The Guardian’s Special Focus on Nigeria’s Most Outstanding and Impactful Women in Leadership 2023

Throughout history, the central role played by women has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. In the 21st century, the issues of gender balance and the need to accord women equal opportunities and allow them achieve their full potentials in the society, have gained more momentum, globally.

While some progress has been made to overcome impediments to their chances of contributing to development, a lot still needs to be done in the area of decision-making. According to the United Nations (UN), investing in women and respecting their rights is the surest way to uplifting communities, organizations and countries, as well as achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Most importantly, the global body made its submission to the effect that ‘Balance’ is not a women’s issue, but rather a business issue. The race is on for gender-balanced boardroom, gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, gender-balanced employment opportunities, gender-balanced wealth creation, gender-balanced sports activities, amongst others.

Thus, the involvement of women in nation-building is an inalienable right, as well as inescapable reality for a holistic and comprehensive political, economic and social advancement in the modern world. Over time, some women who have been entrusted with leading roles to manage human and material resources have more often than not, proved that given adequate backing, they can perform creditably. Indeed, the 21st Century has birthed the long-awaited desire of women to be in the corridors of power, to be vocal about their needs, and to execute their dreams by contributing their quota to national development.  

To this end and in our tradition of celebrating excellence and as the world brings to fore the immeasurable contribution of women to global development, The Guardian in this edition, showcases and celebrates selected amazons of repute, and inspire other women and indeed Nigerians.

Why more women should be considered for every open leadership position in Nigeria, by Zubaida Umar

Zubaida Umar, Executive Director, Finance and Corporate Services, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) possesses a rich mix of professional experience in public policy design and implementation, public-private partnership management and international finance. 

With a proven track record of strong leadership, innovation and business growth, Mrs. Umar, a graduate of world class universities including the famous Robert Gordon University Business School, Scotland, where she obtained an MSc in International trade, also holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. She is an active member of both the Chartered Institute of Bankers and the Institute of Credit Administration of Nigeria.

Zubaida has over twenty years of financial advisory, as well as strategy development and project management experiences in domestic debt management and mortgage banking in Nigeria.

Until her appointment as Executive Director, Mrs. Umar was General Manager, Zonal Coordination with the Bank where she was instrumental in implementing various reform processes the Bank had initiated. She has helped develop expertise in major areas of ICT implementation, policy formulation and risk management. In that capacity, she had also overseen the execution of high value projects ranging from technological and process solutions, design of organizational architecture all aimed at instituting best practice protocols in the Bank.

Mrs. Umar has held other top management positions with the Bank. She was at various times Group Head, Corporate Communications, Head, Policy and Strategy as well as Head of Organizational resourcing of FMBN. Through various cutting-edge initiatives, she has successfully spearheaded the attainment and surpassing of NHF targets in various states of the federation. She is currently among those leading the charge for a new national housing policy that will cater for all contributors to the scheme in the long run.

Before Joining FMBN, Mrs. Umar had worked with the Debt Management Office (DMO) between 2001 and 2006 where she was an integral part of a team that successfully monitored and managed both domestic and foreign debts of Nigeria.

She has attended various courses in leadership, advanced management and executive management, including securitisation and Housing Finance Programs at the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, USA; Communication/Project Management in Nevada, USA; Affordable housing programs in Malaysia; Mortgage banking strategies in Singapore and several other courses in the United Kingdom. Mrs. Umar brings a broad Intellectual experience and knowledge to bear in the services the Bank offers to its clients.

In this brief chat with The Guardian in her response to being recognized as one of “Nigeria’s Most Outstanding and Impactful Women In Leadership”, Mrs. Zubaida Umar about her personal background, career trajectory, the transformational strides at the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, the need to pursue gender inclusion for economic and socio-political development, amongst other pertinent issues. Excerpts …

In a patriarchal society such as ours, most women are said to be unjustly treated in terms of individual rights and benefits, how can you describe your experience in the last few years as Executive Director at the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), and within the industry where you operate?

My career in the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria spans over fifteen years across different roles and positions in the Bank. I was appointed an Executive Director in April, 2022. My experience in FMBN as an Executive Director has been very rewarding because the FMBN culture supports women in leadership and women are well represented across every level of the Bank’s corporate structure.

I can say that the gender stereotyping that previously resulted in the under-representation of women in the Bank’s leadership positions, has significantly reduced. In my early years at FMBN, most Groups Heads were men, however women are gradually beginning to level up. We now have highly educated and ambitious women as leaders of strategic groups in the Bank.

Presently, four out of the nine Board of Directors are women, about 35% of the Management staff are women while about 34.4% of the Bank’s entire workforce are women. Although, there is room for further improvement, these statistics attest to the fact that the present FMBN culture encourages women to achieve their full potentials.

Within the financial services sector which FMBN operates, women are taking on more executive leadership roles. Research has also revealed that women over forty years lead more effectively and efficiently than men because women are subject to challenges that compel them to acquire extra skills to balance their leadership role and personal life. 

Can you briefly highlight Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria’s set objectives, milestones and other remarkable achievements in relation to national economic growth and development?

The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN)’s mandate stems primarily from the need to ensure that Nigerians within the medium to low-income bracket have access to decent, quality and affordable housing. At the heart of FMBN’s operations is the National Housing Fund (NHF) Scheme. Set up in 1992, the NHF scheme serves as a pool of cheap and concessionary funding, which the Bank leverages to provide low-cost and long-term home loans at single-digit interest rates for as low as six percent with tenors of up to thirty years depending on an applicant’s age and years in service.

Participation in the NHF Scheme is open to all Nigerians eighteen years and above who commit to paying 2.5 percent of their monthly income.

The FMBN has pursed its mandate with vigor and recorded significant achievements. The Bank had deployed over N386.9bn towards affordable housing development. Key results include providing over 24,006 mortgages and over 103,809 home renovation loans to Nigerians. FMBN also made refunds totaling N62.127 billion to 421,433 retired NHF contributors.

Affordability is vital to FMBN operations. We have consistently championed initiatives to ensure that FMBN housing products remain affordable to our target audience – low to medium- income earners. For instance, we reviewed downward equity requirements for accessing FMBN home loans above N5M from 30% to 10% and from 10% to 0% for those below N5M while retaining a single digit interest rate regime. This move has boosted access and promoted inclusiveness.

Second, we created innovative products to ensure more Nigerians benefit from FMBN. First is the rent-to-own Scheme, which allows an NHF contributor to move into an FMBN-owned housing property as a tenant and pay towards ownership of the property in monthly or annual installments for up to 30 years at an interest rate of seven percent.

Another is the Individual Home Construction Loan, which allows NHF contributors with unencumbered land, legal titles and approved building plans to undertake self-construction. It provided up to N15M at a seven percent interest rate to beneficiaries to pay back over 15 years.

Third is the FMBN home renovation loan, which provides up to N1M to NHF contributors who own their homes to carry out improvements.

FMBN has been a champion of inclusion. The Bank created the interest-free Rent-to-Own (Ethical RTO) Scheme to eliminate the challenges that some NHF contributors face because of the interest-based nature of the Bank’s other housing products.

Furthermore, FMBN has also created the NHF Diaspora Mortgage Loan to enable Nigerians who live abroad but are registered contributors to the National Housing Fund Scheme to access affordable mortgage loans of up to N50M to own a home in Nigeria.

Home ownership is associated with a sense of security and better quality of life. FMBN plays a key role in government’s efforts to house Nigerians. Through its construction financing activities, the Bank contributes significantly to job creation and inclusive economic growth.

From historical record, women are known for seeking ways to educate, empower and contribute to society; can you say that womenfolk are performing up to expectation in Nigeria?

Overtime, Nigerian women have consistently contributed significantly to the growth of the country. Their contributions and achievements can be traced from the pre-colonial period till date. The implementation of Nigeria’s formal education system gave rise to a large number of well-informed and forward-thinking women who hold top positions across all leading occupations in the Nigerian public and private sector.

In the international space, Nigerian women are breaking glass ceilings and challenging gender stereotypes and systems. They currently hold top positions in international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations and the World Bank.

Nigerian women have proved their mettle and should be offered more opportunities given the unique skills that they bring to the table. 

In your own opinion, what other qualities do you think are required or needed for a woman to make it to the top in Nigeria?

Some of the qualities required for women to excel in their careers in Nigeria are integrity, courage and self-awareness. There should be no disconnect between one’s words and deeds. The fear and risk of failure may seem quite overwhelming for many women and this has a lot to do with certain standards that disqualify women from the beginning.

Women need to stand tall amongst male colleagues and this requires true self-awareness. The more they recognize their strengths and weaknesses, the more courageous and effective they become as a leaders. 

As one progresses on the leadership ladder, the competition becomes stiffer as opportunities will become limited. You would have to keep a close eye on this by developing yourself further and not succumbing to the pettiness that could come with such competition. Female leaders need to think strategically, be proactive rather than reactive.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of influence and networking. Networking is a tool that opens up many opportunities if properly utilized.

Kindly share with us a list of past awards and recognitions attributed to your leadership and advice on how more award-winning women can emerge in the country.

I believe more award-wining women will emerge in Nigeria, if women are considered and offered the opportunity to compete for every open leadership position. More women should be entrusted with stretch assignments and high visibility projects as such would challenge them to learn, grow and advance to higher positions.

Finally, women networks have a huge role to play in the fight against the glass ceiling as they can provide the much-needed support required by younger women.

H. E Dr. (Mrs.) Martha Udom Emmanuel

MARTHA UDOM EMMANUEL: A Quintessential Humanitarian, Bringing Succour to the Helpless, Engendering Brighter Days for the Vulnerable

Born 53 years ago to the family of Chief Bernard Sampson Idiong and Professor Mrs. Stella Idiong (both deceased) of Obio Akpa village in Oruk Anam Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. (Mrs.) Martha Udom Emmanuel, the First Lady of Akwa Ibom State is a woman of substance with many parts. The third of four children of her parents, Dr. Mrs. Emmanuel had a well disciplined and stable childhood predicated on strict adherence to the Word of God, an attribute she said shaped her values and outlook on life.

She had her primary education at Jubilee Primary School, Uyo, secondary education at the famous Cornelia Connelly College, Uyo and went on to attend the University of Uyo, Uyo where she obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry (B.Sc. Hons.). Determined to expand her academic frontiers, she enrolled for and bagged a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) at the Lagos State University (LASU.). Not satisfied with these and with her thirst for more knowledge, she attended the School of Oceanography, Lagos, where she obtained a Certificate in Aquaculture upon which she established a hugely successful aquaculture farming business.

A lover of God, Mrs. Emmanuel is a chorister who sings everywhere and particularly at the United Evangelical Church, founded as Qua-Iboe Church, Surulere, Lagos. She is happily married to Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, whom she describes as the best husband in the world. They are blessed with four amazingly intelligent and God fearing children.

According to her it is by the benevolence of God, that she was placed in the exalted office of First lady of Akwa Ibom State, and by His direction and mercies, she has brought a new layer of engagement associated with the Office and through it, she has advanced the cause of the poor, the sick, the handicapped and the infirmed. She has brought a sunny disposition to the helpless and the forlorn, engendering the collective belief and hope, that there are brighter days looming in the horizon.

In this brief chat with The Guardian, Dr. (Mrs.) Martha Udom Emmanuel spoke about her advocacy programme for the girl and boy child, mentorship drive and the activities of her Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme (FEYReP), a non governmental organisation that has made a huge mark in humanitarian and philanthropic activities within Akwa Ibom State, and beyond. Excerpts…

Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme (FEYReP) – empowering women, youths, transforming lives in Akwa Ibom State 

By the grace of God, it has been seven and a half years of giant leaps by FEYReP. At our inception, our aim was to touch as many lives as possible but the finger of the Lord came upon the organisation and we have achieved so much more, beyond our expectations or imagination. Our achievements have been in these areas:

Women Empowerment 

When women do not have access to sustainable incomes, their families and children are at an increased risk of falling into poverty. FEYReP’s response to this dilemma was to develop a robust multi-sectorial intervention scheme for women, widows and youths by providing business grants to over 5,000 women. FEYReP also focuses on training, capacity building, and provision of start-up equipment to youths in their chosen field of work. This scheme does not just cover women and youths living in Akwa Ibom alone, but includes our women living in other parts of Nigeria and some non-indigenes, who had chosen to pitch their tents in the Land of Promise. For example, over two hundred women traders living in the city of Lagos were given financial support to improve their small scale businesses.

Shelter of Hope

The absence of shelter can trigger multiple social consequences for children, adults and families. Thus our Shelter of Hope project is aimed at providing decent houses for indigent families, most of whom are widows/widowers/vulnerable children without a safe and habitable shelter. So far, we have built and handed over 66 brand new and modestly furnished two/three bedroom houses with business grants to improve their economic lives to beneficiaries across the 31 local government area of the State.

Medical/Health Interventions 

FEYReP has made significant progress in contributing to the reduction of several leading causes of death and diseases within Akwa Ibom State population by undertaking a yearly medical intervention program for indigent members of our communities and as a result, life expectancy has increased significantly. We have equipped some Health centres across the state with medical and material support to provide quality and responsive service to under-served communities. 

We had, through our Eye Restoration Scheme (EYERIS)/Free Surgical Care in partnership with MTN Foundation, AKISAN, USA and Pro-Health International reached and provided free eye screening, surgeries, treatment and correction of refractions, free medication and eye glasses to over 15,000 persons resident in the State. We have also provided free surgical care and through our Mass Deworming Project, dewormed over 48,520 children from several schools across the 31 Local Government Areas of the state thus making them healthier. 

Through our Martha’s Pregnacare Outreach, we have achieved less maternal death and infant morbidity in our communities by creating awareness on harmful traditional practices during pregnancy while also encouraging pregnant women to reject the myth associated with Caesarean section. Currently, over 1600 expectant mothers drawn from the 31 Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State are direct beneficiaries of this project in just over two years.

The “Girls-Uphold-Your-Dignity” Advocacy

Our advocacy programme tagged, ‘Girls Uphold Your Dignity’ is aimed at ensuring our girl child continue their education beyond primary and secondary school levels in order to brighten their chances of making informed choices for themselves, family and community. The programme seeks to advantageously, reposition the girl child educationally, promote behavior change, provide information on workable measures to be adopted in order to thrive and be safe in the society and educate them on reproductive health. We have so far visited 62 secondary schools and have reached over 14,560 students. 

Bright Future for Responsible Boys

This is FEYReP’s advocacy program for the boy child. It is targeted at sensitizing the boy child on the dangers of drug abuse/addiction, sex and reproductive health. The advocacy also features talks to awaken entrepreneurial spirit among the boys for economic independence. So far we have organised over 5 workshops and seminars for our boys, and in collaboration with the Akwa Ibom State Gender Based Violence Management Committee, hosted the first Boys’ Conference in May, 2022, an event we intend to continue to host in commemoration of the United Nations International Day of the Boy Child.

Follow the Stars

Effective mentoring programs are recognized all over the world as an important platform to share ideas. Denzel Washington said, “show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who has had real positive influence in their lives- a mentor”. Follow the Stars mentorship program is designed to quicken knowledge transfer from seasoned professionals in their respective fields to boys and girls in secondary schools. The goal is to provide opportunities for our youths to have their aspirations tailored towards an accomplished professional, who is committed to building confidence and self-worth in the mentees as they pursue respective careers. 


In this area, through our Back-to-School Project, we have provided over 3,000 school children with personal effects and stationery at the beginning of every new academic session for the past 7 years. We have also given over one hundred and ninety five (195) scholarships to undergraduates and an additional student support/grant to about 426 students. Recently, on my birthday, 50 indigent students were given grants.  We have built a refectory and kitchen at the Special Education Center for children with a population of over one hundred (100) as part of our effort to support and encourage a conducive environment for learning for our children. 

Through our Right To Rise Project, we advocate for integration and inclusion of persons with disabilities in every aspect of our political, social, economic and cultural life. In empowering PWDs, we have equipped them with skills, provide trade specific equipment and grants to boost their small scale businesses. We have also facilitated the employment of some who are qualified into the State Civil Service.

Empowering Rural Women, Through Agro-Processing

Akwa Ibom is rich in cassava, rice, seafood, oil palm, etc. However, the tedious and time consuming procedures involved in food processing greatly hampers economic development of rural farmers and leads to post harvest loses. FEYReP responded to this need by building two fish kilns, 2 cassava processing factories and palm oil processing factories as its modest contributions towards eliminating post harvest loses and improve economic fortunes of the women farmers.

The War Against Sexual and Gender Violence in Akwa Ibom State 

My motivation was the cry of the vulnerable and voiceless women and children in our communities, whom society thought, do not have support and so they could be kicked about and treated as second class citizens. I saw a lot of women being battered and destroyed by their husbands/partners, I saw little girls being raped, their bodies violated and their innocence taken away. I saw girls, whose caregivers became their worst nightmare. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases, especially during the lockdown, occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and my heart was broken into several pieces. I had to do something and so I decided to be the voice and support system of these women and girls. We embarked on intense and frequent campaigns and advocacies to educate the populace on the ills and dangers of gender based violence and also encourage and inform victims that there is help for them and an easy access to justice. 

Also, in partnership with the International Federation of Women Lawyers and other partners, we pushed for and got the Akwa Ibom State Government to pass the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Law in 2020, which has provided us a legal framework upon which to tackle gender based violence head on. We did not stop there, as we knew that a law without an implementing mechanism, is dead law. We pushed for and got the State Executive Council to inaugurate the Akwa Ibom State Gender Based Violence Management Committee, chaired by me, to primarily, coordinate the state’s response to gender based violence and ensure the full implementation of the VAPP Law. 

Plans put in place to sustain FEYReP’s laudable interventions

FEYReP is not a Pet Project. FEYReP is a non governmental organisation with a known office address and operational staff.  I had carefully separated FEYREP from the office of the Wife of the Governor because I had always intended that it would outlive my tenure as Governor’s wife.  Therefore, FEYReP will continue to carry out our life impacting activities as we follow our blueprint and work plan going forward.  I intend to continue using it to better the lives of the vulnerable and voiceless as I derive great pleasure and satisfaction in providing succour and holding the hands of the vulnerable. It is worthy of note that I did not do all I did because I am the wife of the Governor, though the Office helped me a lot in achieving most things that are enumerated above. To me, being there and speaking up for the voiceless is a passion and deeply rooted in my being and so as long as I live, FEYReP will thrive and collaborate with other partners and multinationals to touch lives. 

Also, the Akwa Ibom State Government, to ensure the sustainability of our strides especially in responding to gender based violence and drug abuse, have inaugurated the Gender Based Violence Management Committee, domiciled in the Ministry of Justice and the State Drug Control Committee, domiciled in the Ministry of Economic Development, with membership drawn from line/key ministries and non-governmental organizations, youth/women groups. These Committees will outlive political tenures, as it is designed to be in perpetual continuity.  

Awards, Recognitions Attributed to Impactful Leadership 

Heart of Champion Award from the International Human Rights Commission, New York; An African Impact Leadership Award from Center for Economic and Leadership Development, Paris; The Number One Nutrition Champion Award from UNICEF; Award of Champion of Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. Others are The First Lady of the Year (South/South) in Educational Empowerment (Girl Child) and First Lady of the Year (National) in Social Welfare and Justice for Women Award by Independent Newspaper in partnership with African Consolidate Analytical Limited. 

“The Spirit of God is not gender specific, we’re all beneficiary of His grace” – Archbishop Dr. Margaret Ekhoe Benson Idahosa, JP, OON

Yes, it is true we live in a patriarchal society where a lot of things are still being looked at from gender perspective. However, things are changing. More people are getting educated. Most especially, Christianity is changing a lot of things. People are getting more socially exposed and our present society is not as rigid as it used to be. 

In the harsh economic situation, ideas and innovations from every member of a family are needed to handle and go through it. Hardship does not know whether you are a man or a woman. When both of them come together, the load becomes lighter. In the industry that I operate, men, women, boys and girls are all involved. 

The Spirit of God is not gender specific. We all have the Spirit of God in us and He speaks through all of us. When I got into the position as Spiritual Head/Presiding Bishop of Church of God Mission International, and cried and told God that I was a woman, He replied and said, “Margaret, I didn’t know you were a woman. As far as I am concerned, you are a child of the living God and you can do anything in my name.” By the grace of God, I have been able to handle the demands that come with the position that I occupy as Archbishop.

The set objectives of Church of God Mission International are tailored alongside the vision statement which is, “To Build People into Leadership with a Global Passion deeply Rooted in Christ.” Leaders who have capacity, Christ’s compassion to reach their world with love and care, eaders who are excellent pastors, administrators, educationists, business people, husbands, wives, and other professionals. 

By the grace of God, our milestones and achievements are quite numerous. Today, we have men and women who are helping to develop societies across the world including Nigeria. They passed through our Churches, educational arms, charity arms, skills acquisition programmes, and have become household names in their respective fields or areas of calling. I see them as I travel to different parts of the world. For example, there are only a few churches home and abroad that are not directly or indirectly connected to us as sons, daughters, friends and partners.

As regards, the role that women play to empower society, women are doing quite a lot today in Nigeria. If given the chance and more encouragement, they can do better in some key positions. There are no fields now that you cannot have them contributing to the growth and development of society. In education, you have quite a lot of them. I see more women doing a lot for society in the years ahead because quite a number of them are attending schools and getting well-educated.

For women to make it to the top in Nigeria, they should get more quality education, get more skills, and build more confidence not only to get to the top but remain there. Break out of traditions that say she cannot be seen or heard. God did not create her to be hidden and not be heard. God blessed the woman just as he blessed the man to go and be, “fruitful, multiply and replenish the Earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis Chapter 1, Verses 27-28). 

So there is so much Nigeria has to benefit from the very enterprising woman. She has all the qualities to be a good governor or president. She has all it takes to do even better than the man if given the chance. I know that one day, a woman will become the president of this country and the difference would be seen.  

As a church we are creating more awareness in the woman that God sees her first as His image and not just a woman. Also that God has endowed her with gifts and talents to succeed in her world. She should not go for what she wants because she is a woman or that things be thrown at her because of her gender. She has the brains, intelligence, poise, confidence, and intellectual capacity to succeed anywhere. We tell them not to go the easy way or the cheap way to success. They must say NO to prostitution, drugs, 419, playing around with things that injure their well-being and womanhood in general

Whatever awards and recognitions I have received over the years are a result of the contributions that God has used me to make to Societies at home and abroad. Some of them are, Certificates of Special tributes from the Governor and Senator of the State of Michigan, U.S.A (2000), Justice of Peace by the Edo State Government (2001), chosen as one of the 100 most influential Nigerian women by the Nigeria’s News Weekly Magazine (2002), conferred with the National Honours award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) (2008), Award of Honour from the Nigeria Union of Journalists for outstanding contributions to the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2011), Fellowship Award of the Nigerian Society for Experimental Biology (2012), Enunuedo Award in recognition of contributions to the prestige of the Benin Community (2012), and many others. 

These and others that cannot be mentioned here are awards that did not drop from the sky but were results of knowing one’s calling, and pursuing it to the point where one becomes an instrument of impact on others and motivating people to discover who they are in God and what they are sent to do on earth. No woman is useless. Every woman is a gift to society. Recognition is there for those who discover their calling and run with it.

Aso Savings CEO Risikatu Ahmed

How more Nigerian women can break the glass ceiling, by Risikatu Ahmed

It is difficult to make a blanket statement about the performance of women in Nigeria, as the experiences of women can vary greatly depending on factors such as their socioeconomic status, location, education, and cultural background. However, in general, it can be said that women in Nigeria face many challenges in terms of education, economic empowerment, and social equality.

Despite the challenges, many women in Nigeria have made significant contributions to society and are working to promote education and empowerment for all women. For example, there are numerous women’s rights organizations and advocacy groups working to promote gender equality and address issues such as violence against women, unequal access to education and employment opportunities, and other challenges faced by women.

In addition, many women in Nigeria have taken on leadership roles in politics, business, and other areas of society, and are working to create positive change. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure that all women in Nigeria have equal access to opportunities and are able to fully participate in and contribute to society. In ASO Savings and Loans PLC., our Management comprises 30% women, this shows that the women folk is making some progress and we are confident that we will get there.

In my opinion, the qualities that can be important for a woman to achieve success and make it to the top in Nigeria or any other place include a strong educational background which can provide the foundation for success in many fields. Women who are well-educated and have a deep understanding of their field of work are better equipped to make informed decisions and solve complex problems.

Furthermore, drive and determination make women successful. Women often have a strong drive and determination to succeed, regardless of the obstacles they may face. They are willing to work hard, persevere in the face of challenges, and stay focused on their goals. Similarly, leadership skills: Women who are able to inspire and guide others, communicate effectively, and make decisions that are in the best interest of their team or organization can be successful leaders.

Other ingredients of success include networking – building a strong network of professional contacts can be crucial for women who are looking to advance in their careers. Having supportive colleagues and mentors can provide valuable resources and help open doors to new opportunities. Lastly, discipline and professionalism: The ability to adapt to change and embrace new challenges is important for success in any field. Women who are able to remain flexible and open to new ideas are better equipped to navigate the ever-changing landscape of business and technology.

It is crucial to note that anyone wishing to thrive in their chosen industry can benefit from having these qualities, and not just the womenfolk.

Additionally, cultural, societal, and systemic barriers can also play a significant role in determining the success and opportunities available to women, and it’s important to address these barriers to create a more equitable and inclusive society.

In terms of other things that government needs to do to increase the success rate of women in the Nigerian society, I will say that in my own little way, I am creating awareness of the power of success factors in women by promoting education, addressing cultural barriers, mentoring young women and ensuring there is proper representation of women in my organisation.

However, the government can do more work to increase the success rate of women in Nigeria by education. Providing quality education to girls and women can be a key factor in promoting gender equality and increasing the success rate of women in Nigeria. This can include investing in education infrastructure and resources, as well as promoting programs that encourage girls to pursue education and careers in STEM fields.

Similarly, more can be achieved by encouraging girls and women to pursue their goals and dreams can be a powerful way to increase their confidence and success. Governments, communities, and families can play a role in providing support and encouragement to women at all stages of their lives.

Also, there is the need to address cultural barriers: Addressing cultural and societal barriers that limit the opportunities and freedoms available to women can be crucial for promoting gender equality and increasing the success rate of women in Nigeria. This can include challenging harmful gender stereotypes, promoting gender-sensitive policies, and addressing violence against women.

Economic empowerment: Providing economic opportunities and resources to women can help increase their success and independence. This can include access to credit, financial education, and job training programs, as well as policies that promote equal pay and opportunities in the workplace.

Lastly, political representation is key. That is, ensuring that women are represented in decision-making positions can help increase the visibility and success of women in Nigeria. Governments can promote policies that encourage women to participate in politics and ensure that women have equal representation in government at all levels.

By implementing these strategies and working to address the cultural, societal, and systemic barriers that limit the success of women, the Nigerian government and society can help create a more equitable and inclusive environment for all women.

Risikatu Ladi Ahmed is an experienced result-oriented Bank Executive with consistent track record of exceeding goals and expectation in banking business for almost three decades. She was appointed Managing Director/CEO of ASO Savings and Loans PLC on the 1st May 2021 with a mandate to reposition the bank as a frontliner in the Mortgage Banking Business. Being the first female to be appointed as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ASO Savings and Loans and one of those Nigerian Bank Female CEOs breaking the ceiling as recognized by Women in Management, Business and Public service (WIMBIZ), Risi has continued to provide strategic direction and market position for the Bank.

She holds a Law Degree (LLB) from the University of Maiduguri and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1990. She also holds a Masters’ degree in Law (LLM) from the University of Jos and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management Studies from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi. An alumnus of Lagos Business School and a graduate of Advanced Management Program (AMP) from Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, USA she also undertook Executive level education in Harvard Business School of Boston, USA.

Prior to her appointment as MD/CEO of ASO Savings and Loans Plc, she was an Executive Director in the bank between 2015 and 2021. She led the Corporate Services Directorate, Human Capital, Employee Relations and Supply Chain, Operations and Technology Group, Real Estate Inventory Management Group, and Institutional Banking Group. In the course of her career, she has provided executive, strategic and operational leadership towards the attainment of strategic goals and aspirations.   

Before her appointment in 2015 as an Executive Director with ASO Savings & Loans PLC, she worked in Diamond Bank for sixteen years between July 1999 and 2015, where she held various managerial and leadership positions. Her track record of excellent performance earned her several commendations and awards. Her banking experience started from Continental Merchant Bank, Lagos where she did her National Youth Service Corps programme and later proceeded to work with Savannah Bank, from 1993 to 1999 before moving to Diamond Bank.

Risi is a change enabler of excellence and has demonstrated transformational leadership via her multiple high-level roles on different reputable platforms. She sits as a member of Governing Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) from 2020 to date and also serving on many Committees of the Institute. Risi is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (FCIB), Fellow Institute of Credit Administration of Nigeria (FICA), Member of Institute of Directors Nigeria (IoD), Member of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Member of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), and Member of Association of Professional Women Bankers and Women in Management, Business and Public service (WIMBIZ).

Risi has been a keynote speaker in many banking related programs, she was one of the speakers in the CIBN-USA branch conference 2018, and 2nd Cate-Series program organized by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) USA in November 2021.

With her diligently acquired achievements, Risikatu Ahmed has continued to pave the way for young bankers, regardless of gender and will continue to do so.

Being the first Female to be appointed as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ASO Savings and Loans PLC, and one of the Nigerian Bank Female CEOs breaking the ceiling as recognized by Women in Management, Business and Public service (WIMBIZ), she has several awards and recognitions attributable to her leadership

In her words, “I have been privileged to have a few firsts right from my university days. I was the first female President of the Law Student Association, first female Principal Manager for the North in Diamond Bank Plc and the first female to be appointed as the MD/CEO for ASO.

I am also a Fellow, Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria(CIBN) and Association of Enterprise and Risk Management Professionals I was presented the Icon of Nation Building Award by the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria I was presented the excellence award for exemplary performance in Housing Development and Finance by the Housing Finance Summit. I was also presented the award of Excellence (Vanguard of Societal Development)  by the National Association of Nigerian Students.”

Concerning how she is efficiently running ASO Savings and Loans PLC, and her achievements in the Mortgage Industry despite the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society and the prevailing harsh economic environment, the astute financial expert said “It is important to note that the financial industry, including the mortgage industry, has faced significant challenges in recent years due to the harsh economic environment and other factors such as changing regulations, technological advancements, and increasing competition.”

She stressed that “In a patriarchal society, women may face additional challenges in leadership positions, including a lack of representation, unconscious bias, and unequal pay. However, research has shown that companies with diverse leadership tend to perform better, and the trend towards diversity and inclusion is slowly gaining momentum in many industries.

In the mortgage industry specifically, there has been a push for increased diversity and inclusion, and many companies are taking steps to promote diversity and equality in the workplace. However, there is still much work to be done in this area. It is important for companies in the sector to continue to strive for diversity and equality, not just for ethical and moral reasons, but also for the benefits it brings to the company and its customers.”

According to the financial sector guru, “ASO Savings and Loans PLC strives to be the Mortgage Bank of Choice, and our mission is to build mutually profitable relationships anchored on a passion for excellence. Since inception, ASO has played a significant role in the provision of housing solutions to Nigerians and has emerged as a mortgage powerhouse. Our achievements over the period include the origination of over N30billion mortgages for over 12,000 homeowners across Nigeria; successful championing and origination of mortgages for over 88% of the residential mortgages securities during the 2007 N25billion Sale of Federal Government Houses bond in Abuja, as well as delivery of social mortgages to numerous beneficiaries under the National Housing Fund Scheme.”

Sa’adatu M. D Aliyu, Managing Director/CEO, Rural Homes Group Ltd

SA’ADATU M. D ALIYU: Resourceful Engineer, Committed To Putting Vision To Work at The Homes Group 

She is a dynamic young woman who has continued to demonstrate the ability to lead diverse team of professionals to higher level of success, in the fast paced Nigerian real estate sector. Sa’adatu M.D. Aliyu’s competence, hard work and strength of character are gradually placing The Homes Group Limited on a path of sustainable growth, which has brought a relationship of shared prosperity with the company’s stakeholders.

A real estate manager with developmental vision, the Managing Director, The Homes Group Limited and a resourceful professional who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest Hungary, and she bagged a Master’s degree from the University of Nottingham, England. She has also earned a Certificate in Global Business Strategy from the Metropolitan School of Business and Management, United Kingdom. 

She brings a fresh, unique, practical but innovative style of management that is tailor-perfect to change the face of operations and project delivery in the Nigerian construction and estate management sectors. Focused on building her reputation with competence and integrity, the Fellow, Society of Project Management and Development, Corporate Ambassador for the same Society and Professional Member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers has added an invaluable dimension to the managerial and technical part of the daily operations of The Homes Group Limited.

An incorporated property development firm specialized in private, public and commercial projects, The Homes Group, which is made up of Rural Homes Ltd, Distinctives Homes Ltd, and Rural and Urban Homes Ltd is focused on property improvements and development of private residences, housing estate, commercial assets/structures and infrastructures. Since its inception , the Group and it’s subsidiaries’ managements have emphasized on defined construction quality tests and observing processes, and these have permitted the reputable real estate Group to successfully meet set demands of its clients and other stakeholders, due to its technical competence, budgetary discipline and resourceful but time conscious project management.

Sa’adatu Aliyu, who is also the Managing Director of Rural Homes Limited explained what has driven the firm’s growth and corporate integrity thus : ” We think internationally and deal locally, RHL has been able to proffer clients the convenience and support a local firm lends while still operating on a global scale.”

In pursuit of its corporate vision, Rural Homes Ltd, in partnership with the Abuja Investment Company Ltd , is constructing stalls/shops and warehouses for the newly planned Karmo District Market in Abuja, in a befitting, modern and international standard.

On the Karmo District Market, Sa’adatu Aliyu said “Karmo District Market is that place that brings two worlds together! a market and a mall at the same time. It is the space that brings us all together. it is a lift your spirit up kind of real estate and it will be the go to trade centre for the FCT. It is a well-planned commercial property. The New Karmo District Market is for the future family that understands what serenity does to livelihood, what planning does to success and what a good piece of real estate does to your bank account in the not so distant future! Make sure you don’t look back and wished you had listened to that inner voice telling you to grab a form for a piece of this gem.”

In appreciation of her contributions, Sa’adatu Aliyu has received several awards. Among these is the Certificate of Merit, Charity Community Development Services, 8th October 2010, Abuja, Nigeria – In honour and recognition of ‘immeasurable services, outstanding achievement, commitment and laudable contribution towards humanity’, given in appreciation of her commitment towards raising funds for aiding in completion of building a primary school in one of the villages of the Federal Capital Territorial, Nigeria.

She also belongs to Nur Charity Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that raises funds and supports orphanages in Nigeria.

NKECHI MBA: Savvy, Resourceful Professional, Transformational Leader, Making A Mark at NDPHC

Mrs Nkechi Mba is a seasoned professional with over 30 years’ experience drawn from the corporate and public sectors. Her areas of expertise include Human Resources Management, Project Management, Governance, International Development, Administration, Organizational Development, Procurement, Stakeholder management and Financial Management. 

She obtained a degree in Law from Imo State University (Now Abia State University) in 1987 and preceded to the Nigerian Law School to obtain her B.L. (Hons.). She was called to the Nigerian Bar Association in 1988.  

Mrs Mba has worked in reputable organizations such as the Niger Gas Ltd where she served as the Company Secretary/Head, Administration. She was also a Managing Partner with Roselake & Cole. This provided her the platform to implement international development programmes in education, sustainable development funded by notable donors such as the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID), UNDP, UNICEF and some State Governments. 

As a result of the high professionalism and commitment demonstrated on the job, she was head hunted and invited by C.F.B.T. (Britain) to partner in a successful bid for a DFID-funded Universal Basic Education (UBE) project aimed at improving the quality of educational standards by building the capacities of teachers, education managers, and heads of schools.

Her efforts in the development sector did not go unnoticed as she was given several opportunities by the Federal Government of Nigeria to serve on the Board of some government agencies including the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Ltd (M-Tel). In 2009, Mrs Mba joined the services of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company as Head, Administration and was promoted as the General Manager, Administration and Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) in 2011. 

Based on her exceptional performance, she was redeployed to the Procurement department in 2016 where she strengthened the systems, structures and ensured that the procurement activities, projects initiated and implemented for generation, transmission, distribution and other support services were in compliance with the regulatory requirements of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Procurement Act. 

Mba was appointed as the Executive Director, Corporate Services in October 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari representing the South East geopolitical zone. She is responsible for supervising and managing the operations and strategic functions of the Commercial, Admin & HSE, Expediting & Logistic and Human Resources Departments respectively.

In this brief chat with The Guardian in her response to being recognized as one of “Nigeria’s Most Outstanding and Impactful Women In Leadership”, Mrs. Nkechi Mba spoke about her career journey, Niger Delta Power Holding Company’s milestones and contributions to national economic development, need womenr inclusion for economic growth, mentorship, amongst other pertinent issues. Excerpts …                                                                                                                  

Career and industry experience in a patriarchal society

Honestly, the patriarchy is very much alive and that has made it a quite challenging but productive experience working in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) which is pretty much male dominated.  However, the NESI is evolving to achieve some of the sustainable development goals that focus on gender equality (SDG 5) and reduce form of inequalities (SDG 10).

The gender aggregates at the boards and executive management levels of some of the agencies in NESI is an average of 10% female and 90% male respectively. For example, in the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited where I superintend as the Executive Director Corporate Services, the aggregate number of gender composition of the board members is two females (11.8%) and 15 males (88.2%) respectively.

The low representation of women in the board and management has not deterred us from contributing our quota towards poverty reduction by supporting the various electricity value chain activities to increase access to electricity in Nigeria; electricity being an integral driver of economic activity. 

This gap has also been identified by some of the international development partners such as USAID Power Africa which has been providing capacity development support to female employees in the electricity industry so that they are prepared to take up higher responsibilities in their organizations.

Niger Delta Power Holding Company’s milestones, remarkable achievements, contributions to national economic development

NDPHC started as a project delivery vehicle and then morphed into a holding company. It was established to bridge the power infrastructure gap in Nigeria and manage the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP).  Currently we are operators of 8 nos.  power GENCOs with a vision to achieve world leadership in reliable and sustainable energy availability for national development. 

NDPHC is a key player in the Nigerian Electricity Supply industry having delivered 100 transmission projects, 400 distributions projects, 20,000 solar home system projects, and 7 metering gas stations/infrastructure all integrated into the Nigerian electric power value chain with the overall aim of improving power generation, transmission, and distribution. Some of the specific projects completed include 2194 km of 330kv lines, 10 nos. of 330/132 substations with a combined capacity of 5590MVA, 132/33kV substations with a combined capacity of 3493MVA and 887km associated lines. On a personal level, I am tremendously proud of having been a part of the team that accomplished these milestones. 

One of the portfolios that I manage is the commercial department which has also contributed directly to the national economic growth and development through the Eligible Customer and Bilateral Market. This simply means leveraging on the platform introduced by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2017 to enable end users and Discos the opportunity to purchase a minimum of 2MW stranded power. 

Under my guidance, the Commercial Department within the last 18 months has increased the cumulative energy traded through this platform from 87MW to 450MW thereby providing affordable and reliable power to small, medium industries and businesses, consequently contributing to the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria. 

Contributions of Women to national development and economic growth – the NDPHC’s example

Nigerian women are excelling in different roles and functions in various segments of national life and the economy. The financial industry can now boast of at least 3 female Managing Directors of the top ten banks in Nigeria. We have women on the Supreme Court, boards of major corporations, women in leadership roles in the legislature and executive councils both at the national & state levels and my personal heroes are the women who own and manage small scale businesses. 

In my own case, I have the singular privilege to be appointed the first female executive member of the board of NDPHC having risen through the corporation’s ranks. I joined the company in 2010 as an Assistant General Manager. 

We have successfully transformed the Corporate Service Directorate of NDPHC through systems strengthening, digitalization of HR Operations, process improvements & optimization, enhanced support service delivery, cost saving interventions in logistics operations, and more than 400% increment has been recorded in cumulative energy traded.

Requirements of a woman to make it to the top 

Self-belief is very important; self-development is key to achieving success and it is important to remain open to and willing to learn even from your subordinates. Other qualities required for the top are accountability, innovation, problem-solving skills, ability to empathize and engage with integrity.  You will also need to be resilient, focused, invested in your job, and ensure that you can do it better than any man, that way your impact is undeniable. Finally, you pray that you may be helped of God as I have been. 

Why government must increase the success rate of women in Nigeria society

I have always created an open-door policy which the young women in my organization have tapped into effectively, this has provided the platform to mentor and coach women that require my support. Emotional intelligence and gender mainstreaming have also been integrated into our operations and policies which has provided equal opportunities for all staff members with the females prioritized where necessary. 

There is a need for organizations to be intentional about gender parity, something as simple as recognizing that most women trying to climb the corporate ladder are at the same time raising families and consequently scheduling activities where possible to accommodate this can level the playing field and enable women to compete effectively. That way no woman is compelled to make sacrifices that are not required of her male counterparts. 

Leadership, Awards, Recognitions, Pathway for more award-winning women in Nigeria

In September 2022, I was invited to join the Forbes Human Resources Council due to my outstanding achievements as a leading senior executive in the field of human resources and my contribution to the human resources community. The Forbes Human Resources Council is highly sought after, and admission is limited to top-notch members. 

The company’s creche which I championed to support our female staff members and males received an award from the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs in commemoration of world breastfeeding day held in August 2021.  As mentioned earlier, self-development, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, problem-solving, and creativity are qualities recommended for every woman to reach the top and emerge as winners of awards.

Elizabeth Okonji, Founder/CEO, TGL Labs

ELIZABETH OKONJI, MCIPD: Astute Professional, Experienced, Exceptional and Resourceful People and Culture Leader

Elizabeth Okonji is a transformational leader with two decades spent driving business growth. At her core is Human Resources and she has served at C-Suite and Board Advisory level across multiple industries. Her experience includes business operations optimisation, culture development and strategic leadership development.

Her mission is to be a catalyst for a world where support to unlock growth potential is available to all.

Elizabeth is the Founder and CEO of TGL Labs, a business that helps businesses and leaders to proactively tackle showstoppers relating to people and business processes. TGL Labs partners with SMEs and individuals to creatively unlock their potential to Thrive, Grow and Lead.

Her most recent role was at Renmoney Microfinance Bank where she was the Chief People Officer and a member of the Executive Committee. She championed the people and culture transformation that enabled the business to scale rapidly into a leading fintech company in Nigeria. She previously held roles at MTN Nigeria, Interswitch Group and Afriglobal Group where, in different capacities, she led process reorganisation, built strong teams, and drove company-wide change. 

She was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the Institute of Leadership Manpower and Management Development for her contributions to HR development and administration in Nigeria and beyond. She is also a Fellow of the institute, a certified coach and a chartered member of the CIPD, UK.

Elizabeth is passionate about youth empowerment and professional development. She funds education, skills acquisition and business setup for young people. She also delivers professional coaching and mentoring support, in addition to contributing content for HR thought-drivers like the HR Bootcamp (Nigeria) and HackingHR (USA). She currently serves on the advisory board of two fintech companies and is married with two children.

In this brief chat with The Guardian, Mrs. Elizabeth Okonji, MCIPD, spoke about her professional experience, career journey mentorship, the Nigerian business environment, support for gender inclusion in corporate organisations, amongst sundry issues. Excerpts…

In a patriarchal society such as ours and given the prevailing harsh economic environment, how can you describe your career experience in the last few years?

I have spent most of my career in the telecoms, technology and financial services industries and have experienced a significant evolution in gender equity. I have been blessed to work in organisations where patriarchy was less prevalent, but early on, my leadership journey had many pivotal moments. 

One of the most difficult challenges I faced early on was letting go of limiting beliefs acquired coming up as a young woman in Nigeria. I have always been very internally driven and a high-performer, but I tended to avoid situations that threatened my comfort zone and would often watch my male colleagues step up and shine in the limelight. At some stage, it became painfully obvious that I was being passed over for projects that involved executive engagement. I was struggling to crack this and at the same time, really itching to grow. 

The turning point for me was when I sought mentorship and coaching from one of the best HR leaders of our time, Funke Amobi. She took her time to understand my background and helped me understand the role that executive presence and cross-functional visibility plays in inspiring confidence in my competence. I learnt that it was not enough to simply do good work, but I needed to be able to professionally sell myself just as well as my male colleagues. My time under her mentorship really triggered a change in my mindset that has been instrumental on my journey.

Economic challenges have been a stronger feature in my career to date. I’ve worked at companies tackling complex challenges around access, interoperability, financial inclusion, and the provision of convenient credit. We’ve had to navigate the challenges of driving business growth and building strong, resilient organisational cultures in the face of challenges posed by the ever-changing macro environment in Nigeria. More recently, COVID-19 and high inflationary pressure on consumers have added to the complexity of leading and as if this wasn’t enough, we’ve had to navigate success facing exacerbated employee attrition and engagement issues.  I count myself extremely fortunate to have been able to work with strong and highly motivated leadership teams to tackle these issues. 

In the drive to embrace equity, would you say that womenfolk in Nigeria are contributing enough to educate, empower and contribute to society?

I genuinely think women are contributing a lot and could contribute even more given the right conditions to do so.  

Women are playing a role in the public sector, but we need a lot more involvement in governance and policy making. The women who are currently braving it in there also need our support because although there are improvements, barriers to participation still exist. 

In the private sector, amazing female talent keeps coming through and contributing their fair share to economic growth. In many organisations I’ve engaged with, there is strong gender balance and high-quality female talent pipeline from graduate to mid-management levels. Hopefully, with support from strong Boards and Executive Teams, we will steadily move along the conversations around glass ceilings and female representation for their sakes. 

These young women have role models in the countless leading women who are forging distinct paths and using their platforms to educate and empower. Women like Adenike Ogunlesi, Adora Ikwuemesi, Farah Ashiru Jitubo, Ibukun Awosika, Ife Agoro, Kemi Adetiba, Mo Abudu, Oluwatobi Otokiti, Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Uche Pedro and so many more. I also really value the advocacy and supportive role played by organisations like WIMBIZ, who use their platform to trigger important conversations, provide exposure, education and networking opportunities.

What other qualities do you think are required for a woman to be successful in Nigeria?

Beyond working hard to acquire valuable knowledge and experience, women may need to index more on resilience and persistence, and invest intentionally in building presence and visibility. 

Additionally, some studies claim that more than 75% of women experience imposter syndrome as they progress in their careers. The biggest identified underlying factor is the influence of patriarchal cultures on female upbringing, as well as gender role stereotypes. As a coach, I’ve witnessed imposter syndrome manifesting as self-doubt and debilitating fear – you wonder if you deserve credit, or if people will take you seriously. One method that has consistently proved effective in restoring self-confidence, is to focus instead on your known strengths and put them to good use to build confidence and rapport. 

We can also support our development of resilience by focusing more on what learning to act upon, rather than on why the setback happened.

What more can organisations, government and individuals contribute towards increasing the success rate of women for more gender equity?

Honestly, I think we need more committed focus on the basics. We need to improve our education system – enhance elementary education and make higher education more affordable and stable. Improve our curriculums to include more practical life skills and increase strategic partnerships between the corporate and academic world, towards shaping higher education.

It would also be a good idea to instigate more frequent gender equity conversations. This will create lasting awareness and stimulate productive deliberations between the genders to reduce the polarising pressures, promote empathy, and ultimately elicit increased advocacy from men – which we need for this to work.

I strongly believe that recruitment exercises for entry level roles should prioritise a strong gender balance. There are enough bright young female graduates in every discipline to participate in graduate trainee programs and internships. For experienced hires, Boards and executive leaders need to define and hold themselves accountable to policies aimed at ensuring diverse candidate pools, for that can increase the chances of landing the right balance of senior talent.

More organisations should embrace policies that foster a safe and supportive environment, taking into account the unique needs of all genders. To stop the trend of talented women suffering career setbacks due to maternity, it is essential that they get strong and flexible support and encouragement from work and at home. For example, adequate paternity leave policies will also enable men to play more supportive roles in their partners’ careers.  

Finally, I encourage female leaders to actively mentor women at earlier career stages.  Our experience can unearth and complement the amazing talent in these young women.

Kindly share with us some advice on how more award-winning Women can emerge in the country.

My first advice is to set clear objectives for all aspects of life, to prevent potential disruptions from neglect – whether it be health, family, finances, anything. 

Secondly, career-wise, be very deliberate and bold about how you select and pursue your success goals. The key word is – deliberate. Take care not to go down paths that you neither have interest in, nor the skills or aptitude to acquire these skills. Always play to your strengths and build on them.

Thirdly, treat your work and life as a whole unit with interconnecting lines, rather than a split of work and life. The pursuit of your self-actualising goals will suffer if any other aspect is mismanaged, and vice versa. So, don’t be shy to create structures around yourself that keep you in control and free you up to pursue your goals. Proactively hack yourself and your surrounding circumstances in ways that make you successful and fulfilled. 

Finally, seek support and build networks. I have benefitted immensely from mentorship in the form of experienced guidance, tough love and encouragement, from smarter or more experienced people helping me navigate challenging situations. Get yourself a mentor.

Cynthia Harb Ige, CEO, Internet Solutions Nigeria Limited

HARB CYNTHIA IGE: Digital Transformation Enthusiast Creating Value Across Industries

In Africa’s patriarchal system where gender equality is not a common topic, there are certain industries that have over the years been classified as the exclusive reserve of men. However, the last couple of years has produced some women of excellence who have been able to break the glass ceiling through their tenacity, resourcefulness, and uncompromising character. One of such woman who has etched her name in the sands of time and taking position alongside men of valour is Harb Cynthia Ige, CEO of Internet Solutions Nigeria Limited (ISN), one of Nigeria’s leading provider of comprehensive IT solutions for businesses of all sizes.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Igbinedion University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Wales, UK. A woman of tranquil disposition, she assumed the mantle of leadership at ISN, at a period when the world was in disarray due to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but as a performance-driven chief executive with a track record of creating solutions out of challenges, she has since grown the stock of ISN in the tech industry.

“I assumed office as the CEO during the pandemic, and like most other businesses, had to deal with lockdown and continuous update of business continuity plan. Since then, there have been unique challenges throughout the global economy, as well as other economic/political challenges specific to our immediate business environment in Nigeria. The uniqueness of these challenges has hampered or affected our strategies at various times, necessitating re-strategizing. However, our people, the “ISN family”, have been the mechanism for overcoming obstacles at every turn. We have a common goal, we believe in each other, we know where the finish line is drawn, and that has always worked”, she said.

As the CEO of Internet Solutions Nigeria Limited, Cynthia is responsible for running all facets of the business. She has over ten years of experience driving sales growth in the technology industry and a proven executive management track record in management, operations, and digital transformation. She was the Chief Operating Officer and Business Development Manager at ISN prior to her appointment as CEO in 2020. She led the company’s transformation into an enterprise-focused company while increasing sales year after year as a dynamic leader.

Driven by Cynthia’s vision of customer satisfaction and inspired by the possibilities in the tech world, ISN has continued to evolve over time, yielding to customers’ needs. “When our customers are happy, only then are we truly in business”, based on this philosophy, as well as her background in management, she has built her mission around shaping the concept of business performance around continuous service improvement.

On the strategies deployed in expanding the portfolio of ISN since she came assumed office as CEO, she explained that ISN’s business mantra is to “exceed expectations”, hence the business strategies over the years have been built around meeting and exceeding the expectations of clients and in alignment with the mantra, she has been able to build on past achievements.

“Some of the strategies we have adopted include expanding to new markets outside our head office in Lagos to other cities in Nigeria, like Abuja, PHC, Kano, etc. This was critical in order to meet our clients’ needs and demands. We’ve also had to diversify our products and services, transitioning from an ISP to a Managed Service Provider offering a variety of services even beyond the shores of Nigeria.

“We see ourselves as Strategic IT partners, and it is our prerogative to see our clients flourish, hence, we help companies focus on doing their core work while we aid their productivity with the right IT solutions, tailor-made for specific industries. We are known for providing our clients with: reliable connectivity, highly trained technicians to provide prompt support, the best IT security available, and at reduced IT expenses. Over the years, we have also engaged in strategic partnerships and often had to reposition and improve our efficiency as a team”, she explained.

Speaking further, she maintained that the adoption of ICT in the private sector was accelerated by COVID-19 pandemic which has radically changed the Nigerian business environment. According to her, ICT is widely used to improve administration, networking, marketing of goods and services, and operational efficiency across various industries in both the private and public sectors.

“ICT solutions are no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity to intentional business leaders. However, there is now a modest ICT deployment in the functioning of government organizations in the public sector. A higher adoption rate is required to enshrine accountability and transparency. We have seen the digitization of many processes, such as licensing, but there is a need to replicate across different agencies to save time and resources,” she advised.

As a believer in positive internal change to foster improved performance, and the tenets that “we are nothing without our people”, Cynthia’s leadership style, visionary capability and compassionate demeanour enabled her to both retain and engage employees during the period of substantial corporate change. With an exemplary performance history, Cynthia is committed to driving commercial growth while maintaining her focus on customer satisfaction and passion for innovation.

She explained that the adoption of ICT has indeed provided SMEs with a platform to grow, provides valuable information, improves performance, improves relationships with customers and suppliers, increases efficiency, and reduces production costs, among other things. “ISN understands these needs and the necessary tool required to foster their businesses, hence, we have special bundles designed specifically for SME’s who most likely run on tight budgets. Our clients’ success keeps us in business, and their ability to scale from small/medium enterprises to large corporations is a challenge we relish”, she said.

Cynthia is a lifelong learner who believes that investing in knowledge pays the best returns. She has also attended the Lagos Business School and Harvard Business School, where she participated in the Senior Management Professional Programme and the Leading with Finance Programme, respectively. She is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

The digital transformation enthusiast described her mother as the source of inspiration that has kept her going in her career. “Her story is a book of its own, but I built my career around the lessons of her life. Also, it is my goal to touch and motivate the younger generation in my own little way; I always tell myself that the world is watching, so you better do it right,” she added.

Cynthia is the founder of Stella Harb Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization purposely committed to fostering gender equity in Technology.

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