Africa’s richest woman and Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija, says it often breaks her heart when people say and write that she got her oil well in the ’90s simply because she was First Lady Maryam Babangida’s tailor.
The philanthropist and business woman who is now worth over $1 billion, got her big break in the lucrative oil and gas industry during Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s (IBB) eight-year reign as Nigeria’s military ruler between 1985 and 1993.
She tells AriseTV that even though Mrs. Babangida, who was one of her high profile clients, got her access and secured her an appointment with the Petroleum Minister, the rest was God’s plan for her life coming to fruition.
She says a foreigner friend wanted her to help with speaking to Mrs. Babangida over an oil deal, while on a trip from London to Lagos.
However, at the time, Nigeria’s rulership was more inclined to handing out oil and gas contracts to Nigerians, with the concept of “local content” beginning to take a firm root in the oil industry.
After her foreigner friend was denied an inroad into Nigeria’s oil and gas minefield by the powers that be, Alakija says she thought long and hard about it all and asked herself how she could secure a contract for herself and diversify her streams of income, because she was only a stylist at the time.
She says it took her 3 years and several appointments with different petroleum ministers after Mrs. Babangida dropped her name, for her to finally get the oil bloc.
Her persistence eventually paid off, but in other ways, she says.
“I was first offered the job of a caterer for oil workers, among other lowly jobs in the oil and gas sector,” she says.
The oil well or bloc she eventually bagged, after multiple rejections and proposals, she says, wasn’t lucrative at the time and had been rejected by everyone else because the technology to drill it down thousands of feet, wasn’t yet in place.
“That is why one of my favourite mantras is never take ‘No’ for an answer. God closed the eyes of everyone else to that oil well. No one wanted that oil well because it was so expensive to drill, but God gave it to me,” she says with a laugh.
Alakija also thinks it’s an insult to womanhood when all the men who secured oil wells and oil contracts aren’t told that they owe it to someone in the corridors of power, while she is often reminded that the late Mrs. Babangida handed her an oil well on a platter.