Why many Nigerian mechanical engineers avoid vehicle repairs – NIMechE chair

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National Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Funmilade Akingbagbohun, tells EMMANUEL OJO how her passion for engineering spurred her to achieve success in a profession generally dominated by men

What sparked your interest in engineering?

One of the things that sparked my interest in engineering was the love to create things and to create solutions to challenges. I remember when I was in Form 2 and had an issue with the white-and-black television at home. At that time, the cartoon programme, Tom and Jerry, was in vogue and children watched the programme between 3pm and 5pm. I came back from school one day and I tried to watch TV but it didn’t come on. I took a screwdriver, went to the back of the TV, tinkered with it and it came on. Later on, I asked which profession dealt with such an activity and was told it was engineering and I said, ‘Oh, I would love to be an engineer’. When the next debate came up in my school, I chose to speak in favour of engineering against medicine and it made me go into research to know what engineers do and I realised that everything that had to do with what we use – roads, vehicles, houses – is basically engineering and that was one of the reasons I went into engineering, irrespective of the domination by the male gender.

Were you initially offered admission to study engineering?

When I got my first admission, it was in Mathematics and I felt that I didn’t want to study Mathematics. I felt that I wanted Engineering and when I started studying Engineering, I was the only female in my class but it didn’t deter me. I discovered that one could create things in engineering from raw materials that could be useful to people. I enjoy it and I love creation. Coming into engineering wasn’t accidental for me. As I said, it was my interest in things within my environment that made me feel that engineering was where I wanted to be. So, it was not an accidental one; it was love at first sight for me when it comes to engineering.

Did you have the approval of your parents?

My parents were a bit sceptical because during the time I got into engineering, females, especially in Mechanical (Engineering) were not many. Most of the females were in Electrical (Engineering) and Civil (Engineering). My parents were a little bit sceptical but a lot of people got involved in the matter. I can remember one of my dad’s friends, a professor, who was the head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos then. He advised them (my parents) to allow me to study whatever I wanted. It wasn’t easy but they accepted as time went on.

You said you were the only lady in your class when you started. Were there other ladies who later joined, maybe through direct entry? Or did it remain that way till graduation?

When I started studying engineering at the Yaba College of Technology, I was the only female in my class at the ordinary diploma level, and at that time, we had more than 45 boys in my class. It wasn’t an easy road when we did foundry, melted metals, welding, and machining. It was not easy but I was able to stand my ground and I was able to carry on, looking at the goals I set for myself – that I wanted to become an engineer – and I was able to achieve that.

When I got to the higher national diploma level, three other females joined us. I will just estimate the percentage of the females to be five per cent, compared to the males in the class, but we were able to adjust and put ourselves together. Engineering is not only about physical strength, it’s also about mental strength, it’s about creativity, and the ability to visualise challenges and create solutions. Engineering is moving away from physical strength; it’s now gradually going into ‘thinking without the box’ for us to get solutions to many challenges in communities and the country at large.

How would you describe your relationship with your male classmates?

Of course, we had a very good relationship with the boys in my class and to date. We still have get-togethers, hang out sometimes, and invite ourselves to events. We were able to get along very well as members of the association and members of Mechanical Engineers in Practice. We got along with the boys and they didn’t look at us as if we were different. We were able to get the job done very well together. I must say that in the industry, we have some males, who have been able to adjust very well to having females in their fields, but all the same, we have a sizable number of males who ask the question: What is she doing here?

Did you experience any form of bullying at school or on sites?

I had an experience that I will never forget in my life. I had an issue with another engineer on site and he said, ‘Madam, what are you doing on this site? I have somebody like you at home’. I said, ‘No, who you have at home is your wife. I am an engineer and you are an engineer. We are here to create a solution to the problem that we are facing here and it doesn’t have anything to do with gender’. So, of course, in the field, you have men who accept females easily and you have some of them who bully. There is a lot of bullying in the industry and one of the things that I have taken very well in the field is to stand my ground, to be confident in who I am, to be able to look at my strengths versus my weaknesses and be able to curate an opportunity for myself in the industry.



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