commemoration of this year’s women’s month, Guinness Nigeria launched the Women of Guinness Campaign, which aims at spotlighting exceptional female entrepreneurs, as well as sharing their inspiring stories. In line with this year’s International Women’s Day themed, Break the Bias, these women have proven to be audacious in their pursuit for career excellence against all odds. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, these Women of Guinness, share their experiences, struggles, successes and breaking free from bias.
Alhaja Amudalatu Arogunre
‘I Started Business At 18 As A Newlywed’
AT 75, Alhaja Amudalatu Arogunre has built three houses, trained her kids in school and sent some of them abroad, all from the proceeds of her business. She is a clothes and fabric seller in Lagos trading as Kafayatu Abiodun Sodiq Clothings.
“When I started, my business was at Idumota-Eko, and every day, I’d leave home to go to the shop. Around that time, I started having kids, but I was so focused on my business that my mum would offer to take care of them. It made a lot of sense, too, since I travelled a lot to source for unique products due to marketplace competition.
“My mum, who understood the importance of independence, paved the way for me to go into business. She was a businesswoman who wanted to set up her child, so she gave me 65 pounds to start a trade. I started business at 18 as a newlywed,” she said.
The journey has not always been smooth for Alhaja Arongure, as she recalls having faced a fair share of challenges.
“One that stands out was when I went to Cotonou to buy fabrics, and the driver who was to bring them back to Nigeria stole everything I bought.”
Though her husband was against her going into business, she continued because she needed to take care of her children. Besides, the idea of being financially independent sounded exciting.
“Never depend on any man; face the business that pays you. Whatever you do, never completely combine your wealth with your partner; you never know what can happen.”
‘I Make Awesome Attires And Clean Up The Environment’
“MY name is Oluwatobiloba Kolawale-Olutade; I tend to shorten it to Tobi Olutade because that’s a mouthful. I make awesome attires and clean up the environment. I am a freelance digital project manager, a multifaceted designer and founder of Revival & Resurrection (R&R). I utilise Nigerian solid waste through conceptual, experimental design, basically creating statement pieces that look great.”
Tobi believes Nigeria has an urgent waste problem that could lead to new and severe health risks if ignored.
“What if I told you Lagos alone produces 14 to 15 tons of plastic waste a day, not a week, not a month, a day! Now, imagine it raining in Lagos, people driving and walking through flooded roads, dodging traffic and waste at the same time… it is chaotic, and this issue is affecting the livelihood of Lagosians.”
Her R&R is an eco-friendly fashion brand that uses design as a powerful tool for enhancing social and environmental change. Established in 2019, R&R is creatively up-cycling and recycling Nigeria’s solid waste into statement designs while preserving traditional African craftsmanship.
Having left a career in politics to pursue the R&R passion, because she felt something was missing, Tobi is in fashion full time now. She believes the void has been filled since R&R is tackling social, environmental issues through its fair production system.
Meanwhile, politics is still very much in Tobi’s system, since R&R creates awareness on environmental issues that are not being addressed.
“I guess I got it all from my mother; if you go to the first post on the R&R page, you will see a picture of my mum modelling back in the day. She was a fashion icon, a guru, and she was very into the fashion scene.
“She used to translate her confidence and values through her dressing; she was very stylish, making a statement every time and using her charisma to challenge societal norms. But being an opinionated woman can be a lonely road. Despite feminist movements and social progression, there is still a lot that needs to be done,” she noted.
She continued: “Let’s take a look at the recycling industry in Nigeria, which is a very male-dominated field. Picture me in a room full of men; sometimes when I speak, the men do that thing where they think it’s okay to speak over you, because you are a young woman. But I am quick to correct them, ‘no, I was speaking.”
On how she fights bias in the industry, she said, “By being unapologetically me. If I am taking up space in a room, that means the space was available, and I am not going to apologise for that.”
Dr. Loretta Balogun
‘Women Are Blessed With Several Capacities’
TEN days after her first child was born, Dr. Loretta Balogun’s husband was shipped off by the Nigerian Army to fight the war in Liberia. On her own part, she was given only six weeks of maternity leave instead of three months. Nonetheless, her desire to succeed kept her going.
“I was always determined to succeed in life,” Dr. Balogun noted.
Today, the optometrist by training is the Managing Director of LoryB Group, a company with interests in logistics, recycling, local and international real estate, and forex trading.
The company started operations in 1994, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but moved to Kaduna after a while, where she got introduced to the agriculture business. While in the agric business, she experienced discrimination in being overcharged for raw materials, because people assumed she was a wealthy woman.
“As part of the business and backward integration, we have a Farmer-Connect programme, working with over 10,000 farmers in partnership with our off-takers and other stakeholders. Loryb has supported the development and commercial cultivation of agro commodities in Nigeria, empowering farmers and communities by the provision of improved seeds to farmers to improve the current yield, while employing and creating value and quality improvement in the grains value chain as well as linkage to premium markets.”
While taking her final exams as an Optometrist and maintaining her partnership with Guinness Nigeria simultaneously, she had her last child whom she took everywhere, because of exclusive breastfeeding. Dr. Balogun believes she has made her way to the top due to her hard work and determination.
“As a woman, we are blessed with several capacities, and must never allow anything limit us. With determination and focus, you can actualise your dreams.”
‘I’d Like To Inspire Women To Put Fear Behind’
CRATE lifting is something you would typically associate with buff, young men, but for 24-year-old Ochuko, being young means she can lift crates too. Her determined stance in a male-dominated field is rare, because of the heavy lifting involved, but she maintains she will do it if required to succeed in her business.
Ochuko is the owner of Keluky Stores, a business she started two years ago armed with just a secondary school leaving certificate. Her decision to stop school was borne out of sacrifice, so her younger siblings could further their education.
She believes not having completed her education does not impede her success.
“I started my business at twenty-two, and it has been amazing. I experienced difficulties raising startup capital. Hence, I had to develop a good reputation to get suppliers to extend lines of credit to me. That helped this business grow.”
Ochuko grew up watching her mother run a provision store and was inspired by her and other women in her life who do business. “Even though I now sell drinks, I got my business sense from my mother,” she says.
Ask Ochuko what keeps her so resolved to succeed in business and her response would be, “In my work, nothing intimidates me. I’d like to inspire women to put fear behind them. Do what you think is right at the right time, and you’d do great.”
‘Your First Responsibility As A Human Being Is To Fight For Yourself’
FELICIA runs a nationwide cleaning business. Her life has had its share of ups and downs, but she said, “I have always wanted to live life on my terms; I did not want to be dependent on anyone. That has been my most significant push, and knowing if I don’t clean, I won’t eat.”
Looking back, she said, “Post-pandemic lockdown, I lost my job as a restaurant supervisor. I was broke, and I needed something good to do. After much thought, I settled for cleaning; I was good at it. I had done cleaning jobs in the past and genuinely loved it, so one day, I tweeted about it, and the support since then has been unreal. My first job paid me N5, 000.”
Since then, she had overcome many unconventional obstacles.
As a single woman under eighteen, she was temporarily estranged from her mother and was involved in parental disputes over her daughter. At one time, she lived under the Mile 1 Bridge in Port Harcourt.
“All of these made me fire-forged. To date, all I have is my secondary school leaving certificate, but I never stopped moving; I had to survive. So, I kept moving, because I had no choice. I left home to fend for myself, because I knew that people would use and manipulate you when they know you are hungry.”
Felicia believes there’s a lot to learn from her experience and urges women never to stop or wait for anyone.
“Your first responsibility as a human being is to fight for yourself. Face obstacles head-on and stand for yourself always. As a woman, you are not weak; remember that!”