*Advises FG, Oshiomhole on girls upliftment
By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Mrs Sandra Aguebor-Ekperuoh is founder, Lady Mechanic Initiative. History was made, last week, in Benin City, Edo State, when the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, laid the foundation stone of the Lady Mechanic workshop.
The event followed the graduation ceremony of about 50 lady mechanics. Sunday Vanguard spoke to Mrs Aguebor-Ekperuoh who was, last year, honoured by the Presidency for her doggedness in the fight for the upliftment of women. The Edo-born Sandra has been a mechanic for 30 years. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of Sandex Car Care in Abuja and Lagos. Excerpts:
I attended Ivbiotor Primary School, Benin-City, before I proceeded to St. Maria Goretti Girls Secondary School and I started my mechanic job from there. When I finished my secondary school education, I went to the Benin Technical College where I studied automobile in the automobile department vocational studies for three years.
From there I went to Auchi Polytechnic. When I finished from there, I got employment with Bendel Transport Company, now Edo Line, where I started receiving salary of N950 per month; that was in the 90s. When I left there after two years, I got another employment at the Nigeria Railway Corporation in Lagos where I stayed for another two years, but because of the non-payment of salaries, I decided to pull out.
I wanted to travel abroad for greener pastures. I actually got visa to go to Switzerland. I was about traveling when the dream came to me to buy tools and start up in a virgin land. That is how I found myself being a lady mechanic. I also attended Pan Atlantic University where I did management studies. I am married with six children.
I want to tell every woman out there, especially the married ones, do not think because you are married and have children, life has ended. You can still acquire skills, go to the Lady Mechanic website and talk to us. We have a 49-year-old woman that is running her own gas station in Lagos. She is the one who is doing the quick service and servicing the car. We need to start doing a lot of things so that our children as they are growing up will emulate us.
What is the Lady Mechanic Initiative all about?
The Lady Mechanic Initiative is empowering women through free mechanic profession and wealth creation for sustainable livelihood. We empower them to be skilled auto mechanics, female generator repairers, female household water pump machine repairer and installation, female mechanic drivers, as well as female boat engine repairers in the coastal area.I started what I am doing in 2004, but I have had my own workshop for about 20 years now called Sandex Car Care Garage since 1994.
So I am not just starting what I am doing, I started at the age of 13 through dreams. Over the years, since 2004, we have been able to empower close to 700 female mechanics with about 500 alumni members who will be inaugurated into the Association of Lady Automobile Technicians of Nigeria in September when we are celebrating our 10th anniversary.
It was through dreams. It was ordained that this is what I would do and that is why I started going to the mechanic workshop at the age of 13.
Seeing girls work in different car companies in Nigeria, year-in-year-out; seeing girls setting up their own garages and training other women, people think it is easy, but it was not a bed of roses to break the yoke to become the first female mechanic in Nigeria, and to be honoured by the Federal Government with a National Merit Award in Productivity. The award gave me encouragement that my country is recognizing me and what I am doing. Also the centenary book of 100 years of women where I am listed gives me a lot encouragement.
I was also a panellist at the opening of the centenary last year. The challenges are just too much but I see them as a stepping stone, I see them as opportunity. I never waited for government. In 2004, outside my own workshop, I started the Lady Mechanic Initiative without going to government to say this is what I wanted.
Oshiomhole, Edo girls and prostitutes
CNN came to us in 2001 and came back in 2010. By 2010, we have had so many girls and we have been on CNN for like four times. We have been on BBC telling the world that Nigeria women are strong and they can do better, but that is not the way they see it especially from where I came from, Benin-City, Edo State. Benin girls are prostitutes, they go abroad, they are in Spain, they are in Italy.
But I say to people, Benin girls are very strong, they need mentorship, they need somebody to counsel them to change their mindset 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 progressing in future and your generation will see it. So the Lady Mechanic Initiative is trying to reduce social vices in Nigeria, reducing poverty among women and creating economic independence for women.
I have been able on my own with funding from different organizations to be able to create, empower and graduate about 700 female mechanics for the past 10 years; now is time for government to do their own. I am here to support government; I am here to assist the Comrade Governor’s administration.
As I speak, there is no car company where you do not find an Edo or Esan girl. So, I am appealing to the Edo government that the Lady Mechanic Initiative is here to assist his uncommon transformation; to assist him in creating employment for youths. It is very important that Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole’s administration should call on me now.
I have been writing I don’t know if he has been getting my letters but I am from this state and I want to help in his uncommon transformation. Lady mechanic is not only in Edo and I am not just calling on Adams Oshiomhole’s administration. I am calling on the Federal Government to assist us because we need a permanent site. The First Lady has been very helpful on this cause; she invited us to the State House, celebrated us and told me this initiative is close to her heart and wants to be part of it.
That is why she was the one that laid the foundation stone in Benin City alongside the graduation ceremony of the second batch of female mechanics in Edo. Lady Mechanics Initiative graduates can work in gas station, lube bay, car company, even parts shop. We are bringing women into this initiative because we know that it will create wealth for them, not struggling with men but supporting men at home.
We are not stopping here, it is a case of the trainee becoming the trainer. We want to move to other parts of the country, but without funding we can’t do that because these girls are paid to learn.
SOS to FG
Our youngest CEO is 22 years and in Abuja; she is currently training three girls in her workshop. I am telling the world that if the Female Mechanics Initiative can train over 200 women in Lagos, 100 in
Edo, Kaduna and now we are in Kano, we can do more. We recently got funding from McCarthy Foundation in the US, sponsoring 20 female mechanics, 20 generator repairers, 20 female water pump repairers and installation technicians and 20 professional drivers in Kano.
I believe that as far as the manufacturers of motor vehicles continue to manufacture vehicles year in, year out, there must be job for female mechanics. We are appealing to the government that September is the 10th year of the Lady Mechanic Initiative; we are celebrating and also launching for the first time in the world the Lady Automobile Technicians of Nigeria.
I see the FG and the state government buying into the initiative because it is one way that they can reduce poverty, create employment and eradicate insurgency and social vices.