Welcoming the first batch of female jet-fighters pilots into the Nigerian Air Force

Though the seed of the idea of establishing The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), the air branch of the Nigerian Armed Forces, was first sown in 1961, it was not until April 18, 1964, that it became a reality.

This was after the nation had participated in peacekeeping operations in Congo and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) respectively.

It would be recalled that during these peace-keeping missions, foreign air forces aircraft were employed to airlift the Nigerian Army Regiment to and from the theatres of operation.

The Nigerian Parliament, having recognized the urgent need for the establishment of an Air Force that can fully complement the nation's military outlooks, therefore, approved the establishment of the NAF.
Consequently, the NAF was officially established by a statutory Act of Parliament on April 1964.

The recruitment of cadets had earlier commenced in June 1962.  Though still in its infancy, the Force would go on to take an active part in the nation's civil war which ended in 1970. 

Air Warrant Officer Grace Garba.[credit] Punch

Its four cardinal purposes are as follow:

            1.       To achieve a full complement of the military defence system of the Federal Republic of Nigeria both in the air and on the ground.

            2.       To ensure fast versatile mobility of the Armed Forces.

            3.       To provide close support for the ground-based and seaborne forces in all phases of operations and to ensure the territorial integrity of a united Nigeria.

            4.       To give the country the deserved prestige that is invaluable in international matters.

The strategic roles played by the Air Forces of Ethiopia, Canada, India, and Germany in the takeoff of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) cannot be overemphasized.

Special mention must be made, however, of the German Air Force on who the lot fell to develop for the proper takeoff of what is today known as The Nigerian Air Force.

Over the course of the years, the Force has gone through different expansionist stages especially with the promulgation of Decree 105 (Armed Forces Amendment Decree) of 23rd August 1994 which provided additional roles for the NAF with regards to enforcing all international laws and conventions relating to space activities in the Nigerian airspace.

However, November 15th, 2019 was a special day for the Nigerian Air Force family and especially, its female personnel.

This is because, on that day, the force's top echelon supported by the minister of women affairs Pauline Tallen decorated the newly promoted Grace Garba as its first female Air Warrant Officer in its 55 years history.

By that singular action, Grace Garba effectively became the first female Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) to be promoted to the highest rank in the Non-Commissioned Officers cadre since the force was established.

Garba was reported to have joined the NAF back in 1986 as a member of the Basic Military Training Course (BMTC) 10 aged 20 years.

In the intervening years, Garba in addition to putting in excellent work rates also garnered four certificates  a Nursing degree from the School of Nursing, Maiduguri, Midwifery from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Public Health Nursing from the School of Health Technology, Kaduna and an Advanced Diploma in Public Administration at the Federal University of Technology, Yola.

She rose to become the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the Nigerian Air Forces School of Medical Sciences and Aviation Medicine (NAFSMSAM), Kaduna which is her current position before this promotion.

Thats not all; on that same day the force also inducted 13 new fighter pilots which historically included two women-  Kafayat Sanni and Tolulope Arotile.

They were reportedly trained in the United States and South Africa respectively.

The new pilots were inducted at the NAF Headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday in a ceremony attended like I said earlier by the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Pauline Tallen.

*Minister of women affairs Pauline Tallen and Chief of Air staff, Air marshal Sadique Abubakar decorating one of the two female jet-fighters pilots in Abuja on Tuesday, 15th, 2019. [credit] Punch

They are expected to be deployed in the North-East in the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram insurgents as well as for other security operations Nigerian Air Force is conducting in different parts of the country.

The two female Regular Cambatant Officers, according to a citation by The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, are not only female officers, but they are also outstanding aviators. 

While one is the first female fighter pilot in the Forces 55-year history, the second one is the first female combat helicopter pilot in the history of the service.

The first female fighter pilot trained at the US Air Force, following an excellent performance during her initial flying training course at 401 Flying Training School in Kaduna, while the second graduated from Starlite International Training Academy. They both performed well during their training 

From all indications, therefore, the promotion of Garba and the two female Combatant Pilots inducted would seem to demonstrate the commitment of the current NAF leadership in giving adequate attention to the empowerment of its female personnel to realize their full potentials.  

Before the news broke, one wouldve have assumed that this is a routine activity in the Nigerian Air Force. But that's, not the case.

The promoting of Garba and the inductees' fighter pilots Kafayat Sanni and Tolulope Arotile was indeed a welcome development for the Nigerian women who are known to be ever resourceful, ever resolute to accomplish like the popular saying that- what a man can do, a woman can do better. 

And it is a very commendable proverbial first step in a journey of a thousand miles because The Nigerian Air Force is a growing force. 

It the expectation of all and sundry that NAF will not rest on its oars by continuing to provide equal opportunity to all regardless of whether they are male or female.

Whatever might have caused the delay in the empowerment of female personnel in the Nigerian Air Force to fulfill their potential like it is in its sister Armed Forces I believe by now are not only fully identified but being given the desired attention with a view to scale up the number of women in its rank and file.  

Be that as it may, I want to join The Nigerian Air Forces Family, families of the newly promoted warrant officer Grace Garba and the fighter pilots Kafayat Sanni and Tolulope Arotile in welcoming them to this historical and highly honorable pedestal in their chosen career. 

Its a call to national service to defend the flag, the nation's unity and territorial integrity. And at those, I'm confident they will excel.  

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