As we join the entire world in celebrating International Women’s Day and the Women’s Month in March, we cannot afford to forget the women who scored the firsts…women who blazed the trail in the different professions, paving the way for other women to make inroads therein.They are women who broke the stereotypes of women being confined to only certain professions, proving their mettle as brilliant lawyers, seasoned bankers, doctors and more, so much so that this year’s theme for IWD, is requesting a “Balance For Better” to achieve gender parity in the society by giving women more opportunities to contribute to nation- building in all spheres of life.
Here are a few of such outstanding women who have made a mark in the Nigerian society, serving as role models to younger women. We salute the First Ladies of the Professions.
Engr. Ebele Ofunneamaka Okeke
First female Civil Engineer and first female Head of Service of the federation in Nigeria. She graduated from the University of Southampon, England with BSc (Hons.) in Civil Engineering. She holds an MBA from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and an Honorary Doctorate degree in Technology Management by the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. She began her career as a public health engineer with Sanford Fawcett Wilton and Bell, Consulting Engineer London including deputy director water supply, director rural development, and Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Water Resources and head of the Civil Service of the federation of Nigeria.
Engr. Okeke is passionate about addressing the sanitation and hygiene challenges in Nigeria and Africa. She was a founding member of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), an agency within the UN system. She holds two prestigious presidential awards – officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR). She is a recipient of several professional and social honours.
Prof. Grace Alele-Williams
First female Vice Chancellor. Her teaching career started at Queen’s School, Ede Osun State, where she was mathematics master from 1954 until 1957. She left for the University of Vermont to become a graduate assistant and later Assistant Professor. Between 1963 and 1965, Alele-Williams was a postdoctoral research fellow, Department (and Institute) of Education, University of Ibadan from where she was appointed a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Lagos in 1976. By serving in various committees and boards, Alele-Williams had made useful contributions in the development of education in Nigeria. She was Chairman of the Curriculum Review Committee, former Bendel State (1973-1979). From 1979-1985, she served as chairman of the Lagos State Curriculum Review Committee and Lagos State Examinations Boards.
Alele-Williams was a member of governing council, UNESCO Institute of Education. She is also a consultant to UNESCO and Institute of International Education Planning. For a decade (1963–73) she was a member of the African Mathematics Programme, located in Newton, Massachusetts, United States. Alele-Williams published a book titled Modern Mathematics Handbook for Teachers. After serving as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, she joined the board of directors of Chevron-Texaco Nigeria.
Chief ‘Folake Solanke (SAN)
First female to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and the first Nigerian female lawyer to wear the silk gown as Senior Counsel. She is the first Commissioner of Western State and a former Chairperson of the Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC). Solanke has received numerous awards, including the National honour of the Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) and the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award.
Chief Olutoyin Olakunrin
Late Chief Olutoyin Olakunrin was the first female Chartered Accountant in Sub-Saharan Africa. A UK-trained accountant, Olakunrin who qualified as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales in 1963, served as a president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). She was the chief promoter of the Society of Women Accountants in Nigeria (SWAN), which she served as Chairman for over a decade and the first female President of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria; former member of the National Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Policy Commission, Vision 20:2020 Committee, and Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. She was bestowed with the national award of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the federal government as well as chieftaincy titles from Owo, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta and Ijero-Ekiti.
Mrs. Adenike Regina Ebunoluwa Oyagbola
First lady cabinet member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She attended the Balham and Tooting College of Commerce and studied accountancy and joined the Accountancy cadre of the Federal Ministry of Finance when she returned to Nigeria in 1963. She served as an internal auditor in several ministries including Establishment, Defence, Transport, Trade and Culture. She was one of the two women in Ogun State who contested election into the senate in 1979. Although she did not succeed, her effort did not go unnoticed as she was appointed the Federal Minister of National Planning by then President Shehu Shagari, thus becoming the first and, during late President Shagari’s first term in office, only female minister of cabinet rank in Nigeria. Mrs. Oyagbola served as the Nigerian Ambassador to the united Mexican States between 1999 and 2003, with concurrent accreditation to Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica. She has been a promoter and advocate of the principles of Attitudinal Healing in the hope that a radical change in the mindset of the citizenry, especially the youth.
Mrs. Osaretin Afusat Demuren
First lady Director of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). She served 33 years at the CBN where she held several significant roles in Research, Exchange Control and Trade & Exchange departments. In 1999, she made history as the first female to be appointed a departmental director of the apex bank as the director of Trade and Exchange. She served on the board of various public institutions including the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) and Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA). In April 2013, Mrs. Demuren was appointed to the Board of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) as a non-executive director and served on the board remuneration committee and chair for Human Resources Management Committee until April 2015 when she was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank.
Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu
First lady Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy. She graduated in 1982 with a degree in Architecture and became a chartered architect in 1984. She was commissioned into the Nigerian Navy in 1986 and appointed to the Nigeria Naval Dockyard as SOIII Arch. She was commander Lagos logistics depot, command logistics officer (east) and Managing Director/ CEO Nigerian Navy Post Service Housing Scheme. She was the first female military officer to attend the National Defence College and graduated as the best student, winning both commandant prizes for best project and Commander-in-Chief’s prize. She was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy in December 2010, thus becoming the first female African Naval officer to achieve the rank. Hotonu was subsequently appointed group Managing Director/ CEO of the newly-formed Nigerian Navy Holdings Limited that engaged in the construction of buildings and roads nationally.
TPL. Catherine Kehinde George
First female Town Planner in Nigeria. She was the first female Fellow of the Nigerian Institute Town Planners (1987) and first African female Fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute of Britain (1990). She was inducted into the Nigerian Women Hall of Fame, Abuja, in November 2007 as the first female African Town Planner. She completed her post-graduate diploma in Town and Regional Planning with honours at the University of Melborne, Australia.
At the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC), George was project planner on several schemes including Ogba Housing Scheme and Amuwo Odofin New Town. She led the Lagos State technical monitoring team to define the most feasible route for the 28km Lagos metro-line project among other projects. She was the pioneer chairman of Lagos Mainland Local Planning Authority (1998-1999), first female chairman of the Lagos state chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (1998-2000); member of Building Collapse Guild (BCPG) (June 2012 till date), among others. She is also a recipient of several honours and awards.
First female lady mechanic. Sandra studied Mechanical Engineering at the Auchi Polytechnic, graduating in 1991 as the first Nigerian woman to be certified as an auto-mechanical engineer. Sandra opened her own garage in Lagos, established a solid customer base and began to bring other women into her profession. Today, she is the founder of Lady Mechanic Initiative, which trains female mechanics. She also launched an After School Club Project, in partnership with the MacAthur Foundation aimed at grooming young female public school students in Lagos State for gainful employment.
Captain Hadiza Lantana Oboh
First and only female pilot of the defunct Nigeria Airways. Late Oboh was reputed to have checked out as a Flight Officer (F/O) aboard a Boeing 737 of the Nigeria Airways in 1984. By 1989, she was already a well-established pilot and remained an aviation superstar all through the 1990s. She was always a point of reference and source of pride for all women associations in Nigeria and Africa.
Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa
She was the first female Nigerian author and the first African woman publisher with her creation of Tana Press in 1970. Flora Nwapa of blessed memory was the forerunner to a generation of African women writers and her novel Efuru (1966) is among the first English-language novels by a woman from Africa. She has been called the mother of modern African literature. She was made the Ogbuefi in 1978, not a small achievement in the paternalistic societies of Africa where some men look upon women as objects of subjugation. But with Flora Nwapa, even men doffed their feathered hats and gave her the salutes she truly deserves.
Professor Adetoun Ogunseye
First female Professor In Nigeria. She attended Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos. At the University of Ibadan (where she was the first female student), she received the prize for the best female graduating student and got a scholarship to proceed to Cambridge. She became a Professor of Library in 1973 and was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Nigeria Book Fair Trust in 2012.
First Nigerian to win Miss World contest. She is a former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria best known as the first native Sub-Saharan African to win Miss World. She has gone on to judge numerous pageants, and fashion and modeling competitions including Miss World 2014, Miss England 2002,Mr. Scotland 2002,and Elite Model Look Nigeria 2012 and 2014. In 2010 she launched a style and fashion reality show Stylogenic on Nigerian television. Three years later Agbani showed us her entrepreneurial side with the launch of her denim range, AD by Agbani Darego, which includes jeans, dresses, sunglasses and bags. She also studied Psychology at New York University and graduated in 2012.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga
First female Bobsled team at Winter Olympics in Africa. No African country has represented the sport of bobsled at the Winter Olympics. These are the first and only three women who represented Nigeria. Seun, Ngozi and Akuoma are established athletes who are also engaged in life’s journey. Ngozi has background work experience in the mortgage industry and is now a full-time student pursuing a Doctoral degree. Akuoma is the brakeman for the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team and also works as a healthcare recruiter. Seun is the driver of the team and also currently a chiropractic student. Seun is studying for a dual degree of a Doctorate of Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College and a Masters of Science in Exercise & Health Science University of Houston Clear Lake.