While growing up in Okene Local Government Area of Nigeria’s Kogi State, Tawakalt Onize Bello wished she were a boy- she had always seen what boys could do. When she tried them, she got shouts and scorn instead, but now she is the hijabi mechanic hoping that she is an inspiration to other women like her.
Despite hailing from a low-income family, her parents went the extra mile to provide for her basic needs. However, Bello was a stubborn child who often returned home with troubles.
“I remember fighting anyone who provoked me, especially the area boys in my community back then. Looking at me from a distance, you couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl because I rarely wore girls’ stuff. I still don’t wear earrings, though I put them on occasionally. Honestly, I enjoyed my childhood,” Bello said.
Bello was privileged to attend school and graduated with a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from the Federal Polytechnic Nasarawa in 2017.
Her journey as a female mechanic took a significant step eight years ago when she frequently rushed to the workshop after school hours.
Initially, Bello’s parents opposed her choice of this male-dominated profession. “My dad was against it. He questioned, ‘Who does that? A girl? No, not in my house.’ At least my mum understood, but my dad didn’t,” she recalled.
During that time, Bello held her head high and didn’t give in until her parents finally gave their blessings. However, people in her community used to discourage her, and even today, they continue to mock her when they see her at the mechanic workshop.
“Many times, their words felt like an attack, but my late boss always encouraged me not to pay attention to the naysayers and to focus on my work,” Bello told Prime Progress.
Bello initially apprenticed in a workshop owned by an elderly man in Okene, who later passed away. She then moved to a new place.
Today, as Bello heads to her mechanic workshop in Jahi, Abuja, in Nigeria’s seat of power, she remembers the supportive and kind people in Okene.
“People in my community don’t like what I’m doing, but at my workplace back then, there wasn’t any discrimination. We were all equal, and they treated me kindly. Nazir would always share his food with me,” Bello recounted.
She continued: “Going out every day, knowing I’m building my future, is a beautiful thing to me. It makes me a happy person today.”
Bello said there is no regret with her decision, as her chosen path puts a roof over her head and food in her belly. On a good day, Bello said she could earn up to N5,000. She mentioned that her earnings depend on the type of work, sometimes more, sometimes less, or even nothing for the entire week.
“The amount I make in a day can’t be specified because sometimes I don’t earn a dime. Work isn’t always available, and I’m still working under someone. I don’t have my own place yet,” Bello explained.
Despite these challenges, Bello is nurturing a big dream. She hopes to own her shop someday and hopes her story inspires other girls to kill their fear and join the profession. “I aspire to have a modernised mechanic workshop where I can train both males and females,” she confidently stated.