“Women are the real architects of society,” 18th century American author Harriet Beecher Stowe once said.
18 women who have helped shape Nigeria since 1960
Pulse Nigeria celebrates 18 women who’ve played a major part in our history.
The 21st century has seen Nigerian women achieve so much not just for themselves but in actions that have rippled positively across the country.
As we celebrate our 57th Independence in Nigeria, Pulse pays tribute to women who’ve played a key role in shaping our history based on their actions, sacrifice, professionalism and their genuine dedication and love for Nigeria. Their ambition has shown these educationists, doctors, filmmakers, artists and athletes each played a part in shaping our country.
Mary Onyali-Omagbemi - Sprinter
Mary Onyali-Omagbemi is a former Nigerian sprinter. In 1992, the athlete won a bronze medal in the 4 × 100 metres relay at the Olympic Games . Four years after this she won bronze again at the 1996 Olympic Games in the 200 metres race. The year 1990 saw Mary win a silver medal at the world cup. She won a gold medal for Nigeria in 1991 in a 100 metres race at the All-Africa Games.
Chioma Ajunwa - Athlete
Chioma Ajunwa was the first athlete to win a gold medal for Nigeria at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Ajunwa’s win made history not just for Nigeria, but Africa - she set the record as the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a field event. Prior to this, she won a bronze medal in a 4 x 100 metres relay race at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. The year after she won a gold medal in long jump at the All Africa Games in 1991.
Perpetua Nkwocha - Footballer
Perpetua Nkwocha is one of Nigeria’s finest if not Africa’s best female footballer. The midfielder was known for her speed on the field and goal scoring tactics. Between 2002 to 2014, Nkwocha played in seven Africa Women’s Cup of Nations tournament, bringing home the trophy in five of those games (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014).
Nkwocha participated in three Olympic tournaments including Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 as well as four FIFA Women's World Cup (2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015). She’s won the African Footballer of the year award four times.
Abike Dabiri - Journalist
President Muhammadu Buhari’s special assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Abike Dabiri-Erewa previously worked at Nigeria’s national broadcaster Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) for 15 years before leaving for a career in politics and governance. She was known for presenting “Newsline”, a programme which explored social issues and poverty.
Agatha Amata - Talk show host
Before talk shows became popular on daytime TV in NIgeria, “Inside Out with Agatha Amata” was one of a kind. The TV show presented in front of a live audience focused on the everyday life of the average Nigerian, youth and family - the ups, the downs, the social issues, and the controversy. 2017 makes it 20 years since the show first appeared on Nigerian TV.
Funmi Iyanda - Journalist
In the early 2000s, Nigerians started their mornings with a breakfast show called “New Dawnwith Funmi". The daily morning show hosted by Funmi Iyanda aired on NTA 10 Lagos. The talk show served as an advocacy tool for social change highlighting issues in the society.
Oby Ezekwesili - Human rights advocate
Oby Ezekwesili is well known for her role in creating awareness about the abduction of the Chibok girls through the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in 2014. Ezekwesili had previously served as Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and also as Federal Minister of Education
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti - Activist
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a women’s rights activist and a teacher. Ransome-Kuti who was the mother of one of Nigeria’s greatest musicians Fela Kuti fought for the right for Nigerian women to vote. In 1949, he led a protest against the Alake of Egbaland and his abuse of his authority. Her march led to him relinquishing his crown. She made history as the first woman to drive a car.
Aba Women - Activists
The women’s war in November 1929 is one that’ll never be forgotten in the fight for women’s participation in governance. Thousands of Igbo women marched in protest of Warrant Chiefs who limited their role in politics. Their protests led to the resignation of many of the chiefs.
Dora Akunyili - Pharmacist
Well-known for her fight against counterfeit drugs and unsafe food, Dora Akunyili brought revolutionary change to the food and drug sector when she was made Director General of NAFDAC in April 2001.
Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh - Physician
Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh paid the ultimate price of protecting her country with her life. In September 2014, she identified patient zero (Liberian national Patrick Sawyer) as a carrier of the deadly Ebola virus disease. Her relentless work in identifying this virus and ensuring the patient did not have contact with anyone outside the walls of First Consultant Hospital in Obalende played a part in curbing what would have been a national disaster.
Grace Alele-Williams - Educationist
84 year old Grace Alele-Williams is a record holder in Nigeria’s education sector. Alele-Williams Was the first Nigerian to receive a doctorate degree. She earned her PhD in Mathematics. She was also the first woman to become a vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university; she was the VC of University of Benin from 1985 to 1991.
Amaka Igwe - Film and TV producer
It’s hard to talk about Nigerian film and TV dramas without mentioning the late Amaka Igwe. She wrote and produced some of Nigeria’s best TV shows including “Checkmate” and “Fuji House of Commotion”. She also produced the critically acclaimed films "Violated" and "Rattle Snake."
Joke Silva - Actor, Producer
From the big screen to theatre, Joke Silva is notably one of Nigeria’s most talented thespians. Many actors including Bimbo Akintola have credited Joke Silva as playing a key role in influencing their craft and career choice. She is the co-founder of Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts. She co-owns this with her husband alongside a theatre and film production company, Lufodo productions.
Onyeka Onwenu - singer
Onyeka Onwenu’s songs ‘ One love’ and ‘You and I will live as one’, are classic Nigerians born in the 80s and early 90s can probably sing by heart. Onwenu was known for singing socially conscious songs. Following a career in journalism, she began her music career in 1981.
Dr Hadiza Ladi Kwali - Potter
Ladi Kwali is someone whose face we see all the time but hardly pay attention to - she’s the woman on the N20 note. She was a skilled potter whose works were showcased in galleries in England and America. Her craft and work was admired for its form and pattern.
Despite not being able to read and write, she was a part time lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University.
Agbani Darego - Beauty Queen
In November 2001, an 18 year-old Agbani Darego made history in the beauty pageantry world as the first native African to win the Miss World title.
Darego went on to become a supermodel, featuring in several global campaigns, inspiring young Nigerian women to further their careers in the beauty and modelling industry.
Nike Davies Okundaye - Textile artist
Nike Davies Okundaye is a batik and textile artist and designer. Fondly called ‘Mama Nike’, she has taught the art form of traditional weaving and dying in the United States of America and Europe. Her work has been showcased in galleries in England.
Despite stopping her formal education in primary six, she has given lectures and workshops in several international institutions including Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley, USA.
She is a curator of Nigerian art and tradition. Together with her husband, she found the Nike Art Centres located in Abuja, Lagos, Oshogbo (Osun) and Ogidi (Kogi).
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