Fatima M. Garba

As a child, Fatima M. Garba had intense and obsessive interest with aeroplanes. Actually, she had always wanted to fly those metal birds. Now 24, she is both a pilot and aerospace systems engineer, setting a record as the first female to qualify in that discipline in Nigeria. In six months, she will graduate from University of Hertfordshire, in United Kingdom. And because she is a topnotch student, in the elite bracket in her class, the university has allowed this trailblazer to do her master’s degree in the discipline. She is now in the terminal stages of that programme, and Fatima is expanding her horizon by working with other classmates in a project to design a fuel efficient diesel motorcar. When Newsline on Sunday interviewed her recently, we asked her why is she is doing automobile project instead of designing a plane, and she replied that in the aviation industry, where she would eventually work, versatility is an added advantage. “And you never know,”she said, “when your knowledge and skills in that area may be required.” Clearly, Fatima is positioning herself for a great future in the aviation industry.

Fatima is a Nigerlite, from Gurara Local Government Area of Niger State, born to the iconic Dr Garba M. Attahiru,  versatile, renowned sports commentator and analyst, handball nerd, and brilliant agric scientist, who retired from Niger State College of Education, Minna, as chief lecturer. Her mother, a Tiv from Benue State, retired from Niger State Agricultural Development Project as a director, agric and technical services. Currently, Dr Attahiru manages Martaba Farms Nigeria Ltd, and is one of the frontline exponents in Nigeria pushing the shift from over-dependence on the use of fossil fuel to drive the economy to bio-disesel and biogas.

Aerospace system engineering has two overlapping sub-specialties: aeronautical and astronautical engineering. While the first deals with the conception, design and development of anything that flies in the earth’s atmosphere, such as aeroplanes, jets, helicopters, gliders, drones, etc, the other is fixated with the design and development of spacecraft, anything that goes beyond the earth’s escape velocity. Fatima’s interest was captured by the first, being her childhood fantasy.

When she finished her secondary school studies at Federal Government College, New Bussa, in 2010, she was looking for an institution that trained pilots. Luckily for her, universities from the UK were staging exhibition in Abuja. Out of curiosity, she went and came across, according to her, “this unique course, aerospace system engineering with pilot studies.” The course is run by the University of Hertfordshire, in United Kingdom. She liked this, and pronto, she applied with her WAEC SSCE result, and was admitted. For her pilot training, she went to North Western Michigan College, US. Now she flies single engine aircraft.

Aerospace system engineering and pilot studies, she told Newsline on Sunday in an interview, “was challenging because you are learning with people who are more advanced than you. Some of your classmates have actually been using some computer software from primary school.” Nevertheless, Fatima played catch-up and powered herself to the top of the class. She said an earlier interaction with the computer, made possible by father who got them one, helped her to quickly overcome the challenge.

When she got the Hertfordshire admission, she said the Federal Government “helped with some contribution to the tune of N3m.” However, it was Niger State government that actually bore the sponsorship cost, which include payment of school fees and ensuring that “I am Ok.” At the time that she landed the admission, the Niger State government was promoting pilot and maritime studies to enable the state participate effectively in aviation and maritime sectors of the country’s economy. Fatima expressed gratitude to the Niger State government, which has been living up to expectations in her sponsorship commitment. Dr Attahiru also thanked the state government for her support, which has helped the daughter to realise her childhood dream. Both father and daughter hope to see the Niger State governor, Dr Abubakar Sani Bello, to express the heartfelt gratitude of the family.  Fatima, the second child of the family, has two other sisters: Jamila and Hadiza.

Newsline on Sunday asked her to advise other young Nigerians who have dreams like hers, and she said: “If you have a dream, don’t give up on it. The fact that you tried and failed does not mean you cannot make it. Mistakes are part of learning.”

She said when she finished her UK studies, she would like to return to Nigeria to build the aviation industry to “topnotch standard.”

Dr Attahiru advised parents to spare no effort to invest in the education of their children. “The only lasting legacy you can leave for your children is education. Educate your children, and you empower them forever.”