Engineer Felicia Agubata is the Chief Engineer at the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). She is also the President, Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN). In this interview, she harped on the importance of women engineers to remain in the field, without migrating to other sectors.
What prompted you to go into engineering?
My flair for mathematics and ability to fix damaged components of a system actually motivated me into studying engineering. I was good in sciences and mathematics.
It’s a man’s world, as we normally think but you are thriving at what you do.
I don’t believe that any course is exclusively for men. We are first and foremost humans, before the secondary categorization of men and women, black and white, short and tall. We are one race. Neither men nor women, black or white, short or tall is a repository of knowledge.
Intelligence is evenly distributed across board. Consequently, I think that engineering is for both sexes who are determined to excel. It is all about determination. What do you want to be and how well do you want to do it? If you are truly determined, have the right mindset and willing to put in extra effort you will achieve results.
As the President of Association of Nigerian Women Engineers, what should we expect from you?
The president is just a title, I have a team and we have already started work. During my inaugural speech, we listed six items on our agenda. We’ve departed station already, we have flagged off the Invent It, Build It programme in partnership with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) aimed at getting more females into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that will lead them to career in engineering across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. This programme is targeted at primary schools and the maiden edition was launched at Sarki Ahmadu Primary School (Central Primary School) Misau, Bauchi State. A foundation for a Science and Technology Laboratory was laid along with scholarships awarded ten students from Misau who want to study engineering. It was named after Dr. Maikanti Baru. The scholarship is from primary to university level and will start August this year . We also laid the first ever Science and Technology lab for a primary school in the country. The Bauchi event will serve as a prototype for other geopolitical zones. On June 29, we are going to Benin, Edo State, Ewuare Primary School, Oliha quarters, for our next Invent it, Build It programme. Others are Kano, Borno, Anambra (Uruekwo primary school, Enugwu-ukwu), Kogi (LEA primary school, Ankpa), Akwa-Ibom, and Ogun State.
We will also celebrate our courageous founders with annual public lectures. We need to celebrate them while they are still alive and not the generic post humous awards and annual lectures. The first was on May 8, 2018 for our founding president, who happens to be the first female registered engineer in Nigeria, Engr. Olutunmbi Joan Maduka. Another will be the Mayen Adetiba Technical Camp for girls scheduled for July 25-27 to ignite the passion for STEM in young secondary schoolgirls and Engr. Nkechi Isigwe Inaugral Lecture (NIAL series) scheduled to hold on October 10 at Umuahia, Abia State. We have also inaugurated two chapters in Bauchi and Bayelsa within few months and will be inaugurating more collegiate chapters in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and on June 30 in Edo State (Igbinedion University, Okada). We are still a work in progress but we will get to our destination by His grace.
Why are you passionate about girls?
Firstly, I am a woman and a mother; secondly, women are more vulnerable than the men, and statistics have also shown that less than 10% are in the STEM, by this I mean Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and we need to show the numbers, in doing that we need to increase our advocacy.
We are professional women association in Nigeria and our goal is to increase the number of girls in STEM that will eventually lead to the study of engineering. We cannot get girls to study engineering if we don’t get them to study STEM from primary schools. We need to demystify Science Technology and Mathematics for the girl- child in primary schools as a basic foundation towards the study of engineering. That is why we have to start from the grass roots and that accounts for being in the right area from the primary to the university level. Our advocacy for female is not just to get them to study engineering, but also practise and stay in the field.
Why is it that there is a dearth of women in the profession?
Of course there is, and there will always be, the misconception that engineering is for the guys alone is unfounded and of late a lot of women are going into the profession. The prospect of moving forward is even more reassuring.
Have you succeeded in your advocacy of women remaining in the field as practitioners?
I think we have many women practising engineering, for example in Oil and Gas, Engr. Vera Ntofon in NNPC is a Director and we are proud of her; in Exxon Mobil we have the first president of WIN, Engr. Opene-Odili and others. In construction, we have Engr. Kori Shettima , a civil engineer from Borno State who is behind the reconstruction in the state and she is a wife and mother but still practising . We are proud of these women.
We advocate competence and skill as what will define today’s woman.
With some of these women in engineering, why are expatriates still being hired by the Nigerian government?
That is why we need an enabling law. That is why the federal government is empowering our own local workers to be the ones at the helm of affairs and create an enabling environment for us. So far, we’ve made progress as regards women in engineering. It is gradual, though belated. The law is being implemented. We need to commend the government because it is working hard to get it done.
Who is your role model?
Many people I have come across. I imbibed some of their attributes I find striking. I definitely owe so much to people who impacted and shaped my life. I am not yet a finished product but still striving towards excellence.
My mother is a very strong and determined woman despite not being formally educated. I took my determined spirit from her. She was not in a position to advise me on a course to read but her can-do-spirit which I imbibed has always been a game changer for me. In terms of role models in engineering, Engineer Nwakaego Ojukwu whom I met at NAMA was and still a huge influence. I saw in her a woman who is determined and morally upright. I have also been privileged to associate and work closely with great minds and thoroughbred professionals who have had and are still having profound influence on my professional outlook. These are women who have made their marks in the profession and are forever pressing for the emergence of the Nigerian women- engineers. Engineer Joanna Maduka, Engr. Patricia Opene-Odili, Engr. Nnoli Akepdeye are all exemplary individuals and professionals. I am indebted to all of them .They are great motivators and sources of inspiration. The first female registered engineer in Nigeria, Engr. Mrs. Joan Maduka, is a total woman. They have not just done well professionally but have also kept their family and homes. They have maintained blissful marriages.
How does your husband support you?
Firstly, he understands the challenges of the profession. A man who has had the right levels of exposure and education and who is modern is an asset. While I enjoy his support, I also play my role as a housewife. You must strike a healthy balance to ensure that no role suffers.
This interview was first published in the SunNews