The dominance of the male gender is very much conspicuous in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields of the Nigerian academia.
Being a specialized field, given its complexity and thoroughness, the Sciences is mostly considered an area exclusive for men.
According to Rabia Salihu Sa’id, “Nigeria women make up only 17 percent of all science researchers.”
In another report by Adefunke Ekine, it is estimated that “overall, women make up just under 35 percent of students in these science faculties.”
Clearly, the Nigerian society is structured to make the Sciences unattractive to the female gender.
According to Rabia Salihu Sa’id, “Some girls feel more comfortable choosing a shorter course in the arts or social sciences, so they can avoid the pressure of getting married while still studying.”
A male-dominated space in the field obscures the reality that there are some women, although in the minority, who have excelled tremendously in the areas of STEM in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Academia considers it important to celebrate these unique women who, despite all odds against them, have made excellent achievements just as their male counterparts in various fields of the Sciences.
1) Grace Alele-Williams
The academic life of Professor Grace Alele-Williams defies the traditional thoughts about the place of women in the society. She symbolizes the excellence a woman could achieve, if given the opportunity.
Professor Alele-Williams is a first at different levels of achievements. She is the first Nigerian female to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics, the first female Professor of Mathematics, and the first female Vice Chancellor of a university in Nigeria.
Professor Alele-Williams received her university education at the University of Ibadan, the University of Vermont and University of Chicago, respectively.
Finding herself in the “space age”, which symbolized the era of stiff competition between the two major powers (the United States and the Soviet Union) over scientific discoveries, Alele-Williams increasingly developed interest in Mathematics in the US.
Professor Alele-Williams’ interest was further buoyed by her stint at the African Mathematics Program in Newton, Massachusetts, under the mentorship of MIT Professor Ted Martins.
Besides being a former Vice Chancellor, Alele-Williams has held different leadership positions in the development of Science education at local and international levels.
She was Chairman, Curriculum Review Committee in 1973 and a member of the Governing Council of UNESCO Institute of Education.
She held the position of Vice President of the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education and a Regional Vice President for Africa of the Third World Organization for Women in Science.
Alele-Williams received the National Honor of the Order of the Niger in 1987 and was a member of the Vision 2010 Committee.
2) Francisca Nneka Okeke
Professor Nneka Okeke is by all standards a distinguished scientist who has made tremendous contributions to her field – Physics.
Professor Okeke gained international prominence after winning the highly respected L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Award worth USD 100, 000 in 2013. The award was in recognition of her notable contributions to the understanding of daily variations of the Ion currents in the upper atmosphere.
Presently a Professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Okeke was the first female Head of the Department and a former Dean of the Faculty of Physical Sciences in her university.
Born in an environment where female education was discouraged, Okeke was motivated to study Physics by her father, a Mathematician, whom she saw as a mentor.
As a young girl, she was very inquisitive and asked intelligent questions about nature and objects around her. She was particularly interested in knowing the wonder behind airplanes and how they fly without falling on the earth.
Professor Okeke is exceedingly passionate about the education and empowerment of women particularly in the Sciences. As HOD and Dean at UNN, she was instrumental to the employment of more women in the faculty.
From her mentorship of young women, one of her Ph.D. products was a recipient of the AU-TWAS young scientist Award in 2010. Professor Okeke has successfully supervised 12 Ph.D. and about 28 MSc students.
3) Deborah Ajakaiye
Professor Deborah Enilo Ajakaiye is Africa’s first woman to be appointed a Professor of Physics in 1980.
Ajakaiye completed her Ph.D. in Geophysics at the Ahmadu Bello University (A.B.U.), and her Master and Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Birmingham and University of Ibadan, respectively.
She lectured at Ahmadu Bello University and later the University of Jos where she rose to the position of Dean in the Faculty of Natural Sciences.
Her contributions to the field of Geophysics through her works on ‘Geovisualization’ has been significant in Nigeria’s location of its abundant mineral resources.
Professor Ajakaiye has been recognized at local and international forums. She was awarded by the Nigerian Mining and GeoSciences Society. She was also the first black African to be named a Fellow of the Geological Society of London.
Professor Ajakaiye was one of the 50 Women of Distinction awarded by the First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, in celebration of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary.
Ajakaiye is currently working with the NNPC on its drive for alternative crude oil reserves with the exploration of the inland sedimentary basins in other parts of Nigeria.
4) Olabisi Ugbebor
Professor Olabisi Ugbebor is dubbed the “Queen of Mathematics” for her outstanding record in Mathematics.
Professor Ugbebor studied at Queen’s College, Lagos on G.B. Ollivant Scholarship for her West African School Certificate Course (WASC), and because of her brilliant academic performance the scholarship was specially extended for her to cover the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Course also at Queen’s College, Lagos.
Following her brilliant performance at the Higher School Certificate Course, the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded her a scholarship to study Mathematics at the University of Ibadan from 1969-1972, where she was the only female in a class of seven Mathematics majors.
She graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1972 with a Second Class Upper Honours degree in Mathematics. Again, on account of her outstanding academic brilliance, she was given a scholarship by the University of Ibadan to undertake Postgraduate studies at the University of London.
She was awarded the Postgraduate Diploma in Statistics at the University College London in 1973 from the first university statistics department in the world. She then embarked on her Ph.D. degree course in Mathematics in 1973 at the University of London, which she completed in 1976 at the age of 25.
After obtaining her Ph.D. degree in 1976, Professor Ugbebor returned to the University of Ibadan and joined the Department of Mathematics, where she rose to become a Professor, thus making history as the first woman to attain that position in the department at the University of Ibadan. At different occasions, she also served as the Acting Head, Department of Mathematics.
In 2014, Professor Ugbebor was elected the first President of Nigerian Women in Mathematics at the Inaugural Meeting of the Nigerian Women in Mathematics.
Some of her products have recorded outstanding achievements in the discipline of Mathematics. These include Professor Steven Onah, the Head of National Mathematical Center and Professor Ayoola, a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics) at the University of Ibadan.
5) Ayoka Olufunmilayo Adebambo
Professor Ayoka Olufunmilayo Adebambo is a renowned Animal Scientist at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB).
She is presently the Director, Biotechnology Centre, and Project Leader, FUNAAB Poultry Breeds Development at FUNAAB.
Professor Adebambo made history as the first graduate of Animal Breeding at the University of Ibadan, and the first female Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics in Nigeria. She was also the first Head of Department, Animal Breeding and Genetics at FUNAAB.
She has served as Dean, College of Animal Science and Livestock Production, FUNAAB and a member of the Governing Council of the same university.
Professor Adebambo was the only woman that contested for the position of Vice Chancellor at FUNAAB in 2007.
She spent 16 years at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where she researched on the improvement of indigenous pig breeds for commercialisation.
She was a Visiting Scholar at the Roslin Institute, Scotland and Visiting Professor at Poultry Breeding Research Institute, Hessaraghata, India and Ohio State University, USA.
Professor Adebambo established the FUNAAB Alpha Poultry Breeds Production project to drive her interest in the empowerment of women and youth.
She also assists local farmers in the areas of pig farming through capacity building and training workshops.
Some of her awards include the British Council Award, the Commonwealth Fellowship, Royal Society of England’s Third World Fellowship, World Bank Research Award, Indian Technical Cooperation/SCAAP Fellowship, National Universities Commission Outstanding Research Awards and many others.
6) Adenike Osofisan
Professor Adenike Oyinlola Osofisan is the first Nigerian female to hold a doctorate in Computer Science, and the first female Professor of Computer Science in Africa.
In addition to her specialization in Computer Science, Osofisan also excelled in Business Administration as she received the best result in the 1993 MBA class of the University of Ibadan.
As Head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Ibadan, Osofisan began post-graduate programs in the department and her tenure has recorded more staff with Ph.D. degrees.
Osofisan made history as the first woman to serve as President and Chairman of the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria between 2005 and 2009. Professor Osofisan was also the Pioneer President, Nigeria Women in Information Technology (IT).
She is married to a renowned professor of theater and literature, Professor Femi Osofisan, and blessed with four children.
7) Folasade Ogunsola
Professor Folasade Ogunsola is a renowned Medical Scientist with specialization in the treatment and control of HIV/AIDS.
She is the Principal Investigator of the AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN) (a PEPFAR grant) at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos and Site Principal Investigator of the Medical Education Partnership Initiative in Nigeria (MEPIN).
Between 2004 and 2007, Professor Ogunsola was the Principal Investigator for the clinical trial of the HIV microbicide 6% Cellulose Sulphate in Lagos.
Professor Ogunsola obtained a Masters in Medical Microbiology from the College of Medicine, the University of Lagos followed by a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology from the College of Medicine, University of Wales, Cardiff.
As the current Provost at the College of Medicine at the University of Lagos, Professor Ogunshola is reckoned as the first woman to hold such position.
Professor Ogunsola’s research activities are instrumental in setting up infection control programs in many institutions in Nigeria, and she was the Chair of the Infection Control Committee of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital until December 2012.
She was the Chairman of the National Tuberculosis Laboratory Working Group and is a member of the Management board of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, National Hospital Igbobi and the National Psychiatrist Hospital Yaba.
Professor Ogunsola received the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria Distinction in Medicine Award in 2013 and the Distinguished Alumni Lecturer at the 7th Prof. T. Adesanya Ige Grillo Memorial Lecture of the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2014.
She is a member of the WHO Technical Working Group on Infection Prevention and Control, a member of the WHO AFRO Regional Rapid Response Group of Experts for Epidemics and member of the Global Infection Prevention and Control Network. She is the current Chairman of the National Association of Colleges of Medicine.
8) Chinedum Peace Babalola
Professor Chinedum Peace Babalola is the first female Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. She is also the first female Pharmacist in Nigeria to be inducted as Fellow of Academy of Science (FAS).
Babalola obtained all her degrees at the Obafemi Awolowo University (O.A.U.), with specialization in Pharmacokinetic Option in her doctorate.
Professor Babalola is notable for her research that produced a novel High-performance liquid chromatography Method for the analysis of quinine in biometrics. This outstanding research led to the elucidation of the pharmacokinetics of quinine in Africans and formed the basis of dose optimization in malaria patents.
Professor Babalola is one of the scientists that produced the first pharmacogenetic study in healthy and sickle cell patients in Nigerians.
Currently, the Dean of Faculty of Pharmacy University of Ibadan and Adjunct Professor in Genetic & Bioethics unit, IMRAT, College of Medicine University of Ibadan, Babalola is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and the Nigerian Academy of Science.
Professor Babalola’s research earned her selection alongside Dr. Adeboye Adejare of the University of the Sciences in Pennsylvania for research on the interaction between compounds and small endogenous compounds as targets for drug action.
9) Olubola Babalola
Professor Olubola Babalola is the first female Professor of Quantity Surveying in Africa. She studied Quantity Surveying at the Obafemi Awolowo University, where she was not only the female student in her set but also the best graduating student.
With specialization in General Procurement Advice, Contract Documentation, Contract Administration, Construction Management, Construction Economics and Research Development for Building, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering Services, Professor Olubola completed her Ph.D. in Quantity Surveying and made history as the first woman to obtain such degree in West Africa.
Professor Olubola was appointed the Acting Head of Department of Quantity Surveying, Obafemi Awolowo University in 2007, which made her the first female to hold that post. She was also a two-term Vice Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Design and Management at the same university.
Professor Olubola is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), and a registered member of the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria (QSRBN). She is the Chairperson of the Women Association of Quantity Surveyors of Nigeria (WAQSN) and many other professional bodies related to her field.
Professor Olubola received an award of Excellence for Development of Quantity Surveying Training in Nigerian Higher Institution by the Women Association of Quantity Surveyors of Nigeria (WAQSN) in 2008. She also received an Outstanding Achievement Award by Great Ife Alumni Association in 2010.
Professor Olubola won the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Fellowship for Female Academic Staff on Ph.D. program in 2005. She is the pioneer Patroness of the National Association of Quantity Surveying Students, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Chapter and College of Technology, Esa-Oke Chapter.
Professor Olubola is a member of the Accreditation Team of the National Universities Commission (NUC) National Board of Technical Education (NBTE), Quantity Surveyors Registration of Nigeria (QSRBN) and the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS).
She is the current Editor of The Quantity Surveyor, Journal of The Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors and a member of the editorial board, International Journal of Project Planning and Finance (based in Ghana) and the Journal of Construction Business and Management(located in South Africa).
10) Rabia Sa’id
Dr. Rabia Salihu Sa’id is a great inspiration for the female scientists of the younger generation. Although she completed her Ph.D. in Physics in 2013, her contributions have speedily given her local and international recognitions as a foremost scientist.
Dr. Sa’id was one of the winners of the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World in 2015. She was featured in Nature (The International Weekly Journal of Science) and in the BBC Radio Program: Discovery Science. She was also listed on the BBC 100 inspirational women of 2015.
Currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the Bayero University in Kano (BUK), she was appointed Deputy Dean (female) at the Student Affairs between 2012 and mid-2016.
Dr. Sa’id obtained her P.hD in Physics from Bayero University, Kano. She holds an M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from the same university. She also holds an M.Sc. in Environment and Development from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom; a study she undertook with a fellowship from the Ford Foundation in 2002.
Dr. Rabia Salihu Sa’id spent four months in 2010 at the Institute of Applied Physics, University of Bern, Switzerland as a visiting research scientist, working with the renowned scientist in terrestrial and atmospheric remote sensing, Prof (Dr.) C. Matzler.
She is a volunteer for several non-governmental organizations including the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund. She mentors girls and boys in the STEM field for which she volunteers the Visiola Foundation and the Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation (PCNAF/ICEADA) Young Women Mentors Programme.
Dr. Rabia Salihu Sa’id is a trained facilitator for the British Council Active Citizens’ Programme; run by the British Council with civil society organizations and universities all over the world to empower youths to engage peacefully and more efficiently with others for sustainable development of their communities.