The Nigerian Military is set to overhaul a Jonathan-administration policy allowing the admission of female cadets into the combatant course of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).
According to Punch, a recommendation made by the Armed Forces Council which was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari last week asked that the programme be phased out.
Buhari had also reportedly ratified the “National Defence Policy 2017 (Revised); Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service Officers 2017” last week.
Recommendation 19 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, which was seen by Punch, read: “Phase out the training of female regular combatant cadets.”
A move that has been described as a setback in the push for gender equality, the phasing out was reportedly lobbied for by unnamed Northern Muslim Elders who do not want a woman to one day lead the army.
A source at the military told Punch: “The northern Muslim leaders want to prevent a situation where one day, a woman will lead the army and give orders to men.”
While the Nigerian Armed Forces has always admitted women, they have always been limited to non-combat duties, limiting their career paths.
The source explained that there are various types of commissions in the Armed Forces – Regular Combatant Commission, Short Service Combatant Commission, Direct Regular Commission, Direct Short Service and Executive Commission.
However, only officers admitted into the Regular Combatant Commission may rise to head any of the services or become Chief of Defense Staff. The source said:
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, while the others have limited career path.
If the military is able to scrap this programme, women will never be able to head any of the arms of the Nigerian military.
The northern Muslim leaders want to prevent a situation where one day, a woman will lead the army and give orders to men.
Of the first set of women admitted into the commission, dubbed the Jonathan Queens, only 1 muslim from the North, Fatima Saleh, enlisted.
She had reportedly said, in 2013, that her Arabic school teacher had advised her against enlisting.
The source, general, who spoke to Punch, said those pushing to scrap the programme have convinced President Buhari that women were not doing well. He said:
When we started the training of female cadets in 2011, we never thought it would be successful. When the first set of women cadets graduated from the academy last year, women won three awards, including the best award in the navy category.
A female cadet, C. Lord-Mallam, won the Navy Gold award which is the highest in the navy category. The Army Silver award, which is the second highest in the army, went to a female cadet, K. O Dayo-Karim. The Air Force Silver award was also won by a female cadet, O. S Ijelu.
However, 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 placement at the United States Military Academy in 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.
While the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, was unreachable for comments on the change of policy, another source at the military said the move, if it came to fruition, would not affect the 2018 NDA admission. He said:
The NDA has already begun receiving applications for the 70th regular course since October 20, 2017. The application, which will run till February 2018, is open to both male and female Nigerians.
So, there is no going back on what the NDA has started. It will be a public disaffection if the military reneges on what it has advertised and we are a professional arm and cannot do that.