Tessy Igomu, Lagos
Like the Queen of England, Elizabeth 11, who blazed the trial and served as a mechanic during the Second World War, this woman, has also set an unbeatable benchmark by delving into a terrain thought to be associated with only men. She is a brewing success in this particular field.
Call her a woman of uncommon mettle and unflinching courage, and you would have aptly described Abisola Sulaiman. Like many in her stead who are a huge success, she’s got an unbeatable spirit and mien that boldly speak of her capability with vehicles.
If she as much as sniffs any iota of doubt in a person’s demeanour concerning her ability as a professional mechanic, she wastes no time to blurt, “Being a female makes me even more meticulous as mechanic. This is a natural touch which is unrivalled by men.”
At the Gbagada Mechanic Village, where her workshop is located, she is the only woman among the hordes of male mechanics. With expertise that leaves many people in amazement, she glides underneath cars to inspect and change parts, and get her hands dirty in black engine oil. Decked in a blue overall with finely cropped hair, she barks out order to her apprentices, who ironically, are all male.
For Abisola, it takes self-confidence and sacrifice to be a female mechanic. “Most times, you have to be assertive and ambitious to compete favourably,” she said.
A native of Ikorodu Town in Lagos, this 42-year-old is a widow that decided not to allow the absence of her husband to demoralize her. Blessed with two children who are 16 and 13 respectively, she has used what she knows best to give her children the best education.
“My children attend the best schools and all this is possible through my work as a mechanic. My husband would be happy that life could still continue normally after his death,” she said.
Abisola has been into the profession for 10 years. This amiable woman specializes in Japanese cars, and mostly taking up space in her auto shop are Honda cars of various sizes and shapes.
The inspiration to become a mechanic, she said, came from watching male mechanics at work in her neighbourhood of Ikorodu. She noted that over time, she became bothered about not seeing women doing the ‘dirty job’ and became very curious.
Abisola however, took a bold step to fulfil her promise after noticing the plight of women who always get stuck with broken down cars, especially after a heavy down pour.
“I was usually worried each time I see women stranded when their cars break down. This is common when it rains. They usually look helpless because they can’t differentiate between engine and carburettor. At such point, I always wished they have an idea on what to do. This made me promise myself not to fall into such situation and to also help when I see my fellow women in such helpless situation. I then decide to become a mechanic after my school certificate examination,” she said.
After training as an Automobile Engineer at the Federal Technical College Yaba, and horning her skill as an apprentice for 5 years, one thing stood as a clog to Abisola’s wheel of success. She was scared stiff to be seen wearing a mechanic overall and being ridiculed by her friends who saw the profession as a ‘dirty job’.
In all, she dreaded being referred to as ‘Omo Feyingbole Grammar School’ (Back on the ground grammar school student), and out of shame, dodged each time she sights any of them.
“I didn’t want my friends to abuse me and call me names,” she recalled “But I told myself that it was a job that I liked, so I had to stay the course to the end, no matter what my friends call me. At a point, I became very proud of my profession, especially when most of them started bringing vehicles to our workshop and left satisfied with my work.”
This female mechanic says she is confronted daily by the reticence of men who find it difficult to leave their car in her care for repairs.
She admits that the battle against gender inequality is still far from being won, as she gets really challenged by even her male counterparts. She also confessed to facing a huge task of convincing customers about her ability to work effectively on their vehicle.
“Most of them look at me as a woman and not as a mechanic. Most customers would rather patronize a man than a woman because they are not sure of our ability as a female mechanics. But I usually tell them to try me first. No one has ever left my workshop without a smile,” She boasted.
Even though she sees herself as a woman in a man’s world, she is happy that women auto mechanics are no longer a rarity.
For this strong willed woman, there is no better profession for a woman to get into today. To her, it’s a more proud way to earn good money. Although, she confessed that it could sometimes be difficult to work in a male dominated environment, the feeling of accomplishing something that many women won’t dare try makes it all worth the while. On this, Abisola has this to say, “It takes more than a muscle to repair any vehicle. It also takes more than gender.”
Beyond giving her customers quality service, one mission Abisola has vowed to uphold is to train prospective women to become professional auto mechanics and rule in their own rights.