Today, Air Vice Marshal Adetokunbo Adesanya, Director, Public Relations and Information at the Nigerian Air Force headquarters, Abuja, who has risen to the pinnacle of his career says he has no regret working on aircrafts that he never flew.
His ambition in life was to become a teacher and he got admitted into the university to achieve that dream. But all that changed after one of his lecturers in the university told them of how people who go to Nigerian Defence Academy do not pay school fees. He got interested, applied to join the military and was lucky to be among the successful candidates shortlisted for interview. He then abandoned the university where he was already studying Physics to join the military.
Today, Air Vice Marshal Adetokunbo Adesanya, Director, Public Relations and Information at the Nigerian Air Force headquarters, Abuja, who has risen to the pinnacle of his career says he has no regret working on aircrafts that he never flew. He tells his story in this interview.
How did you join the Air Force?
I joined the NAF, through the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, way back in September 1985, as a member of 37, Regular Combatant Course.
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What was the attraction?
The truth is that right from when I was a youngster, I have always been fascinated when I see military men in uniform. But as I grew up, there was a burning desire in me to be part of what I imagined and rightly found out so to be a noble profession. A noble profession and I believe that is a profession that is highly sacrificial but one that is unique and I felt that I could without doubt also contribute my quota towards the defence of the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
How is life as a military officer?
As a military officer, life has been generally wonderful though tough and it’s been sacrificial. All of us have different experiences but I know that over time you find out that if you must be committed to the defence of this nation, then you need to sacrifice a lot and we indeed sacrificed a lot. Separation from members of our families, hardly having enough time for social events and sometimes the pain of having your children growing up without you not really being there. And then of course the risks you run at every point because of the vows you have taken. For example, in 1997, barely a year after I got married, I had to be deployed as part of the ECOMOG mission in Liberia and I was there for close to two years, from 1997 to 1999, and when I eventually returned, my first child was calling me uncle so I think that symbolizes the kind of things that we go through as military officers.
What would you have become if you didn’t join the military?
Well, that may take some thinking again to be able to discover exactly what I would have become, but I suspect that I might have become a lecturer because before joining the military, I was already in the university and an undergraduate studying Physics where I was doing very well and I seemed to have a penchant for wanting to impart knowledge unto others and I see myself as possibly becoming a teacher or a lecturer –– a lecturer more likely.
At what point did you go into aircraft engineering?
Basically, when you come into the Nigerian Air Force, the prerogative to determine what you will do in the NAF is first based on the requirement by the service and then followed by your own individual preferences. At the time that I came into the NAF in 1990, the focus was having as many pilots as possible so we went for the flying medical fitness test and at the end of the test, I did not qualify to fly as a pilot, and then at that time, the second pending requirement in the NAF, was for aircraft maintenance engineers so everyone of us that have science background but didn’t qualify to fly, was automatically asked to go to then technical training group now known as the NAF Institute of Technology in Kaduna to be trained as aircraft maintenance engineers.
How has it been taking care of aircrafts?
I have had a fulfilling career as an aircraft maintenance engineer. First, I have had a lot of experience in the field and I am one of the very few also privileged to serve as an aircraft maintenance engineer in a conflict area having led the aircraft technicians on the Alpha Jet aircrafts to both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Beside serving in the field, I was also privileged to serve as a Staff Officer at the headquarters of NAF, in the Directorate of Air Engineering where I have held all possible staff appointments within the directorate up to the point of being the deputy director, Air Engineering. I have also had the privilege of being the pioneer director of a recently established Directorate of Aircraft Quality Assurance, all within the engineering branches at the headquarters. That is basically on the staff side. I have also had the privilege of being the registrar of the NAF Institute of Technology which is the alma mater for all aircraft maintenance engineers in the NAF, which means I have had the privilege of serving in the field, as a staff, and as an instructor, all within the engineering field. It’s being a fulfilling experience.
What about your unpalatable experiences?
In my career, I think we have had some sad moments especially when it comes to the loss of course mates and colleagues, especially those who died in active service or in one air mishap or the other. It has always been a humbling experience, not just a sad experience, but humbling experience. The takeaway from it is that we are alive today not because we are perfect but by the grace of God.
How did you feel when your daughter called you uncle when you returned from Liberia?
When I came back from Liberia and my daughter called me uncle, I didn’t really find it funny but it wasn’t to be unexpected considering that she was just about five months old when I left home but I saw it as a challenge that I needed to make myself move from the status of an uncle to that of a father and in less than a week I became daddy and I have remained daddy ever since.
Having spent all your years in service in the engineering, how did your deployment as spokesperson come to you?
Well, the day the Chief of Air Staff called me and said I was being appointed to take over the management of the public affairs of the NAF, in terms of communication and that I was becoming the Director of Public Relations and Information, naturally I was taken aback, but I saw it immediately as a mark of confidence or as a testimony of confidence in my ability to do the job despite the fact that I have not been trained to do so, and being the spokesman for any organization is what I consider as a position of trust, I also saw that a bit of trust was being reposed in me to do it and I saw it a challenge. Knowing that it’s going into a new field and for me I have always loved challenges and I have always believed that with the right attitude, one can excel in whatever one does.
What was your impression about journalists before you became spokesman?
Before my appointment, I saw journalists from afar and I saw them as those who are devoted towards bringing information to the people and I also saw them as people who I can also describe as somewhat in a unique position knowing that depending on what area they choose to specialize on that they could also be faced with danger. And I have also seen journalists as people who are courageous because ordinarily what people expect in journalism is that the truth be told and it takes a lot of courage especially when you have what I call a lot of intimidation around, it takes a lot of courage to say the truth. So for me, I always saw journalists as people who are courageous but I need to add too even though it is not politically correct that while that is expected, I had also known or felt that there are trained journalists who are not really doing what they should be doing as journalists but then in every human enterprise there is never perfection.
What are some of the new things you have learnt as spokesman?
Having become the director of Public Relations and Information and working directly with journalists, I have come to appreciate them more as agents of communication to the public and that no spokesman can expect to succeed without first enjoying the confidence of journalists and then treating them with dignity which they deserve, treating them with respect which they deserve and being open to them and to information that they require rather than keeping them at bay because, like I said, they have a responsibility to inform the general populace what is going on. Having had this understanding, it has actually formed my philosophy and my approach towards public relations to be very open. So, I see journalists as being very critical to national development.
What are your hobbies?
I love reading, writing, speaking, playing scrabble and lawn tennis, as well as travelling.
What food do you like?
My best meal is pounded yam with egusi soup and goat meat.