On a bright, sunny day in June, Engr. Mrs. Grace Chijimma Ezema (nee Ezekoka) was born to the family of Chief Isaac N. Ezekoka and Mrs. Angelina Ezekoka in the city of Port-Harcourt, Nigeria which is situated in the present-day Rivers State. She is the first child of an industrious and God-fearing family that was blessed with 9 children.
Grace started her academic training at the Township School, Port-Harcourt. In 1956, she gained admission to the prestigious Queen’s School, Enugu which she attended from 1956 to 1962 and got her Grade I from W.A.S.C (Sciences). She also participated in school sports where she excelled, winning some medals. Upon graduation from Queen’s School, she went on to attend the Federal Science School, Lagos to study Pure Mathematics/Applied Physics for the attainment of her A’ Level in G.C.E which was the sequence in education in Nigeria for students that intended to go further with their education. At this stage in her life, Grace had set a standard for herself never to embrace failure but to be the best she could at any endeavor she chose or was called upon to engage in.
Of the five universities then established in Nigeria, she decided to study Electrical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria at a time when the waters of the engineering field were new and seemed very challenging for the male folk, much less a female in Nigeria. Most of her classmates back at Federal Science School, Lagos were men and chose engineering courses in Universities but encouraged her to go for a “feminine” course. This only strengthened her resolve to pursue this career path which she believed was a worthy cause for her ever inquisitive and knowledge seeking mind.
Grace gained admission to ABU in 1963 and graduated in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. While at ABU, she was awarded an academic scholarship by the National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) for being a pioneer in the Engineering profession and to serve as an encouragement for other females to go into the Engineering profession in Nigeria. Due to her outstanding academic performance, she was given automatic employment by NEPA, with her first assignment being as a Communications Engineer stationed in Lagos from 1966 to 1967.
Her achievement as being the first female engineer in Nigeria quickly brought her to limelight with several articles and media publications written about her. At NEPA, she thrived and rose through the ranks, holding several positions in various locations – Research Engineer at Afam Power Station in 1967, Commercial Engineer in Lagos in 1971 and Mains Engineer in Kaduna in 1972. During this time, she enrolled in the Nigerian Institute of Management in 1973 and got a certificate in Management.
In 1973 while stationed in Kaduna, she met a young man, Dr. Paul O. Ezema, who was a Lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. They got married on the 28th of December 1974 at Holy Ghost Cathedral, Enugu. Her chief bridesmaid at her wedding is no other than Engr. Mrs. Mayen Adetiba, first female engineer from South-South of Nigeria.
With family obligations thereafter, Grace was transferred to NEPA Enugu offices as a Planning and Construction Engineer, a capacity she served from 1974 to 1978. In 1975, she attended an all-expenses paid conference organized by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, United States Department of State, Washington D.C, U.S.A. at bringing foreign nationals nominated by the American Foreign Service posts for outstanding performance to America to consult with colleagues gain practical professional training and experience.
In 1978, she resigned from N.E.P.A and started her own company – Guftane Engineering Nigeria Limited having gained adequate knowledge of the Electrical Engineering profession. She took this decision to devote more times to family.
As the Managing Director/C.E.O. of her company, Grace made her mark by undertaking and delivering on contracts for rural electrification projects that were ongoing in various rural areas in the country at the time. She was also appointed as a member of the Governing Council of I.M.T where she also served from 1979 to 1983.
Grace , who is known for being very industrious decided to go into agriculture. She founded a company, Pisces Integrated Farms Limited, which contributed livestock and food to the total agricultural output of Enugu State. She got government recognition for her endeavors in Agriculture under the governorship of Hon. Dr. Okwesileze Nwodo and was appointed a member of the Enugu State Think Thank committee on the Industrial Development of Enugu State in 1992, with Chief Nduka Eya serving as the Special Adviser to the Governor on Commerce, Industry and Technology. Unfortunately, the opportunity for Grace to contribute substantially in this committee towards the development of Enugu state was cut short by the military coup of General Sani Abacha in 1993 which ousted the democratically elected government in Nigeria at that time. She however continued her entrepreneurial exploits through Guftane Engineering Ltd and Pisces Integrated Farms Ltd.
In 1998, Grace accepted an offer of appointment as a Senior Lecturer in the Electrical & Electronics Department of the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu. She lectured and mentored students and continued to be a source of motivation especially the females. She served as Head of Department between 2004 and 2006 before retiring from service.
In engineering profession, aside for being pioneer in the profession among women in the country, she play active roles in development of the profession. Grace is a registered member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and Council of Registered Engineers (COREN). She is also a founding member of the Association of Professional Women in Nigeria (APWEN), joining delegations to represent Nigerian female engineers at International Engineering conferences in South Korea, France and the United States.
Given her academic background, it is no surprise therefore that Grace spared no effort in educating her children in the best schools available. Today, Chioma is also an engineer, Nkemjika is an economist and an entrepreneur, Kasiemobi is a Computer Scientist and an entrepreneur while Nonso is a medical doctor. She is now a grandmother with 9 grandchildren. Her hobbies are many as she never keeps still but include reading, gardening/farming, theatre/movies and spending time with family.
We thank God for the wonderful life Grace has been blessed with and the trail blazing steps she took which has brought us to this joyous occasion, in recognition of her bold and significant life.