Heralded as one of Nigeria’s richest businesswomen, Bola Shagaya, CEO Bolmus International Limited has interests in several sectors, ranging from oil and gas, banking, cash crops export, real estate, fast moving consumer goods (FCMG) and photography. The serial confidant of Nigeria’s First Ladies has been a recognizable figure in Nigeria’s corridors of power for decades. In a society where the role of women has been restricted traditionally, Bola Shagaya is a figure blazing the trail for African women in the male dominated world of business. Her rise to affluence and power is not attributed to parental or marital influence. This woman of means has skilfully built her network and wealth from a humble background, and has proven herself has an outstanding power broker with impressive entrepreneurial skills.
Bola Shagaya – Humble Beginnings
Bola hails from Ilorin, Kwara state where she had her primary and secondary school education before leaving the peaceful state to acquire tertiary knowledge. “I had my… tertiary education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Armstrong College in California where I studied Economics cum Accountancy.” She started her career as a banker, working in the audit department of Nigeria’s apex bank before her foray into business in 1983.“My business experience commenced with the importation and distribution of photographic materials,” as the sole West Africa agent of the then-leading photographic company, Konica.
In the manner of an astute entrepreneur, she saw opportunities in the populous image-conscious Nigerian market prompting the expansion of her Konica marketing operations to photo laboratory services; that was the birth of another of her companies – Fotofair (Nigeria) Limited. Today, Fotofair is a leading photo laboratory company in Nigeria with over thirty laboratories spread across the nation.
The Media-shy Oil Tycoon
Hajiya, as she is fondly called has impressively carved her path in the sixth-largest oil producer’s oil and gas sector. As far back as the late 1980s, during the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led military administration, she had stirred her oil and gas company, through the highly connected and contested Nigerian Oil and Gas sector, to secure allocations for oil blocks. Thus began her reign as an indigenous oil marketer.
Over the years, her oil and gas companies have operated as dealers and independent marketers of oil, petroleum products and gas, engaged in petroleum product sales, marketing, storage, haulage and transported oil, petroleum, kerosene and cooking gas. They have also acquired licence and engaged in oil and gas prospecting and exploration, acquiring or owning oil fields and also lifting crude oil and associated products.
Around 2005, she became the managing director of Practoil Limited and in 2011 she founded another exploration company, Voyage Oil and Gas Limited.
Bola is a quiet and media-shy capitalist with piercing insight for opportunities. Not much is in the public of her personal life. In July 2012, she made the news when another of her oil and gas firm, Voyage Oil and Gas Limited was awarded an oil exploration license by the Nigerian government. Shortly before then, in May 2012, after a long hiatus from the headlines, the 53-year old appeared in the front pages when she became a grandmother from the marriage of her son to the daughter of Bamanga Tukur, the Chairman of Nigeria’s ruling political party, PDP.
Confidant of Nigeria’s First Ladies
The road to riches and diamond rings hasn’t all been smooth for Hajiya Shagaya. In 2009 she lost Maryam Babangida, her heart-knitted friend and wife of General Babangida, after a protracted battle with ovarian cancer. Shagaya was devastated by her sudden death. Shagaya is one highly influential businesswoman who has successfully forged strong bonds with four incumbent Nigerian First Ladies – Maryam Babangida, Stella Obasanjo, Turai Yara’dua and Dame Patience Jonathan, staying relevant for almost three decades in Nigeria’s power ecosystem.
Shagaya who is of Yoruba extraction, a tribe distinguished as party enthusiasts of the over 200 tribes in Nigeria, often attends the biggest social events dressed in “anko” with Nigeria’s First Ladies; a local practice of Nigerian women indicating bosom friendship by wearing the same traditional attire especially to social functions.
Local gossip magazines in their conventional controversial manner have harped on her misunderstood warmth to condemn it has parasitism, attributing her fortunes to the proximity she has forged with the First Ladies of various Nigerian governments.
History has however clearly taught power does not guarantee long lasting success. Hajia Bola Shagaya is obviously doing something right, businesswise.
The Fashion/Sports Enthusiast
The one-time patron of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) is a collector and retailer of the finest and most exquisite jewelleries from different fashion capitals in the world. “I love fashion, artworks and beautification endeavours,” she says.
The graceful grandmother is not all about heavy weight work. “I’m also a lover of sports, especially Polo.” She has consistently supported Polo tournaments in Nigeria over the years.
Learning never really stops for successful people. Even the brightest brains like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg who both dropped out of Harvard, have had to engage in knowledge exchange and meticulous research with great intellectual talents to foster continuity of their innovation and relevance. Similarly, Bola “participated in many local and international seminars and workshops” including some organized by KPMG, Euromoney and Havard Business School “to keep pace with the development in management techniques.” A woman has to be at the top of her game to be capable of managing Bola’s oil and gas interest which in 2005 employed the services of at least 300 employees who mostly comprised of men!
The Family Woman
She married Alhaji Shagaya, a Kwara-based transport mogul, and has successful children whom she has nurtured and helped shaped their career. In 2010, she was conferred a national honour – Member of the Order of the Niger, MON, for her contribution to the development of Nigeria.
Bola believes in the future of Nigerian women. Many young Nigerian women entrepreneurs have found support and guidance in her bosom. “Aunty” they call her. Shagaya is a wholesome woman, proof a woman can live life to the fullest.