Alakija @70: The making of a philanthropist
Fondly referred to as Africa’s richest woman, Folorunso Alakija, is readily identified with oil and gas, fashion, real estate and printing businesses. Just like other billionaires, her philanthropy, especially in tertiary institutions and outreaches is far-reaching.
Also popularly acknowledged as the founder, The Rose of Sharon Foundation, Alakija’s early beginning has influenced her passion for several interventions across different sectors of the economy.
Alakija is a ready reference for good works, committed to making an impact on the lives and welfare of others. This, she has demonstrated over and again, with her succeeding flow of humanitarian support to people and communities.
As an Apostle, Alakija, reaches out to many women, widows and orphans regularly. She holds fellowships and prayer meetings with them. For her, making a difference in the life of a widow should not just be about the bag of rice and semolina. They need counselling, encouraging prayers and sound words of God regularly. A billionaire she is, but close your eyes and imagine her calling out prayer points in a church environment and you just might feel the down-to-earth woman of means I’m trying to describe.
In the oil and gas sector, especially as founder, FAMFA Oil, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija’s voice is clear on issues affecting the industry, especially as it relates to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
According to her, the bill, if signed into law, will paint a clearer picture to investors during decision-making processes, even though it has taken not less than 12 years before arriving at its current stage.
“I mean, look at too many other administrations that have come and gone and it never got to this stage. So we thank God that it’s here.
“We are studying it as a company, I don’t want to make any comment at this stage, but it’s going to help investors tremendously. It gives a clearer picture. We’ve needed this bill for so long, and it’s keeping us back. So, I’d rather wait and see,” she added.
While expressing optimism that President Muhammadu Buhari would sign the bill into law, she equally expressed concerns that the legislation may still have to be worked on as it doesn’t cover some key areas, such as more representation for women in the oil and gas industry, which was also being clamoured for.
Speaking on the future of oil in Nigeria, she stressed the need for the country to begin to diversify into other areas.
“I would say that it’s not looking bright. We as a company are definitely looking into diversifying before it’s too late. We can’t turn back the hands of the clock, because the world is moving on and it’s moving fast. We have to move with it, and the earlier the better to diversify into other areas,” she added. She equally noted that there was an urgent need to keep the earth safe and replenish it.
In the education sector, Mrs. Alakija, as the Chancellor of UNIOSUN and in line with her commitment to tertiary institutions, on the 22nd of November, 2018, laid the foundation for the N23 billion 250-bed Osun State University Teaching Hospital (UNIOSUNTH).
The facility is expected to house a Community Health unit, Maternity & Neonatal Medicare department, Research and Diagnostic Laboratories, state of the art operating theatres, cutting edge Diagnostic Imaging, inclusive of C.T Scan, M.R.I Scanning Facility, Ultra-Sound Scanning Facilities, X-ray and Radiotherapy Suites, Lecture rooms, Necropsy and Morgue.
To members of staff of UNIOSUN, the good deeds of Alakija cannot be ignored, especially with the donation of N250 million towards the construction of the access road to the University’s Main Campus, donation of a series of motivational books for both the University staff and students, among others.
Reappointed as the Chancellor, Osun State University, Osogbo for another five-year tenure, the public relations officer of the university, Ademola Adesoji, said Alakija was reappointed based on her track record.
Adesoji described Alakija as a lover of education, philanthropist of note and a resourceful education manager, “as demonstrated during her first tenure in office.”
Adesoji further explained that in the reappointment letter, Oyetola, expressed his delight to reappoint Alakija as the Chancellor of the university for a second term of five-year beginning from March 9, 2021.
As part of efforts to celebrate Alakija’s 70th birthday anniversary, the management of Osun State University recently distributed food items and toiletries to nine orphanages, and widow centres.
The team led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Labo Popoola also visited the centre for people with disabilities and juvenile homes in Osogbo, Ede, Iwo, Ilesa and Oke-Ila.
The food items distributed to the centres include 45 bags of 50kg rice, 47 cartons of noodles, 30 packs of spaghetti, lots of beverages and toiletries.
Addressing the beneficiaries, Professor Popoola said the University deemed it fit to celebrate the Chancellor because of her numerous contributions to the development of the school since she became a Chancellor.
“Our Chancellor is a philanthropist to the core, she has not just contributed to the upliftment of the school, but she is also building a world-class teaching hospital for the wellbeing of the general masses.
“We are celebrating her 70th birthday in her own style by donating to the less privileged in the society across the state, especially children at the orphanages and widows,” he said.
Her life remains a testimony and reference for many, beginning from 1951 when she was born to the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara in Ikorodu, Lagos State. At age seven, she traveled to the United Kingdom to begin a four-year primary education at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales.
After returning to Nigeria, she attended Muslim High School Sagamu Ogun State, Nigeria. She returned abroad at age 17 for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London. She also studied fashion design at the American College, London, and the Central School of Fashion.
Mrs. Alakija started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria. She moved on to the former First National Bank of Chicago, now FinBank , acquired by FCMB (First City Monument Bank) where she worked for some years before establishing a tailoring company called Supreme Stitches. In 1993, Folorunsho performed the allotment of the oil-prospecting license.
Her company, Famfa LTD, was granted a license for the conduction of the oil exploring works in a 617.000-acre area. It was located 220 miles from Lagos. In 1996, her organization concluded a cooperative business agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum.
This, however, led to a tussle with the Nigerian government when they snatched a 40 per cent stake with an additional 10 per cent. For 12 years, she fought the government in court and didn’t give up till she won.
Married to a lawyer, Modupe Alakija in November 1976, the couple is blessed with four sons and grandchildren. She is the Group Managing Director of The Rose of Sharon Group that consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited, Digital Reality Prints Limited. She is the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited.
She was the national president and lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). She temporarily unseated Oprah Winfrey as the Richest Black Woman of African Origin in 2014 and was listed as the 96th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2014. She was also listed by Forbes as the second most powerful woman in Africa and also one of the World’s 100 most powerful women in 2015.
On March 9, 2016, she became Nigeria’s first female chancellor with her appointment as Osun State University chancellor. Beyond The Rose of Sharon, Mrs. Alakija also owns Flourish Africa, a digital platform dedicated to motivating and inspiring women.
Her company is also a major sponsor of the Agbami medical and engineering scholarship scheme with over a thousand people yearly as beneficiaries.
Mrs. Alakija donated a substantial amount of money to Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University Lapai, the Niger State University in 2014. The money was used to complete the construction of a 350 Seat Lecture Theater, which was named after her.