‘Government does not recognise its engineering manpower’
Mrs. Joanna Maduka is the president of Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAE),and first president of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN). In this interview with Victor Gbonegun, the founder of Friends of the Environment (FOTE) spoke on science, technology and engineering development in Nigeria, the challenges of women engineers and other issues.
Nigerian Academy of Engineering’s objective is to provide input and leadership in technological development and policies. How much of these have been achieved by the association?
We have not achieved as much as I would have liked because of environmental issues. First, the academy is not for young engineers, it is not for neophytes because if there is a problem, we want people who will give solutions immediately.
Most of us are retired public servants or private sector engineers who must have reached the peak of our profession. When we are inducting, in addition to everything else, there is an unwritten law that says anybody below certain age cannot come in, no matter how bright because we don’t want people who will come in here and start running round for contracts.
As far as impact is concerned, we made an input when electricity business was first deregulated. We have also made other impacts in civil engineering, and in different arms of engineering. What we tried to do is to take what you can call the societal problem, look at it, make our own inputs and many times, both government and policy makers use our inputs.
Wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy could be the fastest growing power sources over the next few decades. Can renewable energy address Nigeria’s electricity problem?
Renewable energy is very expensive at least for now. When you are talking of solar, again people studying this technology and the impact on the general public, found out that if you want to generate 10 MegaWatts of solar energy in this compound, the land area that it will take, will be up to one hectare, and it will also involves the cost of the panels. Though it is very good but it is very expensive.
Calculating the energy per unit is twice or three times what NEPA was sometimes ago. Also, the maintenance maybe easier but the distribution is still the same and then you found that some people were bringing in sub-standard panels and these things will work for a little while and just packed off. So there are problems everywhere.
Science and technology is central to the development of any nation, what is the academy doing towards promoting the field in Nigeria particularly, in this era of our economic life?
Engineering is the basis of all the classes of our economic life; in industries, oil and gas, in infrastructure and any endeavour you can think of. Our engineers are making impacts in all these areas. The problem is that government does not recognise its engineering manpower enough. Though problems are solved by Nigerian engineers when referred to them, most of the time, government does not appreciate their contributions. We find out that in many bodies, committees and commissions that government sets up most of the time, engineers in many places are not involved and this is not good for our economy.
Even in the new economic recovery group, I don’t know how many engineers are there. This is one of the things I think we need to iron out because Nigeria can’t have full economic recovery without technical manpower and that is why up-till now we have always been consumers.
Occupying your position is rare for women folks. What are you doing to ensure that more of new entrants to the profession as well as ensuring that there are training for them to boost their capacity?
I started the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) in 1982 with five other younger engineers, we got registered in 1983 and the main objective of that body when I looked around and found that there weren’t many women engineers and the few of us that were there, were not been treated well enough by our male counterpart. So we had to start to encourage more young women into engineering. We had to start mounting talks in secondary schools, encouraging women to take science and mathematics because these were subjects that were not attractive to women and girls. Thank God we have been successful so far. We have branches now at least in more than 30 states of Nigeria and our membership is over three thousand which is still very small compared to the total number of maybe fifty but we have made quite a bit of progress. As far as the academy is concerned, during my time I have made it a special mission that more women must come in. There are four of us so far who are members of the academy, two or three will be joining us this year and next year I hoped more of them will be able to join us. To join, we don’t apply somebody must bring you in. Most of us are over sixty and we don’t intend to go below that except you are a genius.
What are the challenges for the women folks in the field of engineering and how have you been able to tackle them?
One of the main challenges is at least in the old days, the situation is better now, is that people are not saying when you are introduced as engineer; oh so you are an engineer! I have never seen one in my entire life. People are now proud to say that my daughter is an engineer so definitely, we are faring better but in those days, it was a rare fact because our men folks did not give the women a chance. For instance, I had to intervene in a few situations where a male boss doesn’t think he can utilize the knowledge of a female engineer. Some of the men are even making them more like the secretary and the tea girl because they couldn’t imagine what the women engineers can do but with our push and campaign, the situation started changing. For instance, people don’t think women could go to site to supervise projects, couldn’t go to the rig, the oil industry. All these took time to say that if somebody whether man or woman decides to go into this profession, he/she should be exposed to whatever it takes and so we don’t want anybody to be protected. If it is of course something too hard for them, then we can decide and not that you assume that they are not capable and so that was a good campaign, my main advocacy in the field of engineering.
When you look at the Nigerian environment particularly in the Niger Delta region, the hazards faced by the people, what should the government and other stakeholders do to urgently salvage the plights of the people in that area?
Environmental challenges are not what you can solve in one day. The environmental issue of the Niger/Delta started since the early 1990s’ when the people have been shouting about their environment and government I am happy is paying some attention to them now and that is why we have some quiet. Recently we had the president talking about this modular refinery. In fact, it is one of the things we have on our plate here. Instead of destroying the illegal refinery, how can you bring them in and make them legal and am happy that government has looked at that, plans to group them together, give them crude oil, not the one they will have to steal and bring them up as legal entities and give them the modular refineries which will not be far from the supply of oil. So you don’t have to spend too much on infrastructure to get to this small refineries and they can produce whatever they need locally there, and so there will be less pollution because most of this pollution is actually when the indigenes are trying to take oil illegally, they puncture a pipe, there is spill, and they take their own out of it. If we are lucky that can bring them under the umbrella as the government is thinking, it will be a very good step forward.