Africa's first female billionaire rumoured to seek political career

Africa’s first female billionaire, Folorunsho Alakija, started out as a secretary and fashion designer. She now owns a share of a major Nigerian oil field and is said to be contemplating a move into politics.

 

Recognised for her one-of-a-kind fashion sense, Nigeria’s first female billionaire Folorunsho Alakija started off as a dressmaker herself. Armed with a fashion degree from London, Alakija quickly made a name for her label, Supreme Stitches, after its launch in 1986. With an estimated net worth of $2.5bn, she was listed by Forbes as Africa’s 13th richest person in 2013.
 
In the late 1980s, Alakija’s label landed its biggest client: Maryam Babangida, the wife of then military dictator Ibrahim Babangida. The details remain murky, but in 1993 Alakija’s Famfa Oil acquired the deep offshore oil prospecting licence 126, which is now oil mining licence (OML) 127 and contains the Agbami field. There was no public tendering process, and for years, many questioned the wisdom of the acquisition.
“Most serious, long-sighted business people at the time were looking at telecoms,” explains an investment banker close to the businesswoman. “It wasn’t a particularly smart acquisition in relation to oil prices at the time,” he says.
 
Famfa discovered commercial quantities of crude oil in 1999, but commercial production did not begin until 2008, when surging global oil prices made the field profitable. Producing around 200,000 barrels per day, the field is now one of Nigeria’s most lucrative.
 
Almost as remarkable as her ascent is her own background. Among her father’s 52 children, she and her sister were the only two educated abroad. Upon returning from the UK, she applied for a position at a newly opened American bank on the advice of her husband, Modupe, himself a successful lawyer.
Her time as executive secretary at The First National Bank of Chicago, now Finbank, exposed her to many members of the country’s banking elite. Friends say she invested most of her salary in stocks and property. “She was very determined. She had built her first house in Lagos even before her 30th birthday,” says a longtime family friend who requested anonymity.


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