such an impact that technology giant Intel, invited her to front She Will Connect, their campaign to bring tech literacy to young women. But easily the biggest honour her work has brought her, is an opportunity to perform at the 2015 Inauguration of president Muhammadu Buhari. As the first spoken word poet to be given this honour, and the first female poet, Sonuga is breaking glass ceilings and inspiring a new generation of women to follow their callings, no matter how unconventional they may seem.
- Joe Abah
Nigeria has generally been unlucky when it comes to public servants. Looming in the horizon is the terrible legacy of former minister of petroleum Dieziani Maduekwe, who allegedly stole millions of dollars from Nigeria and squandered them on frivolities. It is almost easy to forget, in the noise that people like Dora Akunyili and Dr. Joe Abah exist.
Abah is the quintessential forward-thinking baby boomer, well educated and committed to adapting to understand the rapidly changing times in which he is expected to make an impact.
With degrees in law and governance, and a four-year tenure lecturing at the Maastricht University Graduate School of Governance in the Netherlands, the former Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Dr. Joe Abah meets hundreds of young people from all around the world, chosen for their intelligence and passion to change their countries, and he mentors them, while allowing them challenge him and his mission to change Nigeria. What he learns he implements through the Bureau of Public Service Reforms.
Abah has been hands-on, personally visiting schools, hospitals and government parastatals; personally implementing change where possible and actively documenting his work on Medium and his official Twitter profile. He has become one of the most trusted and accessible public officials in a government that is sorely in need of some credibility.
But more than anything, Dr. Joe Abah listens, and in Buhari’s Nigeria where we’ve learned to trust no one, Dr. Joe Abah has made us care.
- Femi Falana
Southwestern Nigeria continues to produce intellectuals and activists, many of whom have personally influenced Nigeria’s politics, its economics and its growth. Perhaps it is the higher levels of education prevalent in South West that inspires a higher level of self awareness and introspection, or just a stronger sense of duty. Few are as self aware or as committed to ensuring that Nigeria never sacrifices ethics and empathy for growth as Barrister Femi Falana.
Born in 1958, Femi Falana became an activist even before he got his law degree. In 1981 he helped bail students protesting the harmful policies of the then President, Shehu Shagari. That was his first encounter with student advocacy and he continued to challenge misuse of constituted authority till his graduation and call to the bar.
In 1983 he set his sights even higher, challenging the illegitimate military takeover by then General Muhammadu Buhari. He was punished for being a vocal spokesperson for oppressed Nigerians, but he persevered, pushing for a democratic return to power during the successive regimes of Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and General Abdusalami.
But democracy only changed the titles of the integral players in Nigeria’s political scene, without reforming any of their practices, so Falana decided to effect change from within the system by founding and serving as chairperson for the National Conscience Party which ran in the 2011 elections.
He was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2012 and now uses this position to represent victims of social injustice to this day.
- Andrew Alli
Few people are more distrusted in Nigeria than people in positions of power in government and finance. It takes a truly devoted person to occupy and then demystify these positions, earning the trust of the masses through advocacy, transparency and willingness to do what is the best interest of all. Mr. Andrew Alli, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Finance Corporation is such a man.
In spite of his duties helming one of the most important financial institutions on the continent and helping shape Africa wide economic policiies, Mr. Alli still finds time to mentor young professional through his position as an advisory board member at the Lagos Business School. He is also an active philanthropist, serving as a member of the board of trustees for the African Gifted Foundation, a Ghanaian non-profit that organises science academies for gifted but disadvantaged students in ten countries around the continent.
Most importantly, Mr. Alli has kept active social media profiles on Twitter and Facebook and encourages his constituents to engage with him, challenge his policies and offer advice, information and crowd sourced solutions to the problems he is tasked with solving. A man of the people, Mr Alli.
- Yemi Adamolekun
With a distinguished seventeen-year career than included stints in the public and private sector in the United States, the United Kingdom and Nigeria, it seems almost strange that Yemi Adamolekun’s next career step would be in activism. But that is exactly what she did, taking on the reins of Nigerian good governance non-profit, Enough Is Enough. This isn’t a freak decision though, looking to her past clues you in that Adamolekun was always going to end up in activism.
Adamolekun grew up in the University of Ife, known for its excellence and got her first degree at the University of Lagos, both hotbeds for student activism. With stints volunteering for the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, named after Kudirat Abiola, assassinated activist and wife of slain presidential hopeful M.K.O. Abiola, as well as the Kaleyewa House founded by Adamolekun’s own mother, Enough is Enough seemed a natural progression and an opportunity to increase her reach and advocate for better governance.
Under Adamolekun a new generation of young activists have emerged, involving themselves in grassroots politics and protesting in the inefficiencies of the Buhari government. She is not a leader to delegate, and her willingness to go into the field herself and lead the charge, continues to inspire and convert many young Nigerians to activism.
- Gbenga Sesan
Not many see that the access to the privileges they enjoy are often not as universal as they suspect. Real work needs to be done to make sure our privileges do not make us oppressors of people who do not enjoy the same, and social entrepreneur and activist Gbenga Sesan understands this better than most.
The Harvard Business School graduate first discovered the expansive gap that access to ICT technology and computer literacy creates when he worked as a team leader for the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria non-profit, then dedicated to ICT Development for Youths. He then served on the committe of eLeaders for Youth and ICT Development, under the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, before returning to the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, as its executive director, a position he has held till today. Through Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Sesan consults with the Nigerian government and private firms to streamline the country’s ICT initiative so it is more accessible to young Nigerians looking to emancipate themselves through skilled labour.
Bridging the ICT gap is something that Sesan is passionate about, not just because of its ability to bridge the gap of inequality but also because it provides young people economic freedom. And everyone needs economic freedom.
- Omoyele Sowore
Every activist learns eventually, that it’s simply not enough to decry injustice, inequality and oppression. At some point, you will have to wade in yourself, contribute your very physical bit to the struggle to correct societal injustice. Omoyele Sowore came to this realisation very early, two years after finishing a graduate degree in Public Administration from the Columbia University in New York.
Disillusioned by the inefficiencies of traditional Nigerian print media and inspired by citizen activism and journalism during the anti-World Trade Organisation protests of 1999, Omoyele started SaharaReporters as an independent news source on all things Nigerians, sourcing information and opinions directly from the dominant social media at the time Facebook as well as on ground sources.
Sowore’s dedication to telling stories otherwise ignored by traditional media and covered up by corrupt government officials had led to many accusations, arrest warrants and even the occasional civil defamation suit. But he soldiers on, breaking important political stories and giving the average Nigerian the rare opportunity to contribute to the Nigeria project through citizen advocacy. He remains for the people.
- Funmi Falana
It is incredibly hard to be taken seriously as a professional woman in Nigeria. It is even harder to be taken seriously as a female activist, and near impossible if you are married to a man already renowned for being a professional and activist in the same field as you. But Funmi Falana more than holds her own, using her privileges as a soapbox to advocate for the rights of the disadvantaged.
Funmi Falana has spent her entire career as an in-demand lawyer as a medium to provide aid and advocacy for the rights of disadvantaged person and gender minorities in Nigeria. She publicly opposed the appointment of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of former president Goodluck Jonathan as a permanent secretary, and is vocal about how religious patriarchy hobbles the careers of professional women. She currently serves as the National Director of Non-profit organisation Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, providing pro-bono legal aid to women and girls.
Funmi Falana could have just as easily sat back and let her famous husband do all work, or even ‘complement’ his work with hers. But she proves that every woman has to forge her path and speak up for what she believes in, even when it doesn’t seem like your voice particularly matters.
- Muhtar Bakare
Literature is the very soul of activism. It is the medium of expression with the most longevity, the most penchant for volatility and the only true way to record history from multiple perspectives. It is also an avenue for liberation. Muhtar Bakare has always held literature in high esteem and has dedicated his life to providing quality literature for every generation of Nigeria, chronicling the past, recording the present and predicting the future.
It is the motivation behind the Kachifo Limited, the parent company under which Farafina Books and the Farafina Trust and the now defunct Farafina Magazine operate. Bakare has helped shape the career of Nigeria’s biggest contemporary literature giant, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who herself has gone on to inspire millions of young Nigerian women to embrace their histories, celebrate the feminist leanings of their ancestors and forge their own paths as feminists. Bakare continues to discover and mentor writers, offering them the much needed platform to speak on contemporary issues, like Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls.
Documenting our history is the only way we can ensure we do not repeat it, and Bakare has taken on the task of creating safe spaces for the young Nigerian creatives who have taken on the mantle of recording this history. History always favours its patrons, and it will favour Bakare.
39. Chika Sandra Oduah
Chika Oduah is one of the select group of intrepid Nigerian journalists who have decided to take on the oft-misaligned task of telling the stories of Nigerians living through conflict, violence and governmental interference and oppression without the voyeurism that defines Western journalism or the self-hating navel-gazing that taints the journalism of Nigerian born, western-based journalists. From her Nigerian base as a freelancing journalist, Oduah has racked up bylines with reputable news outlets like France24 as an international correspondent reporter since January 2015 and has worked as a producer and reporter for Al Jazeera since August 2013. The Medill School of Journalism and Georgia State University alumnus is a 2015 Finalist of the Livingston Young Journalist Award and the 2015 African Story Challenge Winner and Grant Recipient.
Telling the important stories about Africans at home and in the diaspora is how Oduah contributes to changing the narrative around African bodies and in 2016 she was honoured for her journalistic writing with the Dow Technology and Innovation Reporting Award by the CNN African Journalist Awards. The story she was honoured for focused on fellow Woke List honoree Hamzat Lawal, and his app that helped exposed a lead poisoning outbreak in the village of Bagega.
40. Itsejuwa Sagay
There is this misconception that has come to cloud activism and service that suggests unless one’s actions are visible and radical and often divisive, they do not pass the fictional mark of good activism/service. Nothing could be further from the truth. For every radical activist, there are thousand others whose excellent service in face of injustice, corruption and bias provides the springboard for others to soar. Professor Itsejuwa Sagay is one of such givers of silent but necessary service.
Sagay was among the first batch of law students to graduate from the University of Ife and was one of the first crop of lawyers to emerge post independence. Forgoing a possible lucrative career practicing, Sagay chose instead to go into the academia, studying for a Masters in Law at the Cambridge University and joining the faculty at University of Ife, Ile-Ife in 1966. Since then he has spent 40 plus years, training new lawyers, streamlining the national curriculum to help prepare lawyers for a rapidly changing world and mentoring thousands. Such is the impact of Sagay’s service that many prominent lawyer activists, including Mrs and Mrs Falana (both on this list) were his former students.
It is no coincidence that so many of Professor Sagay’s proteges have gone on to advocate for equality and social justice. If a life touched can change the world, Professor Sagay’s impact is inestimable.
41. Ayo Obe
Fewer responsibilities are as telling as being asked to serve as the leader of the Civil Liberties Organisation of Nigeria, the country’s paramount organisation dedicated to enshrining and protect the rights of the average citizen from other citizens and the government. Ayo Obe was at the time of her appointment, the only woman given this responsibility, as well as the opportunity to chair the Elections Program of the National Democracy Institute, policies she implemented, directly influencing the 2007 elections.
Mrs Obe is an accomplished lawyer who has run her own firm for 27 years and consulted across the world for public parastatals and private corporations but she always makes time to participate in grassroots campaigns and advises on public dissent. She was an active protester during the abduction of the Chibok girls, lending her network of contacts and her time and money towards pressuring the government to directly engage Boko Haram and return the girls to their families. She still advocates for the girls still in captivity to this day, as one of the many civil liberties projects she personally attends to, including the Goree Institute in Senegal and the Brussels based International Crisis Group.
Obe proves you can have it all, if you base your values in empathy.
42. Pius Adesanmi
In 2013, Pius Adesanmi became an overnight literary celebrity when his book Africa, you are not a country won the Penguin Prize for African Writing in the non-fiction category. This is a topic that has been extensively explored by writers from all across the continent; from J.M Coetzee to Binyavanga Wainaina to Pa. Ikhide, but Adesanmi’s incisive essays brought a clarity of purpose and defined perspective that many could simply not ignore.
But those in know were well acquainted with Adesanmi’s work and were unsurprised by his win. He has consistently brought his years of knowledge as professor of English language and African studies to his musings on Africa, writing extensively for Nigerian publications like the Premium Times and Sahara Reporters. His unique blend of literature, history and philosophy inspired by what Wole Soyinka calls ‘Negritude’, has seen him invited across the continent to speak to young academics about to enter a system biased against their history and determined to suppress and delegitimize their own efforts.
By being an outspoken academic, using the tools of western academia to fight its racism and bigotry, Adesanmi proves you can fight the system from inside it. Africa is not a country, and Pius Adesanmi is determined to help everyone reach this realisation.
43. Shehu Sani
Barring recent Facebook metaphors of Lions and Hyenas, Senator Shehu Sani has been one of the Northern lights championing education, equality and increased opportunities in the oft-ignored Northern Nigerian geopolitical zones. Younger than many of the accomplished activists on this list, but no less accomplished, chairing the Civil Rights Commission of Nigeria, the government equivalent of the citizen-run Civil Liberties Union of Nigeria.
Senator Shehu Sani’s decades-long efforts to guide Nigeria to a democratically elected government was where he cut his teeth in activism and drew the interest and consequentially the ire of the military governments of General Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha and General Muhammadu Buhari. He was sentenced to life in prison for his perceived ‘crimes’ and continued to advocate from within the prison system until democracy was achieved and his sentence was commuted and the struck out.
He continues to advocate for minorities to this day and has instituted the Shehu Sani Prize that honour community peace advocates by providing them cash incentives, access to network with donor institutions that offer grants and the chance to draw public attention to their charities and non-profits.
44. Unilag Student Union Leaders 2016
Often, in standing for what you believe in and representing the needs of larger, disenfranchised group, you have to fight even though there is the eminent threat of unsanctioned retribution. The Student Union Leadership of the University of Lagos had their moment to either compromise or stand for what they believe in. Even though successive policies instituted to root out and weaken cultist groups in the mid-2000’s effectively neutered student union governments in most federal universities across the country, the Unilag S.U.G. continues to advocate for its student body against an increasingly hostile administration.
After shortages of electricity and water during an exam period were not rectified and student complaints were ignored, Muhammed Olaniyan (President), Adeyanju Adenipekun (Speaker, Students’ Representatives Council), Emmanuel Afolabi (General Secretary), Ojo Oluwatobi (Financial Secretary), Akinnubi Damilola Pedro (Chief Whip) and Jumai Fabuyi (Public Relations Officer) and the rest of the S.U.G. body found themselves in the middle of a student protest. The school authority tried to use them to dispel the protest and then suspended them when they sided with the students.
Olaniyan and his cabinet are actively fighting the judgement citing it as unconstitutional and proving that it is never too early to take a stand and challenge misuse of authority.
45. Seun Onigbinde
Seun Onigbinde could have just as easily taken on the fight to root out and destroy corruption in Nigeria’s economic industries and political spheres. With education from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, he could certainly follow the money that motivates many of the under-the-table dealings that define our political interactions and expose them. But he saw that the problem was bigger than that. It wasn’t enough to shout down corrupt officials, he needed to get the average Nigerian involved and invested in the success of Nigeria’s economy. The only way to do that was to help them with what was at stake. So Onigbinde made it his focus to show Nigerians as simply and neutrally as possible what was going on with the country’s biggest disburser of money, its budget.
BudgIT was established just before the 2011 elections, and has since then, tracked each successive Nigerian budget, working as an accountability engine for the average Nigerian often thrown by the economic jargon in which budgets are usually presented, proving target points on which Nigerians can task their local government chairmen, state senators and constituent reps.
BudgIT and Onigbinde have become integral to civic involvement at the grassroots level and their impact only continues to expand.
46. Banky W
2Face isn’t the only Nigerian artist who has actively spoken against corruption in government and lent their voice and influence towards bringing attention to the plight of the disadvantaged. Bankole Wellington, otherwise known as Banky W has aside from building a profitable career as a recording artist and music boss, spent the bulk of his time since he returned to Nigeria front and centre during several political campaigns, including the 2011 general elections and the #OccupyNigeria campaign that followed in 2012.
Banky W is no stranger to personal struggle, fighting and beating cancer twice, and building a career as a musician twice, first in the US and then in Nigeria. He knows firsthand how hard it is to escape one’s circumstances and build a better life outside of the circumstances of one’s birth and he knows that for many young Nigerians music is an escape hatch. But he also understands that the pressures of the industry force many of them to make bad decisions. This probably influenced his decision to start the “I AM CAPABLE” scholarship fund, for academically proficient Nigerians who are constricted by tight finances and mounting responsibility. And for the ones who are adamant about wanting to do music, he offers his wealth of experience, skills and business savvy as a mentor.
Banky W believes in Nigeria and its youth, and he shows it, even at great discomfort to himself.
47. The Mirabel Centre
Rape, sexual harassment and sexual assault are all too common in Nigeria. However, increased access to social media has made it increasingly hard to hide or suppress cases of assault and brought home with startling detail just how pervasive this scourge is. It has also emphasised how little avenues for mental support and primary care post assault, there are for victims. This is why the Mirabel Centre, established in 2013 is so important.
The privately operated non-profit works primarily as a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, a point of first contact for victims, providing them palliative care, rape kits and counselling as they make sense of the traumatic event that has happened to them. Their network of 30 plus counsellors and medical professionals guide the victims through their line of action post attack and ensure they suffer minimal guilt from the encounter. They also document cases and aid victims who decide to pursue legal action against their attackers. The Mirabel Centre has struggled in the last few years to stay open in spite of financial constraints and continues to offer care.
It might not be enough that we have someone on our side in the aftermath of violent trauma, but it is a great place to start.
48. Chidi Odinkalu
“Teacher, Thinker, Writer, Citizen, Humanist, Nature Lover. Nigeria”, this is how Chidi Odinkalu describes himself on Twitter, his primary medium of communication on social media. And he couldn’t be closer to the truth. As the senior Legal advisor for the Africa Program of the non-profit, Open Society Justice Initiative. However, Odinkalu’s activism is global as evinced by his previous positions as senior legal officer responsible for Africa and Middle East at the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in London, Human Rights Advisor to the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone, and Brandeis International Fellow at the Centre for Ethics, Justice and Public Life of the Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.
With contemporaries like former governor and current minister for Energy, Babatunde Fashola, former senate president Anyim Pius Anyim and former governor Godswill Akpabio, Odinkalu’s present life could have been very different, but he has devoted his life and talents to the pursuit of justice and equality. His biggest legacies thus far is facilitating the humane treatment of war criminal and Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor and the passing into the law of the 2011 Nigerian Information Act.
Everyone deserves to be treated humanely, even the people who have treated others like animals, Odinkalu knows that equality must start from these people.
49. Cheta Nwanze
Nigeria hasn’t been studious with its past. Successive military and civilian governments have either neutered or outright abolished the teaching of history to successive Nigerians for personal or political reasons. The history that we do know is fractured and biased, coloured by what ethnic group or geopolitical zone, especially when it comes to the volatile years in which Nigeria’s first and only civil war happened. Cheta Nwanze, political pundit and former editor of YNaija is bridging that history gap through the use of social media.
His wildly popular #HistoryClass tweet storms have become the wildly popular, touching on important historical landmarks and dissecting them with the precision that comes from years of working as an indentured and subsequently freelance writer. Nwanze has expanded his articles to cover all matters of political policy and history, often putting himself on the wrong side of powerful people.
But Nwanze is not perfect, and has been accused many times of having ulterior motives and being motivated by personal gain rather than altruism, but who isn’t really. What matters is that he speaks up, and he does so because someone has to and no one else has. And history is made by the people who show up.
50. Brekete Family
When Ahmed Isah of Abuja’s Love FM began Brekete Family, an unscripted variety show with long-running scripted characters delivered entirely in pidgin English, very few people foresaw just how big the show would become. It has grown into a behemoth and Isah has inadvertently become a voice for millions of blue collar, illiterate Nigerians listening for a voice that empathises with, and echoes their frustrations.
Isah has come under fire in recent times and been accused of using his position to shill for major brands, but it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to speak his mind on human rights topics, giving everyday Nigerians the rare opportunity to reach millions of people with their personal stories on radio to solicit aid. Issues of administrative injustice, unlawful dismissals, sexual harassment, human rights issues, discrimination and pension-related issues are all welcome discussions on Brekete Family.
For the disenfranchised Nigerian, the radio is the only access to the real world that they have, and Ahmed Isah has taken the charge to tell them the things no one else will.
51. Samson Itodo
Samson Itodo, the head of Research and Policy at the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) was spurred to advocacy by statistics. Even the most cursory research reveals that not since the 60’s has Nigeria had an executive whose median age is less than 40+. As its original political class has aged, the average age of presidency has risen with them, to the point where the country’s newest president General Muhammadu Buhari is 74 and severely ailing.
Itodo was moved to demand for the inclusion of youth in the governing process and has taken the fight to the senate through the media campaign, #NotTooYoungToRun, requesting that the legal age to contest for political office be lowered. Inviting several vocal digital activists including Rinsola Moshood Abiola to join its cause, Itodo’s led YIAGA through senator Abdul Aziz Nyako sponsored a bill to align the age of eligibility for political candidates with the legal voting age, a bill that has passed its first reading on the Senate floor.
But #NotTooYoungToRun has outgrown its humble beginnings in Nigeria, spreading like wildfire across the globe and gaining the attention of the United Nations Forum on Human Rights lending its weight and voice to the cause by launching a global campaign to encourage world governments to engage youth in active governance. Itodo proves that the right message for the right reason will find resonance anywhere.
52. Adaora Mbelu
Adaora Mbelu-Dania calls herself a Creative Industrialist. Quite fitting for a creative that is literally forging her own path and redefining what it means to be a woman in a creative industry dominated by men. With a degree in Economics and Entrepreneurship from the Northern Kentucky University, Mbelu-Dania has applied herself as the Head of Innovation & Brands at A2 Creative Limited, gathering Nigeria’s most tangential artists like alternative violinist Godwin Strings and graffiti artist Osa Seven under one creative management agency.
Mbelu’s refusal to conform to any of the expectations of female executives is a source of inspiration for all women who come across her and a challenge to the men she encounters to expand their worldviews regarding women. Adaora is passionate about learning and teaching, as well as nurturing and building dreams. She helped co-ordinate the Athletes in Diaspora Community Interventions project, a foundation led by NFL players of Nigerian descent giving back to the community. She is also the co-founder of ‘The Amalgamation Project’– a platform for promoting social causes.
Mbelu is unapologetically, almost aggressively herself, and it is the identity that she projects as she moves through the world, silently shattering glass ceilings that makes the most impact. Women needn’t fit our mold for what success, activism and personhood should look like. Mbelu professes that nothing is off limits, and makes good on that prophecy.
53. Fatima Togbe
An unexpected but welcome side effect of Nigeria’s feminist revolution is that many Muslim women are finally beginning to challenge the deep seated patriarchy that passes as dogma in modern practice of Islam and reclaiming religious iconography like the hijab as personal choice instead of an instrument of patriarchal subjugation. But Fatima Togbe is taking it one step further by creating a space for Muslim women to connect and celebrate the identities as through mediums like fashion.
An accomplished media publishing specialist, Togbe has made a name for herself as Executive Founder of Hayati magazine, Nigeria’s foremost fashion and lifestyle platform the muslimah woman passionate about fashion. Hayati serves as a Muslimah’s answer to the question of specific content for muslim women, and its reach has grown to include a dedicated website, social media platforms and an online store to help promote indigenous muslimah brands seeking to fill the vacuum for stylish conservative fashion.
Faith and activism are often a volatile mix, we expect grand gestures. But Togbe wants to show us the battle isn’t always violent, it can be as subtle as reclaiming religious symbols and recasting them in the light originally intended for them.
54. Chioma Agwuegbo
Chioma Agwuegbo was already well aware that social media was going to become a mega influence on how we interact with the world when she chose to major in Social Media for her Master degree at the Birmingham City University. It must have seemed frivolous then, but in 2017 where hacked emails changed the outcome of elections and the president of the free world routinely interacts with the world unfiltered via Twitter updates, Agwuegbo couldn’t have been more clairvoyant.
This unique space and time has provided her a rare opportunity, the chance to share her skills and talents with other young female professionals seeking to find their way in a world that is becoming increasingly tech-driven. To that end she began TechHer.ng, a learning and support programme for women interested in tech. She also joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers initiative, connecting with thousands of young professionals globally to petition world governments to adopt healthier policies for the environment and their citizens.
Agwuegbo’s work is important because the achievements of women in technology have all been erased, we might not be able to do anything about this, but Agwuegbo is ensuring that the next generation of tech is female, and they document their achievements themselves.
55. Ndidi Emefiele
Not many people know the woman behind the distinctive paintings of women and girls with distorted bodies and three-dimensional lenses, always in states of repose or action, but always centered on whatever situation is conjured. Ndidi Emefiele seems to want it that way. Her forays in art have spawned a fan base of emulators and started conversations about the place of feminism in art and how women artists give permission for young girls to explore identity and sexuality through creative mediums. Emefiele herself is an avid adherent of the message she preaches, working as a mixed media artist and fashion enthusiast out of her studio in Abuja, offering non-verbal commentary on female relationships, domesticity, identity and womanhood.
Emefiele is of the school of thought that words are superfluous, and her work echoes this sentiment. But her work is no less important, or no less arresting for it.
56. Aliyu Giwa
Social media plays an unconventional role in policeman Aliyu Giwa’s life. As a spokesperson for the Lagos State Police command, Giwa has become an alternative representation of the Nigerian Police, a Police force that embraces transparency and the rule of law and eschews corruption. After a series of Instagram and Twitter posts went viral, Giwa became an unofficial mascot for the Lagos State Police Force, a humble, charismatic, approachable man in uniform, eager to help, ready to serve. Giwa doesn’t take this lightly and works very hard to keep this alternative image unsullied.
He is also championing a more transparent police force, through active documentation on social media. He speaks openly and with fervour about his love for his profession and the commitment of the Nigerian Police Force in ensuring the safety of all. Helping trend hashtags such as #PoliceIsYourFriend #Police #Ekelebe #Dansanda #Olopa #NigeriaPoliceForce #NPF and encouraging young tech-savvy Nigerians are beginning to engage and join the conversation online.
Aliyu Giwa still has a lot to prove, but he is showing up, day after day, listening, learning, implementing. No one starts their journey into social justice fully formed, and Aliyu Giwa teaches an important lesson about staying pliable and willing to unlearn.
57. Ainehi Edoro
As the editor of online literary magazine Brittle Paper, Ainehi Edoro has written her way into the consciousness of Nigeria’s literati, asking the important questions about the future of literature in Nigeria, the short and long-term value of its current crop of writers and the challenges the generation that will follow will face. But Edoro is best known for her explorations into the history of African literature and her willingness to ask more of both the reader and the writer.
Nigeria has always had a problem properly documenting its history and Ainehi is doing her bit to change that, at least for Nigerian literature.
58. Kadaria Ahmed
Many millennials in literary circles first got a proper taste of the kind of woman Kadaria Ahmed is when she was asked to chair one of the highlight literary talks at the 2016 Ake Books and Arts Festival. Sandwiched between writer and critic Teju Cole and writer and social activist Helon Habila, Ahmed asked the tough questions of both writers, questioning their privileges and oversights in their new projects, a collection of essays and non-fiction look into the Boko Haram crisis of the 2010’s and proving to them and the young men and women in the audience that even the enlightened can fall short of the mark.
This has been the tone of Kadaria Ahmed’s decades-long career as a social pundit, literary critic and activist and moderator, invited more than once to moderate Nigerian presidential debates. She is the voice of reason, challenging everyone around her to do better as critics, creatives, activists and audiences. Ahmed is a journalist’s journalist, a truth seeker who tempers her search with empathy for the subject, unmotivated by sentiment but not afraid to pick a bone in the fight.
59. Stephanie Busari
There aren’t that many people who have been honoured with a PeaBody award, the international award given to storytellers who have excelled in their mediums and expanded how we view the world and Nigerian born storyteller Stephanie Busari is one of the select few who have. Busari has also won a Gracie Award and an Outstanding Women in Media Awards, all for a single story. The story of the missing Chibok Girls, taken by Boko Haram in May 2014. One can only guess at her reasons for aggressively pursuing this story even when the initial media furore around it died and people began to suggest we move on to more current tragedies.
Her persistent coverage was instrumental to the release of a ‘proof of life’ video by the girl’s abductors in 2015 and the negotiations that led to the release of some of the girls in 2017. Busari is proof that all it takes is one unwavering journalist to save lives, and she continues to do so, pioneering CNN’s first Digital Bureau in Lagos state.
60. Romeo Oriogun
In 2017, Romeo Oriogun won the Brunei University Prize for Poetry, exceeding many expectations. Oriogun’s poetry was an examination of queerness in Nigeria, and effectually stirred up conversations about the poet’s own sexuality. But the Brunei Prize was only a small part of the artist’s oeuvre, which for the last half decade has dissected Nigeria’s often paradoxical attitude to anything other than heterosexuality. Oriogun became the subject of a witch hunt aggressively spurred by some of his contemporaries, publicly incensed by the fact that an international Prize chose to celebrate Oriogun’s bravery and was physically assaulted and driven out of his home and job.
But Oriogun has chosen to use the ordeal to bring into focus the true nature of homophobia and how it stifles art and expression and continues to advocate for the rights of LGBT people to live freely. If that doesn’t inspire bravery, we don’t know what will.
61. Ayodeji Rotinwa
Writer and communications specialist, Ayodeji Rotinwa has spent the last four years immersing himself in the world of emerging Nigerian contemporary art. Always driven with creating spaces where individual creative voices can be heard without having to conform to the often restrictive creative limitations of Nigerian creative circles, Rotinwa’s time as a communications manager with boutique gallery Rele helped bring the work of artists like Yadinchinma Ukoha-Kalu, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Dipo Doherty and Olumuyiwa Logor international attention. As a co-curator for the exhibition on nudes which showed at the Rele last year, Ayodeji distinguished himself as one of the few Nigerians who are not afraid to explore conversations about the human form, the shame, politics and politics that unfortunately accompany it.
His unalloyed commentary on the state of the Nigerian art scene and his hands-on approach to changing this paid off when he was invited to help manage communications for the Nigerian contingent invited to show the 2017 Venice Biennale, an honour that becomes even more impressive when you consider that Rotinwa is only in his 20’s
62. Oluwaseun Ayodeji Owosobi
With a master’s degree specialising in gender studies, Oluwaseun Owosobi, was always destined to be a part of the conversation on gender equality in Nigeria, what she didn’t expect however, that the opportunity she would get to become a part of the conversation would be a hands-on, often harrowing one. As the Executive director of the Stand To End Rape (STER) non-profit, Owosobi has championed the rights of women who have suffered sexual abuse, domestic violence, providing medical care, refuge for runaways and legal advice and therapy in collaboration with other non-profits.
Owosobi has guided the all-female team of STER to becoming one of the leading resources on gendered violence against women, and provided much-needed education and awareness. She is already being celebrated for her activism with STER winning the ‘Best Use of Social Media by a non-profit’ award at the 2014 Social Media Awards Africa. Owosobi is a woman standing in the gap for other women, and never have we needed women like her the way we do now.
63. Eromo Egbejule
Eromo Egbejule has covered a lot of ground for a 27-year-old journalist operating primarily out of Nigeria. But it is ground he has covered because of his integrity and a drive to not just follow the story but find the humanity in the most inhuman of circumstances. Egbejule’s reporting which has earned him international acclaim and by-lines in some of the world’s most respected news publications has always been tempered with empathy and that empathy has allowed him access to places where others wouldn’t dare to tread.
Egbejule’s coverage of the Boko Haram crisis and the people whose lives were and continue to suffer in its wake, helped shift the narrative around the crisis and dispel much of the fear-fuelled bigotry that had come to characterise the responses from Nigerians in other parts of the country. Egbejule is only at the beginning of what will become a long, decorated career and we hope his brand of journalism becomes a beacon that goes viral.
64. Grace Alele-Williams
It is near criminal that very few women know about Grace Alele-Williams and her legacy. Always enraptured by academia, Alele-Williams embraced education and research with a vigour that was rare for women in the 60’s. She was the first Nigerian woman to earn a doctorate degree, in mathematics no less. Dedicated to ensuring that other women wouldn’t have to face as much pressure as she did pursuing a career in the academia, Alele-Williams entered the fray herself, rising to become the first woman to be made a vice-chancellor of a university in Nigeria.
Now she uses the incredible platform her achievements have offered her to advocate for more women to be encouraged to embrace academia. She serves on the board of the African Mathematical Union Commission for Women in Mathematics, was the president of the World Organisation for Early Child Education and has been invited around the world to speak on ways to level the playing field for women in mathematics. She is a true pioneer, one opens the way for others and works tirelessly to keep that way open. for future generations.
65. Charly Boy
The original area fada Charles Oputa first rejected his blue-blood heritage to pursue a career as a singer. This was the 70’s when his father was at the height of his respectability. But Oputa knew what he had to do to find peace with himself and he ditched suits for a biker jacket, tattoos and body jewellery and a future as a political scion of his father for a career as a critic of the nepotism that characterised the political class. 40 years have passed and with it successive governments, but Oputa has stayed the same, still challenging the status-quo, still gender-bending, still asking the youth to stand up and take the mandate of changing their communities through public service and active protest.
There is no one as unconventional as Charly Boy, the area fada, and the impact of having a man as visible and principled as he is, challenge everything we were taught to fear is something we will never fully grasp.
66. Laja Adedoyin
In a country where the poor and ailing are often forgotten or left to suffer, Laja Adedoyin left the comfort of her life and gave her all to something bigger than her. Mrs. Adedoyin left a vibrant career in care management for chronically ill and disabled patients in the United Kingdom to return home and fill a desperate need here.
The Hearts of Gold Hospice which she founded and continues to run has become a refuge for terminally ill-children, often abandoned by their disillusioned parents, offering them care, comfort and the best quality of life for as long as they endure. Equipped to handle 40 children with advanced medical needs, the Heart Of Gold hospice has become more than a holding cell under Adedoyin, it has become home.
67. Pat Utomi
Distinguished elder statesman and accomplished author Sir Pat Utomi has always been vocal about the democratic process being the only way to ensure that Nigeria sheds its rampant nepotism and moves towards inclusive nation-building. He has also acted to make this vision of a truly integrated Nigeria a reality, citing his upbringing in Northern Nigeria and his Igbo heritage as important markers that helped shape his current philosophy, through his Centre for Value in Leadership non-profit and the African Democratic Congress, the political party he founded to serve as a viable opposition party to the favoured majority political parties.
Many have come to depend on Sir. Utomi as a voice to listen to unswayed by political leanings and sycophantic affiliations. In Nigeria, that kind of integrity is something to be celebrated.
68. Tony O. Elumelu
Mr. Tony O. Elumelu’s illustrious life has been characterised as much by his philanthropy as it has his business exploits. After building not one but Nigerian banks into globally recognised economic players, Elumelu retired in 2010 at the height of his career and devoted his time to philanthropy through his Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Every year the foundation mentors 1000 young Nigerian entrepreneurs, providing them $100,000 in startup funding and mentorship opportunities solely based on the merit of their business ideas and scholarships for students who have exhibited academic excellence. Elumelu has also put his experience and influence towards nation building across Africa, partnering with the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative and chaired on the World Economic Forum’s Regional Agenda Council on Africa.
69. Uche Pedro
Uche Pedro might be intensely private about her personal life, but she is no way unashamed of her work empowering other women to succeed in their various fields. In 2006, Pedro started BellaNaija as a way to indulge her personal interest in the Nigerian entertainment scene. But it has long outgrown its simple beginnings and become one of the country’s most influential digital media website.
But Pedro has always ensured that BellaNaija remained an example of how to run a business in an industry that thrives on undercutting its consumers and exploiting its subjects while remaining courteous and amoral. Her example both as a business owner and woman and her continued use of the BellaNaija platform to empower women and celebrate the aspects of womanhood that is often otherwise regarded as frivolous or pointless has liberated and empowered millions of Nigerian women offering female-centric services.
70. Kate Henshaw
Kate Henshaw has never been one to conform to anyone’s expectations. The actress who has spent 24 years in Nollywood, an industry infamous for treating artistes poorly and forcing them to burn out, has always advocated for better practices, using herself an as example for a better, more self-centric approach to handling creativity and the fame that comes with it. Nuttal shrugged off the negative attention that followed after her marriage ended and threw herself in fitness and public service.
In 2017, she became only one of a handful of female actors who have contested for public office in their respective constituents and how she handled her loss to her political opponent has become a shining example for other Nigerian celebrities seeking to use their influence to impact social change.
71. Obi Asika
Media entrepreneur Obi Asika is one of those unconventional executives who is motivated primarily by fostering a sense of community than the amassing ridiculous amounts of wealth. This need to serve has seen Asika spend the last fifteen years volunteering his time, skill and experience in service of the country. Asika has served as liasion for Nigeria with the Federation of International Football Associations, mentored young Nigerians seeking to capitalise on the opportunities from the National endowment fund YouWin, work with the Copyright Society of Nigeria to structure new laws to better protect the intellectual property of young Nigerian creatives and serve as a special assistant to a former president of the federation.
Obi Asika remains accessible in spite of his accomplished personal and professional life, mentoring young musicians navigating an industry that is designed to exploit them. What more could we ask for from a leader.
72. John Momoh
As part of a career that spans 37 years, 22 of which were spent building independent satellite news state Channels TV into Nigeria’s premier terrestrial news network, John Momoh has reported on successive Nigerian military and civilian regimes, seen firsthand how cultural and religious differences can either rise to greater unity or foster dangerous bigotry. As the CEO of Channels TV, Momoh literally helped the socio-political views of two generations of Nigerians while maintaining his own neutrality and proving that dedication to one’s duty always takes precedence to personal prejudices and affiliations.
Momoh continues to shape Nigerian journalism and inform the discussion on what professional integrity should look like in a highly digitised world.
73. Kola Tubosun
While the debate rages on about the continuing effects of colonialism and globalisation and how it has managed to erode several formerly vibrant local languages, Kola Tubosun has abandoned the argument for the theorists and taken a different tack to preserve Yoruba, his mother tongue. harnessing the power and the community that already exists on social media, Tubosun helped initiate a ‘Tweet Yoruba’day as a way to force Twitter and its native apps to offer translation support for Yoruba as a language.
It took three years, but eventually, Twitter succumbed, and not long after Tubosun opened crowdfunding for the Yoruba Name Project, a literary non-profit with the sole purpose of recording and cataloguing all known Yoruba names worldwide and documenting their meanings in an easily accessible readily available format. Tubosun gives talks and helps guide the conversation around the preservation of language and its integral function in preserving the practices and cultures of all indigenous peoples.
74. Haneefa Adam
It isn’t very often that you meet a woman who becomes a movement without even trying to be one. Five years ago, Haneefa Adam was a woman who on a whim, decided to learn how to sew on Youtube and today, five years later, Adam has collaborated with many of the biggest multinational brands in the country, gotten the attention of international toy giant Mattel and hosted her first exhibition of her mixed media art. But what sets Haneefa apart, is that she has done this while under intense scrutiny for being a practising Hijabi.
Adam has embraced the attention her art has brought to her personal choice to garb the Hijab and has spoken at length about her faith is in concert with her achievements rather than in competition with her faith. She is, in her own quiet way, dismantling many of our misconceptions about the veiled Muslim woman, something the paranoia that extremist groups like Boko Haram have stoked.
75. Lydia Idakula Sobogun
When Lydia Idakula Sobogun started Taruwa nine years ago, there were only seven people in attendance. Since then Taruwa and its parent company Gbagyi Child entertainment have become synonymous with alternative art culture in Nigeria and Idakula Sobogun has become na important part of Nigeria’s creative underground. Sobogun has always operated on a simple premise; community. And as Taruwa has grown to include stage productions, a literary magazine and a festival, it has managed to stay close to its underground roots, providing many artistes disillusioned by the increasingly commercial nature of mainstream music a reprieve and the rare opportunity to be appreciated simply for their talent.
Sobogun is a centrifugal force of a movement that rejects the exploitative nature of our mainstream entertainment industries and gives premium value to the mental and physical well-being of creatives, and prioritises their expression of self. That is a form of therapy and Sobogun makes our list for ensuring safe spaces like this exist.
76. Denrele Edun
To understand just how influential Derenle Edun has become to a generation of young Nigerian millennials challenging all the conventions reinforced by the generation that came before them, you would have to look at the breakthroughs he has had in his professional life. In a country obsessed with the idea of superficial propriety and keen on enforcing limiting restrictive gender-based expectations, Edun simply chose to be himself. After a decade on television as a child star, straight-jacketed into a mold, Derenle Edun publicly rejected all the accepted gender norms necessary to succeed on television and created his own agendered persona, revolutionary then and still revolutionary now.
Edun’s refusal to be limited by the expectations of others and the success he has gained in spite of our religious and cultural prejudices has made him a spokesperson for the young, questioning and disenfranchised. It wasn’t a role he wanted, but it is one he has taken on with as much unshakeable conviction as he does with everything else. He is problematic sometimes, but all the people who have changed the world usually are.
77. Bolanle Austen Peters
Bolanle Austen Peters name has become synonymous with theatre, literature and the arts in Nigeria, an association she has well and truly earned for her unrelenting commitment to providing spaces for Nigerian playwrights, actors and theatre geeks to truly express themselves. Austen Peters was the first woman to create a private space (that was neither religious or heavily subsidised by the government) dedicated primarily to the advancement of the arts. Fourteen years later, TerraKulture’s multi-purpose space has opened its doors to renowned and emerging visual artists, writers of renown and first-time authors and several stage productions, including SARO, The Musical and WAKAA! The Musical.
The true scale of Austen Peters influence on how we see and appreciate creative and visual arts in Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria can only be grasped by gauging how much work her production company put into the recently concluded ‘Lagos @ 50’ celebrations. Austen Peters helped the critically acclaimed Fela! musical back to Lagos, commissioned public art installations across the state, encompassing the gamut from futuristic chrome abstract sculptures to protest driven street graffiti. Austen Peters advocates that all voices should be heard, and works to make sure they are.
78. Rev Funke Felix-Adejumo
The church may struggle with an image problem, one that rises all the way to the very apex of many denominations. Consumed with the need to be on-brand, too many clergymen and their spouses are known more for the designer brands they wear than the impact they have on their communities. But not Reverend Funke Felix-Adejumo. Through Agape Christian Ministries, the network of churches she and her pastor husband have spent 29 years building, Felix-Adejumo has advocated for a community-centric church, taking the lead herself through a series of personal community service projects that include an Orphanage, an old people’s home, a widow’s commune and a projected paediatric hospital that will subsidise 70% of treatments for minors.
Not bad for a woman who almost didn’t receive a primary school education. Felix-Adejumo eschews the pressure to become a ‘visible’ pastor’s wife and puts service as her primary objective, a noble cause if there ever was one.
79. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf
Before Bibi Bakare-Yusuf left her career in London to return to Nigeria to start her publishing house, Cassava Republic, she had one clear objective in mind. She had seen first-hand how diverse literature was helping expand on difficult conversations in Western countries and she saw a niche there, a way to kick-start Nigerians addressing important social issues through literature. She returned and used Cassava Republic as a way to find and promote voices that are divergent to the conventional and educate the next generation of young Nigerians especially on the limitations of gender-based discrimination on Nigeria’s women and girls.
Cassava Republic has gained mainstream success under Bakare-Yusuf’s guidance, with several of its books being included in the National student curriculum in junior and senior secondary categories as well as a series of books that tackle the deconstruction of gender in alignment with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as agreed on by the United Nations. As Bakare-Yusuf consults with the European Union and UniFem on women’s issues, she also empowers the women for whom she advocates, personally and professionally.
80. Peter Obi
At a point where faith in the Nigerian judiciary system was at its lowest, former Governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, proved himself of exemplary material and showed there were other, better ways to approach politics as a Nigerian. In 2003, after contesting for the governorship seat in Anambra state, the seat was given to political rival Chris Ngige. Obi fought this ruling for three years, eventually securing a nullification of Ngige’s governorship. Even in power, Obi routinely returned to the courts, trusting its judicial process to protect his mandate.
When Obi finally left office in 2014, he had served two consecutive terms as the only governor whose victories were court upheld and whose projects had laid the groundwork for Anambra to transition from economic pariah to progressive state.
81. Seun Kuti
As a scion of world-renowned late singer and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Seun Kuti must have felt incredible pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a music activist. He was only 14 when his father died and was chosen to lead his father’s 40-year-old Egypt 80 band. Kuti rose to the challenge, but on his own terms. He has worked in the intervening years to continue for the members of his father’s band who have chosen to stay on and make music with him, has modified the ethos of the Egypt 80 band to match his own sound and chosen his own battles. Seun Kuti’s music is primarily directed at galvanising citizens to embrace citizenship governance, largely ignoring the men who the elder’s Kuti’s music criticised in the 70’s and 80’s.
He remains a community leader, and was among the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest and regularly performs protest music around the world. He has helped keep his father’s philosophies and legacies alive for another generation.
82. Nnedi Okorafor
Celebrated writer Nnedi Okorafor was one of the handful of Nigerian women invited to speak at the recently concluded TED Global event in Arusha Tanzania, an honour that very few receive in their lives. There were few women more qualified to speak on that red dot, more deserving of the opportunity to share their radical ideas. Nnedi Okorafor is all about radical ideas and uncomfortable truths, especially ones that centre on African and in particular Nigerian experiences in a Eurocentric world.
In her career as a writer, Okorafor has invaded and dominated the white male space that is the science fiction and fantasy genres with books that disobey all the conventional rules and forge their own paths. Her books often centre young African girls, giving them agency and restoring their humanity and she often tackles uncomfortable themes like gendered violence, rape, and the complexities of emotion that women often have to suppress or ignore altogether. And while that has given her a lot of success and international acclaim, it has also put her at the forefront of a battle to bring to light the racist history of Science Fiction and Fantasy and the racist writers one award in particular; the H.P Lovecraft award, that honoured outspoken racist writer Lovecraft. Thanks to Okorafor’s petition to strip the WFA of the Lovecraft title and instate Octavia Butler instead (a far more inclusive Sci-fi writer), the literary community was forced to reevaluate its history and the personal lives of many of its most famous writers.
Okorafor is a shining example of what it means to stand for equality even when it might personally cost you, and in Trump’s America, people like her matter more than ever.
83. Temie Giwa-Tubosun
Temie Giwa-Tubosun is a woman who saw a nation-wide problem and chose to solve it by starting small and scaling up. As a World Health Organisation graduate fellow 2010 in Geneva Switzerland, Giwa Tubosun was exposed theoretically to many of the world’s health crises and the work that is going on to solve them. In 2011 she joined the Global Health Core and saw the unvarnished truth of the unique problems that illiteracy causes for the volunteers and activists trying to offer help in third world countries who desperately need aid. When she returned to Nigeria in 2012, she came determined to help, but unsure where she was needed.
After experiencing a personal crisis that was exacerbated by a lack of access to screened blood, she began One Percent Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing education about blood transfusions and quality screened blood to all Nigerians who need it. In 2016, One Percent Project morphed into the Life Bank, a technology-driven blood delivery service that has quickly gained attention and earned Giwa-Tubosun international recognition. She remains unswayed by the positive press, focused entirely on the daunting journey ahead of Life Bank.
84. Ndidi Nwuneli
What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur? That’s the question Ndidi Nwuneli has spent the last 21 years trying to answer. A comprehensive look at her work and life suggests that social entrepreneurship factors in environmental sustainability, ensuring that human resources are maximally utilised and a strong adherence to ethics both in interpersonal and fiscal relationships. Nwuneli has excelled in all these, creating sustainable, successful businesses both in Nigeria and in the diaspora and earning the respect and kinship of her contemporaries.
But Mrs. Nwuneli is on this list not because of her impressive business acumen, but her philanthropy and activism. She has worked with the Ford Foundation to restructure Nigeria’s largest microcredit facilities, served as the Executive director of the FATE Foundation with the express aim of equipping Nigerian women with fiscal literacy. She started two non-profits of her own, Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism (LEAP) Africa and Ndu Ike Akunuba, with LEAP Africa geared towards providing much-needed opportunities for entrepreneurs and N.I.A geared exclusively towards empowering female university students from South Eastern Nigeria, often repressed by the pervasive patriarchy in the region.
Nwuneli proves activism can be practical and even dare we say unemotional, without losing any of its value or fervour.
85. Bukola Bolarinwa
Every sickle cell warrior understands there is no fence when it comes to the eradication of the condition. Everyone directly or indirectly affected by the condition is unintentionally drawn into the fight for the eradication of Sickle Cell Anaemia through advocacy, proper health practices and counselling. But not everyone is pressured into taking up the mantle. Bukola Bolarinwa is an advocate because she wants to be, and because she believes no one else should suffer because of a condition that can be prevented.
For Bolarinwa it was finding out that the only definitive treatment for Sickle Cell was discovered as an accident that made her ‘woke’. There is no cure in sight, and she couldn’t sit back and let another generation of people suffer the way she and many survivors around her have. She began educating young couples about generational transfers of the sickle cell gene. She is in the streets, preaching this through her position as the president of Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) Nigeria. The foundation which was created to improve awareness on Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) has grown to be a recognised advocacy organisation in Nigeria. And Bukola knows how to argue a case, her oratory skills helped her become the vice president of the organisation while she was studying at the Nigerian Law School, Bwari.
Bukola champions SCAF’s humanitarian initiatives, partnering with donors from around the world to promote campaigns to increase awareness of the sickle cell gene, its mutations and the possible consequences of its transfer by birth through the Know Your Genotype Campaign (KYGC).
She is physically the change she wants to see in sickle cell eradication.
86. Toks Bakare
In a country with only ten professional behavioural analysts, the default to response to developmental neurological disorders for many young parents struggling to make ends meet is denial, prayer and when nothing works, abandoning children to death or poverty. Toks Bakare, a British trained Nigerian Behaviour Analyst has decided if she can help it, she will never let another child suffer this way again.
Bakare created asktoks.com, an online platform as a way for parents with small children to access a decade’s worth of her personal research into behavioural and developmental disorders like Asperger’s, Down’s Syndrome and disorders across the autism spectrum. She has offered professional consultations, support and treatment. It assuaged her for a while, but the need she saw was so much, she dropped everything and relocated to Nigeria in 2014, so she could physically offer consultations and care to developmentally challenged children.
Bakare believes it isn’t simply enough to treat isolated cases and uses the reach of the internet to share information about spotting behavioural disorders early. There are short videos on the Youtube Channel Batta Box, and offline classes and consultations on behavioural modification treatment and Applied Behavioural Analysis, all avenues where Bakare shares her knowledge. Through Asktoks.com, Bakare has been able to comprehensively access over 200 children and create tailored behaviour treatment plans for many of the children she’s diagnosed.
Not everyone can leave their lives and return to Nigeria to help children, but Bakare did it, and Nigeria is so much better for that sacrifice.
87. Imrana Alhaji Buba
Every night the federal government tries to convince us they are winning the fight against violent conflict and extremism, but the lives we hear are lost every day across Nigeria say otherwise. From militants of the Niger Delta to the herdsmen killing innocent citizens in the Middle Belt, and the resurgence of Boko Haram in the North East while the government is quietly militarising paramilitary parastatals, we have needed to tackle the violence that is spreading across our country the way we do now. Never has the work that Imrana Alhaji Buba has dedicated his life to been more important.
Through the Youth Coalition against Terrorism (YOCAT), a volunteer-based youth-led organisation that he founded in 2010, Buba has recruited volunteers to help unite Nigerian youth against violent extremism in north-eastern Nigeria. YOCAT was set up as a response to the devastation caused by Boko Haram. The first class Political Science graduate from the University of Maiduguri is using peace education in schools and villages to weaken the appeal of violent extremism in north-eastern Nigeria and equip impressionable young people with much-needed life skills.
Imrana’s work is so impactful and so important, he was chosen for an international honour by the Queen of England. As a Queen’s young Leader, he joined honourees from 45 Commonwealth countries in London for five days of high-level engagements, all designed to help them network with potential donors, journalists and activists who can help them better achieve their goals.
The potential funding a royal honour will bring is great, but Imrana will do the work, no matter how much he has in his pockets.
- Fisayo Soyombo
Student activism through monitoring and reporting was how Fisayo Soyombo got into Journalism in 2004, and just one experience was all that was needed to convince him to switch careers. Twelve years and unrelenting curiosity has allowed Soyombo transform himself from Animal Science graduate to internationally lauded, award-winning journalist and editor.
As editor of The Cable NG and a contributor to Aljazeera, Soyombo consistently broke important news stories and scored important interviews with relevant persons. His coverage of the 2015 general elections was one of the cycle’s highlights and his work during and after won him several awards honours including a nomination for the Thomson Foundation Young Journalists Award and Kurt Schork Awards. He won of the 2014 Wole Soyinka Prize for investigative journalism, cementing his place as one of Nigeria’s best both home and abroad.
In 2016, he emerged winner of the Newcomer of the Year category of the 2016 Free Press awards. Chosen over Zimbabwean Tafadzwa Ufumeli and Albanian Mechman Huseynov, for ‘Forgotten Soldiers’ — a five-part series exploring the agony of soldiers shattered by Boko Haram’s bullets and mines, and what their pains mean for their loved ones. He also received praise for his other two entries: ‘Undercover Investigation: Nigeria’s Customs of Corruption, Bribery and Forgery’, and a three-part investigation into Liberia’s post-Ebola recovery and the embezzlement of funds meant to fight the virus.
Soyombo tells the stories we don’t want to hear, the stories we would much rather be insulated from, he forces us to face our humanity, acknowledge our privilege and gives a voice to those who don’t have one. It is a thankless job, and we are grateful that he is out here doing it.
- Julius Adewopo
Geospatial analysis and Geographic Information Systems have changed the way we monitor climatic, tectonic and topographic changes. But often, all this big jargon means nothing to the rural farmer who suffers the most from climate change.
We forget that for millions in Nigeria, agriculture is the difference between life and death. Unskilled labour sustains our country, and anything that threatens subsistent agriculture threatens all of us.
Julius Adewopo (PhD), an agricultural academic and geospatial analyst, understands that someone has to look out for these underprivileged farmers, especially in Nigeria where nothing works as it should. So he has chosen to bridge that disconnect between rural subsistence farmers and sustainability.
He is currently leading new frontier for agricultural development and facilitating partnerships to broaden opportunities for Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, implementing the geospatial aspects of a $12 Million project funded by Gates Foundation which is focused on improving the maize yield among African smallholder farmers. He is co-leading the Africa-wide Weather Data Initiative, which is currently being piloted in Nigeria.
Julius was appointed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a reviewer for the competitive Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant. Also, in recognition of his unparalleled expertise, he was enlisted by the globally renown Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to evaluate the institute’s staff research portfolio.
He serves as the Principal Strategist for the Face of Agriculture Africa, an initiative which enlisted 1000 students from different Universities across Africa and focused on promoting the values of Agriculture as a rewarding profession.
- Dele Bakare
It is often not enough to advocate for disenfranchised minorities and request more equality. The system is always skewered to unfairness and the people who are currently enjoying privilege will be hard pressed to give up on it. The true challenge is providing viable alternatives for the disenfranchised to become truly independent. Social entrepreneur Dele Bakare has been trying to solve this problem using technology.
Bakare created JobsInNigeria in 2012 to fill the niche of job seekers seeking a virtual corkboard of sorts where openings and partnerships become accessible to them. Partnering with ethical hacker Tayo Olufuwa, simplifying the process of navigation and resume submissions saw the service’s profile rise significantly and Bakare go from a bit player to a proper contender in the e-service market, massing 200,000 active users in its peak phase. Bakare expanded his digital reach to include Findaworka and Bosstable. recruitment service that connected artisanal and vocational workers with individuals looking to hire.
He also contributed to monitoring governance by helping develop the code for fiscal accounting startup BudgIT, staying with the startup and helping streamline its software as it gains credibility as an external source of government accountability, with a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurial fellowship grant and under 35 CEO award for Best Start Up Founder, Bakare continues to influence the conversation around technology and how it can be used as a tool for transparency.
Bakare’s crowdsourced tools help the average Nigerian demand accountability from their leaders and themselves without any hint of bias. They remind us advocacy is not always about fighting for the oppressed and disenfranchised, it is also about providing them the tools to fight for themselves, putting choice back in their hands.
- Sonala Olumhense
It is practically unheard of in Nigeria for a journalist to have so much influence that they are able to score a syndicated column that regularly challenges the constituted government of the time and provides an alternative point of view for Nigerians. Sonala Olumhense is that rare Nigerian journalist.
Olumhense’s career began 34 years ago with two columns in The Punch called ‘These Times’ and ‘The Presidency’. President Shehu Shagari was in power at the time, and his controversial introduction of the IMF into Nigeria’s economy and his implementation of the ‘Economic Stabilisation Act’ made him fiercely unpopular, Olumhense continued to write, through military dictatorships and civilian handovers, gaining by-lines at The Daily Times, This Week, Crown Prince and Mister. He even had a stint as the Editorial Board Chairman of the Guardian Nigeria.
Olumhense brings his wealth of experience to his journalism, making the oft-difficult transition to digital media and using the power of digital syndication across the biggest digital media platforms to keep his message and critiques of our successive incompetent governments accessible to the audience that needs his message the most, the average Nigerian.
He is proof that ‘wokeness’ is not simply some millennial fad, in every generation people always rise, committed to a cause greater than themselves. And if we are so blessed, they stay committed to the cause for 34 years.
- Toke Ibru
The Ibru extended family has been in the tabloids for as long as the Ibru name has commanded power and influence, and making a name for one’s self outside of the outsize reputation of a family that influential is not something to be baulked at. But Toke Ibru, the first son of Alex Ibru has done just that, not by seizing power or hoarding it, but by embracing a democracy of sorts.
Toke Ibru’s influence is best felt through his work as the executive director of Guardian Newspapers, one of the country’s oldest and most respected media brands. But Ibru wasn’t content with staid influence, so he shook things up once he was put at the helm of the magazine, restructuring the magazine to reflect the tech-driven world we find ourselves in now. But even more impressive is Toke Ibru’s commitment to provide a platform for citizen activism through columns about gender, culture, activism and politics, entertaining op-eds from young Nigerians that otherwise would be overlooked or turned away from traditional print media for their ‘volatile’ opinions.
Guardian Newspapers under Toke Ibru is helping shape the conversations we have around privilege and discrimination, social justice and environmental sustainability. It is no longer reporting the news, it is challenging the situations that keep these recurring themes in the ‘news’ and proffering much-needed solutions and alternatives.
Toke proves that rejecting your privilege isn’t the only way to exact change. You can also embrace privilege and channel it towards providing platforms for others denounce and challenge oppression.
- Innocent Chukwuma
Not many people even know the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) exists in Nigeria, let alone that it actually fights for the rights of disadvantaged and disenfranchised Nigerians. Not Innocent Chukwuma however, he chose to the join the CLO in 1992, right before the 1993 elections and what was about to become one of the worst spells of military dictatorship in the country’s history.
For two years, during the controversial elections and the military takeover after, Chukwuma studied the Nigeria’s police ethics as part of the CLO’s Police Research Project, while acting as the director of the institution’s International Advocacy program and then as its acting Executive Director, under the feared General Sani Abacha. Chukwuma’s daring work in that time won him the Reebok International Human Rights Award in 96, and allowed him to create the Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria (CLEEN) which still advocates for transparent legal practices to this day and is the only African Non-profit to win a MacArthur Foundation grant.
Today Innocent Chukuma chairs the Ford Foundation in West Africa, and is helping West African countries strengthen their democracies through funding for NGOs like the Kukah Centre for Faith and Leadership and Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organisation. He also ensures that grants for creative projects that fight injustice are provided for disadvantaged sexual and religious minorities. Thanks to his efforts the United States Embassy is working with LGBT advocacy groups in Nigeria to fight homophobia and sexual stigma in the country.
- Femi Longe
A tech entrepreneur seems out of place in a list like this, but that is only because of the persisting stereotype that activism must look and be expressed in a particular way.
Femi Longe, founder of Co-Creation Hub (CC Hub) and former gospel thespian defies our conventions around activism. He considers himself a social entrepreneur and believes that economic independence will go a long way in providing much needed classist, gender and social equality. But Longe understood a decade ago that, social enterprise requires leadership, especially in a country like Nigeria where successive corrupt governments have created intense distrust. He started his first non-profit, The Young Foundation in the United Kingdom as a social enterprise to help provide desperately needed practical living skills to disadvantaged young people. Later that year, he brought his social enterprise idea to Nigeria with Africa ++, a networking platform that he ran for 3 years before resting the idea to start tech incubator CC Hub.
CC Hub in many ways is Longe’s biggest social enterprise experiment and his biggest contribution to social equality. The premise is simple, provide fast high-speed internet (a hard come by necessity in Nigeria), provide advice and mentorship and see what happens. What grew out of that very simple experiment is ‘Yabacon’, Nigeria’s premier tech ecosystem, that employs thousands of young Nigerians and proves social enterprise is a viable channel to emancipation.
Femi Longe might not carry torches and wave placards, but he helped create a channel through which any young Nigerian with a dream could emancipate themselves through skill acquisition, bypass social class and nepotism and find their own voice in a world that seeks to silence them. If that isn’t activism, we don’t know what is.
- Jake Effoduh
In a list of pedigreed activists and citizens with decades of work and experience it is easy to overlook someone like Jake Effoduh. With only five years of legal practice, two of which were spent at the Oxford University pursuing an MBA, Effoduh has barely made a blip on the activism radar. But sometimes it’s not about the quantity of work that you do, but the impact it has.
Effoduh is the program officer at the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, a vital parastatal created to help often discordant government agencies communicate and collaborate on anti-corruption initiatives, improve public/private sector participation in the creation of good business practices and education of the average Nigerian on the subtler ways they might be subverting government authority. To help shape the policies that will be implemented is daunting, but Effoduh’s time as the president of Lawyers League for Minorities and the vice president of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation has trained him to understand that high-sounding policy has an effect on the common man.
Effoduh has a lot of work ahead of him, and hopefully, time and his legacy will be kind.
- Samira Haruna Sanusi
What greater courage is there to face the risk of death, every single day and still chose to aggressively live, and use your life as a touchstone to ensure that others have better lives. Samira Haruna Sanusi has survived decades of debilitating disease and the stigma associated with sickle cell syndrome. Her personal ordeal included a crisis that lasted seven years, had her endure 28 surgeries, kept her bedridden for months on end. But Samira fought the disease, reintegrated back into society after a life-saving bone marrow transplant worked effectively as a ‘cure’, wrote a memoir and started a non-profit foundation.
Samira writes extensively about her personal experience with sickle cell and has become an in-demand public speaker. She opened a non-profit organisation and uses proceeds from her memoirs and speaking engagements to fund surgeries for other sickle-cell challenged people, pay for sensitisation outreaches and seminars and pressure the government to fund more research towards an affordable cure for the disease.
But more than anything else, Samira Haruna Sanusi wants people to understand she is just one person, just as flawed as anyone else. She doesn’t see herself as a hero, or a martyr, she is just a girl who survived a chronic disease and wants to help others do the same.
- Ebenezar Wikina
New Media’s biggest pull is its versatility and Ebenezer Wikina, blogger and media enthusiast has taken its many incarnations and set them to political accountability and mentorship.
Armed with just a blogger account, Wikina created The Stroll, a virtual interview series that profiled influential leaders in world communities, including Ahmad Alhendawi (The UN Youth Envoy), Lakshmi Puri (Deputy Executive Director, UN Women), Amina J Mohammed (Minister for Environment, Nigeria & Ex-Adviser to the UN Secretary General on SDGs), Richard Wurman (Founder of TED Conference), Stephen Sackur (Host of BBC ‘HARDtalk’) and Elsie Kanza (Head of Africa, World Economic Forum). These interviews are also available in audio and Ebenezar’s podcast channel.
Ebenezar regularly contributes to The Huffington Post, The World Economic Forum blog, Agenda, UNICEF’s Youth Platform, voicesofyouth.org, and the United Nations Magazine, Africa Renewal. He is the Managing Editor of online city journal, City News Port Harcourt.
In 2014, he was granted the license to organise [email protected] which went on to be the only TEDxYouth event that held in West Africa that year. In June 2015, Ebenezar was one of the outstanding 80 youth and Global Shapers from around Africa selected to represent their hubs and countries at the 25th Anniversary of the World Economic Forum on Africa which held in Cape Town, South Africa.
For someone so young, Wikina’s ability to sort through the noise online and find the voices who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves is rare, and something that should be celebrated.
- Stephanie Linus
It has become somewhat of a status symbol in Nigeria’s entertainment circles to become a United Nations ambassador. The gesture is understandable; thanks to the immense reach of Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, actors and actresses have become global status symbols able to influence thousands of adoring fans. But very few actors do end up using their ambassadorship as an opportunity to impact real change, and even fewer have used their life’s work to ask the important questions like Stephanie Okereke Linus has.
Personal experience no doubt has influenced Linus’ decision to accept the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s ambassador to West and Central Africa. Linus was barraged with harassment after her decision to wait a few years after her marriage before trying for children. Linus was writing and shooting ‘Dry’ at the time, her opus that tells the true story of a woman and girl, both victims of sexual abuse by minors and the way society fails both. The film has stirred an important discussion about the legal age of marriage in the country and questions the exploitation of minors under that loophole.
Her position as an ambassador will help her bring her story to the people for whom it was made, who need to see the devastation an archaic culture can wreak on its most vulnerable.
- Feyisetan Are
As a society we have become too comfortable with an able-bodied, privileged person speaking for the disabled and the disenfranchised becoming the metaphor for activism. Disenfranchised people often best know how pervasive the oppression they suffer is and how they can fix it. Sometimes they don’t need a saviour, they need an ally to give that little push that can help them become their best selves.
Feyisetan Are, the Nigerian Paralympics coach, understands this explicitly, working with some of the hardest working sportsmen in the country. As a Paralympic coach, Are has protected the rights of his team, advocated for best practices to help his team achieve their best in competitive sports and allied with his team, allowing them fully claim their victory of 12 gold medals at the 2016 Olympic games.
He continues to fight to provide opportunities for our country’s Paralympic team, for many of whom sports has become a lifeline, climb their way out of oppression. But his biggest legacy will be helping show once and for all that disability only means that a person’s life will take a different path to greatness and that all they need is someone who is able to overlook the things others consider limitations and push them.
100. Hamzat Lawal
If you ask Hamzat Lawal how he feels about his activism, he’s the first to say that activism has proven a blessing that has afforded him opportunities and privileges that he otherwise would have never experienced. But they are just that to him, opportunities.
Hamzat remains focused on his purpose; tech-driven activism. Many young activists spend precious years learning the ropes by themselves, spurred only by the need to make an impact. Lawal was luckier, he got his start under Mr. Ewah Eleri, the Executive Director of the International Centre for Energy and Development, working as an IT support intern. Eleri introduced him to Climate Change and the valuable work that GIS experts and devs were doing, documenting climate erosion and providing proactive solutions and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Lawal soon found himself in the field documenting for himself the widescale effect of climate change in the desert threatened Zamfara state. While there, he stumbled on the lead poisoning crisis in Bagega, exacerbated by artisanal mining in the town and 1500 children affected by the pollution. He also discovered the funding allocated to intervene had been diverted by corrupt officials. Lawal knew the only way to force accountability was to publicly shame officials, so he began the “Follow The Money” campaigns that advocates for funding for disadvantaged communities and tracks the funds to ensure they are properly used to implement the projects they were released for.
Lawal has since expanded his activism to include gender equality, environmental sustainability and human rights.