by Hauwa Gambo
If you didn’t know about Folorunsho Alakija a week ago, well now you do. Since a new magazine called VENTURES made the best business decision in its short history and declared her the richest black woman in the world (at least $3.3 billion rich) – one who had beaten down the almighty Oprah.
61 years old this year, she is a fashion designer – born into wealth – who made her initial fortune selling high-end clothing to Nigeria’s elite of the 70s and 80s – at that time, those were the wives of military and political “chieftains”. Anyone who pays close attention to the evolution of the style industry in Nigeria knows her to be an icon.
But even before that, she has had a distinguished career before that in the banking industry, starting out as a secretary and bowing out as corporate affairs head (the first such head for International Merchant Bank) to learn Fashion Design in England. She returned to serve upscale clients with a company, Supreme Stitches which evolved into Rose of Sharon, with headquarters in Surulere. She was declared Best Designer as far back as 1986, and has continued to grab fashion awards even to this year.
Evidently, at some point, she was able to leverage a relationship as designer to late first lady, Maryam Babangida, according to informed speculation, and thus her application for an Oil Prospecting License was approved in 1993 for her company Famfa Limited.
To all intent and purpose, she had no experience in the industry prior to this, and an ignorant military government was no help, but a demonstrable savvy, Ventures reports, led to her decision not to sell. Instead she entered a joint venture and began to exploit the oil field.
Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office and, in 2000, after he discovered an excess of 1 billion oil barrels in the first appraisal field, he ordered that the NNPC acquire a 40 per cent stake. She took him to court, and in 2012 the courts agreed – she was in her rights. The government appealed, but the case was dismissed. Famfa Oil has obtained 60 per cent in OML 127, which is “one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil blocs”.
Soon after, she established the Rose of Sharon Foundation. Part of this might be an exaggeration, but according to the magazine, the foundation focuses on widowed women and orphaned children – and has “empowered 2,760 widows, providing them with workshops to connect with other widows and share their testimonies. These women also received monetary support, scholarships for their children and interest free loans to start up small businesses.”
An accomplished businesswoman and professional who saw an opportunity to expand her wealth and took it, and then tries to give back (even if too little), yes?
Apparently not. You see, suddenly, Alakija is the target of vitriol from many, especially if you observe social media. She has been called a “mere tailor”, “a thief”, “not an inspiration”, “one of those stealing Nigeria blind”, “a crook” – and these are some of the milder invectives I have been unfortunate to find on Twitter.
Has Alakija broken any laws? No. Has she violated some moral code, written or unwritten? No. Has she been accused of corruption? No. Mismanaged any of her businesses? No. Okay, perhaps she was caught running around with 18-year-old hunks in a hotel in Venice? Not at all.
But alas! She has been caught in the middle of an unpardonable sin – she got rich. She took advantage of lax laws, as smart business do everywhere from America and Dubai and built a thriving oil business – and she had the gall to not stop the story from being told on the pages of a finance magazine.
Therefore, she is no longer to be referred to as an inspiration, and this “mere tailor” is now, suddenly, responsible for all the problems of Nigeria.
Yes, I know Nigerians are angry. But it is important for Nigerians to identify who our real enemies are and attack those instead. We can start with those who steal our government blind daily, or those destroy it with wanton profligacy.
For now, however, we have chosen (another) wrong target.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.