When Abimbola Windapo graduated from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1987, she was the first woman to study building in Nigeria.
Now, with her promotion to full professorship at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the academic and builder is also the first Nigerian woman professor of construction management, and the first in South Africa.
Beginning her career as a planning engineer for Bouygues Nigeria Ltd, Windapo worked on numerous high-profile projects, completed a Master’s in Construction Management at the University of Lagos, and qualified for the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria.
In 1996 she left Bouygues and joined Lagos State Polytechnic, then the University of Lagos in 1998 where she finished her PhD in Building in 2005.
During that time, she continued providing professional building services for the University of Lagos and was made Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Building in 2007.
Two years later, Windapo joined UCT while continuing to research and practice as a construction professional.
She is credited with leading research on how small and medium-sized contractors can grow sustainably, a field she developed in response to high failure rates of construction companies in the South African industry.
"Before my research in this area, there was no previous recipe for sustainable contractor development, while the practices used by construction companies in ensuring health and safety were not established in the literature," she said.
She has also been praised as an administrator in higher education for chairing the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment’s Transformation Committee from 2015 to 2017, a period of student protests across UCT campuses.
Windapo has said she was drawn to construction by a desire to help solve social problems such as unaffordable housing, overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and service delivery and poor living environments.
"All human beings should have access to comfortable accommodation in a conducive environment," she said.
Image: Abimbola Windapo began her career with Bouygues Nigeria, and has been recognised as a builder, researcher and administrator (Photograph courtesy of the UCT Communication and Marketing Department)