Meet Nigeria’s 1st Female PhD Holder In Engineering

In continuation of my series on notable Nigerian amazons who have blazed the trail in their chosen career, today we shall delve into the enviable field of engineering where one lady has made the difference.
As mentioned in the other two incisive articles I wrote, I also met Engr. Dr. (Mrs.) Olatokunbo Arinola Somolu at her induction and investiture as new Fellow of Professional Excellence Foundation of Nigeria (PEFON). The occasion held at Victoria Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos on February 23, 2017, witnessed a massive turnout of professionals from all walks of life.
Born on October 11th 1950 in Lagos to Herbert Babafemi (an engineer) and Patience Abbah Olusola (a renowned fashion designer), Somolu had her primary education at Anglican Girls’ School, Lagos and secondary education at Queens College Yaba, Lagos where she finished with distinctions. She further completed her A’ Levels in the same school and was HEAD GIRL in her final year in Queens College. She graduated top of her class from the University of Lagos (UNILAG) in 1973 with a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering.
Somolu got scholarship awards at virtually each stage of her education:
Federal Government Scholarship, Secondary School and HSC (1963 – 1969)
Mobil Oil Scholarship University first degree (1970 – 1973)
University of Lagos Post-Graduate Scholarship (1974 – 1977).
She obtained a Ph.D within four years thus becoming in 1978 the first Nigerian woman to hold a Ph.D in any field of Engineering. Her thesis was on THE STUDY AND PERFORMANCE OF BOX GIRDER BRIDGES UNDER LOAD.
She joined the NNPC in 1982 as an Assistant Chief Engineer and rose to become, in November 2003, General Manager (Projects).
In February 2005, she was again promoted and became the first woman to head the Engineering Technology Division (ETD) of the NNPC as the Group General Manager.
A remarkable display of her project management skills was supervision of the construction of the magnificent world class NNPC Towers complex, Abuja (from foundation to completion).
*          The Kofo Abayomi Department of
Petroleum Resources (DPR) office building
*          The New Atlas Cove Jetty.
*          The Zonal Headquarters in Warri and
*          The 36 NNPC Land Mega Stations
*          Six Floating Filling Stations for the
Niger-Delta creeks
These are the most recent of her achievements while in the services of NNPC.
The floating Stations are the first ever of such to be built in concrete anywhere in the world – an engineering feat by standards.
She voluntarily retired from the services of the NNPC on 31 st May, 2009 after 27 years of active and dedicated service.
From 2009 till date, she has worked as Proprietress and Vice Chairman of two educational institutions in Lagos.
Kiddies Kingdom Private School and Laureates College, Lagos.
A widely travelled woman, she attended numerous international courses, seminars, symposia and conferences in Germany, UK, France, USA, Japan, Malaysia, China, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, to name a few of them.
*          Fellow of the Nigerian Society of
*          Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of
*          Fellow of the Academy of Engineering
She has also undertaken several national assignments and served on the Boards of Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA and the Nigerien Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA.
In November 2007, she was inducted into the Nigerian Women Hall of Fame as the first Nigerian Female to hold a Ph.D in Engineering.
In commemoration of Nigeria’s 50 years of Independence in 2010, she was among the 50 Nigerian Women of Distinction honoured by the First Lady, Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan.
She was married for over forty years to late Eng. Foluseke Somolu, a gentleman par excellence, who himself was an accomplished Electrical and Power Engineer and former President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He served as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Power from 2004 to 2008.
They are blessed with children who are equally successful in their chosen fields of endeavour.
  1. The first Nigerian woman to earn a PhD in any discipline is Prof Mrs Grace Alele – Williams . She is a product of Queens College Lagos , and obtained her PhD in Mathematics Education from the University of Chicago , circa 1961. Being first does not count , it just reflects the time a person is born and the opportunities available. But Grace Alele Williams went on to become a professor at the University of Lagos , and was appointed VC of the university of Benin.

    1. I concur with you, Prof Ajayi.

      However some of these things we document are for research and record purposes. More often than not, students (especially in history dept) are laden with the task of researching this information.

      In so far as we still having access to some of these personalities around, we have a duty to ask questions and credit them where necessary for posterity sake.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us once again.

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