She is the first to become a professor in her discipline both in Nigeria and South Africa. She was recently celebrated for that. She spoke with Rasheed Adebiyi on her career, tertiary education in Africa and other issues. Here are the excerpts with Prof. Windapo Abimbola…
Tekedia: Could you please tell us about yourself?
Abimbola Windapo: My name is Abimbola Windapo. A Professor of Construction Management at the Department of Construction Economics and Management, University of Cape Town, with more than 30 years of experience in practice, teaching and research. I am a C2 Rated researcher with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and a Professional Construction Project Manager and Mentor registered with the South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) and Registered with the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON). My research is interdisciplinary and focusses on construction industry development, management of the business of construction and projects from a performance perspective. I am the Editor of the Journal of Construction Business and Management (JCBM) hosted by the University of Cape Town Libraries and a recipient of several awards including the prestigious NSTF-South32 Engineering Research Capacity Development “Science Oscars” Award.
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Tekedia: Your full professorship was announced December 2020 making you the first woman professor in your field in South Africa and Nigeria. As a woman who has been involved in tertiary education on the continent, what does this mean to you?
Abimbola Windapo: I am proud and humbled by my achievement. It means an alteration of my self-image as a leader and role model in construction management. The announcement is a culmination of more than 30 years of work, and it gives me great relief that I made it to the pinnacle of the academic pyramid– an acknowledgement of the years of hard work that it took me to get there. It means recognition, more opportunities to do good things for society, having my voice heard, and creating conditions for others especially females that are following to thrive.
Tekedia : Building failure and collapse seem to be a recurrent decimal on the continent, especially in Nigeria. What are the factors responsible for this, and how could the menace be tackled?
Abimbola Windapo : Well, there are so many causes of building collapse on the continent. These could be typified into social, technological, environmental and managerial factors. Social factors relate to people, their behaviour and interactions with the building process during its construction and maintenance after its construction. Unethical conducts such as corruption, negligence, bribery and bid cutting fall under this category and all have the tendency to make a building collapse either under construction or after it has been completed.
Keeping to requirements, specifications and methods of construction are all under technological factors. When builders overlook standards or specifications for buildings, there is a higher possibility of building collapse. There are environmental factors too such as abiotic ambient temperature, amount of sunlight and pH of the water in the soil on which the building is constructed and flood.
Then, the managerial factors which cover supervision and coordination efforts in the course of constructing the building are also main factors. Any deficiency or slip in the supervision or even attempts to cut corners could lead to building collapse. When there are improper design, incompetent contractors, faulty construction methodology, poor Town Planning approval and development monitoring process, building collapse occurs.
Prevention of building failure or collapse in Nigeria is largely on the side of the government. There is a lot that governments at the three levels could do to combat this menace. For instance, there is an urgent need to revise the exisiting building code to incorporate sustainable construction especially for residential buildings. Then, there is a need for adequate monitoring and control of construction work by the three tiers of government through their regulatory agencies. Furthermore, the regulatory professional boides such as the Nigeian Institute of Builders (NIOB); Council of Registered Engineers in Nigeria (COREN) through its Engineering Regulatory and Monitoring (ERM) unit should intensify efforts to enlighten stakeholders, update their knowledge and highlight the dangers and penalties associated with building collapse.
The Government in Nigeria must also be ready to tackle the complicated problem of building neglect by the populace through legislation, enforcement, support and assistance, publicity and public education. Adherence to standards in all facets of building construction by stakeholders and using smart technologies in monitoring and team coordination will go a long way in addressing this menace among other preventive measures.
Tekedia: How do you think the issue of graduate employability problem could be addressed by African tertiary institutions?
Abimbola Windapo: My view is that African tertiary institutions should develop academic programmes to teach students how to think outside the box and be strategic. Employability is about having the knowledge, skills and behaviour to gain initial employment, maintain employment and obtain new employment if required. Teach students to be job creators and not job seekers.
Our modern learning culture is the scientific method that has value for discovering a known variable and teaches students to think in a certain way with a focus on passing exams using a framework that tests their knowledge of what was taught. Questions are of a known variable and taught in an environment where failure is unacceptable.
A similar process for invention (discovery of the unknown) – ability to frame the same problem in multi-dimensional ways, ask the right questions and challenge assumptions/theories, is not widely taught. Learners are not taught how to frame problems. This will help students graduate with thinking of various ways to solve the world’s problems, including unemployment. African tertiary institutions should strive to build unrestrictive environments that set the stage for creativity; Work towards developing creativity by using the right resources, manpower and space; and Support a culture that rewards an act of courage to challenge assumptions, to try solutions that diverge from conventional wisdom; and embrace failures.
Tekedia: How has it been juggling between building an international career as an academic and raising a family as a woman?
Abimbola Windapo: This has not been easy. However, my children are part of my success story and helped me build my academic career. My daughter – Olukemi prepared the PowerPoint presentation I used to defend my PhD in 2005 (she was just 11 years old). The first time I heard about PowerPoint was the day before my defence. Prior we presented the paper only. My son – Bayonle does a wonderful job preparing all the images I used in my e-books, including the popular e-book “Fundamentals of Construction Management.” While Mobolaji helps me solve difficult mathematical concepts and reviews my papers and notes. I can say my family and I built our careers together.
Tekedia: As a Nigerian academic in South Africa, what are the specific things you have missed about Nigeria?
Windapo Abimbola: Just the feeling of being at home. Missing family, friends, associates, the people and the local food.
Tekedia:What is your advice for women who intend or are aspiring to toe your path?
Abimbola Windapo : Don’t give up. Have a clear vision of what goals you want to achieve in life—plan towards getting there. You may not see a clear path to your destination because there is no one way to reach the pinnacle of your career or become a professor. The path is not linear. Keep at it, keep moving, continue doing the right thing and what is required of you, and at the right time, the ladder will appear. You will face many detractors on your journey to reach your goals – relatives, pessimists, guilt, society, fear, be courageous and do not give up.