•It’s tough to be in a male-dominated profession
By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
Global rating places Nigeria as the 23rd of 188 nations advancing the emancipation of women. The rating was the reason President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and the President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, who were guests at the launch of the book – Goodluck Jonathan: Champion for Women on June 26, hailed Jonathan’s passion for womanhood, especially for appointing 13 female ministers to his cabinet.
Two years ago, Nigeria admitted the first set of female Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) cadets. That opened the door for women to train as full time professional and combatant military officers. During the book launch, the 20 ladies, the first batch of female NDA cadets attended and made military displays that depicted them as strong and competent as their male counterparts in the course.
The ladies turned up in their army ceremonial dress and others in military fatigue. There were seen as just lady soldiers who were part of the crowd. It was after some time that many recalled they were the first batch of female NDA cadets after 49 years of the academy.
The ladies gave the audience a snippet of what is their daily routine at the academy back in Zaria. On the Commandant’s order, those in fatigue went straight on the floor and had 20 push ups without running out of breath to the admiration of the audience, including President Jonathan. This definitely was the highlight of the event.
Some other daily routine of the cadets include endurance trek that covers about 12 kilometers daily, and some of them confess that at the beginning, they used to drop out of the exercise but with time, determination and the encouragement of others, it is now something they look up to.
The girls confess they suffered sleep deprivation. “Sometimes for about two days we will no sleep because we will be somewhere training, and eventually it would take the whole day. Before long the next morning comes and one hurriedly dresses up for the class.
After the displays, Jonathan said he was convinced that there should be no discrimination against women in military recruitment and that made him mandate the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to review the admission policy into the NDA.
He said his administration authorized the admission of women cadets into the NDA and their commissioning as combatants in the armed forces.
Before the review in 2011, the military education and career programme shut out female from rising to top positions like CDS and Service Chiefs in the military.
He commended the female cadets he called ‘Jonathan’s Queens.’
The 25th Commandant of NDA, Maj.-Gen. Emeka Onwuamaegbu during his remarks and presentation of the cadets said in the 49 years of the NDA, no female had been admitted until 2010 when President Jonathan directed the reform of the admission policy, which took effect in the 2011session.
He said from 300 ladies that applied, 20 were selected alongside 160 male cadets admitted into NDA in 2011.
Onwuamaegbu revealed that the female cadets are doing well and in 2012, when the United States Government requested six cadets to be trained at West Point, a US military academy, two of the female cadets qualified after screening.
He assured that: “The female cadets in the academy have continued to excel in their academic and military training. In fact in academics, many of them have done better than their male counterparts because in the first 10 positions, eight are female cadets, while the best cadet in military training is also female.
“In discipline, they have not been found wanting, and in physical training, they have also done exceptionally well, so I commend Mr. President who ordered the training of female cadets in regular combatant programme in the academy and I think he has been vindicated by his decision to open the doors of the academy to the female folks.”
The Commandant enjoined Nigerians to attend the passing out ceremony of the female cadet from the Academy in Kaduna in September 2016.
Two of the ladies who answered press questions recounted some of their experiences and survival tactics, and how they have held on in the face of stereotyping and rigorous routines, braving all to advance stronger and even more determined to get to the top.
Cadet Sealord Mallam admitted it has not been easy to cope in a predominantly male environment. “But thanks to the president and our commandant, Major General Onwuamaegbu. He created the right environment for us to train. Today, I can say it’s easier compared to when we started.”
Doing something new
It was Mallam’s quest for something new that made her join the NDA. “I wanted something new, something that women were not into and I decided to explore the opportunity in the military. My parents were strongly against it. They did not want me to join, but I refused. I am glad that now, they are very supportive because, they have seen that I am doing well.
“I plan to train harder and rise to the highest rank possible and to stand for the women in everything I do.”
Cadet S. Agang from Kaduna said though it’s been a tedious journey and she even thought of quitting at some point, she has no regrets so far. “My experience in the academy has been tedious and with the support and approval of Mr. President, for us to be in the Academy, we have been able to cope with the training though it’s quite challenging.
“There was a time I thought about withdrawing. Yes, but interestingly, we encouraged each other. Most times, when we think of the kind of homes we come from and how the commandant has encouraged and made us feel comfortable, it is better, such thoughts are quickly erased.”
Agang said joining the military was never in her plans but her parents advised her to and she did, reluctantly.
“It was never my dream to join the army. In my case, my parents advised me to go into it. At first, I was against it, but when I came in, I began to like it. My father is a military personnel. So, I have been in a military environment all my life. Now, my female colleagues and I do everything that the male cadets do. There is no discrimination.