She is the first female mechanic in Nigeria whose passion started far back at the age of 13 in Benin City the Edo state capital. The passionate and fearless head of the Lady Mechanic Initiative, Sandra Aguebor-Ekperuoh, a mother of six, met with OGIEVA OYEMWENOSA in Benin and revealed how she was taking mechanic as her extra-curricular activity in her secondary school days. In this interview, she also calls on the Federal and state governments to support her Lady Mechanic Village initiative, which she says will empower thousands of female folks in Nigeria and reduce drastically the rate of human trafficking in the country Excerpts:
 
Who is Sandra Aguebor-Ekperuoh, the Lady Mechanic? Tell us about your back­ground.
I attended Ivbiotor Primary school in Benin City, before I proceeded to St. Ma­ria Goretti Girls Secondary school from where I started my mechanic job. When I finished from secondary school, I went to the Benin Technical College where I studied automobile in the automobile
department of vocational studies for three years. In my class, we were 34 and only three girls but because of my prac­tical knowledge way back, I was able to tackle a lot of technical problems.
From there, I went to Auchi Polytech­nic. When I finished from the polytechic, I got a job with Bendel Transport Com­pany, which is now Edo line. Two years later, I left there and got another job with the Nigeria Railway Corporation in La­gos where I spent another two years be­fore I left because they were no longer paying staff salaries. After that, I decid­ed to start my own workshop. I wanted to travel abroad for greener pastures but after I got my visa for Switzerland, I was about traveling to buy ticket when a voice urged me to buy a set of tools instead and start up in a virgin land and that is how I found myself as a lady mechanic. I also attended Pan Atlantic University, formal­ly Pan African University, Lagos, where I did management studies.
I am married with six children. I want to tell every woman out there, especial­ly married women, that they do not have to think that because they are married and have children, life has finished for them or that they do any other thing. Of course, they still do much; they can still acquire skills. We have a 49-year old woman who is running her own gas sta­tion in Lagos. She is the one who is do­ing the quick service and she is the one servicing the car. She is from Imo State. We need to start doing a lot of things so that our children as would emulate us as they grow up.
What is the Lady Mechanic Initiative all about?
The Lady Mechanic Initiative is about empowering women through free me­chanic professional training; it is about wealth creation for sustainable liveli­hood. We teach them to be skilled auto mechanics, female generator repairers, female household water-pump machine repairers and installers, female mechan­ic/drivers as well as female boat engine repairers in the coastal areas.
How did it start?
It all started in 2004, but I have had my own workshop since 1994, that is for about 20 years now and it goes by the name Sandex Car Care Garage. So, I am not just starting what I am doing but I started at the age of 13 through dreams.
Since 2004, we have been able to train over 700 female mechanics in Nige­ria with over 500 alumni members now grouped into the Association of Lady Au­tomobile Technicians of Nigeria.
Where did the inspiration for the Initia­tive come from?
It was from dreams. It was ordained that this is what I will do. It was what God ordained for me to do and that is why I started going to the mechanic workshop at the age of 13. It is not my making but it was through dream and I accepted and pursued it.
What are your challenges and success­es so far?
Seeing girls work in different car com­panies in Nigeria, year in year out; see­ing girls setting up their own garages and training other women. These are some of the success stories that make me hap­py. Some people think it is very easy but I will tell you today it was not a bed of roses. It was a very tough one. For me to break the hurdle to become the first fe­male mechanic in Nigeria to the extent of receiving a federal government hon­our in 2012 couldn't have been easy at all. In 2012, the federal government honored me with a National Merit Award of Pro­ductivity for the good job they thought I was doing. That also gave me some en­couragement that my country is recog­nizing me and what I am doing. Also, the Centenary Book of 100 years of women where I was gave me a lot of encourage­ment. I was also a panelist at the opening of the Centenary celebrations. So, I will tell you that the challenges were enor­mous but I saw them rather as a stepping stone, an opportunity.
I started the Lady Mechanic Initiative without going to the government to ask for anything. I started and made sure that what we were doing became a sub­ject of case study for international me­dia. We have been on CNN four times or so. They came in 2001 and came back in 2010 when we had so many girls we
 
 were training. We have been on BBC, Al­jazeera, indeed, we have been all over the media, telling the world that Nigerian women are strong and can do better and that not all girls from Edo State where I come from are prostitutes in Spain or Italy. I say to people that Benin girls are very strong; all they need is mentorship, somebody to counsel them to be able to change their mind set so that they will know that going abroad or crossing the desert to Libya is not the right thing to do. When you acquire a skill, it takes you a long way into the future and your gen­eration will see it. So, what this Lady Me­chanic Initiative is trying to do is to re­duce social vices in Nigeria, reducing poverty among women and creating eco­nomic independence for them.
With funding from different organiza­tions, I have been able to train and grad­uate about 700 female mechanics in the past 10 years. Now, it is time for the gov­ernment to do its part. In Edo State, the challenge for me is how to partner with the government to push this initiative. I have written up to six letters to the gov­ernor asking for a courtesy visit but no­body is calling me. We are in the same Edo State; we see girls everywhere at night at popular night clubs almost na­ked. This is not the Benin I knew. When I was growing up, every family knew each other, and Edo State was like a commu­nity where a girl would always be found doing something. So what is going on?
I am here to support the government; I have been able to train over 100 female mechanics in Benin. As I speak to you, there is no car company that you cannot find a Bini or an Esan girl. You find Edo girls everywhere working. So, I am ap­pealing to the Edo State Governor to see the Lady Mechanic Initiative as part of one's effort to assist him in creating em­ployment for jobless youths who would otherwise expect government to do ev­erything for them.
We need to do all these things togeth­er with government so that the world will see that female mechanic village is achievable. It is first of its kind in the world and it is starting from Benin City. I have been sponsored by the US gov­ernment to over seven states in the US free of charge. I want to impart a lot of knowledge in people in the Lady Me­chanic village that we are seeking fund to build. In the village, you will find Rita AC shop, you will find Sandra
break system garage and you will find Kiemute's quick service shop just like the Jeffery Loops in the US. These ga­rages will be meant for different kinds of skills like body work and baking, sus­pension, transmission shop, spare parts, and quick service and other things will be done in the mechanic village and these things will be done by female mechanics and we are from Edo State.
But, we are not going to stop here; we will of course move to other parts of the country but without funding, we can't do much because these girls are paid to learn. Our youngest CEO is 22 years and in Abuja and she is currently train­ing three girls in her own workshop. I am telling the world that if Lady Mechan­ic Initiative can train over 200 women in Lagos, over 100 in Edo State, Kadu­na and now in Kano, we can do more. We recently got funding from McCar­thy Foundation in the US to train 20 fe­male mechanics, 20 generator repairers, 20 female water pump repairers and in­stallation technicians and 20 profession­al drivers in Kano State. I believe that as long as vehicle manufacturers are in busi­ness, lady mechanics will always find jobs to do.
Seeing these Challenges, how far do you hope to go?
I see the FG and the state government buying into the Initiative because it is one way by which that they can reduce pover­ty, create employment and eradicate in­surgency and other social vices. As long as manufacturers continue to produce cars, lady mechanic will remain in busi­ness. We will continue to fix cars so that the economy can move forward.
How do you think Lady Mechanic can curb insurgency and unemployment?
I believe strongly in the Initiative since it started in 2010 with the help of Coca Cola and NBC to train 100 female me­chanics in the state. Since its inception, we have been able to reduce trafficking in our own way. This is because as we are training these girls, we are paying them to learn. Everything is free. They go to Kaduna for training tips in PAN Auto­mobiles and by the time they graduate, they get jobs where they are paid N50,000 to N60,000, how will such a girl decide to go abroad and cook or wash plates in a restaurant? I have travelled a lot and I see what these women do there. It can re­duce because trafficking will only contin­ue when these girls are idle.
Another way is for parents to learn to keep their children busy while when they are still in school. Parents can send their children to our garages during vaca­tion instead of to movie houses or to vis­it friends. Send me to a carpentry shop. I started going to the workshop at the age of 13. My father saw the vision for us - my other sisters and me. I have a sister who is a panel beater and electrician. It is like the money still rotates within my family. When I want to do anything, I go to my sister and all that. So, let these children go and learn something. You can start it with your children today. Send them to Lady Mechanic Initiative. We want to support the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Edo State Government in their development efforts, because I, the first female mechanic in Nigeria, am proud to be a pure Edo woman and to show to the whole world that Benin girls are strong and not all of them are pros­titutes!
What kinds of support have you got so far and from whom?
When I came to Benin, the Omo n' Oba n' Edo Uku Akpolokpolor, a won­derful father said 'Sandra, if you want anything, come to the palace' and he do­nated one hectare of land in Eyaen com­munity to the Lady Mechanic Initiative. A lot of thanks to the Enogie of Eyaen because he said this place must be built for the lady mechanics. I am using this medium to appeal to the people of Nige­ria, to the people of Edo State to support us to do more. I started it alone but we can do more for our sisters so they can have their own workshops. I am also us­ing this medium to appeal to the bank of industry and all other banks involved in SME, to get in touch with the Lady Me­chanic Initiative head office in Lagos. I am here to do more for my country but I need the Bank of
Industry, National Automotive Coun­cil, Ministry of Industry, Trade and In­vestment, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Minis­try of Interior, I need everybody to join hands to see that we have the first African female mechanic village in Nigeria. It is breaking news in the world!
What certificate does a lady mechanic get after graduation?
The Lady Mechanic Initiative students would, at the end of graduation, have learnt a lot of practical work as well as theory in the classroom and will go home with a lot of certificates. The certification they now have is the Pan Automobile Certification for three-month industrial attachment, learning assembling of cars from compo­nent parts to moving car, and learning di­agnostics. Also we are NABTEB-approved centre. The girls can take up whether NABTEB exam, proficiency exam or fur­ther their education if they so desire. Also we have the Federal Government Minis­try of Labour and Productivity Trade Test Examination Certificate called the Trade Test Exam. We equally have the Lady Me­chanic Certificate. With all these, the girls can defend their certificates and also work in any car company of their choice around the country and anywhere in the world.
Exchange Programme
BBC world news sent us a student from a technology school in Scotland to come and acquire skills and idea about lady me­chanic. That was an exchange programme. But the truth remains that if we don't have a Lady Mechanic Village, we can't really do much in terms of student exchange pro­grammes.

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Great Benin Bronze

EDE N'ERHENA VBE EDO

"

These anti-Edo political organizations you folks went to join are the most anti-African - and Africans - in the world.

They're worse than anything; we obviously can't stop you though, even Ewuare II's manifest destiny lies in our own regional party.

We have egba Omo Oduduwa and so on, NPC, AG, the forerunner of them all NCNC and then now these cancers of today.

Stay "with them", but register for your most important election first: your local election, register Edo Political Front, and if you don't, vote the front.

No self respecting Edo will - in the future - find themselves the flag bearers and cheerleaders of foreign parties with indirect rule political and economic mandates, it just doesn't work.

No sane Edo person lives to "have the ear" of someone who doesn't have Edo at their heart.

The Supreme Court is the place to remove the frustration of these lethargic and "periodic" additions to the voting rolls; here - where I live - you can fill in the forms regarding changing your voter registration at the post office and other easy access places.

At the rate things are going we're going to find ourselves truly in decline as our populations suffer from simple things like protein deficiencies in children

" - Reggie Akpata

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