10 Nigerian Women Pulling Their Weights In The Sciences

By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja

We live in a world that celebrates patriarchies and naturally places women under men, seeing men always as superior to women. Nigeria, like the rest of the continent and the world, by some sort of natural arrangement, has designed and designated some fields as men’s turf, completely dominated by men while the women folk are seen as vulnerable and, as such, a source of entertainment or, at most, second best to males. Sequel to this, we have men dominating completely in fields – like sports, medicine, marine, army, navy, air force, police, science and agriculture – which require mental tasks or stamina, except in rare cases (like countries) where women are predominantly farmers. Following the universal adult suffrage in the 20th Century, women have continued to take their place in the world as equals – if not better than – of their male counterparts in various fields globally. According to Emeka Anuforo, a senior science and energy journalist, Abuja Bureau of The Guardian, who has observed women for a long while, “a woman is unstoppable after she realizes she deserve better” and this has never been truer than the present, when women have come to realise that they can carve their own space and be in places no one gave them chances to be in. It is in so doing that they have found their new strength and their new vigour to do more.

Today, we see women exceling in their respective careers, representing their constituencies in government and taking up the highest leadership positions and leading a whole nation. Just like their counterparts in other climates, some women have distinguished themselves in the science, technology and innovation sector. Today, we are looking at 10 of these women and how they have pulled their weight with their resounding successes.

Gloria Elemo, Ph.D
Prof. Gloria Elemo is the current director-general/chief executive officer of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), Oshodi. She is the institution’s seventh CEO and the very first woman DG. Elemo started her tertiary education pursuit at the University of Benin as an undergraduate of biochemistry, before bagging a masters and doctorate, respectively, in human nutrition from the University of Ibadan. Her drive for academic excellence saw her lecture briefly at the universities of Ibadan and Lagos, respectively, before she moved to the civil service sector as the assistant chief scientific officer at the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) in Abuja, where she rose through the ranks to become a deputy director, before she joined FIIRO. Over the years, Elemo has displayed considerable contribution to R&D in the areas of human nutrition, food processing, food product development and food value evaluation. An apostle of the commercialisation of the various research findings in Nigeria, Elemo has worked in the development of products like the development and production of packaged fish feeds, feeds for growing grass-cutter and snail using indigenous crops, formulation and development of nutrient-rich food beverage for people living with HIV/AIDS, development and production of high nutrients’ density drinks and biscuits for school-age children and production and packaging of traditional dishes. The institute, under her leadership, has seen the signing of m emorandum of understanding (MoU) with strategic partners for the commercalisation of its research products. The MoU signed with May and Baker (M&B) for the commercialisation of nutraceutical and therapeutic food products for the management of sickle cell anaemia and ready to use severe acute malnutrition (SAM) supplement, respectively, are examples. The institute has also witnessed a sharp increase in patenting of various research and innovation findings under her leadership.

Lucy Jumeyi Ogbadu, Ph.D
Lucy Ogbadu, Ph.D , a professor of microbiology, enrolled for a bachelor of science in microbiology at the Ahmadu Bello University(ABU), Zaria, before bagging a doctorate degree in industrial fermentation in 1988. In recognition of her contribution to scientific advancement, Professor Ogbadu has received several awards. She secured a UNESCO fellowship in 1980 for a training programme in Tripoli-Libya in food microbiology and, again, in 1983 for a training programme in b io – technology in Jenna/Leipzig, Germany. In 2004, she participated in the United Nations University MERIT Innovation programme at Maastricht Netherlands and facilitated the hosting for the first time of such programme outside Maastricht by Nigeria. Two years later, in 2006, she participated in the FAO-organised tour of food & rural agricultural establishments in China. Prof. Ogbadu lectured at her alma mater ABU, Zaria, and later at the Benue State University, Makurdi. She enjoyed a productive career in the academia, during which she researched and supervised many Ph.D., M.Sc. and Undergraduate Students in Food/Industrial Quality Assurance as well as published extensively in high impact International journals, encyclopaedia , proceedings and reports. She remained in the academia, until 2002 when she gained employment with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), a research parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.

Professor Ogbadu, as a pioneer staff at NABDA in 2002, served in leadership positions as director in various departments, namely research and development, bio-entrepreneurship, food and industrial biotechnology, as well as serving as research director, before being appointed director-general/CEO in November 2013. Under her leadership, NABDA succeeded in getting the Biosafety Bill passed into law in April 2015, after 13 years of struggle; thus, paving the way for the practice of modern agricultural bio-technology. Nigeria is now on the global map of nations with guidelines in place for practice of bio-technology.

Francisca Nneka Okeke, Ph.D
Prof Francisca Nneka Okeke is a Professor of Physics at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). The first woman indigenous professor in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at UNN and the first woman professor of physics in Eastern Nigeria. Her areas of research interest include; geo-magnetism, atmospheric physics and climate variability. She teaches and supervises many masters’ and doctorate students and has successfully supervised 12 PhD and about 28 MSc students.

One of her protégés won the AU- TWAS Young Scientist Award in 2010. Okeke has contributed immensely to the development of physics at both secondary and tertiary levels in Nigeria and has conducted many workshops. She has written a number of physics text books and articles that have enhanced the teaching and learning of the subject at both secondary and tertiary levels in Nigeria. She has written many articles that have encouraged girls/women to study physics in Nigeria and Africa at Large. Her work has been recognised nationally and internationally. Her work on daily variations of geo – magnetic H, D and Z-fields at Equatorial latitudes, raised a controversy. She is a Laureate of L’Oreal –UNESCO Award for Women in Sciences for the Physical Science 2013. A fellow; African Academy of Science, Nigerian Academy of Science, Nigerian Institute of Physics and Japanese Society for Promotion of Science. She a member National Space Council of Nigeria. She is also member, Governing Council of ANSTI A versatile academic that is prominent in her pursuit, out of her hard work and perseverance she won the following awards: visiting research fellow, to University of Natal, Durban, South Africa in 1998, she won the fellowship international award; as (FJSPS) to University of Tokyo, Japan from 1999-2000 etc. She was the first woman to head the Department of Physics and Astronomy, from 2003 to 2006. Again, she was the first woman dean, Faculty of Physical Sciences, from 2008 to 2010.

Prof. Sylvia Uzochukwu
Sylvia Uzochukwu is a professor of Food Science and Technology at Federal University, Oye-Ekiti. She got her B.Sc in Biology and Ph.D Food and Science Technology at the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Currently lecturing at the Federal University Oye_Ekiti, Prof. Uzochukwu is dedicated to encouraging University faculty and scientists in sub-Saharan Africa in the use of the tools of modern biotechnology, so that they and their students can help tackle the problems of poverty, hunger and diseases plaguing the region, using this technology, in a safe and responsible manner. Her love for food science and technology has seen her lecturing at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, where she taught food biochemistry, food microbiology, food biotechnology, food microbiology, food fermentation technology, fats and oil technology, malting and brewing technology to undergraduate and post-graduate students and supervised research projects at both levels. Apart from her lecturing job she has developed winning proposal to source grants to set up a well-equipped and functional molecular biology laboratory. Organized 14 molecular biology workshops for training and re-training of university lecturers, scientists, and post graduate students in Nigeria and West African Sub-region between 2000 and 2009, and has also organised National conference of Biotechnology Society of Nigeria, 2008.

Prof. Adenike Oyinlola Osofisan
Prof Osofisan, a foremost academic and computer scientist possesses a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science/Economics, Masters’ degree in Computer Science. Osofisan became the first Nigerian woman to hold a PhD degree in Computer Science in 1989 and the first female to have a PhD degree from the Faculty of Technology of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. She also holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). She has extensive academic and administrative experience in the educational system. She has lectured at the Polytechnic Ibadan, where she has been Head Department of Computer Science and Dean, Faculty of Science. She joined University of Ibadan as a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science department and became the Acting Head of Computer Science department. She rose to full Professorship, effective from 2006, thus becoming the very first African Female Professor of Computer Science. Professor Osofisan was the Pioneer President, Nigeria Women in Information Technology (IT) in 2003. In 2005, she became the first female President and Chairman of Council, Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), and held the post till June 2009. She is Fellow and Life Member, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and has served on the National Executive Council of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) for ten years, as Chairman Credentials Committee, Education Committee chairman and chairman of the Publication Committee. She has received many national and international prizes, scholarships awards for the development of information technology and computer science education in Nigeria and Africa.

Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi, Ph.D
An environmental biochemist, soil scientist and toxicologist, Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi, Ph.D , is one of Nigeria’s shining lights in the sciences, as far as research and awareness are concerned. The astute scientist whose work focuses on waste management, pollution prevention and phytoremediation – the treatment of environmental problems (bioremediation) through the use of local plants that mitigate the environmental problem without the need to excavate the contaminant material and dispose of it elsewhere, is an expert in elimination of toxic heavy metal such as cadmium, copper, mercury, lead and arsenic from contaminated soil. Nwaichi, a former employee of Shell Oil Company between 2009 and 2010, Dangote (2003-2004) and Coca Cola (2004-2008), before joined the University of Port Harcourt as a senior lecturer, before she worked her way up to bag a doctorate in biochemistry from the same university. Thanks to her doggedness and her unending desire to contribute to humanity and science through her research, Nwaichi was made an international fellow at the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards in Physical Sciences. To her credit, she is a member of several academic organisations – some of them being the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, American Chemical Society, International Society For Environmental Technology and the Nigerian Institute of Management. Nwaichi consults as an environmentalist with some oil-servicing companies and enjoys affiliations with the Academic Society for Functional Foods and Bioactive Compounds(2012), American Chemical Society (2010), International Phytotechnology Society(2009), Third World Organization For Women In Science(2007), International Society For Environmental Technology (2004), and Nigerian Institute of Management (2003). She has presented papers at over ten (10) international conferences. Dr. Nwaichi ia an international fellow of UNESCO L’oreal (2013) and African Scientific Institute (2013).

Rosemary Nkemdilim Ogu, Ph.D
Rosemary Ogu, Ph.D , MBBS, FWACS, FMCOG, FICS, is a consultant obstetrician/ gynaecologist and senior lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. One thing that has marked Ogu out is her doggedness as a career scientist and her ability to fit into her environment and go about her work with as much commitment as she faces her tasks as a mother. Ogu, a distinguished scientist and a fellow of many organisations across the world, has carved a niche for herself in the field of gynaecology and, to boot, she is a fellow of both the West African College of Surgeons and the National Post-graduate Medical College of Nigeria. She has special research interest in the areas of non-communicable diseases, sexual/reproductive health, and feto-maternal medicine. Ogu is the secretary of the WHARC World Health Organisation/Federal Ministry of Health Maternal Newborn Child Health Study Team for the Reduction of Maternal & peri-natal mortality in Nigeria. Also, she is one of the PI of the GDM control programme funded by the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF16-1347) in the Niger Delta. As president of the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Rivers State, Ogu has been coordinating MWAN activities on cancer screening and health promotion.

Folasade Olajuyigbe, Ph.D
In world dominated by men, one of Nigeria’s bright lights and a globally renown scientist, Folasade Olajuyigbe, Ph.D, who is also a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), reached a new high when she was announced the winner of the 2017 Fulbright African Research Scholar Programme (ARSP), award for advanced research in the United States for the 2017/2018 academic session. Following her award, the FUTA don is now affiliated with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The Fulbright African Research Scholar Programme (ARSP) offers senior faculty members from top African universities the opportunity to conduct independent research at U.S. institutions. She was picked from a pool of 700-strong candidates who initially applied for the fellowship from Nigeria. Of these, 16 were shortlisted for the interview, from where five finalists were picked. Olajuyigbe, whose research into enzyme biotechnology and environmental health has won her recognition, will focus on this area during her stint in one of the most prestigious international exchange programmes in the world. Fulbright Scholars (Senior Research Program category) are highly motivated academics with strong academic background, professional achievements, high leadership potential, passion for increasing mutual understanding among nations and cultures and serious commitment to completing the programme and returning home. Fulbright Scholars serve as cultural ambassadors and are prepared to speak about their countries, cultures and research to academic and community groups. Olajuyigbe is all these and more and, what’s even more interesting is that she keep s going strong in the field, both home and abroad.

Stella Ifeanyi Smith, Ph.D
A consummate professional and dyed-in-the-wool microbiologist, Stella Ifeanyi Smith, Ph.D , has made and is still making a name for herself across the globe as one woman who knows her onions and cuts it right. Smith, who holds a doctorate degree in Medical Microbiology from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, has marked herself out as an exemplary scientist and academic. She is not just a renowned researcher, she also inspires her students and guides them in their projects (whether doctorate, masters or undergraduate degree levels). By her action, she has raised a number of scientists who are willing t go the extra mile to contribute their knowledge and time to the development of what man knows today, especially, as concerns Nigeria. She has been the recipient of grants from the EEC, Alexander von Homboldt , INSERM, TWAS and, currently, the IFS and IECGB grants. Smith, who understands three languages (English, German and French) has written many books on the molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases, conducted researches (through global collaborations) on same and carried out a number of projects on these areas of interests. Nine of her books have won awards between 2002 and 2012. In 2001, Smith was listed among the ‘Who is Who in the World’. She is a member of the African Microbicide Advocacy Group (AMAG), Third World Academy of Science (TWAS), Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), World Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS), List of Productive Scientists on the ISI Web of Science (2007), amongst others. Also, Smith is a Fellow of the African Scientific Institute (ASI, 2013).

Oreoluwa Somolu Lesi
Oreoluwa Somolu Lesi is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC). Somolu worked for several years in the United States at an educational non-for-profit organisation on a number of projects, which explored the interplay between gender and technology and which sought to attract more girls and women to study and work in science and technology-related fields. She has a Bachelors degree in Economics from Essex University, U.K, a Master’s degree in Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems from the London School of Economics & Political Science and a Certificate in Applied Sciences from Harvard University’s Extension School. Her interests are the applications of technology in improving lifelong learning and also to raise the economic and social conditions of people (especially women and children) in the developing world. Somolu also has some research experience, which includes working on the Gender Equity in Math and Science (GEMS) project, while working at the Education Development Center in MA, U.S.A from 2001 to 2003. She is a 2014 Vital Voices Lead Fellow, 2013 Ashoka fellow and a recipient of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award for her commitment to issues of women in computing in Nigeria. Attending a computer school in the early 1990s, Somolu became hooked on the advantages of using technology and was given an old laptop by her father when she left home to start university. While studying economics in the UK, she would type up essays for other students, often the night before a paper was due. It was however enough to inspire her to study for a Master’s at London School of Economics (LSE) in Information Systems, which explored the role of technology in economic development and personal empowerment. At LSE, she would spend her spare time reading about technology policy and soon realised how few women were operating in that space. Somolu studied hard and during her Master’s looked at her home African continent trying to fathom why it was such a male dominated industry .

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