Monday 1 October 2018

Independence Day: Check Out The Beautiful Nigerian Women Who Took The Lead In History (Photos)

As Nigerians pause to celebrate their Independence Day, we bring you some of the women who made history with their great achievements.
As Nigeria celebrates her 58th Independence anniversary, Allure pays tributes to ‘First Women’ in different fields of endeavour, who over the years, have inspired Nigerians particularly the girl child to success. From the academia, politics, military to breaking into the men’s den, their accomplishments are impressive and inspiring.
Sandra Aguebor
For years, auto mechanics have been overwhelmingly male, and the career considered an unconventional choice for a woman, as the work is physically tasking, involving frequent heavy lifting and often requiring great strength. To cap it all, it was considered a dirty work too. But all that changed when Sandra Aguebor broke the jinx, taking on the male dominated field as the first female mechanic in Nigeria.
A native of Benin City, Edo State, Sandra was born in the 70s into the family of late Mr. and Mrs. R.A Aguebor. She is a graduate of Auchi Polythecnic and she also has a degree from The Goethe Institute, a German school based in Lagos.
Sandra who has been a mechanic for more than 32 years, started her own garage, Sandex Car Care Garage about 25 years ago. Against the will of her mother who thought it shameful for a woman to be a mechanic, Sandra started training to be a mechanic at the age of 14, with the support of her father. He had been out of the country a couple of times, and had seen female aeronautic engineers; hence he didn’t see why his daughter couldn’t be an automobile mechanic if she wanted to. So he took her to the workshop where he fixed his car and, according to Sandra, once they arrived the workshop, she immediately fell in love with a dismantled car engine, and refused to leave. Thus, began her training.
Over the years, she has not only succeeded in her chosen career, but, has also impacted other lives in towing the same path through her Lady Mechanic Initiative.
For Sandra Aguebor, the Lady Mechanic Initiative (LMI) is an empowerment programme, birthed out of the need to empower young women to become mechanics, so that they can open their own shops. Her lady mechanic Initiative is dedicated to training orphans, former sex workers, school dropouts, single mothers and victims of trafficking to become mechanics, in order to fend for themselves.
For her resilience and success story over the years, several international organisations like The CNN, BBC World News, The New York Times, the Voice of Africa and more, have shown quite a number of documentaries on her. And very recently, she was presented with the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award by wife of Nigeria’s vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo and Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who noted that she used her “skills and talent to make positive impact to the society in an area dominated by men”. She was also given a National Merit Award by Federal Government of Nigeria.
Agbani Darego
Nigeria’s beauty Queen, Agbani Darego shot to fame when she clinched the coveted Miss World crown in 2001, a feat which made her the first Nigerian and African to be crowned Miss World.
The Abonnema, Rivers State beauty was born in Lagos, the sixth in a family of eight children. At age two, her family relocated to Port Harcourt where she later spent her teenage years. After her secondary education, she attended the University of Port Harcourt where she studied Computer Science and Mathematics. As a teenager, Agbani longed to be a model, and despite her conservative father’s wishes, she auditioned for the M-Net Face of Africa modelling competition, but was not chosen as a finalist. Not deterred by the rejection, the young Darego went on to enter for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria contest, where she won the coveted crown as the Most Beautiful Girl In Nigeria 2001. Due to her very tight schedule, Darego left the University of Port Harcourt, but after moving to New York where she was signed to Next Model Management and Ford Models, she enrolled at New York University where she studied Psychology, graduating in May 2012.
Prior to winning the MBGN, Darego featured in print commercials for boutique chain, Collectables. Following her stint at Miss Universe, she was invited by Naomi Campbell to participate in Frock ‘n’ Roll – a charity fashion show in Barcelona. She later negotiated a modelling deal with the current United States President, Donald Trump’s management, to establish links with modelling agencies in America.
Shortly after her reign as Miss World, she was represented by the London and Paris branches of Next Model Management, and landed a three-year contract with L’Oréal, becoming only the second Black model to accomplish this feat after Vanessa Williams. She was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, a big name in Americans portrait photograph sphere for Vogue. Other brands she has modelled for include Avon, Christian Dior, Sephora, Target, and Macy’s. she has also appeared in Elle, Marie Claire, Allure, Trace, Stitch, Cosmopolitan, and Essence magazines, working with numerous designers including Oscar de la Renta, Marc Bouwer, Tommy Hillfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Gianfranco Ferre.
Back home, Agbani Darego has appeared in advertising campaigns for hair care brand, Gentle Touch with model Oluchi, and served as the face of Arik Air. She has also graced the covers of Complete Fashion, Mania, True Love, and TW Magazine amongst others.
Darego has judged numerous pageants, 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, and three years later, announced her denim range, AD by Agbani Darego.
On the 8th of April, 2017 she married her longtime love, Ishaya Danjuma, son of Billionaire General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma in a private wedding ceremony at Marrakesh, Morocco. The union was recently blessed with a baby boy.
Chioma Ajunwa-Opara,
Chioma Ajunwa is the first Nigerian, and first West African woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She achieved this feat at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Till date, she remains Nigeria’s only individual Olympic gold medalist.
Although she started out playing football for the Super Falcons, she quit to focus as a track and field athlete and specialized in 100m, 200m and long jump.
Ajunwa, who is also an officer with the Nigerian Police Force, hails from Ahiazu-Mbaise-in Imo State, Nigeria. She is the last of nine children, with six brothers and two sisters. At eighteen, Ajunwa who had been a keen athletics participant during her school years, gained admission into the university, but, was unable to register due to her mother’s inability to pay the fees. She later decided to become a motor mechanic, but abandoned the idea following her mother’s disapproval.
As a professional sportswoman, Ajunwa originally played football for the Nigerian women’s team, and was a member of The Falcons during the Women’s World Cup in 1991. But because she was constantly benched, her skill was seldom used.
Ajunwa performed as a track and field athlete and specialised in the 100m, 200m and long jump. She competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 metres relay, and competed at the African Championships in 1989, and the All Africa Games in 1991, where she won gold medals in the long jump. Ajunwa was banned from the sport for four years after failing a drug test in 1992, despite maintaining her innocence. Following the completion of her suspension, Ajunwa went on to become the first West-African woman, as well as the first Nigerian, to win an Olympic gold medal in a track and field event, when she emerged victorious in the women’s long jump event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, with a jump length of 7.12 meters (on her first attempt) during the final. Following this feat, Chioma Ajunwa was given a National award – Member of the Order of Niger (MON)- by the then Head of State of Nigeria, Sani Abacha.
On October 1, 2010, Nigeria celebrated with fanfare, its 50th Independence anniversary. As part of that celebration, on Thursday September 30, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan, conferred special Golden Jubilee Independence Awards on 50 distinguished Nigerians, and friends of Nigeria including Chioma Ajunwa, for their various roles and contributions to the development of the country. In December 2017 Chioma Ajunwa-Okpara, was decorated as an Assistant Commissioner of Police, by the Police Service Commission.
The Gold medalist was in the news recently, where she blamed the decline in Nigeria’s dominance in athletics to the lack of programs to identify and nurture young talents, who are seeking solace in other countries. She says she does not regret not dumping Nigeria. “I’m a patriotic Nigerian, but you don’t expect everybody to be patriotic.” She said.
Dr. Ola Orekunrin
Dr. Ola Orekunrin is a medical doctor, healthcare entrepreneur and founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first Air Ambulance Service. Through her Flying Doctors services, Dr. Olakunrin is dedicated to bringing trauma care, to the most remote parts of Western Africa through her company.
Born in London, the young Ola grew up in a foster home along with her sister in England. Burning with a strong passion for medicine, she studied at the University of York in the UK, graduating at the young age of 21 as a qualified doctor. Her meteoric rise in the field of medical studies, took her to Japan having been awarded the MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship. There, she conducted clinic research in the field of regenerative medicine at the Jikei University Hospital.
However, she was motivated to start her company after her younger sister, tragically died whilst traveling in Nigeria, as a consequence of not having a medical air service available to transport her to hospital. Undaunted by difficult challenges, she successfully established Flying Doctors in Lagos, Nigeria in 2007. Flying Doctors have 20 aircrafts and 44 doctors who can deliver care en route to one of Nigeria’s hospitals. The company hires out their services to major events in Nigeria, as well as offering insurance to wealthy companies and families in the country. Orekunrin believes that improvements in her country’s position in the world, will result from the action of entrepreneurs and not the government.
She is a member of both the American Academy of Aesthetic Surgeons and the British Medical Association. She was listed among Young Global leaders by World Economic Forum in 2013, and has lectured on entrepreneurship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She is a recipient of several awards and recognition. In 2012, she received ThisDay Awards (Contribution to Health in Africa), The Future Award as ‘Entrepreneur of the year 2012’, and in 2013, NewsDirect Awards as ‘Outstanding Female CEO of the Year 2013’. In February 2018, she received “Extraordinary Business Achievement Award” at the Silverbird Group’s annual award held in Lagos. She made history as the youngest person ever to win the prestigious award at age 30, and the only woman in the last decade.
Dr. Orekunrin’s dream of creating an air ambulance service in Nigeria, was dismissed by many experts as impossible. But the young doctor and helicopter pilot, refused to give up and today, she pioneers the first air operated emergency medical services in Lagos, Nigeria. Her company has been featured on various local TV and radio stations, as well as the BBC and CNN.
This beautiful amazon, currently resides in Lagos, where she is considered a national expert of disaster medicine and pre-hospital care.
Olutoyin Olakunri
The late, Chief Mrs. Olutoyin Olakunri was first female Chartered Accountant in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second female President of ICAN.
An Industry Captain and Administrator, the late Olakunri, was born on November 4, 1937. She attended primary school in Nigeria, and completed her secondary and tertiary education in the United Kingdom.
In February 1963, Chief, Mrs. Olakunri, qualified as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales.
She became a foundation member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria in 1965. In 1978, she served as the Chairman of the Society of Women Accountants in Nigeria.
She worked with Casselton Elliot and Co. as a Chartered Accountant, and the then Nigerian Industrial Development Bank [NIDB], among others. She subsequently took a courageous leap into entrepreneurship and corporate management, owning and managing industrial outfits and venturing into stock broking.
The first female President of the Institute of Directors [Nigeria], former member of the National Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Policy Commission, Vision 20:2020 Committee, and Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Chief Mrs. Olakunri was also a nominated member of the Constituent Assembly that generated the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Similarly, she was on the Finance Committee of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), and for eight years on the Board of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited.
Chairman of the then Education Trust Fund [now Tertiary Education Fund] for two terms, she had variously served on the Council of Federal University of Ado-Ekiti, Redeemer’s University, Bells University of Technology, and Achievers’ University. She was Chairman, the Committee of Elders.
Chief, Mrs. Olutoyin Olakunri was recognized both locally and internationally, for her varied contributions to the professions and societal development, one of which was the Officer of the Federal Republic [OFR] of Nigeria.
Married with children and grandchildren, Mrs. Olutoyin Olakunri, died in June this year at the age of 80.
Josephine Okwuekeleke Tolefe
Josephine Okwuekeleke Tolefe, the first female to attain the rank of an Army Captain in Nigeria, was born in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State. She studied Nursing in the United Kingdom and worked for a number of years before joining the Nigerian Army in 1960. While abroad, she was impressed by how the women in the British Army looked so smart, representing their country so, she decided to represent her country in situations of war for defense.
She proceeded to officer training for a short service commission and was successful. In 1961, she became the first Nigerian female Army officer, and was promoted to the rank of a captain in 1963, just two years from Second Lieutenant. At that time, although she was celebrated, she also faced discrimination from her male colleagues who didn’t like that women were coming into the force.
In an interview with Vanguard, she noted that “In our time, women did not hold sway. We did not know where to turn because every civil servant in the country had the belief that if you work for so long, at the end of it, you would get a retirement that was befitting. But as females in the Army in those days, that was not clear,”
Unfortunately, her stay in the Army was cut short by the civil war that happened at the time.
“Nigeria/Biafra Civil War forced me out of the Army. I was very happy to do something to help our country; but when it comes to the point of fighting your brother and even killing somebody who was your friend or brother, with whom you have been to school, you would have shot him before you knew that this was a wrong person to shoot.”
She voluntarily retired from Service on the 5th of February, 1967. Mrs. Josephine Okuekeleke Tolefe passed away in 2014.
Folake Solanke (SAN)
Folake Solanke is the first female 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 is a former Chairperson of the Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC). She was the 42nd and the first African International President of Zonta International, an international service organization that focuses primarily on advancing the status of women.
Now in her 80s, Mrs Solanke, obtained a degree in Latin and Mathematics from Newcastle University (then University of Durham), England. In 1955, She received a diploma certificate in education, and joined the faculty of Pipers Corner School, Great Kingshill, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where she taught Latin and mathematics for 2 years.
In 1960, she was admitted into Gray’s Inn, London to study law. Upon her return to Nigeria in August 1962, Solanke began her law career at the chamber of late Honourable Justice Michael Adeyinka Odesanya (rtd). In 1972, she was appointed the first Commissioner of Western State and chairperson of the Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC).
She rose through the ranks of Zonta International, first serving as the District Governor for Africa and then as International Vice-President. In 1988, 1990, and 1994, Solanke ran for election to the International Presidency of the organization (she did not run in 1992). She lost the first two times, but won the third time, being elected in Hong Kong on July 21, 1994 as the 42nd International President, the first non–caucasian, African president of the organization since its establishment in 1919.
Solanke’s autobiography, Reaching For The Stars was published in 2007. The book described her as a “Lady of many firsts” and how she rose to prominence in the legal profession. Solanke has received numerous awards, including the National honour of the Commander of the Order of Niger (CON). In 1981, she was conferred with a traditional title of “Yeyemofin of Ife” by the late Olubuse II, the 50th Ooni of Ife, following her conferment with Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
In 2012, Mrs. Solanke received the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award at the Association’s 5th World Women Lawyers’ Conference held in London, in recognition of her professional excellence and immense contribution to the advancement of women within the legal profession.
Source: Allure Vanguard

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