The reported termination of the admission of female cadets into the Regular Combatant Course of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) took many Nigerians by surprise last week. The admission of the first set of 20 females into the institution in 2011 had been warmly welcomed in the country. The plan to stop the enrolment of females for the course is, therefore, worrisome, especially as it has been traced to the military’s highest policy making body, the Armed Forces Council, which was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari last week.
Although the military has since denied the plan to stop the admission of females for the course, Recommendation 19 of the Revised National Defence Policy 2017 paper entitled “Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Services,” which has now been made public, provides that “the training of female combatants for the AFN (Armed Forces of Nigeria) be phased out.”
The AFN runs five distinct training programmes: Short Service Combatant Commission; Direct Regular Commission; Direct Short Service Commission; Executive Commission; and the Regular Combatant Commission. Only the Regular Combatant Commission is free of any career restriction. In other words, it affords an officer the opportunity to rise to the pinnacle of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
No rationale was offered for the alleged policy reversal except the widespread perception that it was based on complaints from some unnamed Northern Muslim leaders who were uncomfortable with the prospects of a woman heading the military in future.
This seeming bid to bar women from the commanding heights of the military is in spite of the fact that not long ago, female officers swept some of the awards in the three arms of the force – Army, Navy and Air Force. A female cadet, K.O. Dayo-Karim, won the silver award in the Army, O.S. Ijelu won the silver award in the Air Force and C. Lord Mallam won gold in the Navy. Thus, it is shocking that a plan may be in the offing to stop the admission of females into the Regular Combatant Course at this time that they are exhibiting so much promise and enthusiasm.
However, since the military high command has, through the Director of Defence Information, Major General John Enenche, denied the plan to exclude females from the course, we want to believe his claim that “the contents of all those publications are ill-intended concoctions, not authentic and should, therefore, be disregarded completely.” He has also argued that the “provision in the terms and conditions of service for female officers of the Nigerian military is that they are eligible for all the types of commission that are grantable to their male counterparts, and (it) has not changed.”
Although a national newspaper has published an excerpt from the military’s official document, which supported the alleged restriction of females from the course, we hope that General Enenche’s denial will not join a long list of military statements that have turned out to be less than factual. It is not only that any discrimination on the basis of sex is a contravention of the Nigerian Constitution, the idea of excluding females in any aspect of service in the armed forces in 2017 is clearly inappropriate.
Americans once had anxieties about the ability of their females to successfully complete the physically tasking combat training in the Marine Corps. Eventually, they found that many women were able to do what the men could do. There are, however, older officers who still feel uncomfortable deploying males and females during active combat, especially on the battlefield. But, women have acquitted themselves creditably in various fields that were once thought to be the special preserve of men. Women have broken all the so-called glass ceilings and the Nigerian military should not be an exception.
Instead of discriminating against women, Nigerian authorities should encourage them to venture into every area of human endeavour. We should create an enabling environment which would encourage them to participate in every field and give the nation the benefit of their oftentimes exceptional gifts and dedicated service.