EBELE Ofunneamaka Okeke, the first female Head of Service of the Federation has etched her name in the annals of Nigeria by virtue of that office and more feats. Beyond the post, she scores several firsts as the first female chemical engineer in Nigeria, and the first female engineer to be a Permanent Secretary.
A technocrat of repute, she encourages women to take to the sciences and believes opportunities in the field would make a huge difference in a male dominated field, as well empowering women for higher roles and advancing the country’s scientific and technological drive.
A calm and unassuming woman, whom besides being willing to be of help to others, advocates personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness.
As one of the six delegates that represented the retired civil servants at the National Conference in 2014, she called for measures to stop people from urinating and defecating in the open, as her contribution to the debate on the report of the Conference Committee on Environment.
She argued that the act of people urinating in public is an eyesore and dangerous to the environment and called for measures to stop open defecation as it contributes to the spread of diseases.
The negative indulgence has Nigeria ranked as the second largest number of people practicing open defecation because of poor access to water and sanitation facilities in public places.
Ebele frowns at the situation where landlords built houses without making provision for toilets and so encouraged open defecation and in some instances, the landlords converts toilets to stores.
She appealed to the Federal Government to provide potable water for all Nigerians irrespective of location.
The renowned technocrat demonstrated her resolve to make a difference with the endearing change she made while she held sway as the head of service, a trait she portrayed in her school days.
Determined and focused she fended off challenge, especially, pranks in her university days where she was the only female students among 28 males.
She admitted that it was not out of hatred or anything. She recalled that the first engineering building in her school had no toilet for girls.
She had to use the same toilet with male students. Whenever she used the toilet, they would all line up and peep through the door and when she comes out, they would all laugh and continue to do their designs.
Engr. Ebele, an advocate of hard work was born in 1948 in the commercial town of Nnewi. She obtained her West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1965 at Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls’ School Elelenwo, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
After her secondary education, she proceeded for college education in Southampton, England, where she got her A Level education. The yearning for further education took her to the University of Southampton, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) Second Class Hons in Civil engineering in 1971.
She had her postgraduate studies at University of Technology, Loughborough, where she obtained Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Ground Water. She also obtained a Post Graduate Degree in Hydrology and Hydrogeology from the University College London in 1979.
To appease the thirst for further educational qualification, she later obtained a Master of Business Administration, MBA degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2001.
The Anambra State born engineer worked briefly as a Public Health Engineer with Sanford Fawcett Wilton & Bell Consulting Engineers, London in the United Kingdom before returning to Nigeria.
Ebele who attributed her success more to God’s grace than intelligence joined the services of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in 1978 as a principal water Engineer and rose to the position of Director,
Department of Rural Development in January 1997 until she was appointed permanent secretary in the same ministry in March 2005. Her appointment as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation came in July 2007. She retired from service in 2008 after 30 years of meritorious service to fatherland.
On the role of women in nation building in a clime where people think that only men participates in nation building, she argues that women starts nation building from home and extends beyond that.
“Any woman working in the civil service is developing the nation or building the nation from her own angle, and if they are lucky to be in politics and become one of the ministers in any ministry, they can as well contribute more to the building of the nation.
All the women who work with civil service are targeting the nation. But if you enter into politics and you become a minister like I was in the civil service and I put in my quota while I was there, then if every one of us put in their quota, the better for all of us.”
Ebele is Nigeria’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Ambassador, she advocates the creation of gender desks in all government organizations to promote women’s rights, which includes proper menstrual hygiene management as it would go a long way to enhance the well-being of women, noting that lack of clean toilets and potable water were quite challenging.
Gender desks, she maintained, would be strategic in efforts to incorporate topical gender issues in all government policies and programmes to stimulate the overall development of womenfolk.
For her contributions to engineering in Nigeria, she has received numerous honours and awards which include Certificate of Distinction awarded by the Faculty of Engineering, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1992. Association of Professional Women Engineers, Achievement Award in 1995 and 2004. Distinguished Award for holding the Integrity of Civil Engineering Practice in Nigeria, 2005.
Engr. Ebele is a member of the Council of Engineering Regulation of Nigeria (COREN), Member, Fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain & Ireland. She is also member of Nigerian Academy of Engineering and Nigeria Institution of Civil Engineers.
In 2006, the federal government honoured her with the Officer of the Order of Niger (OON). She was inducted into the Nigerian Women Hall of Fame in November 2007. In 2008, she was honoured with the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) .