In commemoration of this year’s Women’s Month, Guinness Nigeria has launched the Women of Guinness campaign, which aims to shine a light on outstanding female entrepreneurs, as well as share their inspiring stories. In keeping with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Break the Bias, these women have been bold in their pursuit of professional excellence against all odds. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, these Guinness women share their experiences, struggles, successes and freedom from prejudice.
Alhaja Amudalatu Arogunre
“I started my business at 18 as a newlywed”
At 75, Alhaja Amudalatu Arogunre has built three houses, educated his children in school and sent some of them abroad, all with proceeds from his business. She is a clothing and fabric seller in Lagos under the name Kafayatu Abiodun Sodiq Clothings.
“When I started, my business was in Idumota-Eko, and every day I left home to go to the store. Around this time, I started having children, but I was so focused on my business that my mother offered to take care of them. It also made a lot of sense, as I traveled a lot to find unique products due to market competition.
“My mother, who understood the importance of independence, paved the way for me to start a business. She was a businesswoman who wanted to settle her child, so she gave me 65 pounds to start a business. I started working at 18 as a newlywed,” she said.
The journey hasn’t always been easy for Alhaja Arongure, as she remembers facing a fair amount of challenges.
“One of them was when I went to Cotonou to buy fabrics, and the driver who was supposed to take them back to Nigeria stole everything I had bought.”
Although her husband was opposed to her going into business, she continued because she had to take care of her children. Also, the idea of being financially independent seemed exciting.
“Never depend on any man; against the company that pays you. Whatever you do, never fully combine your heritage with your partner; You never know what can happen.
“I make awesome clothes and clean up the environment”
“MY name is Oluwatobiloba Kolawale-Olutade; I tend to shorten it to Tobi Olutade because it’s a mouthful. I make awesome outfits and clean up the environment. I’m a freelance digital project manager, multifaceted designer and founder of Revival & Resurrection (R&R). I use Nigerian solid waste through conceptual and experimental design, essentially creating statement pieces that look great.
Tobi believes Nigeria has an urgent waste problem that could lead to serious new health risks if ignored.
“What if I told you that Lagos alone produces 14 to 15 tonnes of plastic waste per day, not a week, not a month, a day! Now imagine it’s raining in Lagos, people driving and walking on flooded roads, dodging traffic and litter at the same time… it’s chaotic, and this problem is affecting the livelihoods of Lagosians.
Her R&R is an eco-conscious fashion brand that uses design as a powerful tool to drive social and environmental change. Founded in 2019, R&R creatively recycles and recycles solid waste from Nigeria into original designs while preserving traditional African craftsmanship.
Having left a career in politics to pursue R&R passion, because she felt something was missing, Tobi is now in fashion full time. She believes the void has been filled since R&R tackles social and environmental issues through its Fair Trade system.
Meanwhile, politics is still very much in Tobi’s system, as R&R creates awareness about environmental issues that aren’t being addressed.
“I guess I got everything from my mother; if you go to the first post on the R&R page, you’ll see a photo of my mom modeling at the time. She was a fashion icon, a guru, and she was very into the fashion scene.
“She expressed her confidence and her values through her clothing; she was very stylish, making a statement every time and using her charisma to challenge societal norms. But being a stubborn woman can be a lonely road. Despite feminist movements and social progression, there is still much to do,” she noted.
She continued, “Let’s take a look at the recycling industry in Nigeria, which is a very male-dominated field. Imagine me in a room full of men; sometimes when I speak, men do this thing where they think it’s okay to speak for you, because you’re a young woman. But I hasten to correct them, “no, I was talking.”
On how she fights prejudice in the industry, she said, “By being me shamelessly. If I take up space in a room, that means the space was available, and I’m not going to apologize for that.
Dr Loretta Balogun
“Women are endowed with many abilities”
TEN days after the birth of her first child, Dr Loretta Balogun’s husband was sent by the Nigerian army to fight the war in Liberia. For her part, she only benefited from six weeks of maternity leave instead of three months. Nevertheless, his desire to succeed drove him forward.
“I have always been 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 currency trading.
The company started operations in 1994, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but moved to Kaduna after some time, where it was introduced to the agricultural sector. While working in agriculture, she was discriminated against by being overcharged for raw materials, as people assumed she was a wealthy woman.
“As part of the business and upstream integration, we have a Farmer-Connect program, which works with over 10,000 farmers in partnership with our buyers and other stakeholders. Loryb has supported the development and commercial cultivation of agro-commodities in Nigeria, empowering farmers and communities to provide improved seeds to farmers to improve current yield, while employing and creating value enhancement and quality in the grain value chain as well as a link to high-end markets.
While passing her final optometrist exams and simultaneously maintaining her partnership with Guinness Nigeria, she had her last child whom she took everywhere, due to exclusive breastfeeding. Dr. Balogun believes she reached the top through hard work and determination.
“As a woman, we have many abilities and we must never let anything limit us. With determination and focus, you can achieve your dreams.
“I would like to inspire women to put fear behind”
Box lifting is something you typically associate with young buff men, but for Ochuko, 24, being young means she can lift boxes too. Her determined position in a male-dominated field is rare, due to the heavy lifting involved, but she maintains that she will do so if necessary to succeed in her business.
Ochuko is the owner of Keluky Stores, a business she started two years ago armed with just a high school leaving certificate. Her decision to quit school was a sacrifice, so that her younger siblings could continue their education.
She believes that not having completed her studies does not prevent her from succeeding.
“I started my business when I was twenty-two, and it was amazing. lines of credit. This helped this business grow.
Ochuko grew up watching her mother run a grocery 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 acumen from my mother,” she says.
Ask Ochuko what keeps her so determined to succeed in business and her answer would be, “In my job, nothing intimidates me. I would like to inspire women to put fear behind them. Do what you think is right at the right time, and you’ll do just fine.
“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’ve always wanted to live my life on my terms; I didn’t want to depend on anyone. That was my biggest push, and knowing that 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 needed something good to do. After careful consideration, I opted for cleaning; I was good at that. I had done cleaning jobs in the past and really liked it, so one day I tweeted about it, and the support since then has been unreal. My first job paid me 5,000 naira.
Since then, she had overcome many unconventional obstacles.
As a single woman under the age of eighteen, she was temporarily separated from her mother and involved in parental disputes over her daughter. At one time, she lived under the Mile 1 Bridge in Port Harcourt.
“All of this forged me in the fire. To date, I only have my high school diploma, but I have 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 people would use and manipulate you if they knew you were hungry.
Felicia thinks there is a lot to learn from her experience and urges women to never stop or wait for anyone.
“Your first responsibility as a human being is to fight for yourself. Confront obstacles head-on and always defend yourself. As a woman, you are not weak; remember this !