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5 Extraordinary Women in Nigeria Challenging the Status Quo


Why Global Citizens Should Care
There's no country in the world where girls and women yet have equal opportunities to boys and men. The UN’s Global Goal 5 advocates for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a fundamental human right. Join us and take a stand for a world where #SheIsEqual here.

In Nigeria, women are still getting the short end of the stick on most growth and developmental indices.

According to the International Parliamentary Union, for example, women make up less than 6% of Nigeria's parliament

From 2010 to 2015, meanwhile, only 38% of federal employees in Nigeria were women on average, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Nigeria also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, Global Citizen is highlighting five Nigerian women who #ChooseToChallenge the status quo and fight for a world where #SheIsEqual. 

1. Lois Auta

A polio survivor and Nigeria’s first disabled legislative candidate.

Despite suffering from polio at age two — which permanently put her in a wheelchair — Auta has defied every barrier she’s faced as a woman living with a disability in Nigeria. 

She is the founder of Cedar Seed Foundation, a nonprofit organisation advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in Nigeria. Auta was named Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017. 

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Taking it a step further, Auta ran for a seat in Nigeria’s lower legislative house in 2019, becoming the first person living with a disability to do so. 

“I am an advocate of inclusive legislation. I am glad that the Persons with Disabilities Bill has been recently signed, which means we will have better access to infrastructure, health care, and transportation. If I win the elections, I will sponsor bills that provide an enabling environment for persons with disabilities, especially in the area of education. I will also ensure there is a 10% [reserved quotas] in every organization for graduates with a disability," she told the UN in 2019. 

2. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The first woman appointed to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

ngozi-okonjo-iweala-world-trade-organization-women-leaders-flickrNgozi Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to become head of the World Trade Organization.
Image: Flickr/World Trade Organization

Okonjo-Iweala is one of the few Black women who have given women representation on the biggest stages of global and national power. She twice served as Nigeria’s minister of finance, worked at the World Bank for more than 20 years, and served on the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. 

Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and the first African to serve as the world’s top trade official — the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She took office on March 1, following a 9-month selection process.

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“Today, WTO Members are making history. For the first time in the 73 years of GATT and WTO, you are selecting a woman and an African as Director-General. This is groundbreaking and positive. I am grateful for the trust you have in me, not just as a woman and an African, but also in my knowledge, experience, and, as some of you have said, possessing the courage and passion to work with you to undertake the wide ranging reforms the WTO needs to reposition itself for the future,” she said in a statement after her confirmation as WTO head.

3. Sandra Aguebor

a.k.a. Lady Mechanic, Nigeria’s first female automotive mechanic.

With a 32-year career, 22 of which she has managed her own garage (Sandex Car Care Garage), Aguebor is challenging one of the biggest stereotypes in Nigerian society: that only men can fix cars. 

“Becoming the first lady mechanic in Nigeria is not a bed of roses — men have been doing this for generations. The men thought I was crazy at first. I had to work five times harder than the men to prove myself,” she told CNN in 2020.

Inspired by her own experience, Aguebor founded the Lady Mechanic Initiative, which teaches at-risk women how to fix cars, gain skills, and become financially independent. She has trained more than 1,000 vulnerable women in five Nigerian states. 

4. Adenike Oyetunde

A disability advocate and Senior Special Assistant to Lagos' state governor on Persons Living with Disabilities.

Adenike Oyetunde is a disability advocate, lawyer, media personality, author, social media influencer, and life coach. 

After losing her right leg to bone cancer at the age of 20, Oyetunde’s life changed completely.  But she chose to challenge the barriers life in Nigeria threw at her. 

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She got a law degree, and she went on to grow a successful radio career, and started the Amputee United Initiative, an campaign that advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities. She also volunteers with the Irede Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that works with kids who have had amputations and provides them with prosthetic limbs.

“I am trying to teach people like myself, amputees, to love themselves because society does not accept them even though it is not their fault,” she told PUNCH in 2017. 

Through her work, Oyetunde has been able to shed much-needed light on the challenges facing people with disabilities and last month she was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Lagos state governor on Persons Living with Disabilities (PLwB).

5. Kafayat Sanni

The first female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Airforce.

kafayat-sanni-nigeria-first-female-fighter-pilot-flickrAged just 22, Kafayat Sanni became the first female fighter pilot in the history of the Nigerian Air Force.
Image: Flickr/Aviatrix

In 2019, at just 22 years old, Kafayat Sanni became the first female fighter pilot in the 55-year history of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). She is also the first woman to go through regular combat training at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) to be winged for a fixed wing fighter aircraft.

Sanni has also trained in the US and was named the overall best pilot at the NAF 401 Flying Training School, Kaduna State, in 2017. Talk about choosing to challenge the status quo! 

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“It was what I wanted to do. And I felt that everyone is not supposed to fold their arms and watch what is happening in our country. Everyone could always play their part,” she told ThisDay in 2019.  “So, I did not think there was any reason for me to think that it is not possible for me to actually fly the jet because there was no female that ever flew the jet. I believe I could achieve it and I did. It is a privilege for me to be winged as the first female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force.” 


Global Citizen celebrates the women who will continue to fight for a world where #SheIsEqual. You can join the movement to champion gender equality globally, alongside other core issues in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and its wide-ranging impacts, by taking action here to support our Recovery Plan for the World campaign.