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7 Pioneer Women in the Nigerian Armed Forces

The Armed Forces, anywhere in the world, is usually a male dominated institution, and while a number of women join the service, only a few have attained levels of profound recognition. These few who have risen despite the gender disadvantage, have done so with aplomb, achieving feats that were otherwise thought unattainable, and in doing so, laid foundations for future women in the force.

Here are 7 notable women pioneers in the armed forces.

Abimbola Amusu

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Major-General Abimbola Olatilewa Amusu is a Nigerian soldier who commanded the Nigerian Army Medical Corps from 2015 to 2018. She was the second female officer in the history of the Nigerian Army Medical Corps to have commanded the corps. 

Amusu holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) (Health Management) from Lagos State University, She is also an examiner with the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and a Member of Faculty Board; Faculty of Pathology, at the same college. She joined the Nigerian Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in June 1982. She was the Director and Chief Consultant Hematologist, 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Kaduna from September 2014 to December before she was made the Medical Corps Commander, an office she held until her retirement in 2018. She retired from the Nigerian Army in December 2018.

Aderonke Kale

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Major-General Aderonke Kale is a Nigerian army psychiatrist who became the first female major-general in the Nigerian Army. She rose to command the Nigerian Army Medical Corps. She trained as a medical doctor at University College, which later became the University of Ibadan, and later specialised in Psychiatry at the University of London. 

A year after her return from Britain in 1971,  she joined the Nigerian Army,a decision that was rare during that period. By 1990 she had risen to the position of  a colonel and deputy commander of the Nigerian Army Medical Corps. She was later promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and in doing so became the first female general in West Africa. In 1994, she was promoted to major-general, becoming the first woman in Nigeria and West Africa to achieve that rank. 

Her role was initially as chief psychiatrist to the army, but Kale later became director of the entire Nigerian Medical Corps and was its Chief Medical Officer until 1996. She retired in 1997.

Jamila Abubakar Sadiq Malata

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Jamila Abubakar Sadiq Malafa is an International Maritime Lawyer and the first northern female Commodore in the history of the Nigerian Navy. She was born in Whona village in Gombi local Government area of Adamawa state, in the year 1965.  Jamila schooled at St. Theresa School, Luggere in Adamawa for her primary Education, and proceeded to Government Secondary School Hong, for her Secondary Education. She then left for School of Nursing in Yola and obtained a national certificate in Nursing and Midwifery.

While furthering her studies at the the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, she applied for the Nigerian Navy recruitment exercise and was eventually recruited, becoming the only woman from the Northern part of Nigerian to be recruited. She joined the Nigerian navy in 1988 and was Commissioned as a midshipman in 1990. Jamila Malafa, was decorated in December 2017 with the rank of Commodore, equivalent to a Brigadier General in the Army.

Itunu Hotonu

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Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu is a Nigerian naval officer, architect and the first female admiral in Africa. After studying architecture at the University of Nigeria, she worked in an architect’s office for two years whilst she took her professional examinations.

She applied to join the Engineering Corps of the Nigerian Army but was told there were no positions for women in that field. She then applied to the Navy, which did not have gender restrictions. She was accepted as an officer candidate at the National Defence Academy, Abuja, in 1985. She was the first woman to attend the academy and graduated as best overall student in her class of 73. Hotonu won the Commander-in-Chief’s Prize and also the Commandant’s Prize for best research project. Hotonu was the first female officer to serve as an instructor at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji. In December 2012, she was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, becoming the first African woman to attain that position.

Tolulope Arotile

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Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile is the first female combat helicopter pilot to be winged by Nigerian Air Force. Having attended the Air Force Primary and Secondary Schools in Kaduna, Arotile joined the Nigerian Air Force 401 Flying training school Kaduna on the 22nd of December 2012, and  graduated on the 16th of September 2017, becoming an officer in the force. 

She was selected to train at the Starlite International Training Academy South Africa, following her performance during her initial flying training course at 401 Flying Training School Kaduna. She was decorated as the first female fighter helicopter pilot on October 15, 2019, at which time she had acquired 460 hours of flight within 14 months in helicopter.

Blessing Liman

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Blessing Liman who is from  Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna State was born 13 March 1984. After attending the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, she enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force in July 2011 and was commissioned on 9 December 2011. On 27 April 2012, she made history by becoming Nigeria’s first female combat pilot following the badge decoration ceremony of thirty flying officers by Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar.

Kafayat Sanni

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Kafayat Sanni is the first female combatant fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force. Sanni joined the Nigerian Air Force on the 22nd of December 2012 and started training at the 401 Flying Training School at Kaduna. She was the first to fly solo in her class in the training school. She graduated from the school on the 16th of September, 2017 as the overall best pilot in her class. As a result of her exploits, she was selected for further training in the United States where she proceeded to train at the US Aviation Leadership program (ALP) for 18 months.After concluding her training, she returned to Nigeria and was awarded her wings as a Flying Officer October 15 2019. During the award of her wings, she was given an award as the first female to fly Alpha Jets. 

Written by Emeka Nweze

Content writer and contributor.

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