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Leaders Pushing Boundaries in Nigeria – Black History Month

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

Black History Month was first proposed by Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State a year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970. Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated across the country in educational institutions, centres of Black culture and community centres, both great and small when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976.

Initially, Black History Month was a way of teaching students and young people about the contributions of African Americans to U.S history, as such stories had been largely forgotten and were a neglected part of the national narrative. Now, it’s seen as a celebration of black people who have impacted not just their country, but the world, with their activism and achievements.

Black History Month has since expanded beyond celebrating the travails and feats of black people in the United States of America and has now come to include black people all around the world, such as Africans and Caribbeans. The diversity of black culture is what makes it beautiful, and so long as there is melanin, adulation and applause are in order.

This year, the theme for Black History Month is “Black Health and Wellness”. This theme explores the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also traditional practitioners like birth workers, doulas, midwives, and herbalists throughout the African Diaspora.

Black History Month is an opportunity to understand black history, going beyond stories of racism and slavery to spotlight Black achievement. It’s a time to celebrate black people all around the world, living or dead, who have gone against the grain, broken glass ceilings in a world where racial equality is still an issue of debate, and made enormous strides in various fields of endeavor including medicine, politics, entertainment, science, and sport. Whether they are departed (like Prince, Michael Jackson, Cicely Tyson, and Muhammad Ali) or still with us (like Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, Bennet Omalu, and Usain Bolt), they should receive their flowers so long as they are black.

In Nigeria, one man that has stood out and made big moves to change the game as far as financial services are concerned is Tayo Oviosu, CEO of Paga, Nigeria’s leading payment solution. A graduate of Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, Oviosu formerly served as Manager Corporate Development at Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, and was Vice President at Travant Capital Partners in Lagos until 2009. He founded Paga in 2009, but the company was officially launched in 2011 and began commercial operations in 2012. Paga has over 17 million unique users, and in the last four years, the platform has processed $8billion worth of transactions, with $2.3billion worth of transactions processed in 2020 alone. Paga is widely regarded as Nigeria’s biggest mobile payments platform, and according to projections by industry experts, it may reach a valuation of at least $1billion by 2023.

Another Nigerian business leader with a very inspiring story is Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. Born on March 28, 1991, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji holds a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Waterloo, Canada. In 2014 he co-founded Andela, a talent accelerator company that specialises in scouting and discovering software developers. In 2015, Aboyeji co-founded Future Africa, a platform that connects innovators and investors. The company, popular in Africa’s tech space, is a major angel investor in the Nigerian financial market, and currently holds a portfolio of about 28 startups to whom it deploys investment funds, including 54Gene, Stears, Kobo360, Stem Café and Lori Systems. In 2016, Aboyeji co-founded Flutterwave, a fintech company that specialises in payment solutions. The company has processed over 140 million transactions on behalf of 290,000 businesses across Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

Also worthy of mention are Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, two young Nigerians who came together to co-found Paystack, a Nigerian fintech startup. In October 2020, Payment was acquired by Stripe (an online payment processing platform) for $200 million, scoring Nigeria’s biggest startup exit (at the time).

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