‘Engineers should be part of policy makers for development’
Mrs. Olufunmilade Akingbagbohun recently emerged as the chairman of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ikeja Branch. She told VICTOR GBONEGUN that engineers need to come up with inventions that can solve problems in Nigeria and get patent rights for them. She also called for improved advocacy to halt under-representation of women in the profession.
As the past chairman of Nigerian Institution of mechanical engineer, member of American Society for Women Engineers and Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN), do you think that women are equally represented in engineering? What could be done to eliminate the substantial gender gap and under representation of women in engineering?
We are not there yet, but we are on our way to getting there. Women are coming up and I am proud of the achievement we have made in the last 35years that APWEN has been created. I must commend the leadership of APWEN from Engr. Olu Maduka to the current president for the giant strides that women have taken in engineering profession. The gap is still wide, women representation is about 30per cent presently but we are trying our best and forging ahead. In the national executive of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, we have four women in the executive, five chairmen that are females out of the seventy-five branches.
For mechanical association, we have never have a female national chairman. I am the first female to become the chairman of the Lagos chapter. Some of the institutions are coming up to have females at the helm of affairs.Our expectation is that women should continue to do what they know to do well, strive hard to see how we could lead in the industry. Of course there are so many limitations for women but one of the things I always preach to women is that we should move out of the shadows and come into limelight. In terms of management, productivity, women know how to get the best out of everything that they do.
One of the things that APWEN has done to increase the numbers of women in engineering is to go to secondary and primary schools and preach about engineering to the girl-child. Engineering is not for only boys but it is also for girls. When I wanted to study engineering, people told me it is for men and not for women but I said no and I emphasised that ‘If there is moon in engineering, I wants to see the moon by myself’.
The gender gap is an African thing and to eliminate it, it is going to take a long time. As women we will continue to push, give our own quota into engineering. The Women arm of the Nigerian Society of Engineering has been embarking on a lot of advocacy programmes to ensure that more women study engineering. In recent times, because of the advocacy, more women have enrolled for engineering courses in higher institution especially in the electrical, chemical and civil engineering divisions.
The Federal government recently signed the Executive Order 5 on promotion of local content in science, engineering and technology. How do you assess the policy? In what way could the policy be best implemented?
The policy is exactly what we need at this moment. Without science, creativity, engineering and technology, you can’t build a nation. Engineering is the bedrock for any nation that wants to develop and because of that, the policy is coming a the right time when we really need the engineers to raise up and wake up to the call to ensure that technology drives innovations. Right now, engineers should be talking about inventions, patency from the federal government. We must look at inventions, what can engineers create. It seems like a shame in the engineering community to see ordinary toothpick been imported. We should look at how we could invent the machines that we need to produce something like that. We need to think of how we could fabricate the machines by ourselves to ensure that the nation develops. I must commend the government by coming up with the executive order five.The way, which the policy could be best implemented, is by involving the engineers. They could identify the gaps and make the difference as well as identify the things we need to develop in Nigeria.
What do you consider as major issues about non-involvement of Nigerian engineers in railway project?
Engineers are involved because I have interactions with the management of Nigerian Railways; regrettably, most of the projects in Nigeria now are white elephant projects, which involves politicians. That is why we are encouraging Nigerian engineers to get more involved in politics. Recently I went to Singapore, the government of that country has over five engineers in the council of the government.Engineers need to be more involved in policy making and if they are involved, it becomes easy to drive home our points. That is an area, which we need to focus more on apart from innovation and creativity. Engineers need to focus more on being part of the policy makers for the country.
What plans do your administration have to positively impact the profession?
The core areas I am looking at, is Research and Development (R &D). We need to do research and develop designs. We need to be innovative and because of that, some of the programs, which we are starting up, has do with the students not only the corporate members of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
I tagged my tenure enhancement and empowerment of engineering professionalism. That is the target and this cut across. We are starting a mentorship programme for the undergraduates in the Nigerian institutions. Most of the graduates of higher institutions are green, when you interview them, you find out that there is a limit to what they know and that means we need to seriously bridge the gap between the classrooms and the industry. We to go back to the school and bridge the gap so that when they come out, they would be well equipped.
We need to attach them to mentors who would teach them and learn through the practical experience. You find out that the I.T created by the government is not getting the result it should get. The numbers of students been turned out, don’t have enough places to do their Industrial training and so ends up do nothing during their I.T. They are not getting the experience they should get and so we want to set up a scheme to mentor them as undergraduates, attach them to professionals who are already in the field. Through that they would have the experience they needed and so there would be smooth transition from the classroom to the industry.
For the corporate members, we are going into a lot of things. We are starting an innovation and creativity fair wherein engineers are expected to come up with designs. We want to see them, what problems they could solve within the community. We are also looking at the area of business and entrepreneurship because the focus as an engineer should be how do you start a business with machines that could be self invented, generate money for personal development. A lot of our engineers come out and say they don’t have jobs. They need to think without the box not within or outside the box. The box limits you and so they should think without the box to make progression in life. We need engineers to succeed as a nation. We are also looking at a scheme for the elders who have retired as an engineer from professional practice.
I meet a lot of young engineers outside the country and they inventing things, which they could sell to other countries. We have the knowledge and the technological know-how but all that we need is to a little push to apply them, empower ourselves and be creative.
How do you view calls for members of NSE to be involved in active politics? What benefit would it bring to the profession?
If they were involved in policy making, they would be able to do policies that would enhance and promote production, touch the issue of power problem. Everybody is thinking of solar, winds and other products that are not even generated within Nigeria But why can’t we solve the power problem within Nigeria. It is economical and political but if engineers were involved in policy making, they would be able to itemize the problem and ensure that there is solution. A lot of times when you talk to senior engineers in those political positions, they would tell you that their hands are tied, they would say they have submitted proposals and solutions but they are not been done because they are not the politicians. Nigerian engineers need to be proactive and demand the confidence of those in government that they could do infrastructural job well. Every engineer should take extra miles to show their confidence and competency for jobs.
What roles do you think Nigerian engineers should play toward Nigeria’s infrastructural development, engineering innovations and growth?
If you are looking at development, it revolves around the engineers. They have a major role to play by ensuring that innovations are done in Nigeria, which could improve the nation. They should ensure that things that would ensure the growth of the community are done. In advance countries, most of the things you see there are as a result of technological advancement which help the masses to live a more comfortable life. They should ensure that the communities live well. Take for instance, processing of foods, they should make sure that getting them to the masses is free of hassles. Also transportation, and other infrastructural development has to do with engineering. They should lead innovation in terms of agriculture, production, manufacturing, urban development, road construction and modalities of transportation.
Most complains about graduate engineers is that they lacked the exposition and needed capacity for professionalism. In what ways is the Nigerian Society of Engineers addressing the concerns?
We have identified the situation for a while now and some of the steps taken is to be involved in the curriculum of the schools. Technological advancement is taking place everyday and so we need to go back to the curriculum of the students and look at how to improve it to ensure that after the classroom the students have the capacity to be employed in the workforce.
We need to have a sort of internship for them to be able to learn under tutelage apart from the Youth service scheme. We will also be launching a mentorship scheme for the students to be able to participate. We are also planning an electronic-library where the people could come in and do research and development.