all started through dreams, at the age of 13. I saw Jesus Christ
teaching me how to fix cars in a series of dreams that lasted seven
nights. So, I started troubling my father to take me to a garage where
he fixed his car. But he said no. My mum said never, that I wanted to
bring disgrace to the family.
secondary school. I don’t think they had something they wanted me to do
then. But my dad was a farmer. He was the Vice President of the
then-Bendel State Farmers Council at the time, so he was doing a lot of
charity work with the farmers. I remember before that age (13), I would
go to a lot of small streams with my brother, where I would use copper
wires to build cars and then cut up rubber slippers to form tyres. I
would then attach the tyres to the car along with a rope, which I used
to pull the car. I started doing that before I had the dreams.
My dad got married to seven wives with 24 children. We are 11 girls and
13 boys. I think what influenced me most was the dreams; God ordained
that “Sandra, this is what you will do for the rest of my life.” My
parents did not agree to take me to a workshop. So, I stopped eating. I
was always quoting God to them that He said they should take me. They in
turn would tell me, “Where did you see God that told you?” When he
travelled to the United States and Manchester, England, he came back and
said he saw female aeronautic engineers. When I heard that, I said, “Oh
my goodness! Daddy, I don’t want any gift from you. Take me to a
workshop.” That was when he agreed. That was three to five months after I
had the dreams. My mother was an obstacle.
I was working like a robot. My teachers would tell me, “Go to the
toolbox, you will see (spanner size) 10/11.” I would dash back and forth
looking for people to tell me to go and bring tools. When I gave them
the tools, my hands would get oily and I would rub my hands on my
clothes. But what struck me was that the first day I got to the
workshop, I saw one big engine dismantled with dark engine oil running
down. I immediately fell in love with that black oil. That was the
beginning of what I wanted to become.
neighbourhood: “There is one girl at that workshop. She’s learning how
to fix cars.” All the kids and neighbours were waiting outside the
garage gate. When I left home that day, they were in front of me,
laughing at me. In humiliation, I was running and crying. When I got
home, my mum said, “Serves you right.” But my father said, “Let them
laugh at you today, but tomorrow, they will not laugh at you.” That gave
me more courage to pursue my dream.
was at the local garage in the old Bendel State for six years. That was
when we had a lot of Peugeot 404s and 305s. Those were cars whose parts
— the tie rods, ball joints, steering wheel, shock absorbers — one
would have to replace and refit. But that is not the case these days.
Interestingly, when the other men saw my enthusiasm, they started
encouraging me. They loved me for it. I was like their little sister.
Then, I could walk to the workshop barefoot. We didn’t know much about
safety in the garage at the time. It was about five minutes from my
secondary schools had morning and afternoon sessions. I would get to
school at 8 am and leave at 2 am. My overall was already in my school
bag. From school, I would dash to the garage and work till 6 or 7 pm. I
would then walk back home and help my home with housework, do my
homework, cook, wash dishes and the like. I still did all those things.
For her to discourage me from going to the shop (the following day), she
would give me more chores. But I would finish them that night. I worked
at the garage on Saturdays as well.
was still in the garage; I spent six years in the garage. I then
proceeded to Benin Technical College to take a vocational course in
automobiles. From there, I proceeded to Auchi and eventually got an
employment with Bendel Transport Service, Benin City (Edo State) in the
garage where I worked on their fleets, including 504 station wagons. The
transportation company’s vehicles would go to northern Nigeria and the
“Sandra, we have problems with our brakes. Can you help us fix it?” They
would often buy me one thing or the other, like drinks or snacks. When I
checked their vehicles, I fixed the problems. I soon began to notice
that they would travel for long distances and come back without faults. I
then realised that I could do more than I was doing. I worked with them
for two years and got another job with the Nigerian Railway Corporation
in Ebute Meta, Lagos State. That was in 1991.
working at the NRC, they began to have issues with non-payment of
salaries. I was praying and thinking about whether to move on to greener
pastures to work with any car company abroad. I knew I had the
competence and every other thing to work anywhere. So, I got my first
visa to Switzerland. When I got the visa, I wasn’t planning to look for
money to buy ticket. Back then, the ticket was sold for N9,000. As I
tried to raise the money, God would again appear to me and say, “Sandra,
get a set of spanners and go to a virgin land to start your workshop.”
And then I woke up.
brought me to Lagos was made Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr.
(Samuel) Ogbemudia. The (ministry) was on the seventh floor of the
Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, Lagos. Anytime I went visiting, I would go
to the balcony and see this virgin land. That was Abacha Estate, now
Second Avenue Estate. I was the first occupant at Abacha Estate. There
was not a single soul there then. I moved into the mini forest and
started to clear a portion to park a vehicle. While clearing, reptiles
and all kinds of creatures came towards my leg and I would run away. It
took me almost a month to clear a portion for one car. When I eventually
cleared that portion, I had a garage.
was proud to tell my father I had a workshop in Lagos. He asked me how
much I wanted and I said N800. He gave me the money and I returned to
Lagos. I made an iron box, bought a set of spanners, screwdrivers,
pliers, and the other tools that I needed. I started it all that with
N800. That was between 1995 and 1996.
featured on CNN, people started looking for me. When some of them came
to the shop, they said, “Please! What can a woman do?” I told them, “It
is not about gender. Bring your car, I will fix it for you.” Then they
said, “Woman na kitchen now. Which one you dey do for here?” I replied,
“No, don’t say that. Women don’t belong to the kitchen.” In fact, that
gave me a thick skin. There are a lot of women who have potentials; they
are confident. Women just need to be mentored and counselled for them
to have more drive to move themselves forward. So, I had to prove it; I
had to work 10 times harder than male mechanics. It wasn’t a bed of
roses. That was why I started Lady Mechanic Initiative in 2004 to start
empowering women mechanics. I started with the proceeds I got from my
workshop. When customers paid me labour charge, I gathered it and at the
end of the month, I would give these girls N5,000 each. I trained them
for three years in partnership with Peugeot Automobile Nigeria, Kaduna. I
rented a hostel and paid with my money.
the girls who I recruit from Kuramo (Beach), Lagos. It is a wonderful
thing. When I see them today, I remember how we took them out of the
brothels. Now, they no longer engage in social vices — selling their
bodies in exchange for men’s money. They have gone from being victims of
trafficking to female mechanics. They now have their dignity and
independence. We work with the vulnerable, school dropouts, married
women who want to acquire the skills, youth corps members who are only
knowledgeable about theory, etc. They use any of our modules ranging
from three months through six months and one year. The most important
thing is that our training is for free. In fact, we pay them N10,000
monthly to learn because know they don’t have money and we don’t want
them to fall back on those social vices.
beautiful. But I also love my job — I can sleep in the garage. I love my
family. I love my over 1,000 girls (trainees) in five states (Kano,
Kaduna, Abuja, Edo and Lagos); we are one big family. When they come to
me, I become like a mother. We talk about others things beyond just the
skills. We also do self-help programmes.