Nigeria’s Top 10 Champions of Youth Empowerment – Sandra Aguebor

Engr. Sandra Aguebor is the founder of the Lady Mechanic Initiative (LMI), a non-profit organisation she established in 2004. The initiative focuses on empowering girls and women with mechanical skills to help them become professionals in the field of automobile repairs.

Vulnerable girls and women are the special target by the initiative towards equipping them with technical and mechanical skills for better lives. Headquartered in Lagos, LMI are the operators of SANDEX Car Care – an auto repairs garage.

With LMI, Aguebor has come to occupy a very unique space in the world of vocational skills acquisition, employment and job creation in Nigeria and beyond. Known to be the first female auto mechanic in Nigeria, she has multiplied the number in less than 20 years.

She gathers the rejects of society off the streets for skills development – women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, those failed by the education system, those trafficked or trapped as sex slaves, struggling single parents, victims of child labour and others stigmatised by cultural, religious and gender biases.

Her skills acquisition programmes are designed to make positive, real and measurable impacts, providing comprehensive hands-on skills training and classroom curriculum in auto mechanic/electrical, professional driving, generating sets repair, speedboat repair and house plumbing.

She also offers additional programmes that provide education and training in productive/employable skills such as customer care, communications and business etiquette, personal development, relationship and financial management.

She runs a number of free training courses from which trainees come out ready to deploy their skills. These include lady automobile technician training programme that offers a professional mechanical (auto technician) training course designed to empower girls and women with skills and competences needed to repair vehicles of any kind. It also incorporates comprehensive training in car electrical designs, repairs and diagnostics.

LMI’s state-of-the-art auto garage/training facility in Lekki, Lagos, provides a work station equipped with modern car repair and diagnostic tools for training on latest vehicle models. Since 2004, LMI has empowered many girls and women, who now run their own garages across the country.

Another training programme is a professional driving course for girls and women. The comprehensive drivers’ training programme equips trainees with adequate skills and competencies for professional driving jobs at any level. Qualified candidates match driving competences required by local and multinational organisations, government agencies and parastatals such as LAMATA, LAGBUS, FAAN’s Airport Shuttles, LAWMA as well as private businesses and individuals.

In addition to the normal training on driving, trainees are equipped with skills and competencies needed to overcome life-threatening situations on the road and the right mental attitude needed for safe driving. They are also schooled on continuing developments in the automotive industry as regards safety and ability to carry out first diagnostic work on faltering vehicles before calling out for external help.

Training of speedboat technicians is designed for women in the coastal areas of Nigeria, where water transportation is the popular means of moving people and goods and rendering other services. The programme provides hands-on training on speedboat body and engine repairs and servicing. Trainees are given an opportunity of internships with major speedboat producers and country representatives in addition to swimming/survival skills training.

Aguebor trains generating sets repair experts under comprehensive petrol-generator repairs training course. The programme includes assembling of component parts as well as installations. On graduation, trainees have the competence to repair the petrol engine of all sizes of generating sets.

LMI also offers speedboat driving course for girls and women in the coastal areas. Trainees learn driving and maintenance of speedboats in addition to diagnostic ability. They also undergo intensive training in swimming and water survival skills backed by an extensive understanding of the waterways. They are equally given entrepreneurship training for them to manage small scale businesses successfully.

LMI’s training and empowerment programmes include a summer school that provides an enlarged opportunity for young girls from diverse economic and social backgrounds to be exposed to the fundamentals of automobile repairs. Participants get the practical exposure of working side by side with Aguebor plus guidance on the opportunities inherent in the automotive industry.

Aguebor’s story reveal her fascination with automobile and engines right in her early teens. Encouraged by her father, she pursued her interest through educational training and earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

After graduation, she worked for Edo Line and subsequently Nigeria Railway Corporation before setting up her own auto repair garage. Good quality jobs delivered attracted lots of customers to her workshop, which paved the way for major repairs contracts for large fleets of trucks with broad distribution networks throughout Nigeria.

She was not deterred by an action of the land authorities in Lagos that demolished her workshop. Instead, she turned her private car into a mobile workshop, patrolling Lagos freeways providing on-the-spot emergency vehicle services. Soon, two workshops sprang up in Lagos in place of the one demolished.

The reality of life is that the people that pull you down when you are struggling are often the same that rejoice with you when you succeed. Aguebor has received the inspirational woman of the year award by the Lagos State government for using her “skills and talent to make positive impact to society in an area dominated by men”.