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Nigeria's Energy Sector Encourages Growing Number of Female Leaders

As Nigeria's oil and gas industry flourishes, businesswomen across the country are finding greater opportunities to carve out their place in this male-dominated field.

Since 2010, federal initiatives, such as the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, have paved the way for Nigeria's energy industry to shift ownership from international oil companies to domestic investors. Organizations, such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers Nigeria Council, are working to empower Nigerian women to move away from traditional low-capital businesses toward the energy industry's leadership positions.

Several female entrepreneurs in particular are working tirelessly to increase women's stake in the industry. At the helm of the movement is Diezani K. Alison-Madueke, appointed Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum Resources by President Goodluck Jonathan, having previously served as Federal Minister of Transportation and Federal Minister of Mines and Steel Development.

"The fact that two of the biggest cabinet positions in Nigeria, petroleum and finance, are held by women, shows how far we have come," Minister Madueke told a recent meeting in Vienna, referring to the other prominent female member of the cabinet, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. "We are there not because we are women. We are there because of our competence as managers."

Another prominent industry leader is Bola Shagaya, managing director of Practoil Limited, one of the largest importers and distributors of base oil in Nigeria. Her businesses include investment in real estate, spanning across major cities in the country with more than 300 employees.

Moreover, the richest woman in Africa is Nigerian energy mogul Folorunsho Alakija, an entrepreneur who earned the title after the Ministry of Energy approved her oil prospecting license in 1993, granting her a lucrative block in Nigeria's coastal waters. Famfa Oil, which she controls, now holds a 60 percent stake in the oil field.

Other innovators in the field include Catherine Uju Ifejika, chairman and CEO of the Britannia U Group, a group of oil and gas companies, who said, "We are able to hold your homes together, and we are beginning to translate that into boardroom jobs, and then owning companies."

Winihin Ayuli-Jemide, a Lagos-based entrepreneur and former lawyer, is a leading activist of research on women in business and government. She argues that one of the reasons South Africa was the dominant economy in Africa for so long is that women were actively involved in businesses of all sizes. She advocates that it is now time for Nigerian women to think bigger and turn to booming areas such as oil and gas.

A McKinsey study titled Women Matter, found that companies with a higher proportion of female executives showed stronger financial performance than those with no women in top positions. The study discussed how women tended to apply certain "leadership behaviours" more than men such as people development, setting expectations and rewards and acting as role models.

Nigeria is the world's 14th largest oil producing country, with oil accounting for 95 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange revenues.

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