It’s been quiet over here on IBG for a few days, because we had to take a step back and regroup- so as usual we are very excited to be back with a BANG! As you all know, March is all about celebrating women! From Mothers Day to International Women’s Day (IWD) we are putting women everywhere on the map. This Year’s theme for IWD is Parity. Which in essence is about creating equality between the sexes and as well as creating opportunities for such qualities to happen and thrive.
So it got me thinking, about some of the women who have already created opportunities for you and me? Who are some of the Nigerian trailblazers who have cleared the path for us to follow? Hence this list of Nigeria’s First Women. The list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add more in the comments section. But most importantly, let these EPIC women inspire you to go forth and conquer!
So without further ado, it is my pleasure to present to you, Nigeria’s first women- a list of Nigeria’s female trailblazers…
Captain Chinyere Kalu
Captain Chinyere Kalu is the first female pilot in Nigeria. Capt. Chinyere’s decision to start a career in Aviation was spurred by her adventurous aunt, who was also the first woman from her hometown to travel overseas. She was made a member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) in the 2006 National Honours list. In 2011, she was appointed the Rector and Chief Executive of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), which is the largest aviation training institute in Africa
Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa
Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa (13 January 1931 – 16 October 1993) : was a Nigerian author best known as Flora Nwapa. 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 and following her creation of Tata press- is also known as the first African woman publisher
Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi
Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi was the first female physician in Nigeria. She earned her medical degree in 1938 from the University of Dublin, Cafreys College and advanced from junior medical officer at the Massey Street Hospital Lagos, to chief consultant and Medical Director at that hospital, holding the latter position from 1960 through 1969. She was also appointed as a Senior Specialist Gynaecologist and Obstetrician in 1962 by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health
Chioma Ajunwa is the first African woman, as well as the first Nigerian, to win an Olympic gold medal in a track and field event. She performed this historic feat of winning an Olympic gold medal on Friday, August 2, 1996. On that day, she jumped 7.12 metres at a long jump event in the 1996 Atlanta games.
Professor Adetoun Ogunseye
Professor Adetoun Ogunseye is 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..
Justice Aloma Mukhtar
On July 16, 2012, Justice Aloma Mukhtar made history by becoming the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria. She was also conferred with the National Award of GCON (the second highest honour in the land) by His Excellency. But Justice Mukhtar is a lady of many firsts. In January 1977, she was made a judge of the Kano High Court. Making her the third female judge in the history of Nigeria, the first female judge from the North and being 32 years of age, she was the youngest judge in the country.
Prof. Grace Alele-Williams
Prof. Grace Alele-Williams was the first Nigerian woman to become the vice-chancellor of a Nigerian University. She studied at Queens College, University College, Ibadan and then the University of Vermont, before receiving a PhD in Mathematics education from the University of Chicago. It has also been widely circulated that she made history as the first Nigerian woman to be awared a doctorate. She was a post doctoral research fellow at the Department of Education, University of Ibadan after which she was appointed a professor of mathematics at the University of Lagos.
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR)
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili (OFR): Prior to her ministerial appointment, Prof. Akunyili was Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) of Nigeria, where she made it her top priority to eradicate counterfeit drugs and unsafe food in Nigeria. Before her assumption of office in NAFDAC, fake and substandard foods and drugs were sold in Nigeria without any form of regulation.
She was a Senior Lecturer and Consultant Pharmacologist in the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Enugu Campus, before she became the NAFDAC boss. Professor Akunyili was also a Post-Doctorate Fellow of the University of London and a Fellow of the West African Post-Graduate College of Pharmacists. She gained international recognition and won hundreds of awards for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights. She was appointed Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Information and Communications until December 16, 2010.
Ambassador Adenike Ebun Oyagbola
Ambassador Adenike Ebun Oyagbola is the first woman to ever be appointed as a Federal Minister in the history of Nigeria under the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. She was also a Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico
Blessing Liman is the first female military pilot of the Nigerian Air Force. On her achievement she has been quoted elsewhere as saying; “As a first female pilot I would want to make a mark that would encourage other females to join the military because I believe that all females have equal opportunity to exercise their rights in whatever they choose to..”
Maureen Nkeiruka Mmadu
Maureen Nkeiruka Mmadu is the first Nigerian women’s football coach attached to a top European club at Avaldsnes. She is a former Super Falcons midfielder and is the first Nigerian to have played 100 games for the national team
Ibukun Abiodun Awosika
Ibukun Abiodun Awosika: In 2015, First Bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc. announced the appointment of Mrs. Ibukun Abiodun Awosika as its new board chairperson. Making her the first woman to assume this position since the establishment of First Bank of Nigeria in 1894. Mrs Awosika began her entrepreneurship journey at age 25 when she resigned from Alibert Nigeria Ltd to start her own furniture manufacturing company; Quebees Ltd now known today as The Chair Centre Ltd. Ibukun Awosika sits at the board of several companies among which are Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Digital Jewels Ltd and Convention on Business Integrity. She is also the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ), as well as the Chairman of Intermac, the organisers of SmartCard Conference in Nigeria.
Sandra Aguebor is Nigeria’s first lady mechanic. She 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 females 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.
Chief ‘Folake Solanke (SAN)
Chief ‘Folake Solanke (SAN) is the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the first Nigerian female lawyer to wear the silk gown as Senior Counsel. She is the first Commissioner of Western State and is 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 and the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award
Dr. Abimbola Ayodeji Abolarinwa
Dr. Abimbola Ayodeji Abolarinwa is first female Urologist in Nigeria Her medical career started in 2004 after graduating from University of Ibadan. She worked as a Medical officer for 2 years before she commenced her residency training at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
In 2013 she became qualified to practice as a Urologist and emerged as the first female Urologist in Nigeria. She’s currently working as a Urologist in the Department of Surgery of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, (LASUTH) Ikeja.
Captain Abimbola Jayeola (Captain AB)
Captain Abimbola Jayeola (Captain AB) is Nigeria’s First Female Helicopter Captain. In February 2016, Captain Jayeola was widely celebrated for her heroism in saving the lives of 11 Nigerians onboard a 5B BJQ Bristow helicopter headed to Lagos from Port Harcourt. Jayeola’s shrewd decision-making and astute skill has been hailed as exemplary and one of the main reasons why no lives were lost.
Olabisi Alofe-Kolawole is the first female public relations officer (FPRO) of the Nigeria Police Force. She has a degree in law from Ogun State University and a master’s in police leadership and management from University of Leicester, UK. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002 and has also served in the following United Nations Missions; in East-Timor 2000, Kosovo 2004, Liberia 2006 and at the DPKO UNHQ, New York 2007. She is also a member of the pool of investigators assisting the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the investigations of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence as international crimes
Dr. Salamat Ahuoiza Aliu
Dr. Salamat Ahuoiza Aliu: is a neuro-surgeon at National Hospital, Abuja. She is the first indigenously trained female neuro-surgeon in Nigeria as well as the first female to be certified a neuro-surgeon in West Africa.
Margaret Ekpo is nationally and internationally recognized as an Icon of Nigerian politics and a pioneer activist of women’s rights. Margaret Ekpo was one of three women appointed to the House of Chiefs, in the 1950s. The others were Chief (Mrs) Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti (appointed into the Western Nigeria House of Chiefs); and Janet Mokelu (appointed along with Margaret Ekpo into the Eastern Nigeria House of Chiefs). Today, her distinguished name graces the Calabar International Airport and Ekpo Refectory at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Initially attending political meetings on behalf of her husband and completely unsatisfied with being the only woman present, Mrs Ekpo launched and ingenious scheme to bring other women into politics. Since this was after the Second World War and scarcity of basic household items still persisted, Margaret Ekpo deposited money for all available bags of salt thus ensuring she was able to control its sale to members of her Aba Market Women Association only. Any woman who was not registered as a member was denied access to salt. The Aba Market Women Association therefore become a veritable platform through which she could convey all the information she heard at the political meetings. She also used the association to promote women solidarity as a platform to fight for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansionary political rights of women. She was also instrumental in extracting the promise of Universal Adult Suffrage from Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Mo Abudu: Mosunmola is an entrepreneur and pacesetter in the media industry. She is the first woman in Africa to launch a pan African TV Channel. From starting the Moments with Mo Talk show that inspired many to building an enviable brand with Ebony Life TV, Mosunmola Abudu is on a roll. Her latest movie project Fifty, has also received several local and international awards/accolades
Tara Fela-Durotoye: She is a Nigerian makeup artist and lawyer. A pioneer in the bridal makeup profession in Nigeria, she launched the first bridal directory in 1999, set up international standard makeup studios and established the first makeup school in Nigeria. She is the founder and CEO of House of Tara International, and creator of the Tara Orekelewa Beauty range, Inspired Perfume and the H.I.P Beauty range.
In 2007, She was awarded the Africa SMME Award and the Entrepreneur award in South Africa and in 2013, Forbes listed her as one 20 Young Power Women In Africa. She is a graduate of the prestigious Stanford SEED Transformation Program and this has aided her work as a mentor for thousands of young women across Africa and a standout entrepreneur
Agbani Darego 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 modelling 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.
Admiral Itunu Hotonu
Admiral Itunu Hotonu is the first woman to attain the rank of Rear Admiral (a two-star General), in the Nigerian Navy. She is the second female carrier soldier after Major-General Ronke Kale, to reach the rank of 2-star General in West Africa. Hotunu studied Architecture from the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka. She was among the first set of architects to be enlisted into the Nigerian Navy and it is on record that Hotonu was the first female military officer to serve as a Directing Staff (that is an instructor) at the famous Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji. She was also the first female military officer to attend the then National War College, now National Defence College, where she emerged the best overall graduating student and won the Commander-in-Chief’s prize as well as the Commandant’s prize for the best research.
Sarah Jubril remains the first woman to aim for the Nigerian presidency. In 1991, she sought to fly the ticket of Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the presidential race and came out fourth. Ever since, her name has been associated with politics. More recently, she served in President Goodluck Jonathan’s government as the Special Adviser on Ethics and Values
SArach Jubril has a documented and impressive history of achievement in a wide range of educational, ethics, governance, education, charitable and business roles. By profession a Counseling Psychologist in the areas of Family, Youth & Politics, she was educated in Nigeria, the UK and the USA, and comes from the Kwara state, where she held roles in the State Broadcasting Corporation, the Special Task Force on Social development, and was the Honourable Commissioner of Social Development, Youth Sports and Culture
She has won numerous awards including the Dr. Martin Luther King Award –For Leadership Excellence in the USA, the This Day Newspaper Awardee of Life Achievers, the 50 Women of Valour awards and the First Lady of Nigeria’s 50 Women award.
*This publication has been edited to include Sarah Jubril as the first female candidate to run for president of Nigeria. A previous publication had initially named Professor Remi Sonaiya as Nigeria’s first presidential candidate. We apologise for this error.