Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the Nigerian Air Force recently made history when its first all-female crew successfully flew on an operational Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission
When it comes to female inclusiveness in a somewhat male-dominated military, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) takes the top as a force that has placed value beyond desk jobs on its female personnel. It is on record that this present-day NAF under the leadership of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has engaged its female personnel in both operational and combatant roles.
These elite female group boasts of fighter, helicopter, transport and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft pilots. Presently, NAF has seven female pilots who have distinguished themselves in a field often seen as the exclusive preserve of their male counterparts. From Flight Lieutenant Blessing Liman and Flight Lieutenant Chika Ani to Flying Officer Genevieve Nwaogwugwu, Flying Officer Olubunmi Ijelu; Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, and Flying Officer Chinelo Nwokoye, they play combat support roles.
Not one to do things in half measures, NAF again made history recently with the conduct of an operational ISR mission by some of its all-female crew.
According to NAF Director of Public Relations (DOPRI), Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the mission, which was conducted on May 28, 2020 using the NAF Beechcraft KingAir ISR aircraft, had Flying Officers Oluwabunmi Ijelu and Genevieve Nwaogwugwu as Captain and Co-Pilot, respectively, with Sergeant Njoku Patience as the Airborne Tactical Observation System (ATOS) mission operator and Lance Corporal Shawulu Godiya as the on-board technician.
He said: “It is noteworthy that Flying Officer Ijelu is the first female officer to become a Captain on a NAF aircraft. The aircraft was also marshaled by a female Marshaller, Aircraftwoman David Precious. The mission, which was preceded by the customary pre-flight briefing, originated from the 307 Executive Airlift Group (307 EAG), at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport and covered selected areas of interest in Niger State and its environs, where intelligence that would support NAF air interdiction missions as well as the operations of ground forces was gathered.”
The Commander 307 EAG, Air Commodore Francis Edosa, while welcoming the all-female crew from the mission, applauded them for displaying a high level of professionalism. He remarked that the feat was only made possible as a result of the commitment of Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, to providing a level playing field for all personnel, whether male or female, to thrive and realise their dreams and aspirations in service to the nation.
This, he said, had translated into tangible positive results. He therefore thanked the CAS for giving the female personnel the opportunity to prove their worth in hitherto male-dominated specialties in the NAF.
Meanwhile, according to Air Commodore Daramola, within the last four and half years of the current NAF leadership, there has been a surge in the involvement of female personnel in areas that were previously the preserve of men.
“Five female pilots have been winged within the period, bringing the total number of female pilots in the NAF to seven. These include the first female fixed-wing fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sani, as well as first and second female combat helicopter pilots, Flying Officers Tolulope Arotile and Chinelo Nwokoye.
“There are also six other female student pilots undergoing training both within and outside the country. One of them is on course to become the second ever female fixed-wing fighter pilot in the NAF, while the other would graduate as the first ever female Qualified Flight Instructor (QFI) in the 56-year history of the service.
“Many other female officers and airwomen are excelling in their various fields of specialisation including Regiment and Special Forces, Aircraft/Armament Engineers and Technicians as well as Air Traffic Controllers, amongst others.
“The NAF’s objective in this regard is to maximise all of the potentials of Nigeria’s vast human resource pool, male and female, to ensure the effective, efficient and timely employment of Air Power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives,” he added.