FemTech

#Tribute: NCS, Fintech icons Celebrate Africa’s First Woman Tech Entrepreneur, Engr Ogunsola who Founded Arit of Africa 45 years ago

Engr (Mrs) Kehinde Olaitan Ogunsola

SOLA FANAWOPO


On May 24, 2019, when Dr Yele Okeremi told me her mother in-law has passed on, I was very sad for many reasons, chiefly because of an unfulfilled quest to have an interview with the Africa’s first woman to establish a technology company, Arit of Africa.

I had pursed her daughter and first child, Ronke Okeremi, the current CEO/MD of Arit of Africa for more than seven years to have the interview.

I had to painfully and regrettably expunge her name from the list of prominent technology entrepreneur I was planning to feature in a book we are writing to celebrate the pioneers of digital businesses in Nigeria.

What a painful loss is her death to the technology business in Africa.

However, I did not miss her burial ceremony on July 12, 2019 at St Annes Anglican Church at Molete in Ibadan. Her story would be an inspiration to women who want to venture into technology entrepreneurship.

Early Childhood

Engr (Mrs) Kehinde Olaitan Ogunsola nee Dawodu was born on the November 7, 1944 into the Dawodu family of Lagos State, Nigeria. She was born to Mr Herbert Akinwande Dawodu and Mrs Patience Omorinsola Dawodu nee Williams. She was one of a set of identical female twins. The twins were later to be followed by their two younger siblings, Idowu (late Mrs Olutayo) and Alaba (Mrs Ademosu).

Her mother was a wholesaler of fish and she had a cold storage facility in the 1960s when most traders did not, while her father worked in the Federal Ministry of Works as an Administrative Assistant. Both parents were very committed to the work of God, and were active in the home church, Methodist Church Sabo, Yaba.

Education

After her early years at the primary school education at Ideals Girls School in 1955, she attended the Queens College, Yaba Lagos for her secondary school from 1956 to 1960 with scholarship. She further pursued her A-levels at the Federal School of Science and Arts Onikan, Lagos in 1961. She was one of seven women who studied Pure Math, Applied Math and Physics then.

Her higher education kicked off at Technical College (now Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College) where she obtained a diploma in 1964. She later studied Electrical/Electronic Engineering at Northern Polytechnic London (now University of North London) on a Federal Government Scholarship and graduated in 1967.

She then pursued a Master of Science Degree in Electronics with a concentration in Radio Frequency and Microwave Technology from the University of Surrey in 1968 on a common wealth scholarship.

She returned to Nigeria in 1968 to serve the Nigeria Government as part of her Federal Government and Commonwealth scholarships.

After a few years, and with her burgeoning interest in computers, she travelled to Birmingham, UK, in 1973 where she obtained a Master of Science in System Engineering from the University of Birmingham in 1974.

Marriage

She met and married the love of her life, Engr Olusola Ogunsola at Federal School of Science and Arts, Onikan, Lagos in 1961 where they were students and they have been inseparable ever since.

They both had their university education close to each other in UK and were married in London on September 24, 1966.

Their relationship was built on their love for each other: A shared love for Christ, passion for their children, and in later years, their grandchildren. The couple had pet names for each other that attracted the envy of all around them till she breathed her last. She would call fondly call him “Olu mi,” and he called her “K”.

They are blessed with five successful and God-fearing children: Three girls, two boys and many grandchildren.

Career

After she achieved her Masters in Electrical/Electronic Engineering, she returned to Nigeria in 1968. She taught Physics and Mathematics as subjects after she returned at Ibadan Grammar School, Molete, Ibadan. Later, she quit the teaching profession after a few years and worked as a senior engineer at the Industrial Training Fund (ITF).

With the support of her husband, she travelled to Birmingham for her second Master’s degree in Electronics and later Computer Engineering. She returned to the country after graduation in 1974.

She always had the aspirations of being an entrepreneur and this was formed the basis in May, 1974 when she founded Arit of Africa Limited. She was very had working, enterprising and that accounted for the fast growth of Arit of Africa, a field she boldly ventured into, where men hesitated in the early 1970s.

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Arit of Africa, one of the first indigenous computer firms   

Arit of Africa was one of the first indigenous computer companies in Nigeria and, one of the oldest forces to be reckoned with in the IT industry in Sub-Saharan Africa today, having been established over 45 years ago.

She was the pioneer Managing Director and was so passionate about the growth and development of the company and the welfare of its staff.

Engr (Mrs) Kehinde Ogunsola would do anything for a staff in need. Moreso, over the years, her staff (old and current) became part of the Arit family and by extension were part of her wider family.

“Mama,” as most people fondly referred to her, had so many adopted sons and daughters. You only needed to tell her about a problem, and you could be sure she would seek for solutions for you. They all loved her genuinely and with a passion.

When she presented bouquet of flowers to Queen and Duke of England

In February 1956, when the British Royals visited Nigeria, the Dawodu twins were selected from the Sabo communities to present a bouquet of flowers to the Queen and Duke of England.

This honour would be a pivotal moment in her life as from then on, as she and her twin sister, Taiwo, have shattered the glass ceiling and advanced to do greater works for Nigeria and their families.

First female registered engineers in Nigeria

She and her sister were the first set of female registered engineers in Nigeria in a male- dominated field.

Kehinde Ogunsola was a philanthropist who believed in helping others and that everyone deserved the opportunity to go to school and would do whatever she could to help achieve those dreams.

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She has received multiple professional and academic awards and commendations from various communities, professional societies, religious societies and higher institutions of learning.

Family

Her love for the Ogunsola extended family was unquantifiable. She arranged for her husband’s nephews and nieces to go back to their secondary schools at a big cost to the family finance. These men and women are today all over the world in various high positions, performing extremely well because of the seed of kindness she sowed.

She played a leading role in the formation of Ogunsola Wives Association that helped all the children (cousins) get to meet and know each other and how they were all related – something that is cherished till today in the family.

She taught her daughters that it was possible to have a blossoming career and still be a loving, dutiful and praying wife who respects her husband. As a mother, she made time for her children and ensured that she was there for them all through their growing up years.

She would not miss any school event except she was out of the country on business. She was a strong disciplinarian and embodied the Yoruba saying of “ti a ba fi owo otun ba omo wi, a tun fi owo osi fa mora”.

She therefore encouraged her children and everyone around her that no man can put a limit on you except you allow it and that God was the ultimate decider of her destinies. She taught her children how to love and trust God in everything they set out to do.

Tributes

Ibironke Okeremi – MD/CEO, Arit of Africa

The IT world was shocked to hear about your demise. You were a force to be reckoned with. Even in your retirement from active service, both contemporaries and junior colleagues always asked of you from me. How is your mum? How is our Mama IT? They always spoke so well of you and how much they have missed you at those conferences, how intelligent, bold and smart you were and how you were an inspiration as a woman who pioneered a male-dominated business (Arit of Africa) in the early 70’s. I am always so proud.

Akinyele Okeremi – MD/CEO, Precise Financial Systems [PFS]

When I served as an intern in your company, Arit of Africa, I was the picture of a complete workaholic who was the Managing Director of the company but was very versed in the technical work of the company and would many times go personally to the workshop and show things to the service engineers. You would be engaged on the telephone, talking to two to three different people simultaneously and I have always wondered just how you cope with that.

In addition, you would have people sitting right in front of your desk for personal issues. I remember having many discussions with you about slowing things down then, telling you that the heavens would not fall if you delegated some more of your responsibilities, but you were truly an enigma who could cope with juggling several balls in the air without any of them dropping. You were truly an exceptional woman.

Nigeria Computer Society [NCS]

Until her demise, Engr (Mrs) Kehinde Olaitan Ogunsola, FNCS, was a distinguished member and fellow of Nigeria Computer Society who served assiduously and meritoriously towards the growth of IT in Nigeria and the Diaspora. NCS shared with you the pain of her departure and prayed that the good Lord will give you and, the entire IT community the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.