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NAF: Women pilots flying to greatness

Probably because I’ve always harboured a desire to join the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) from childhood, I have always followed its activities with a keen, sometimes critical, eye. I, unfortunately, never got to join, instead following a path that led me to the banking sector. But honestly, today, as it is, NAF is one arm of the armed forces that makes me proud to be Nigerian, and also makes me value the strength and brilliance of my fellow womenfolk. And that is because of the way we are represented, and being allowed opportunities to prove our mettle, and excel.

I recently read, in the Daily Trust of course, that the NAF on the 5th of May 2020, winged another female helicopter pilot and 11 others, at a low-key ceremony described as low-key (due to COVID-19 no doubt), held at NAF Headquarters, in Abuja. The winging of the pilots symbolizes their official induction into the prestigious pilots’ corps. I was pleased to learn that the NAF has winged over 114 pilots, amongst which are 5 females, in the last 4, who are already undertaking various missions in different theaters of operation across the country.

When I read the remarks of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar at the ceremony, he expressed his delight over the successful completion of the training by the young pilots, and noted that the desire of the NAF to fulfil its constitutional mandate has remained the motivating factor to continuously seek ways to regularly improve operational capacity of the service through training and retraining. According to him, the 12 pilots winged had their flying training both in Nigeria and abroad, and have completed comprehensive flight training programmes. He said something afterwards, which struck me: “I am happy that we have among the 12, the second-ever female helicopter pilot.” That statement did two things: First, it made me become excited, being a woman myself. Secondly, it clearly showed a determination and commitment to respect servicewomen.

The CAS, himself a seasoned combat helicopter pilot, further noted that as at 5 May 20, the NAF had successfully winged a total of 114 pilots since July 2015 while another 26 student pilots were currently undergoing or scheduled to begin basic flying training abroad. Out of these 26 student pilots, Air Marshal Abubakar disclosed that 2 are female officers. More exciting news! “Upon completion of their training, one would 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 years history of the Service,” the CAS added, to my delight, as well as that of Nigerian women nationwide.

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While reminding the new pilots that the art of flying goes beyond the innate technical ability that earned them wings, Air Marshal Abubakar charged them to remain disciplined and constantly develop a balanced mix of critical thinking, leadership skills and the right attitude.

It feels good to learn that the NAF remains fully committed to the successful execution of its constitutional roles, while appreciating the president for providing the enabling environment to effectively discharge its constitutional mandate professionally and responsibly, even in the face of harsh economic realities.

The NAF, on 15 October, 2019, made history by decorating the first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sani, and first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, with their wings in Abuja. The new female helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Chinelo Nwokoye, is expected to join other female pilots who are currently deployed in different theaters of operation in the country to contribute her quota in the defence of her fatherland. This just makes my heart full with joy, hope, and pride.

I have a 7-year-old daughter, and she seems very keen about flying, piloting, et cetera. As she grows older, if she shows even the slightest interest in joining the NAF, you can bet I will give her all the support she needs. Nigerian women are more brilliant, tougher, and full of potential than ever before, and all it takes for them to soar to the skies, is a conducive, professional atmosphere, something like what the NAF is clearly providing. To the CAS, and all the personnel of the NAF, I say well-done. To all the servicewomen in the NAF, Army, and Navy, I say thank you, and well-done, and may God continue to bless and guide you as you represent us in keeping this beautiful nation of ours safe.

Umar-Hassan wrote in from Gwarinpa, Abuja

 

 

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