Enugu whiz kids

Engineering whiz kids (L-R) Sopuru and Tochukwu

Crowds. They draw people in, even against their own better judgment. Like the one that pulled Henry in at Enugu Polo Park Mall on a June afternoon.

Right there, in front of the mall, a boy sat in the middle of the crowd, exhibiting a contraption.

As he leaned in for a closer look, he realised that this was not your everyday appliance. This was a fully functional, miniature hydraulic excavator, cobbled together with scrap parts. The boy built it himself. Henry was impressed and dropped some money in the boy’s bowl. Before he left, he took pictures and some footage.

Sopuru Scrappy Genius

Sopuru tinkering with the miniature excavator and tipper

Finding Sopuru

Later that evening, he posted the video of the contraption to Radar, TechCabal’s companion forum. And the video wowed the forum members as well.  Eventually there was a consensus that the boy needed to be found because such talent ought to be nurtured.

TechCabal’s Editor-In-Chief, Bankole Oluwafemi, tweeted about the wunderkind, asking for volunteers in the search. Eventually, Henry had two people join him in his quest to find Sopuru – Aliyu and Makuochi.

They did not know the kid’s name. All they had to go on was the last place he’d been seen and a small piece of information Henry had overheard – the boy was a Government College student.

Tales from Enugu

Armed with only the mystery boy’s photo and aided by a teacher (they still didn’t know his name), the team went from class to class at the college, to hunt for the boy. No one could identify the face in the picture, not until the tail end of the search when  two students eventually recognized the face as Sopuru, their neighbourhood friend. He had been a student at the College but recently transferred to another school.

Their new leads took them to Coal Camp, Sopuru’s neighbourhood. Coal camp is a slum area in Enugu. Smooth roads gave way to bumps and potholes, houses clung to hills  as the team drew closer to what they hoped was Sopuru’s home.

Sopuru neighbourhood

Coal camp – Sopuru’s neighbourhood

The two college boys headed towards a woman doing laundry in front of a small house – Sopuru’s mom. After some initial hesitation, she confirmed that her son was responsible for the technological marvel and went to get him. Once Henry saw Sopuru, he shouted, “Yes! That’s him, that’s the boy I met at the mall!” He asked if Sopuru remembered him and the boy smiled.

Sopuru Odoh is not your regular, everyday 14 year old. He has devoted time and resources to honing and perfecting his skills as a young inventor.  Presently, he’s in Konigin Des Friedens College on scholarship; a scholarship awarded him by a Reverend Father, who was impressed by his work.  When he’s not in school, Sopuru hawks and exhibits his unique creations at parks, road junctions and public gatherings in hopes of building his confidence and making some extra money. He had been to the state government house but had been turned away with goodwill wishes and money for his ride home.

Still, the kid holds on to hope of a better life. “I want to leave this environment, it isn’t the best for me. The street boys around here want me to enter their gang and I keep turning down their offer. I keep myself busy with these projects; I want a better life. They come to me every night asking me to join them.”

Scrappy Genius

Sopuru Odoh gleaned his engineering skills from his elder brother, Tochukwu. When asked where he gleaned his own engineering knowledge from, Tochukwu replied, “It’s my talent. Nobody taught me.” Examining the hydraulic excavator revealed raw materials that are easy to come by: a syringe, plywood, thin metal sheets, a simple engine etc.

Miniature excavator

The excavator and tipper, dismantled

The seeds for the first excavator were sown while Sopuru was still in primary 4. At an open science exhibition in Lagos he had presented a model house. In a trade by barter deal, he traded the schematics of the model house for the excavator designs which he later modified for the small hydraulic powered excavators.

The engineering duo have tuned their skills to the point where they can produce a fully functional miniature excavator in just under a month. Their other productions include remote controlled helicopters, a miniature tipper truck and model houses. The force is strong with these ones.

Recently, Henry and Makuochi encouraged Sopuru and Tochukwu to apply to  a science and technology fair in Enugu. They entered two creations – a battery powered, multi-remote controlled Excavator with a tipper truck and a battery powered helicopter.

Just before their presentation, the brothers approached Henry and Makuochi. They did not know the scientific terms to use to describe some of their work  and did not think they would be able to explain their inventions as their English was poor. Henry felt humbled. He told the boys to go ahead in their native Igbo language. Sopuru and his equally gifted brother took home the first and second prize in the mid level (13-17) category beating out other inventions from all over the state.

Sopuru Science fair

Sopuru and Tochukwu with their mother receiving first prize at the science fair

It all started with a simple squat at the Polo Park Mall gate, a photograph and a post on Radar.

The Story of an Inventor…

The story of Sopuru is painful to write because of the reality it shoves in our face. Education in Nigeria is in dire straits. Proper STEM learning is almost non-existent. Only a few children, outliers if you will, are able to craft engineering feats like urine-powered generators and do so under the supervision of well-paid tutors at posh schools because their parents can afford it. And of course, they get to demonstrate their inventions at international science fairs.

Sopuru on the other hand is another kind of outlier – the kind that has managed to figure out how things work, in spite of mitigating circumstances. However, the only stage on which a kid like this gets to present his ideas is before a local mall crowd.

Speaking to TechCabal, the mother said about her son, “2012. He started building it in 2012. We are praying God will help him. Him wan learn, him wan go school but no help. We pray God go help us to bring somebody who will help send him to school. If I see the person wey go help am go outside (the country) I for like am, because I didn’t have the money. If possible.”

Sopuru and mom

Sopuru and his mom

It was luck or perhaps fate, that brought someone like Henry his way.

This is the story so far. So, what’s the next chapter? What happens next for Sopuru? Hit the Radar to join the conversation.

Ibukun Taiwo Author

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