‘’The major challenge, I must be very honest with you, is the fact that you know you meet a lot of men who wonder what you are doing in their territory and you have to spend every day of your life proving that you should be here. For me there is nothing in this constitution that says I am not a full fledged citizen of this country. I don’t see it anywhere, but you see, there are still people who still have issues with that, and such people vent their frustration on you. But you have to be resilient enough and claim your place because nobody is going to give it to you’’ – Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu retd.
One of Nigeria’s hidden resources (Women as described in a United Kingdom sponsored Report -2012) is retd Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu. She was actually not the first woman to attain that height in the Nigerian military. That credit goes to Major-Gen. Aderonke Kale, the first woman to attain the height of a two-star General and commanded the Nigerian Army Medical Corp. It is usually the ambition of an officer in the military to command his or her corps. Retired Kale, a psychiatrist joined the Nigerian Army as medical practitioner and retired in 1996.
Today that Nigeria is remembering her fallen heroes, we yield this space to Itunu Hotonu who performed the seemingly incredible by enrolling as the first female regular combatant Officer in Africa, and in her active service years in the Nigerian Navy distinguished herself on account of her high buoyancy, courage, and ability to ride on storms alongside her male counterparts in the military. Itunu enlisted at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna in 1985. She was the first woman to attend the academy and graduated as best overall student in her class of 73 cadets.
Hotonu is an architect like her husband – Yomi who has never been intimidated by her wife’s successes and fame. Her success story as a highly resilient and dedicated professional and her impressive credentials is worth reading. In 2012, she was advanced to the position of Rear Admiral, and emerged the first woman in West Africa to attain this position. A brilliant mind, Hotonu attended the National Defence College, Abuja, where she emerged the best overall graduating student and won the Commander-in-Chief’s prize; as well as the Commandant’s prize for the best research.
Hotunu studied Architecture from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A bold woman, she initially attempted to join the Nigerian Army as a combatant but was rejected. The Nigerian Army discriminated against her and refused her a chance to prove her mettle. She was told there was no place for women in its engineering corps. Undaunted, Itunu applied to join the Nigerian Navy where she was told that she would be accepted irrespective of her gender. Rear Admiral Hotonu (retd) a trained architect and an expert in naval logistics finally enlisted in the Nigerian Navy in 1985.
BRILLIANCE & HONOURS ALL THE WAY: She has served at various naval formations and in different capacities across the country. She was among the first set of architects to be enlisted into the Nigerian Navy, and Hotonu was the first female military officer to serve as a Directing Staff (that is an instructor) at the famous Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji. She was also the first female military officer to attend the then National War College, now National Defence College, where she emerged the best overall graduating student, and won the Commander-in-Chief’s prize as well as the Commandant’s prize for the best research.
Itunu hails from Badagry, Lagos State and is the first child in a family of four girls. Her parents never refused to train her because she is a female, but encouraged her to develop her potentials. After graduation at Nsukka, the retd rear-admiral worked for two years as an architect before starting her quest to serve in the military. She told Sun Newspaper in an interview that ‘’It was tough training in the Navy. The training was tough and the best way I can describe it to you is to multiply what they put you through during National Youth Service Corps by 20 times and then you get an idea of what the training was like. I enjoyed it but whao! it was tough. But the good thing was that at the end of it all you come out fitter than you have ever been in your life. ‘’You come out more disciplined and you come out with a commitment to keep fit’’
NO PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT: Itunu Hotonu was never spared because she was a female trainee or officer. She went through the same rigours experienced by the male sex. She was a Gentleman Officer as they are described. She disclosed that one of her instructors taught her that ‘’the mistake of one person can cause everybody’s life in war situations because your survival depends on you as a group’’ Therefore when it was time for discipline, all of them in the set were disciplined together as a team.
Before her retirement, Hotonu served in the following critical positions:
- Director of Projects, Naval Headquarters
- Commander, Lagos Logistics Depot
- Command Logistics Officer, Headquarters, Eastern Naval Command, Calabar
- Managing Director, Nigerian Navy Post Service Housing Scheme (NNPSHS), Karshi, Nassarawa State where she supervise the construction of over 1,000 houses, with the first 460 completed within a year.
- ATTAINING THE RANK OF REAR ADMIRAL: Itunu Hotonu made history when she was in December 2012, decorated by President Goodluck Jonathan assisted by the then Women Affairs Minister, Mrs. Josephine Anenih as the first female Rear Admiral in the history of the Nigerian Navy. She was one of the eleven Navy Commodores promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral – The first to attain that height in the entire West African sub-region. If the military convention is for wives of military officers to decorate their husbands, Architect Abayomi Hotonu too should have been made to decorate his wife. Men, please note.
WISH FOR A WOMAN TO BE APPOINTED COMMANDER, PRESIDENTIAL AIR FLEET: It is the retd Rear Admiral’s wish that the Nigerian Defence Academy be supported to train more female regular combatant officers, and that those who are strong enough to face the rigours appointed Commanders of the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) It is very possible, even now provided wives of top government functionaries who are entitled to the use of Presidential jets lobby President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Chief of Staff to the President that wives of public officers entitled to be flown by Presidential jets that be flown by only female pilots whenever they travel by these facilities. They have listening husbands. I know at least, that Mr President and Mr Vice-President love their wives and would always want to make them happy.
AS A MENTOR IN THE MILITARY: Hotonu resolved to be an architect at the age of 13 years which is a testimony to young girls that only God could stop you if you are determined. She was the first female officer to serve as an instructor at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji. In 2012 she spent time in Liberia mentoring women in that country’s armed forces. She probably could have successfully headed the Nigerian Navy, if it was her turn by promotion/appointment; and the Commander-in-Chief so wished.
Young women, you could perform even a greater feat. The sky is no longer the limit because technological advancements have taken humanity to other planets. Therefore, go for your goals. But we must not get to any stage where there would be contests for headship of family units, as it is not part of our culture for any woman to say: ‘’hubby, it is your turn to fix things in the kitchen today”
WOMEN AS UNSUNG HEROES: Speaking on how to achieve gender balance at the 2019 World Maritime Day Celebration in Lagos, themed ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’ Mrs. Hotonu stated women have long been in the maritime industry in Nigeria, but as usual, as unsung heroes. She said that there must be strategies for empowering women so that participation would remain on an upward trajectory. She contended that early and focused education, role modelling and mentorship programme, provision of enabling environment and building women for roles to meet challenges of dynamic leadership are required to improve the chances of women.
REMOVING BARRIERS: Hotonu asserted that: ‘’Research has shown that economies thrive when there is good gender balance and women are often dynamic leaders of change.“However, discriminatory laws still hold some women back and a lot is due to cultural and societal barriers, but even a fair share is due to women themselves. “Mentoring by role models will go a long way in changing these dynamics. Hotonu said it was time to acknowledge that women are naturally endowed with unique leadership skills, which if harnessed, would further strengthen the maritime environment. According to her, sensitising the girl child and making the industry attractive is important in ensuring women participation in the industry.
ADDRESSING CHALLENGES: In a 2013 lecture delivered at Bowen University, Itunu Hotonu encouraged the female gender to always prove their worth: “Women who want to be up there must work for it. It is not a joke, you must show that you can do it. -At the 100 Years of the Nigerian Woman -Achieving 50/50 by 2020, Lagos, April 2013. ‘’I had a dream to get to the top of my career and nothing was going to let me go off that dream. Sometimes it looked like a distant dream, sometime it would even fade to a dot in the horizon, sometime I would want to give up but the good thing was that I had a lot of supportive people who believed in me, people who, when the going got really rough, said to me, no, you cannot give up. The major challenge, I must be very honest with you, is the fact that you know you meet a lot of men who wonder what you are doing in their territory and you have to spend every day of your life proving that you should be here. For me, there is nothing in this constitution that says I am not a full fledged citizen of this country. I don’t see it anywhere, but you see, there are still people who still have issues with that, and such people vent their frustration on you. But you have to be resilient enough and claim your place because nobody is going to give it to you.
IMPORTANCE OF MENTORING: Non-profit organizations that focus on empowering and developing professional women in Nigeria have really done well in the past few years. This is one useful initiative that could be copied by all other similar bodies, including the federal government through the Office of the Special Adviser to Mr. President on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais. The success stories of these non-profits need to be told, and possibly copied by associations managed by successful men.
These professional women show the world that they are just as intelligent as any other people on earth. Senior female lawyers who are proving unstoppable include Funke Adekoya SAN, Funke Agbor SAN. Funke Aboyade, SAN;
Kofo Dosekun SAN; Valerie Azinge, SAN; Funmi Awomolo, SAN; Funmi Roberts and Funmi Falana. And perhaps other organizations with related mandates could be encouraged to study this valuable programme; that is guiding young professionals to excel. Should the Office of the Special Adviser to Mr. President be positively inclined, it could go into working arrangements with these associations to promote issues dealing with the future of young professionals being mentored by these female bodies.
From this point of view, and the advancements recorded by women in governance (political and corporate) in the last two decades, one could safely conclude that it might not be too long for a woman to emerge Madam President of the Federal Republic. Liberia made history by choosing the first elected female President in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, now 82 years old, to lead the country. She succeeded in stamping her name in the positive pages of history. Johnson Sirleaf won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize as a champion for women’s rights.
THE CHANGE CHAMPIONS: With Nigeria’s current level of development and enlightenment, those Statues and International Regulations on Women might not really work significantly as desired. The consolation, however, might be that the journey has at least commenced, and women could now assert themselves as professionally equal to men in all careers. But not at home, where the husband is the undisputed captain. Of advantage to the female gender is the fact that female professional associations engaged in mentoring younger ones appear more organized than the ones organized by men. I haven’t even heard about any put together by men to mentor boys and young men. Finally, in saluting the Nigerian woman again as NIGERIA’S HIDDEN RESOURCES, let ‘THE CHANGE CHAMPIONS’ as they are described in the report under reference, come forward and start strategizing for political relevance.
Fortunately, women also pray more than men do. Should you wish, Terrific Headlines will join women in prayers that God will move, ‘BY FIRE BY FORCE’, ala MOUNTAIN OF FIRE & MIRACLES to locate women in their places of destiny. The first step to make women occupy the three topmost positions of Mr. President, Mr. Vice-President and Senate President they have never occupied is to work towards reversal of roles in the 2023 arrangement. Let women refuse to be cheerleaders and dancers. Tell male politicians to dance while you campaign for good positions. By way of recapitulation, let me say to our women, please, continue being our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, advisers, daughters in-law, change champions. Etc May the Good Lord continue to bless Nigerian women.
It is believed that women, as pivots of family units are better placed to facilitate campaigns against social and criminal vices; and how to arrest the trend.