Sandra Aguebor’s journey to being Nigeria’s first female mechanic began with a dream in the early eighties.
In the dream that would last for seven nights, Aguebor, who was 13, would see Jesus Christ teaching her how to fix cars.
“It didn’t take long before I started to take those dreams seriously,” she recounts in a chat with Punch.
Aguebor then shared her visions with her father. He was horror-struck by the information and ruled out completely the possibility of allowing his daughter to be a mechanic.
But after traveling to the United States and Manchester, England, his opposition to Aguebor’s vision melted away. He agreed to send her to the mechanic shop where he fixes his car after seeing female aeronautic engineers during his travels.
It took Aguebor’s father up to four months to allow her to go to the local mechanic shop to pursue her vision, the mother still held her support.
Aguebor began her mechanic lesson in 1983 at the local garage in the old Bendel State, spending 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.”
Even though it was a taboo then for a woman to venture into a male-dominated field, interestingly, when the other men saw her enthusiasm, they encouraged her. “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,” she recollects.
Aguebor trained at the local garage whilst she pursues her secondary school education. That was possible because then, in the eighties, Nigerian secondary schools had morning and afternoon sessions. She would get to school at 8am and close at 2pm.
“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,” she told Punch.
Aguebor was still at the garage after completing secondary school, spending six years. She then proceeded to Benin Technical College afterward to take a vocational course in automobiles. From there, she proceeded to Auchi, the second-largest city in Nigeria’s Edo State after Benin City, the capital.
She eventually got employment with Bendel Transport Service, Benin City (Edo State) in the garage where she worked on their fleets, including 504 station wagons. She moved to the Nigerian Railway Corporation in 1991, working with them for several years before launching her auto-garage called Sandex Car Care between 1995 and 1996.
After fixing cars for 36 years and running her garage for 22 years Aguebor has her sight becoming the first female to assemble vehicles in Africa.
“The prospects and work ahead make me feel excited even more than the awards we have received in the past. Until I start assembling vehicles in Nigeria, I won’t consider myself as being successful,” she told Punch.
“That is a dream I have had for a long time and we are gradually working towards achieving it. I want to be the first female mechanic to start assembling cars in Africa. That is my ultimate goal and I know I’ll achieve it by God’s grace.”
A documentary on her by Al Jazeera won an award at the New York Film Festival in 2015