In a major policy reversal, the Nigerian military is set to end the admission of female cadets into the combatant course of the Nigerian Defence Academy, The PUNCH has learnt.
A set of 20 females, nicknamed Jonathan Queens, were first admitted into the course in Nigeria’s premier military officer training institution during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2011.
It was learnt that the recommendation to end the programme was made by the Armed Forces Council which was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari last week.
Buhari had also last week ratified the National Defence Policy 2017 (Revised); Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service Officers 2017.
Recommendation 19 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of the Armed Forces of Nigeria was sighted by one of our correspondents on Sunday.
It read, “Phase out the training of female regular combatant cadets.”
A serving general in the Nigerian Army told our correspondent that the military took the decision due to complaints from some unnamed northern Muslim leaders.
The general, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, explained that there were various types of commissions in the Armed Forces namely: Regular Combatant Commission, Short Service Combatant Commission, Direct Regular Commission, Direct Short Service and Executive Commission.
He said, “It is only the Regular Combatant Commission that can give an officer the opportunity to aspire to head any of the services or rise to become the Chief of Defence Staff, while the others have limited career path. If the military is able to scrap this programme, women will never be able to head any of the arms of the Nigerian military.
“The northern Muslim leaders want to prevent a situation where one day, a woman will lead the army and give orders to men.”
Incidentally, it was reported in 2013 that of the first 20 female cadets, only one Muslim, Fatimah Saleh, enlisted. She had also stated that her “Arabic school teacher” had advised her against joining the army.
The general said those pushing for the scrapping of the programme had convinced the President that women were not doing well in the programme.
He said, “When we started the training of female cadets in 2011, we never thought it would be successful. When the first set of women cadets graduated from the academy last year, women won three awards, including the best award in the navy category.
“A female cadet, C. Lord-Mallam, won the Navy Gold award which is the highest in the navy category. The Army Silver award, which is the second highest in the army, went to a female cadet, K. O Dayo-Karim. The Air Force Silver award was also won by a female cadet, O. S Ijelu.
“However, some northern conservatives were not happy about it because most of the female cadets are either Christians from the South and northern minority groups or Muslims from the South and Middle Belt.
“Dissatisfied with how things are turning out, the northern Muslim leaders lobbied the military authorities to stop the programme for women.”
The general described the recommendation as an attempt to reverse the gains of the past, adding that it was a setback in the push for gender equality.
He revealed that many of the female cadets were outperforming their male colleagues, adding that their achievements were being suppressed by the military hierarchy.
The general said, “I was informed that the women were trained just like the men were trained. They were not given any preferential treatment. Two of these female cadets beat their male counterparts to win placement at the United States Military Academy in West Point and they are doing well.
“It is unfortunate that while the western world and even other African nations are progressing, Nigeria is going backwards.”
In 2010, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, had ordered the military to allow females interested in becoming combatant officers of the Nigerian armed forces to be admitted into the NDA for the first time ever.
The then Minister of Defence, Adetokunbo Kayode, had said other countries in Africa were “already doing it and they are not better than us.”
He had said, “Presently, we have female armoured tank drivers, female Para-troopers, jumpers, and so on. We want to have strong, virile armed forces devoid of discrimination.”
Expatiating on the new directive, the minister had said, “As you are all aware, the Nigerian Armed forces have always had opening for female officers. However, these have always been limited to non- combat duties, thereby limiting their career path irrespective of their competence or skill.
“To redress this obvious anomaly and in line with theconviction of the President that every Nigerian, irrespective of gender or any affiliation, should be given equal opportunity to excel in his or her chosen field of life, Mr. President has directed the immediate enlistment and training of female regular combatant commission officers into the Nigerian armed forces.”
However, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, failed to comment on the revised harmonised terms and conditions on Sunday.
The Director of Information, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, did not pick his calls, and a text message sent to his line had yet to be replied to as of press time.
Also, the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
However, a military source said the revised harmonised structure, if it saw the light of the day at all, would not affect the NDA admission for 2018.
“The NDA has already begun receiving applications for the 70th regular course since October 20, 2017. The application, which will run till February 2018, is open to both male and female Nigerians.
“So, there is no going back on what the NDA has started. It will be a public disaffection if the military reneges on what it has advertised and we are a professional arm and cannot do that.’’
Civil Society Organisations have kicked against the move, saying it will be like taking 10 steps backwards.
A civil society organisation, Partners West Africa, Nigeria, said the policy would spell doom for Nigeria’s quest for inclusiveness.
Executive Director of PWAN, Mrs. Kemi Okenyondo, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, on Sunday.
She said, “If this is allowed to come to reality, it will be like taking 10 steps backwards and such would be revising all the gains of inclusiveness and mainstreaming of women within the security sector.
“If it is allowed to sail through, it then means that the perception that this administration is not given to having women participate within the different layers of government will be held to be true.”
Also, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and the Campaign for Democracy said the move was a violation of the fundamental human rights of womenfolk.
The CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “It is absurd and unacceptable. It offends Section 42 of the constitution of the Federal Government of Nigeria, which talks about non-discrimination against citizens on the basis of sex, gender, religion and others.
“We have female officers who distinguished themselves in the armed forces. We have a lot of them who have showed capacity and done more than what their male colleagues are doing, even at the war front. I think that recruitment and admission into the armed forces should be a question of preference rather than discouragement on the basis of gender.’’
The CD President, Usman Abdul, said, “We should not allow such proposition to see the light of the day. It is discriminatory and anti-democratic. It offends the human rights privileges. It is proper to admit women into full combatant service. We have this in the advanced countries and it is the international best practices.”
Also, Women Arise for Change Initiative said the move was a ploy to marginalise women.
Its President, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said necessary action would be taken to challenge the policy.
Okei-Odumakin said, “It is an unacceptable discrimination against women; highly insensitive. They must tell us why they are putting this glass ceiling.”