‘We need proper implementation of local content policy to grow our economy’
Olatokunbo Somolu is the first Nigerian woman to obtain Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. She retired over a decade ago as the Group General Manager Engineering and Technology Division of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). A remarkable display of her project skills was the supervision of the construction of the magnificent and world class NNPC towers complex, Abuja. In this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, Somolu, who is celebrating her 70th birthday today, spoke on the need for total implementation of local content policy in the country.
Most of the federal and states construction contracts are awarded to foreign engineering companies. Does it imply that Nigerian engineers lack the technical know how?
After the independence, Nigeria as a country was in a hurry to develop and we did not want to take chances. The country that time needed experts because we did not have experts to do the work and that was how the idea of contracting jobs to foreigners started.
Besides, the country has been exposed to foreign countries. Do not forget that Britain colonised Nigeria, so there is the desire to catch up. Take for instance, the construction of refineries was done by foreigners; there was no Nigerian company that could do that; the technology was not there. Most of the things used were imported. What the country would have done was to make it mandatory for the foreigners to involve our own people in the construction, and that was a big error. We do not have local content policy that will compel foreign companies working in our oil industries to partner with our people. There are still limitations here and there. We are still importing almost everything and that is the reason people are still crying over the state of steel and aluminum industries in Nigeria.
We have many big projects that would have helped our industrial revolution, but instability in the political leadership has been a major setback. A leadership would emerge after setting up certain things; another would emerge and pull it down. We need good leadership in this country. Nigerian engineers have been demanding for some of these contracts. In our sixty years of independence, we have a low level development. It has affected not only Nigerian engineers but also other fields. We are relatively young when we talk about civilization. We still have the opportunity to develop. We are not where we should have been. If we have had political stability, there would have been a lot of progress.
There is hope, Nigeria will get better, when l see a lot of programmes on the air where people are talking about the country, exposing things, people now have the opportunity to air their views to the government, I have hope, at the same time we all could have done better.
Reports have shown that professional women in Nigeria and beyond are doing extremely well in their chosen fields, but engineering is still said to be a male-dominated area. How do you react to this?
l graduated in 1973 as a Civil Engineer from the University of Lagos. At that time, we were like three to five women in both Civil and Electrical engineering classes. After our graduation there was no other woman studying engineering, but later, girls started coming into engineering classes. There was also this drive to go round schools to educate girls on the need to study engineering. It is not a difficult area, but it all depends on your brain power, it has nothing to do with your facial appearance. The injunction then was that as engineers, we have to use bricks and as mechanical engineers we must go under the car. That was indeed a rough notion. In reality, if one wants to go technical you still have to do those things. During our days, we had few engineering courses, but now there are different areas of engineering. More are coming up and our women are doing great in those areas. Also, in our meeting, we encourage more females to go into different kinds of engineering as it is not specifically meant for men.
Balancing the circular job and work in the home has been a major challenge confronting many career women. In what ways do you think that these women can achieve all round success?
Nothing in life is easy. Women need to be serious in whatever they do. They should be well organised. In my own time, l started with lecturing job because it would afford me the time to look after my children when they were very young. I couldn’t pursue a high fly job. It was later that I joined NNPC in 1982. It was a lot of moving around country’s major refineries such as Kaduna, Warri and Port Court. l did not have a social life. For a career woman to have all round success, the social life must go so that she would have enough time to concentrate on her job and the home. And that was what l did. As a matter of fact, when l went to NNPC, l disconnected a lot of things including family meetings except may be at Christmas periods. I did not have time for weddings. You cannot be in all the places at the same time. The idea of having aged parents, maids and aunties around is not the best because as a mother you need to have contact with your children so as to know who they are. Most mothers do not know their children because they do not spend quality time with them at home. As a mother, you should influence the character of your children and you can only achieve that when you are always around them.