Engineer Ishimdi Yohanna Edit is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). She was NSE vice president between 2017 and 2018. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she speaks on the challenges women engineers face in Nigeria, even as she insists that the non-inclusion of women engineers is a serious draw back to the general growth of the profession.
Nigeria marked its 59th anniversary recently, would you say women engineers have made commensurate advancement?
Women in engineering, 59 years after independence form less than 0.1 per cent of the professionals, and that is not healthy for us, not healthy for what we want to achieve as women, even men in engineering.
So, how are women engineers fairing?
Women engineers face quite enormous challenges in Nigeria but there is no giving up because challenges are part of life. We are moving.
If I say it is easy to be in a profession where ratio is like 1-1000 I will be lying because someone, somewhere, wants to tell you that by African culture you as a woman should be lower at all times. That your voice must not be heard, even in a meeting where issues are discussed you should be the last to speak and your opinion should be the last to be considered.
I mean, you begin to wonder, we did same exams, sat in same classrooms and possibly I performed better than you. So, it is a big challenge we are battling with. And today, in our professional body, since over 61years we have never had a female president, 61 good years not a single female president.
How has the association of women engineers used this body to address issues affecting women?
Yes, we have association of women engineers but it is still under the Nigerian Society of Engineers. It is a division, an arm.
Look at COREN as well, since its existence back in the 70s there has never been a female president or registrar or executive secretary just like NSE. So, the challenge is enormous but by God’s grace we will beat this.
What’s the effect of non-inclusion of women on the profession?
The non-inclusion of women is one of the major problems of Nigeria today. Women are underutilized, forgetting that they see beyond the present because what a woman sees sitting down a man can’t see standing.
The heart of a woman is unique because she sees the future and when we think, act, and do things, we see the future ahead but a man wants to implement based on present circumstances but that is not what God has created a woman for.
The challenge of engineering practice in Nigeria is due to the failure of allowing female input in the regulations of the engineering profession.
What would you say were your achievements as NSE vice president?
I served as NSE vice president two times, national executive member two times and other females too have been in the executive. But before we would finish our tenure we were terminated.
I call on Nigeria engineers to give females a chance because we have what it takes to make sure that engineering practice is given its rightful place.
What other challenges does NSE face?
Have you ever heard an engineer being the minister of health? Let me remind you that a decade ago, a female pharmacist was nominated to serve as a minister of health. That list did not reach the Senate because the medical doctors said no and stood by it but today who is the minister of works, minister of transportation? They are lawyers so it is just for the NSE to come together put the house in order and by so doing we would be allowed by the federal government to captain the boat of our core ministries like works, power, and transportation.
As a woman, do you regret choosing the engineering profession?
Impossible! I have never regretted and would never. When I was in the university my hopes were always high and I was the best, in my primary and secondary schools I was best in my class, representing my school in maths among others. But we have come out of school and the reverse is the case, those who found it difficult to make it in school are now leading us. When policies are made they are first consulted.
So, there is a serious gender issue that needs serious minded Nigerians to address in order to bring sustainable national development to the NSE and Nigeria in general. If you remove engineering there is no Nigeria and no developing as a nation.
Can you speak on the recently concluded annual conference?
The conference was apt; the meeting which was on disrupting energy is like a routine for NSE. On annual basis each branch organises the conference. The theme of the conference was: Utilizing Emerging Disruptive Technologies for Sustainable national development.
Sustainability is having future in your plan. So, you don’t do something detrimental or that will negatively affect the future.
We are developing as a nation, at 59 we should be better, but it depends on the yard stick we are using to analyse. For me, we have done well and there are rooms for improvement so the younger generation will have no reason to insult us.
What is your take on the increasing rate of building collapse?
The high rate of building collapse is a policy issue because there is no much policy to back up the increasing building collapse. Most buildings that collapse are those built by untrained personnel and they are many in the society today. Imagine a man who doesn’t know what re-enforcement means getting a building contract and then engages a contractor who wants to make profit. There are lots of things involved in this today and it is really not a good sight.
When untrained people handle building projects there are usually lots of compromise. For instance using wrong materials and all of such issues are likely to arise.
These issues cannot be blamed on Nigerian engineers. It is a problem of Nigerian engineers not being allowed to do their job.
How can this problem be addressed to avoid more loss of lives and property?
It is easy. The executive order has been signed by the President but is there adequate political will power to implement this order? There is this big problem of asking a beginner, who is competent to drop a balance of N50 billion before dropping proposal for a project. This is not possible. The regulators demand for items that are highly capital-intensive but if they can break projects into little proportions so that beginners can start something it will be welcomed because a lot of good and competent engineers are not getting contracts
What exactly do you mean by engineers not getting contracts; there are building projects all over?
What I mean is that in drafting policy there should be room for merit and competence. Looking at our capital projects, who are the companies that these projects are awarded to?
Many engineer’s CVs are being used without them knowing and that is why at implementation in Nigeria experts are really sidelined in the budget.
The National Assembly should have a committee of experts to look at the budget on annual basis because there is a lot of repetition on the budget on yearly basis. For instance, people no longer see government as service to the people but for self interest. People don’t have regards for integrity unlike before when you are given an office your heart will beat for what to do so you can be remembered, that is missing today but in my own I think integrity is important for national development.
Why does the NSE and Quantity Surveyors constantly clash, where should both professions draw the line?
Quantity surveyors have their work, which is glaring. We shouldn’t be having issues. There shouldn’t be any disputes if we are working towards national development. We should all be proud of our different professions because we are unique in our own way and should do well separately.
On capital projects, somebody said engineers have no business in costing and I laughed because if I could bring this down to a woman’s kitchen to make a good egusi soup there are different species of egusi and to make a good soup with lump I know the specie to buy. So, for somebody to now say I should not have business with egusi is laughable and one may ask what kind of soup do you want to make?
We can never achieve what all of us are clamouring for from engineering and national development by creating disparities because if you do that there would be problem.
What is your advice to government concerning the engineering profession?
The federal government should please give Nigerian engineering power to deliver on what they have been trained to do.