The president has to explain why women will be banned from training as regular combatant cadets.
On Thursday, November 9, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari reconvened and inaugurated the Armed Forces Council.
During his subsequent meeting with the council, the president ratified the National Defence Policy 2017 (Revised); Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service Officers 2017, and also inaugurated the Harmonised Terms and Condition of Service for Soldiers/Rating/Airmen (Revised), among others.
According to a statement signed by Col. Tukur Gusau, Public Relations Officer to Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, the ratifications were deemed necessary to contend with contemporary security challenges and the enhancement of welfare, command, discipline and administration of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
He said “It (the council) reviewed terms and conditions of service for officers and soldiers. It reviewed some of the retirement benefits for officers and soldiers including Defence Policy which has been obsolete since 2006 that we reviewed and discussed and reached a conclusion on them.”
What Col. Gusau failed to disclose, deliberately or in error, is the recommendation 19 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
According to a report by The Punch on Monday, November 13, the recommendation read, “Phase out the training of female regular combatant cadets.”
History of female combatant cadets in the armed forces
Since the creation of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in 1964, only male officers were trained as combatants until 2011 when then-President Goodluck Jonathan issued a presidential directive that females interested in becoming combatant officers for the Nigerian armed forces should henceforth be admitted into the NDA.
Before that directive was issued, women in the military had been limited to non-combat duties which statutorily limited their career path as they couldn't aspire to the highest echelon of the country's military force.
In a briefing on the president's behalf, the Minister of Defence at the time, Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), explained that the new measure was an attempt to ensure that the country operates a strong, effective armed forces devoid of discrimination.
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.”
Not long after the directive, 20 female cadets, nicknamed Jonathan Queens, were admitted into the Academy with the 63rd Regular Course to undergo regular combatant training. By 2013, that number had increased to 56.
In October 2016, President Buhari was the Reviewing Officer at the Passing Out Parade of the 63rd Regular Course Cadets at the NDA in Kaduna where the first set of 19 female regular Combatant Officers in the history of Nigeria were commissioned as officers.
While addressing those new officers, the president had said, “The journey into the military career that you are starting today is turbulent and challenging, but interesting. Therefore, application of your training here in the academy will certainly see you through the journey.”
In light of the new ratification made by the government, the president might be about to curtail the journey of thousands of Nigerian girls before they can even start dreaming.
Performance of female cadets
A 2013 report revealed that while the male cadets were taking the lead in the military training, the females were taking the lead in the academic aspect. Out of the top 10 positions in the class during the time of the report by Weekly Trust, the first eight were female cadets.
During graduation in 2016, women won three awards. Female cadet, C. Lord-Mallam, won the Navy Gold award which is the highest in the navy category; while the Army Silver award, which is the second highest in the army, went to a female cadet, K.O. Dayo-Karim; and the Air Force Silver award was also won by a female cadet, O. S Ijelu.
Earlier in October 2016, before the Passing Out Parade, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, revealed that the Nigerian Army had concluded plans to review conditions of service to accommodate more female combatant officers.
He said, “The issue regarding their deployment in view of operational exigencies has necessitated a review of their training curricula as it concerns the Nigerian Army.
“I have therefore directed the convocation of policy guidelines to augment the provisions of HTACOS (officers) which will address the peculiar nature of their commission vis-a-vis their employment in service.
“It is thus the desire of the Nigerian Army to resume the admission of female regular combatant cadets in line with global convention on non-discrimination against women in national service.”
What is the reason for the ban?
Since the discovery of the ratification to discontinue the recruitment of female combatant cadets on Monday, the presidency or the military's top brass have failed to address it, so the official reason for the ban is yet unknown.
Unofficially, the initial report from a military insider doesn't show good judgement.
According to an anonymous army general, the recommendation for the ban was made to the president after complaints had been made by some northern Muslim leaders who were concerned about the likelihood of a woman attaining significant positions in the armed forces.
He said, “Some northern conservatives were not happy about it because most of the female cadets are either Christians from the South and northern minority groups or Muslims from the South and Middle Belt.
“Dissatisfied with how things are turning out, the northern Muslim leaders lobbied the military authorities to stop the programme for women.
“I was informed that the women were trained just like the men were trained. They were not given any preferential treatment.
“Two of these female cadets beat their male counterparts to win placements at the United States Military Academy at West Point and they are doing well.
“It is unfortunate that while the western world and even other African nations are progressing, Nigeria is going backwards.”
He also noted that President Buhari must have agreed to the elimination of the programme because the results of women's performance since 2011 had been misrepresented by the council.
What happens now?
While Nigerians await an official statement from the relevant authorities, most especially the presidency, it is worth noting that selling this ban as anything other than a shallow and discriminatory measure against women is going to be a tall order.
Undoubtedly, the armed forces is already one of the most difficult places for women to thrive, especially in an inhibitive and culturally regressive society like Nigeria.
Rejoice Igom, one of the original 20 pioneer cadets, said their arrival at the Academy had initially been met with disdain.
In 2013, she said, “It has been very challenging so far because when we came, we were the first set of female cadets in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) so most of the male cadets were thinking we can't make it. On our resumption day, they were calling us names including prostitutes, asking us why we could not just go to a civil university.”
If the anonymous army general's claim is true and the recommendation was indeed made on the back of complaints by myopic zealots, then tough questions need to be asked.
If we're so lucky, it will be most interesting to hear the president's side of the story because this is clearly something that has been in the works for quite some time.
If the president really cancelled the recruitment of able and willing Nigerian girls hoping to serve as combatants in the nation's armed forces because he was told that they were performing poorly in training, then he has to take a long hard look at himself and decide if he's truly the reformed democrat he's claimed to be several times.
President Buhari has spent a good chunk of his administration trying to convince Nigerians that not only is he a fair leader who doesn't show any bias towards his native north, but that he's also a progressive leader who is down with the female cause and would always be inclusive of the opposite gender in its fight to gain better footing with the male folk.
This ban defeats the president's message and affects his public image in a way that he could do without, not to mention that it's just wrong in thought or application.
If generations of Nigerian girls want to serve their motherland in any capacity they so desire, no presidential directive should stand in their way, especially not one concocted by shadowy insecure men who have refused to keep up with the rest of the world.