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My Transition from Fashion to Oil Industry Was God Ordained: Africa’s Richest Woman Alakija

Oil mogul and richest woman in Africa, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija has recounted how she transited from being a fashion entrepreneur to an investor in the oil industry, saying her path

Folonruso Alakija
Folonruso Alakija

Oil mogul and richest woman in Africa, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija has recounted how she transited from being a fashion entrepreneur to an investor in the oil industry, saying her path was designed by God.

Alakija, who joined the septuagenarian club Thursday July 15, in an interview ARISE News anchor Ojy Okpe gave glory to God for her successes in the oil industry, fashion and her humanitarian gestures.

She recounted her long battle to secure an oil licence, adding that it took three years under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).

She also recalled the difficulties she encountered after she was awarded an offshore oil block, but oil exploration companies declined to partner her company to drill for oil.

She spoke of her involvement in the campaign against COVID-19, which led her foundation, Rose of Sharon, to donate N1billion in support of the fight against the pandemic.

She said: “As I look back now, I can say that there is nothing to regret. My only regret in life is not coming to Christ earlier, which is almost 30 years. That is my only regret in life.

“I transitioned from fashion to oil to the glory of God, moving from fashion to the oil industry.

“First of all, I would say fashion is my passion. A friend of mine, we met on the plane, a family friend and she said you know what, there is something I would like to talk to you about when we get back to Nigeria.”

Alakija added: “When we got back to Nigeria, she brought some bid documents and said that we are looking to lift crude oil from Nigeria and she wanted to know if I can speak to some of our clients, one of whom was the late Mrs. Mariam Babangida.

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“I said okay, I will go and see what she can do about it and I got there and she (Mrs. Babangida) said I can book an appointment for you to see the petroleum minister.

I went to see the petroleum minister and what they wanted to do was to lift crude and the petroleum minister said the administration at that time wanted to move away – they preferred to get Nigerians to be involved (in the oil industry) rather than giving it out to foreigners and he said if they want to invest in Nigeria rather than lift crude, then they will be willing to do that.

“I took it back to my friend, she took it back to her clients and her clients said ‘no we don’t want to invest in Nigeria, we only wanted to lift;’ so, we parted ways and I said to myself now that I have an inroad to that place, why don’t I go find something I can do what I wanted was a contract to boost my pocket.

“I still wanted to keep on doing my fashion, I love it so I went back to Mrs. Babangida and asked her to help me get another appointment and I went back and told the minister that I can do something. I can do something with NNPC and I was giving all sorts of different options and possibilities.”

She stated that after several appointments with the then petroleum minister, it took three years to secure the oil licence.

Alakija, who was named Forbes Magazine’s richest woman in Africa in 2020, said after securing the oil licence, oil exploration companies declined involvement owing to the fact that it was “offshore and about 5,000 feet.”

Alakija added: “The rest was what God wanted to do. What He wanted to at first by giving me that opening through my friend because I would have never looked at the oil industry.”

She said when she got the licence, she found out that it was an oil block that nobody wanted.

“Nobody in the industry wanted it. It was deep offshore, it was 5,000 feet and technology had not reached that water depth. It was too expensive to explore and nobody knew what was deep under. Only God knew and He closed the eyes of every human being on earth to it,” she added.

According to her, it took another three years for her to find technical partners.

She recalled meeting with multinational (Texaco) a company before the eventual signing of the papers.

On her philanthropy, she said it was anchored on the principle of giving.

“I know that the more you give, the more God gives back to you. That’s for sure but that shouldn’t be the reason why you should give”, she said.

On the activities of her foundation, Rose of Sharon Foundation, she said: “I asked God if there’s any way, He will want me to help Him. As Christians, we should not be going to God, give me this, give me that. We should also ask God, what can I do for you today?”.

On that premise, she set about rendering assistance to widows and children.

Speaking on her N1 billion donation to CACOVID, she stated that her foundation sought assurances of judicious application of the donation before it was made.

“We requested that when it gets to CACOVID, it will get to the right quarters, where we wanted our money to go. We donated N1billion,” she said.

Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja