What informed the decision to start the Lady Mechanic Initiative?
It is a long story. It was through dreams that Jesus Christ taught me how to fix cars. This is what God has ordained that I will do for the rest of my life. I had to pursue it and now it is the reality. It was a hard yoke that had to be broken, not even with the strongest bulldozer, but with God on my side, my burning passion, perseverance and all that, I scaled through all the hurdles that I encountered.
What were you doing before you decided to do this and what were the challenges you faced?
I was just a teenager when I decided to do this. The challenges included discrimination, intimidation, rejection and the like. It was like a big taboo. Then my father told me, ‘don’t worry, let them laugh at you today, tomorrow they will not laugh at you.’
You mean he supported your decision to do this?
Absolutely. My mum was so afraid that a big engine might drop on me, but today, she is happy.
You said you got the inspiration in your dream. Did you have the skill as a mechanic?
Not at all. There is no member of my family or relative that was a mechanic. I am the first in the whole family.
So how did you get the knowledge to start this?
I got it through dreams. I started going to the workshop and my father had to pay a workshop to train me. I also went to school. I attended Uyoto Primary School, St. Maria Goretti School, Benin Technical College, Auchi Polytechnic, Lagos Business School, EDC and went for other courses abroad.
Did you have any long-term expectation when you started?
I never saw this big picture. It was basically ‘do what you were asked to do’ and I was fixing cars. I never saw this big picture at all. This is even the beginning. We have not started. In another 10 years, we should be talking about women being auto dealers’ representatives of top car manufacturers in Nigeria, repairing made-in-Nigeria vehicles, women from all walks of life being able to fix their cars. You must not be a lady mechanic to know how to fix your car. The Alumni Association is grooming a lot of women across the globe, among other things. Right now, single-handedly done, the 10th anniversary of the Lady Mechanic Initiative is what everyone is celebrating with us so that we can join hands together with the federal government, states, civil societies – which I belong to, the private sector and everybody for their Corporate Social Responsibility so that we can do more in our society to reduce insurgency and social vices.
Do you have regrets for choosing to do this?
Do I have regrets? No regrets at all because I want to do more. I do not have regrets. The only concern is that government should be able to embrace this initiative a lot more than they have done because I cannot say we have really worked with the government parastatals. Everything was single-handedly done. The only people we have worked with is the National Automotive Council, which is so dear to our heart. They are supporting us very well, giving the girls equipment and all that. What happened to Sure-P, MDGs and all the federal parastatals? We have a case study and I believe they should come and work with us. We want to work with them because we believe government cannot do it alone that is why we are doing what we are doing. So, they should also embrace what we are doing and support us.
Can you talk about the challenges you are currently facing?
I have the model of our permanent site, which is situated in Lagos, on which the governor Babatunde Fashola gave us a rebate. We paid the Lagos State government N13.8m. We got the money from car repairs in the workshop. Governor Fashola gave us a rebate and gave us time to pay. Instead of three months, he gave us three years. That is also why we are celebrating him because they said in Lagos, land is like crude oil or gold to them, so it cannot be given free. But I believe they would have given us free because in Lagos alone, we have 250 female mechanics. They are the ones that have really got a lot from us. But now, the permanent site needs to be built. I can’t do it alone.
The Federal Government should be able to support us so that this becomes a reality, where we can now house over 500 trainees that will come for training to become auto mechanics, generator repairers, and water pumping machine repairers. Even now, we are going into construction and women that are interested in learning how to do tiling, electrical installation in the house, plumbing, painting and a lot more. I need the support of the private sector and the government. In Benin City, Edo State, we have 100 female mechanics sponsored by Coca-Cola. But we are yet to get the governor’s blessing. I am using this medium to appeal to him. My sisters are tired of being trafficked abroad. I have been able to reduce trafficking in Benin City because they (women) have been empowered. Now, a lot of them work with Coscharis and other car companies in Nigeria. So, it is a big thing. It is bringing dignity back to Benin City.
If you have to live your life again, what would you like to do?
If I have to live my life again, I want to do those things that women are not doing again, and I would love to be what I am doing now. I think more women should embrace engineering jobs.
What roles do you see the Lady Mechanic Initiative playing in the automobile industry going forward?
The role of Lady Mechanic Initiative in Nigeria automobile industry is very clear. Clear in the sense that one, we are going to start producing, be it spare parts, and we are going to start dealership, be it sales of vehicles, representative of manufacturers from other countries. We have a lot of vehicles in Nigeria and a lot in Lagos State. So, as long as manufacturers continue to produce cars year in year out, there are jobs for the female mechanics and that is contributing to the economic development of the nation.
When you look back and see the people you have trained, how do you feel?
A lot of them come here with their cars, from nowhere to somewhere. Lady Mechanic Initiative is one big family. Once the girls come in here and sign up to study here, we become so close, be it the self-help, mentoring, counseling and in everything, we become one. It gladdens my heart and that gives me inner peace. I don’t want to have money like the whole world. No, because my money I spend for other people and I am happy doing it because I believe that when you have money you have to use it to impact other people, they must not be members of your family before you help them. The people I am working with, my girls, are not my family members, but now we are one big family. When I see them coming and they call me Madam, I am travelling out, I am going for an auto show, I feel like…at times I just cry and it is a cry of joy. It gladdens my heart. The Alumni Association, which we are launching, is something that will go everywhere. We are not just stopping in Nigeria; we are going to South Africa and other African countries to replicate what we are doing here in Nigeria. Lady Mechanic Initiative, with our own ideas we want to be able to remove women from poverty, so that they will be able to create wealth, that reduces divorces in our homes, that reduces social vices among the children and a whole lot of benefits. Besides, all these have helped to create jobs and wealth in line with the transformation agenda of the president.
The male mechanics have been existing for many years. A man taught me how to fix cars. For me to become the first female mechanic in Nigeria, it was like climbing Mount Everest. I have seen so many challenges. We are focusing on the girl child because a woman needs to bring money to the home as well to support the man.