How I became Africa’s first female professor in quantity surveying
When it comes to choosing a course in the tertiary institution, most parents wield the big stick, but in the case of PROF. OLUBOLA BABALOLA, she had liberal parents who allowed her to make her own choice. Initially, the fourth national chairperson of the Women Association of Quantity Surveyors of Nigeria (WAQSN) planned to study pharmacy. When it didn’t work out, she picked quantity surveying and today, she has made history as the first female professor of quantity surveying in Africa. In this interview, Prof. Babalola shares her thoughts and ride to success with The Guardian’s HAPPINESS OTOKHINE.
What was your early education like?
I attended Sacred Heart Convent School and Jericho High School, both in Ibadan for my primary and secondary school education respectively.
What can you remember about your parents? Where they disciplarians?
My late parents, Alhaji Ganiyu Olulere and Alhaja Asanat Taiwo Iyanda, were loving, kind-hearted, caring and disciplined. They gave my siblings and I, sound education, taught us good morals and the fear of God.
Did they influence your choice of career?
Not really. My parents were liberal.
What career or business were your parents into?
My dad worked with the Oyo State Civil Service while my mum was a trader.
Would you say it was an easy ride to success? In other words what were the hurdles you had to scale along the way?
No! The road to success has never been an easy ride. There are always ups and downs. When I gained admission to study quantity surveying, I was the only female student in my set and you know the kind of feelings one would have being the only odd one, most especially when we had departmental courses offered by my set only. Thank God, I got used to the system with time and to the glory of God I had the best graduating results amidst male students. As I moved up the ladder for post-graduate programmes, the challenge of combining office work with academic career and matrimony arose. I could not see myself coping with the combined tasks but with the unalloyed support, understanding, words of advice and encouragement from the people God surrounded me with and by the special grace of God, I was able to rise above the challenges.
Why did you choose to study quantity surveying and not any other profession within the built industry?
I actually wanted to study Pharmacy but I could not meet up with the cut-off points for Pharmacy for the three times that I did JAMB examinations. My dad tried his best using all the connections at his disposal including that of Late Mama H.I.D. Awolowo to get me admitted for Pharmacy, traveling with me to Jos, Markudi and Ikenne, because I was bent on studying Pharmacy but all to no avail because that was not God’s plan for me! Miraculously, at the last minutes, when all hopes were lost, God brought me into quantity surveying – the course I never heard of before at that time!
How did your journey to professorship in the field of quantity surveying begin?
It started in 1987 when I gained admission to study quantity surveying at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. As a young undergraduate, I never knew it would turn out great like this. I made sure I attended all lectures, did all assignments and tests and studied hard for all examinations. After my graduation in 1992 and Youth Service, I was employed in the Department as a Graduate Assistant and I moved through the ranks to becoming a Professor backdated to 2012 after acquiring the necessary qualifications.
What inspired you / motivated you to pursue the dream of becoming a professor in your field?
My view of life is that one should get all the necessary qualifications because no one knows when they would be required and since I found myself in academics with the catchword “publish or perish”; I worked hard to publish in both local and international journals in order to gain recognition in my field.
The issue of male dominance in professions of the built industry is quite entrenched. How do you handle the problems that come with being of the minority sex in your field?
As mentioned earlier, I was the only female student in my set but thank God, there were many female students in other cognate courses that we had lectures in common. With that, I felt a little bit comfortable. I should add that my course mates were courteous and nice! No intimidation whatsoever! I mixed with them easily.
How were you able to cope with family and motherhood pressures while pursuing your passion for the academia?
It was not all that easy, I must confess but I was able to cope due to my due to my ardent determination to excel coupled with hard work and prayers.
Who was your mentor in the quantity surveying profession?
I have more than one mentor. All my lecturers, all those that I have passed through their tutelage in life both at home and abroad impacted one thing or the other in me- no matter how little!
If it had not been quantity surveying, what would it have been? Why?
From my experience, It can only be quantity surveying! I have come to realize that it is the course God destined me to study and I have no iota of regret.
How would you rate quantity surveying as a professional practice? Are you satisfied with the level of professionalism of your colleagues in both the public and private sectors and would you say their impact is being felt in the industry?
The practice of quantity surveying in Nigeria does not have the required awareness and recognition. The patronage does not cut across all the social classes of people in the country. It is limited to government, corporate bodies and institutions. The level of awareness of the profession and its services at the grassroots is still very low despite the fact that we have services that can benefit this group of people.
The impact of the profession has not been fully realized most especially in the areas of getting value for money invested on construction projects and in the prevention of project abandonment. We can work with the architects, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers to produce cost-effective designs affordable by clients (public and private) by carrying out cost planning as well as cost control during execution to ensure that the estimated cost is not exceeded beyond what our clients can afford. These services will prevent project abandonment because all the designers would design to affordable cost based on our professional advise on removal of unnecessary cost. We can also prepare Schedule of Materials and Labor with cost to guide non-corporate clients at the grassroots in the execution of their building projects thereby providing cost saving measures.
What are your expectations for the profession of quantity surveying in the nearest future?
That quantity surveying becomes a household name with wider patronage and its services impacting positively on the Economy.
Now you are a professor, which is like the apex level of achievement that anyone can aspire to. So, what next should people expect from professor Babalola?
My contribution will be in the areas of advancement of the teaching and the practice of quantity surveying, mentoring of the younger ones to maturity academically and professionally. I will also like to contribute my professional expertise to the attainment of sustainable national growth by advocating the use of indigenous raw construction materials because that is the only way the cost of construction can reduce drastically. Nigeria is blessed with many untapped natural and mineral resources that can be used in the production of construction materials. The use of locally sourced materials has a multiplying effect on the Economy – creation of jobs, increase in our foreign reserves and boosting of our Economy.
What is your advice to the younger generation of quantity surveyors?
The young quantity surveyors should not major on minor. They should not focus on money now. They should get all the necessary trainings, acquire the needed skills, be more focused and determined, be law abiding, have the fear of God in them. As a quantity surveyor, honesty, transparency and probity should be their watchword and they should be diligent in the performance of their professional duties. With all these qualities in them, sky will be their starting point and money will “run” after them.