• I lost my spouse to become mechanic –Trainee
By Sam Otti
Mrs Tina Mba, a widow and mother of four, went to school in her old age. At 42, she registered for a training programme in automobile repairs at the Lady Mechanic Initiative (LMI), Lagos and became the oldest female motor- mechanic in Nigeria. She will be 50 in December.
Mba told Education Review that she has no plan to retire from her job yet, which provides her the income to send her two children to the university. She works from dawn to dusk, crawling underneath faulty automobiles, often jacking up heavy vehicles in her working place, Automatic Fit and Energy Company, Sura, Lagos.
Mba said the Lady Mechanic Initiative (LMI) has become a lifeline and school of skills for vulnerable women. She admitted that hundreds of jobless ladies had been lifted from poverty through the training programme that offers them instant employment on graduation.
“Things would have been really difficult for me if not for this job. I became a mechanic in 2009. Aguebor, popularly called Lady Mechanic, trained me and went ahead to get a job for me. She never asked me for kobo throughout my training. I am proud to be a motor mechanic today”, she said.
Mba is one of the numerous graduates of LMI, which operates a workshop at Jakande Roundabout, Lekki, Lagos. Over 700 female mechanics had passed through the training programme since its inception 12 years ago. The programme was initially designed to discourage young Nigerian ladies from going abroad for prostitution, and teach them skills for employment.
The founder of Lady Mechanic Initiative, Mrs Sandra Aguebor, said the programme established in 2004 has become an oasis of hope for vulnerable girls. She said the initiative provides vocational education, employment and job creation for women. Lessons on personal development, she further explained, were later introduced into the training programme, in addition to mentorship and career guidance to help the trainees succeed in their chosen vocations.
Aguebor told Education Review that the Lady Mechanic Initiative had established linkages for industrial training with global car manufacturers, to make the female graduates of the programme employable in key sectors.
“Over 80% of Lady Mechanic Initiative’s graduates get a job or start their own automobile repairs business. These girls/women not only improve their own life chances, but also train and employ other young women, thereby contributing to the welfare of their families and communities. The value chain is endless”, she said.
Aguebor said the LMI School of Automotive Engineering, which runs for 24 months, provides free training programmes in car electrical designs, repairs and diagnostics. There is also a training programme on speedboats, engine repairs as well as professional driving course for girls and women.
The six-month driving course was implemented some years ago in Kano State, where young girls and women underwent comprehensive driving school programme. Several other women benefitted from the programme across other states.
Several young women participating in the programme shared their experiences with Education Review. Miss Joy Azubuike, 21, from Imo State, who had spent 15 months in the programme, said she aspires to study Mechanical Engineering in the university. Despite her enthusiasm, she faces pungent criticism and derision from some people, whom she said, cast stones at her for choosing a dirty job.
“Being a mechanic is not so cheap. It comes with a price. It takes lots of determination and hardwork. Yet, people look down so much on us. The Igbo culture encourages early marriage for young girls but my dream is to acquire skills and impart on others. The skills I learn here will make me employable in the automobile industry and equally set food on my table”, she said.
Another trainee, Joy Ihaza, a single mother, also spent 15 months in the training programme before going for her Industrial Training at Cummines West Africa. She told this reporter that enrolling in the training programme was the best decision she ever made.
“Look at so many graduates without job. When you learn skills, it provides a guarantee for job. My daughter will be proud that I am doing a decent job to feed her and that will make me fulfilled. I dont need to ask men for money to feed,” she said.
Working as a motor mechanic also cost Ihaza her relationship with her spouse living abroad. Her words: “My spouse staying abroad saw my pictures on my Facebook wall where I was wearing the workshop coat and frowned at my job. He wanted to drag me down but I told him that since he is not proud of my job, I will quit the relationship. Since I am not into prostitution or something illegal, I expected him to be proud of me and not the other way round. Leaving him for the sake of my job was the biggest sacrifice I made”, she explained.
Another trainee, Gift Igbineweka, from Benin, said those that reject the job suffer low self-esteem. “I am not ashamed at all. I wear my workshop coat. I am very happy when I wear it with the name, Lady Mechanic, written on the back. As ladies, being a mechanic doesn’t kill our beauty”, she argued.
The training programme has become popular among students in several secondary schools in Lagos, with the Lady Mechanic After School Club programme. The programme is also in partnership with the National Productivity Centre, National Automobile Association, Nigerian Automobile Technicians Association, among others.
Miss Esan Comfort, 13, a JSS 3 student of Community Junior Secondary School, Gbara, is participating in the After School Club programme. Barely few months after she joined the programme, she excitedly told this reporter that she could repair household generators.
Also, 13-year-old Omojulowo Ife, a student of Ilasan Junior Secondary School, said combining the Lady Mechanic After School programme and her normal school lessons has increased her interest in sciences courses, especially in the field of engineering.
A graduate of Mechanical Engineering, Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger State, Mrs Joy Obi Amuche, who is also the Vice President, Lady Mechanic Initiative, said she has been a motor mechanic for the past 18 years. With her laptop, she could trace any technical fault in any Mercedes Benz vehicle at the blink of an eye.
Amuche displayed her skills during the visit of the First Lady of Germany, Daniela Schadt, who visited the female mechanics in their workshop recently.
She had been working with Mercedes Benz company, Lekki as a Technical Specialist/Diagnostic Engineer for the past 18 years.
“I have trained a lot of boys that now operate their own workshop. I have worked on Fashola’s car when he was the governor of Lagos State. I have also worked on Akpabio’s car, as well as cars of some ministers, deputy governors, actors, actresses and others. They bring their cars to our office in lekki”, she explained in an interview with this reporter.
Married with four kids, Amuche spends her days in the mechanic workshop. In fact, her husband wanted an end to her career when she had her first baby but she persevered. Her passion for the job was such that she kept working even when she was heavily pregnant.
“It was a passion that started when I was a young girl. My sister had a shop in an auto garage. When I saw black people repairing cars produced by white men, I became so interested. The more my sister flogged me to dissuade me from going to watch them loosening and tightening the nuts and bolts, the more interested I became in the job”, she explained.
She described Aguebor, the founder of Lady Mechanic Initiative, as a great mentor, whose positive influence helped her in self-discovery. Although female mechanics spend their days in the workshop, she insisted that her job doesn’t interfere with her domestic chores. In fact, she said she was working during her pregnancy and delivered less than 12 hours after she had closed her work in the workshop.
The Lady Mechanic Initiative has attracted international recognition, with top officials of some foreign countries expressing their interest in the training programme.
During her visit to the workshop, the First Lady of Germany, Schadt, fell in love with the programme that she quickly put on the blue workshop coat and spent three minutes loosening an engine bolt. She gladly took away the mechanic tool-kit presented to her by the female mechanics, in what was believed to be an open endorsement of the not-for-profit initiative.
While inspecting the trainees, Schadt admitted the strength required for the job, while acknowledging the need for skills. She left the young trainees excited by promising to practice what she had learnt. “I will use it. I promise,” she said.
Aguebor appealled for collaboration between the Lady Mechanic Initiative and car manufacturing companies in Germany to boost knowledge transfer and creation of more job opportunities for Nigerian women. She promised that the group would continue to work tirelessly to empower more women to enable them compete favourably with men in automobile repairs.
She also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to extend a hand of fellowship to Lady Mechanic Initiative to expand the training programme to other states and create more jobless opportunities for millions of Nigerian youths, especially women.
“We need more partners. Various individuals, corporate firms and state governments can sponsor jobless girls in this programme. Equipping one lady with employable skills will go a long way in feeding an entire family”, she said.