For seven nights in the early 80s, 13-year old Sandra Aguebor dreamt that Jesus Christ was teaching her how to fix cars. Young Aguebor then decided to tell her father about the dream.
It didn’t take long before I started to take those dreams seriously.
But her father was against the idea of his daughter being a mechanic. During the time in Africa, the society still had clear distinctions on the type of jobs for each gender. That could be the reason Aguebor’s father wasn’t for the idea. It was uncommon for women to do jobs such as fixing cars at the time.
However, he traveled to the United States and Manchester in England, after which he changed his mind. During his tour, he saw female aeronautic engineers. Therefore, he decided to allow his daughter to learn the skill. He sent her to the mechanic shop, where he fixes his cars. He finally allowed her to go to the local mechanic shop to take the lessons after four months.
So, Sandra Aguebor began her lessons in 1983 at the local garage in Old Bendel State. She took the lessons for six years. She recalls how things were then.
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.
Surprisingly, with the field being heavily dominated by men, the men cheered her on when they saw how passionate she was about the job. This was despite the fact that many people still considered it inappropriate for women.
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 school.
Aguebor had to multi-task because she was also a student undergoing her secondary school education. Luckily, Nigerian Secondary schools had two different sessions then, morning and afternoon sessions. So, Aguebor would go to school during the morning session, after which she would go for her mechanic lessons.
I was in secondary school at the time and would resume at the workshop after school hours. I always had my overalls in my bag so that I could go straight to the workshop once I was done in school for the day.
After six years of training at the workshop, Aguebor, moved to Benin City to take a vocational course in automobiles. Bendel Transport Services in Benin City, Edo State, eventually employed her in the garage, where she worked on fleets. She then worked for the Nigerian Railway Corporation before setting up her auto-garage, Sandex Car Care, between 1995 and 1996.
After being in the game for 36 years, Aguebor is Nigeria’s first female mechanic. She hopes to be the first female to assemble vehicles in Africa.
A documentary about Sandra Aguebor by Al Jazeera won an award at the New York Film Festival in 2015.