Career & Personal Development

10 Nigerian women with international achievements and recognition

Written by Solomon Unoke

Despite any stereotype design, some Nigerian women have striven to the top of their professions with international recognition from their peers 

Solomon Unoke

Nigeria being the most populous black nation on the planet and one of the most populated nations in the world naturally gains popularity for many things, positive or negative, and while there are several negative reputations acquired by Nigerians through nefarious activities including internet scam, political and ethnical strives, some Nigerian through their professional excellence have gained international recognition and are positive influences around the globe.

It is quite improbable for a country like Nigeria to exist without making a splash in the waters of positivity. Nigeria has produced several iconic figures that are well known outside the borders of the country, either in entertainment, politics, academics or business, many Nigerian names have flown abroad in positive representation of our dear nation.

Here are 10 women who have shattered the glass ceilings to achieve international recognition in several different fields of professionalism.

  1. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala: Economics, Diplomacy

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, born in Ogwashi Ukwu in Delta State, Nigeria, has achieved a lot on different fronts since she arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager, to study at Harvard University. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude in Economics from Harvard and went on to earn her PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (IMT).

Ngozi had made her marks as an Economist with more than two decades of service at the World Bank, including serving as at the top hierarchy and Board of the Bretton Woods institution.

She has also served as Nigerian Minister of Finance on two terms. First under former President Olusegun Obasanjo (2003–2006) and former President Goodluck Jonathan (2011–2015). During these stints, she won accolades and awards including being named the Global Finance Minister of the year by Euromoney. While working as Finance Minister, she introduced the practice of publishing in the newspapers, each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala recently achieved a new feat in her career when she became the first woman and the first African to hold the office of Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

2. Amina Jane Mohammed: Diplomacy 

Amina Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General, Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

Born in Liverpool, UK, in 1961 to a Nigerian father and a mother, Amina attended a primary school in Nigeria, secondary school and tertiary education in the UK.

She was Nigerian Minister of Environment (2015-2017), Special Adviser to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2012- 2015), where she led the process that resulted in global agreement around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

She was an adviser to four successive Nigerian Presidents on poverty, public sector reform, and sustainable development.

Mohammed has been conferred several honorary doctorates and many global awards and served on many international advisory boards and panels.

She was awarded the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) national honours in 2006.  

. Amina Mohammed
  • 3. Folasade  Helen Adu: Music

Sade Adu is a Nigerian born British singer who has placed the country in high regards when it comes to the quality of musical talents that it produces. Born in Ibadan on 16th January 1959, she migrated with her family to England and was brought up in Essex, UK.

Sade’s fame began as the lead singer of her Eponymous Band, which after securing a record deal in 1983, released the album Diamond Life , which quickly rose to become the best selling album of the year. 

Her talents have earned her accolades in high places, she is one record as one of the most successful British female artists in history, she is recognized as having a massive influence on contemporary music around the world, awarded the Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2002 and the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2017. 

Sade has reached a height that only few can dream of in the music world, and as such have flown the Nigerian flag across the international borders in a positive light.

Sade Adu
  • 4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Literature

Chimamanda Adichie, born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1977 was the daughter of a Professor and a University Administrator. Even though she started as a Medical Student at the University of Nigeria, Nzukka she later finished with a summa cum laude degree in Communication and Political Science from Eastern Connecticut State University, USA. She also has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts degree in African History from Yale University. 

Adichie became a published author in 1997 with her collection of poems (Decisions). This was followed by a play (For Love of Biafra) in 1998 and a short story, (My Mother, the Crazy African). 

Her short story (You in America) was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 and her story (That Harmattan Morning) was selected as a joint winner of the 2002 BBC World Service Short Story Awards

She won the O. Henry Award with (The American Embassy0 in 2003 and the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize in 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award).

Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), won the Orange Prize. Her novel Americanah, (2013) won the US National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013.

She was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University for the 2005-2006 academic year, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University for the 2011-2012 academic year and a MacArthur Fellow in 2018.

She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Eastern Connecticut State University, Johns Hopkins University, Haverford College, Williams College, the University of Edinburgh, Duke University, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, SOAS University of London, American University, Georgetown University, Yale University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Northwestern University.

Her works have been translated into over thirty languages.

Chimmamanda Adichie
  • 5. Folorunsho Alakija: Business/Philanthropy 

Folorunsho Alakija, born into an Ikorodu, Lagos family, travelled to the UK at the age of seven to complete her primary education, then back to Nigeria for secondary schools and went back to England for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College.

Her career kicked off in 1974 when she became an Executive Secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria. Folorunsho’s passion for fashion made her start a fashion company known as Supreme Stitches, which was later renamed The Rose Of Sharon House of Fashion in 1996. Her company quickly became a household name that attracted the likes of the wife to former President Ibrahim Babangida.

In 1993, Alakija applied for an OPL (Oil Prospecting License) to mine crude oil. This led her to the acquisition of oil fields and rigs, partnering with established mega giants in the industry, and striking the black gold in billions of Naira. 

Folurunsho Alakija is now reputed to be the richest black woman in the world and 2014 was listed as the 96th most powerful woman in the world. Forbes Magazine listed her as the 20th wealthiest person in Africa and is currently believed to be worth about $1Billion. 

Folorunso Alakija
  • 6. Mosunmola Abudu: Media and Entertainment

Mo Abudu, the CEO of EbonyLife Group, has gained international recognition in the world of media and entertainment with the Forbes Magazine, once describing her “Africa’s Most Successful Woman” and rated by The Hollywood Reporter magazine as one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television.”

Mo, who started in the industry with a talk show, ‘Moments with Mo’, African regional television, is the executive producer of many box office hit films, including ‘Fifty’ and ‘The Wedding Party 1 and 2. The Wedding Party 2, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, Chief Daddy, Your Excellency (film) and Òlòtūré. 

Born in the UK, she was educated at Ridgeway School, Midkent College, West Kent College and the University of Westminster, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management. She was awarded 

an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Babcock University in 2018 and an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts by her alma mater, University of Westminster same year.

Mo has been appointed a Director of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization responsible for staging the world-famous International Emmy Awards and later was named the Chair of the 47th International Emmy Awards Gala, in 2019, becoming the first African to be so appointed. She was appointed a member of the Advisory Group on Technology and Creatively for Nigeria in 2018. 

She was nominated to serve was awarded the 2019 Médailles d’Honneur in Cannes at the Marche International des Programmes de Television (MIPTV) and included in the Power list 2018, an annual list of the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African and Caribbean heritage. 

She was announced as the chair of the 47th international Emmy Awards gala that took place in New York on 25 November 2019.

Mo Abudu
  • 7. Genevieve Nnaji: Actress

Genevieve is an actress/ producer/ director who has starred in many films and won many awards, including the African Movies Academy Awards for the Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2005. 

Born into the middle-class family of an Engineer and a Nursery school teacher in 1979, she attended Methodist Girls College in Yaba, Lagos, and later studied Creative Arts at the University of Lagos, where she attained her Bachelor of Arts Degree.

Genevieve’s directorial debut movie, Lionheart, was the first Netflix movie that originated in Nigeria, and the first Nollywood movie to be submitted for the Oscars, but was unfortunately disqualified for having English as the most spoken language.

She has been honoured as a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MON) by the Nigerian Government for her contributions to Nollywood alongside several other industry’s awards both at home and abroad. 

Genevieve Nnaji
  • 8. Agbani Darego: Pageantry

Born the sixth child in a family of eight in Lagos state, but then relocated to Port Harcourt at the age of two. She attended Bereton Montessori Nursery and Primary School and then shipped off to a boarding school at 10. She lost her mother to breast cancer at age 10 while she had only been away at boarding school for two days, which was the actual motive behind sending her away to a boarding school in the first place.

However, the absence of a mother in her life did very little to dampen her inner glow and future success, rather, Darego has spoken of how the loss prepared her for tough challenges in the future. After secondary school, she attended the University of Port Harcourt where she studied computer science and Mathematics.

Agbani Darego went into modelling and featured in print commercials, and in 2001 she competed in the MBGN and won the contest to be crowned the Most beautiful girl in Nigeria, she went on as it is custom to compete in the Miss World beauty pageant, and became the very first indigenous African to win the title. 

Agbani Darego
  • 9. Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu: Medicine

Dr Zainab Bagudu, the First Lady of Kebbi State, is a Consultant Paediatrician and an advocate for women’s health, with international recognition for her passion for fighting for patients with cancer.

Bagudu, who obtained her MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, had post-graduate training in Paediatrics and Neonatology in the United Kingdom with a Masters in Paediatrics, a Diploma in Tropical Child Health and a membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

With a passion for cancer control and treatment, Dr Bagudu over the years has served on many technical committees including the steering committee for the National Cancer Control Plan, and a Ministerial committee to build world-class diagnostic centres in six geopolitical zones of Nigeria and the Board of Directors of Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) since her election at the 2018 World Cancer Congress in Malaysia, thereby becoming the first Nigerian to win the position.

As First Lady of Kebbi State, Dr Bagudu is a passionate and active advocate for women, children and youth in Nigeria. Her programs cut across various aspects of development such as health, education and women empowerment.

She has an NGO, the Medicaid Cancer Foundation (MCF), which creates awareness on health matters, trains health workers, and funds the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients in Nigeria and has raised over N100 million for the treatment and support of cancer patients.

As First Lady of Kebbi State, Dr Bagudu is a passionate and active advocate for women, children and youth in Nigeria. Her programs cut across various aspects of development such as health, education and women empowerment.

Dr Zainabu Shikanfi-Bagudu

10. Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour- Law/ Arbitration

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is a Chartered Arbitrator and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) and a CEDR UK Accredited Mediator. She has an LLB [Hons], LLM and a Masters of Arts degree (MA) with merit in International Peace and Security from King’s College London, University of London. She is a Chevening Scholar in the area of peaceful settlement of international disputes.

The Managing Partner of Doyin Rhodes-Vivour & Co (Legal Practitioners and Arbitrators) has about four decades of legal practice with specialization in commercial transactions, international and domestic arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Over the years, she has acted as a consultant to regulatory bodies for drawing up arbitration/ADR industry-specific schemes (Nigerian Communications Commission [NCC], Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). 

With extensive experience in Arbitration and ADR, she is widely respected globally as one of the world’s leading arbitrators with ‘Who’s Who Legal’ describing her as “second to none for her skill and versatile thinking”. 

She is listed in editions of Guide to the World’s Leading Commercial Arbitration Experts [Expert Guide] as one of the preeminent professionals in the world. She is also a member of the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the ICC Commission on Arbitration and ADR; a Vice President of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) African Users’ Council and an inaugural member of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SCIA) Users Council. 

She is a member of the Board of the African Arbitration Association (AfAA); the Pioneer Chair, Committee on International Commercial Arbitration of the International Law Association (ILA) Nigerian Branch.

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour

Mrs Rhodes-Vivour has served as a member of the Court of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, The Netherlands from 2010 and 2016. She was a member of the Task Force on the revision of the ICC Rules as Appointing Authority in UNCITRAL and other Ad Hoc Proceedings and the Taskforce on Decision as to Costs of the Commission on Arbitration and ADR, International Chamber of Commerce, Paris.

A past Chairperson, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) Nigeria Branch, she is a Founder member and Pioneer President of the Maritime Arbitrators Association of Nigeria (2005-2010).

She is listed on various Arbitration/ADR panels including the database of London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), the database of LCIA-MIAC Arbitration Centre, Panel of the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Kigali International Arbitration Centre(KIAC), Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC) [formerly known as Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration], Lagos Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, Panel of Neutrals of the Lagos Multi-door Court House and Abuja Multi-door Courthouse.

About the author

Solomon Unoke

Solomon is a writer science fiction, romance and website contents who's passion revolves around works of creativity and vivid imaginations.

"Walls, trees, the sands and the seas, all of nature is a witness to the stories of our lives and of thousands of lives that came before us. Whispers heard in the winds, and the chirping of the birds on the trees, are stories begging to be heard and experiences that wants to be relived. Our stories keep the planet alive."

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