Over time, there have been debates on gender inclusion and women representation in the Nigerian Armed Forces, with claims that female military personnel lack access to career advancement opportunities and are underrepresented in the senior cadres of the military.
In March 2021, a Facebook user, Emmanuel Maduka Nwazue, claimed that the highest rank a woman can attain in the Nigerian military before retirement is two-star general, despite her impressive educational qualifications, training, experience, and expertise. He claimed that this situation was due to certain “absurd” and “wicked policies”.
The post reads: “So, no matter her impressive educational qualifications, training, experience, and expertise, the highest rank a woman can attain in the Nigerian military is Two-Star General and she’s retired?
“Now this is absurd! Wicked policies like this one are what we all should join hands and fight. Most importantly, I feel they’re what feminism should be up and against, and not the misplaced hatred for men that seem to characterise the behaviour of some ladies in Nigeria.
“To put my expression simply, I’m only saying that if a boy has to go to school, a girl also has to; if both should graduate as engineers, both should be employed and paid as engineers without gender considerations. It’s called equity, as what’s good for the goose is equally good for the gander.”
This claim attempts to drive a narrative of the underrepresentation of women in the Nigerian Armed Forces, with umbrages of institutional-driven gender segregation. It also seeks to paint the Nigerian Armed Forces as a gender-insensitive and unequal opportunities employer that prevents women from attaining career advancement.
This could have implications on public perception and discourage women who may be interested in careers within the Armed Forces.
DUBAWA studied the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) of the Nigerian Armed Forces and found no policies or provisions that limit the promotion of female military officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces. HTACOS is a document that spells out the terms and conditions of service for officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces – Army, Navy, and Airforce.
It is incontrovertible that women have distinguished themselves in service of the Nigerian Armed Forces, even rising to the rank of the highly revered and exclusive level of generalship.
For instance, Aderonke Kale, a psychiatrist, was promoted to the rank of Major General in 1994, becoming the first female to hold the rank in Nigeria and West Africa. She led the Nigerian Army Medical Corps.
Another woman, Abimbola Olatilewa Amusu, also attained the rank of Major General in the Nigerian Army. She commanded the Nigerian Army Medical Corps from 2015 to 2018. There is also a Brigadier General Cecilia Akagu.
These giant strides by women are not limited to the Army. Itunu Hotonu, a woman, also rose to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy and the first in Africa. Others include Rear Admiral Ekanem–Nesiama and Navy Commodores Christie Okpara, Jamila Abubakar Sadiq Malafa.
Contrary to the claim that “the highest rank a woman can attain in the Nigerian military is Two-Star General” due to “wicked policies”, Dubawa found that there were no policies in the Nigerian Armed Forces that limited women from attaining ranks beyond two-star general. The ranks of two-star generals in the Nigerian military are Major General (Army), Rear Admiral (Navy), and Air Vice Marshal (Airforce).
Dubawa found that the rank of two-star general is arguably the highest substantive rank attainable through the normal promotional track in the Nigerian Armed Forces, and this is not gender-specific.
Promotions to the rank of three-star and four-star generals (Lieutenant General and General in the Army and their equivalent in other arms) were exclusively reserved for the country’s service chiefs. Following their appointment as service chiefs, officers are promoted to the ranks of General (Chief of Defence Staff), Lieutenant General (Chief of Army Staff), Vice Admiral (Chief of Naval Staff), and Air Vice Marshal (Chief of Air Staff).
The essence of this is to set them aside in seniority and place them ranks above other officers of the Armed Forces.
Although rare, there have been some exceptions to this rule in the past.
For instance, in July 2019, Lamidi Adeosun was promoted to Lieutenant General, the same rank held by the then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. As Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Abel Akale also held the same rank of Lieutenant General, with the Chief of Army Staff at the time, Martin Luther Agwai. These are two of many cases of officers who, although not service chiefs, were promoted beyond two-star generals.
In Nigeria’s history, no woman has ever been appointed a service chief in any of the three military branches or as chief of defence staff. Findings by Dubawa link this to the type of non-combat commissioning that had been available to females in the past.
There are five types of commission in the armed forces namely; Regular Combatant Commission, Short Service Combatant Commission, Direct Regular Commission, Direct Short Service, and Executive Commission.
“Of all these types of commissions, 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,” Nigeria’s ex-Minister of Defence, Adetokumbo Kayode revealed during a media parley in 2011.
That year, President Goodluck Jonathan issued a directive permitting the admission and training of female candidates at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and their subsequent enlistment as combatants in the Nigerian Armed Forces. These female cadets were nicknamed and have been known to be called “Jonathan’s Queens”.
With this directive, the minister said: “The female regular combatant officers will therefore have the opportunity, as their male counterparts, to command major units of the army, fly fighter jets of the Airforce and to be seamen officers who could command a combat going vessel of the Nigerian Navy.”
This arrangement and others, such as the recent establishment of the Nigerian Army Women Corps (NAWC), empowers women to participate in combat roles and discharge their duties effectively and raises the possibilities of the appointment of women as service chiefs and promotion to the rank of three or four-star generals in the nearest future.
The claim by a Facebook user that due to wicked policies the highest rank a woman can attain in the Nigerian military is two-star general, no matter her impressive educational qualifications, training, experience, and expertise, is misleading.
Dubawa found that there are no policies that support the claim that the highest rank a woman can attain in the Nigerian Armed Forces is two-star general.