Folorunsho Alakija is a philanthropist and businesswoman from Nigeria. Folorunsho Alakija works in the fashion, real estate, printing, and oil industries. She is the Rose of Sharon Group’s group managing director and the executive vice chairman of Famfa Oil Limited. Alakija also owns a majority stake in DaySpring Property Development Company.
In Lagos, Nigeria, she began her professional career as an Executive Secretary while also starting her own tailoring business. Her business thrived, and she rose to the position of National President and Trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria.
She applied for an oil prospecting license in the early 1990s. The plot of land she was given turned out to be sitting on over a billion barrels of potential oil. She owns 60% of the offshore drilling venture off the coast of Nigeria. The remaining drilling operation is owned by Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited, a Texaco company, and Petrobras, a Brazilian company.
Following the discovery of the billion barrels, the Nigerian government attempted to reclaim the land grant. A 12-year legal battle ensued, reaching all the way to Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
Folorunsho triumphed, and her perseverance was rewarded handsomely. Folorunsho Alakija is now one of the world’s wealthiest black women.
Early Life and Education
Folorunsho Alakija was born on July 15, 1951 in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria, when it was still colonial. Her father, Chief L. A. Ogbara, was from an upper-class family. Alakija attended the Our Ladies of Apostles nursery school as a child. She moved to the United Kingdom when she was seven years old to attend the Dinorben School for Girls in Wales. Alakija returned to Nigeria after graduating in 1963 and attended Muslim High School in Sagamu, Ogun State. She returned to the UK to study secretarial skills at Pitman’s Central College in London.
Alakija started her career as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1974. She later worked as the executive secretary to the managing director at the First National Bank of Chicago. Alakija went on to become the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria’s new head of the Corporate Affairs Department, and then the Treasury Department’s office assistant.
Alakija decided to pursue a career in fashion after working in the banking industry for about 12 years. She enrolled at the American College in London and the Central School of Fashion to do so. After returning to Nigeria, Alakija established her first fashion label, Supreme Stitches. She renamed the company Rose of Sharon House of Fashion in 1996. Alakija went on to become the national president and trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, solidifying her position as a Nigerian fashion pioneer.
Alakija applied for an oil prospecting license in 1993, hoping to broaden her career opportunities. She was granted a license to explore on a 617,000-acre block of land southeast of Lagos through her company Famfa. Alakija and Famfa entered into a joint venture agreement with Texaco subsidiary Star Deep Water Petroleum in 1996, which served as a technical adviser for her oil exploration. After the companies struck oil, the Nigerian government claimed a 40% stake in the asset, followed by another 10% stake.
Alakija has been involved in philanthropic endeavors in addition to her for-profit business ventures. She gives grants and scholarships to orphans and widows through her Rose of Sharon Foundation. Alakija has also donated to the establishment of a skills acquisition center at Lagos’ Yaba College of Technology.
Honors and Awards
Folorunsho Alakija was named the second most powerful woman in Africa in 2015, after economist and activist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Later, in 2020, Forbes named Alakija Nigeria’s wealthiest woman. In recognition of her contributions to business, Alakija received an honorary doctorate in business administration from Benson Idahosa University in the summer of 2021.
In 1976, Alakija married lawyer Modupe Alakija. The couple lives in Lagos with their four sons. Notably, Alakija’s nephew is DJ Xclusive, a recording artist and record producer.