By Yushau A. Shuaib
Neither clients of plastic surgery nor make-up, their natural beauty delights the eye in their smartly dressed military wear… Though innocent looking, pure and enticing, they remain feminine, while their line of duty is the traditional masculine career of fearless and courageous souls. They are the Nigerian Women of War in the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
This writeup is a tribute to mark the International Women’s Day by examining the roles our women are playing in national security.
I have met some of them on the field and they were the topic of discussion at a recent interaction with the twentieth Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, when he disclosed that the trained female air combatants, known as Women of War, are engaged in active military operations, fighting Boko Haram terrorists in North-East, combating armed bandits in North-West, and other criminal elements in other parts of Nigeria.
Since his appointment as CAS on July 13, 2015, Air Marshal Abubakar has engaged in the massive recruitment of officers, airmen and airwomen, with heavy investment in capacity building, training and retraining of personnel.
The female warriors, like their male counterparts, are not only trained locally but some of them attended the best military academies in the world. Apart from those who have returned from training and are currently active in the frontlines, one of the warriors is currently undergoing intensive training in the United States of America to become a female fighter pilot, while another is in South Africa training to become a helicopter gunship pilot.
The trained female personnel, like their male counterparts, have neutralised insurgents during airstrike missions, provided close air support, air interdiction, in-theatre liaison flights, casualty evacuation, as well as logistics re-supply of ammunition, water, food, and medicine. In a nutshell, they have provided tactical support for the ground troops.
Some of the female air officers fly sophisticated fighter planes and control operation rooms used in gathering intelligence, carrying out surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) activities. Apart from the pilots, a number of the women of war are also experienced ammunition loadmasters, aircraft maintenance engineers, aerospace engineers, armament specialists, squad leaders, combatants, military policewomen, and air traffic controllers, among other specialisations.
The Women of War evolved mostly from the massive recruitment and training exercises conducted in the last three years under Air Marshal Abubakar, resulting in the engagement of 7,522 young airmen/airwomen, 400 young graduate-officers, and 95 winged pilots in the Nigerian Air Force.
In addition to making the NAF a gender-sensitive service that encourages its personnel to explore their potentials without inhibition in the armed forces, Air Marshal Abubakar ensured that senior officers on managerial levels are trained in other fields of relevance beyond their core fields of specialisation. For instance, when he appointed AVM Adesanya and later Air Commodore Daramola as spokespersons of the force, he ensured that the officers attended specialised and advanced practical communication programmes organised by the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) and the African Public Relations Association (APRA), among other capacity-building institutions to become members of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) as required by law. Therefore, their practical PR skills, acquired through advanced training rather than academic theories, have helped the officers to reposition the service and boost its reputation to the public admiration.
To ensure the trained and recruited personnel are engaged in relevant fields, the service has recorded remarkable achievements in the acquisition of new platforms and establishment of new operational offices across the country. The NFA’s structure has been expanded through the establishment of a Special Operations Command in Bauchi, a Ground Training Command in Enugu, and the establishment of new Regiment Groups in Gembu, Taraba State; Ipetu Ijesha, Osun State; Owerri, Imo State, and Agatu, Benue State. New Units have equally been established in Plateau, Katsina, Gombe, Zamfara State, and Nasarawa States.
It is to the credit of the CAS that NAF fleets of aircraft have recorded unprecedented growth with the purchase of 16 brand new aircrafts, the reactivation of 13 previously grounded aircrafts, the release of funds for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano aircrafts from America and five attack/utility helicopters from Italy. The NAF currently has in its arsenals Alpha Jets, Super Mushshak aircrafts, Mi-35M helicopters, gunships, Bell 412 helicopters, Tsaigunmi UAV, among others.
Meanwhile, apart from improving the welfare of personnel through the provision of befitting accommodation and a conducive environment, the service has expanded its Post-Service Housing Programme to address the shelter needs of officers and airmen/airwomen as they prepare for retirement.
Nigerians in host communities are also beneficiaries of the magnanimity of the Nigerian Airforce, which just completed another new 60-bed NAF Reference Hospital in the North-East and upgraded equipment at its various medical centres, while also constructing new secondary schools and adding blocks of classrooms and hostel accommodations in existing NAF schools across the country.
It was therefore not surprising that the NAF in the last three-and-a-half years under the Air Chief Sadique Abubakar has conducted medical outreaches that treated 479,921 patients as at December 2018. The NAF’s school feeding programme for over 1,000 school children has, more so, greatly contributed to the number of pupils who have returned to school in the area.
Yushau A. ShuaibAuthor, An Encounter with the Spymaster