Blessing Liman: Now Licensed to Fight and Fly with Wings

THISDAY Newspaper

Those who believe and propagate the axiom that whatever a man can do, women can do and even better, will henceforth have one more example to support the claim which is fast becoming an established fact.

For a turf that is almost exclusively the preserve of men, the emergence of 28-year-old Blessing Liman as Flying Officer is undoubtedly remarkable. It is outstanding enough joining the Nigerian Air Force, but it is doubly egregious for such a young lady to become a jet fighter. And that explains why the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) last week made history when it winged Liman as the first female military pilot, having qualified as a flying combat officer.

Many believe that this epoch-making event will potentially alter the gender balance among the combatants in the Nigerian military.

The feat is additionally a booster to meeting key targets of the Millennium Development Goals MDGs), which is Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.

Liman’s decoration and winging last week in Abuja by the Minister of Defence, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, placed her in the list of distinguished women who dared to break the barrier in their career pursuit, which as it were, have been dominated by the men folk.

Like her name, the first Nigerian female military pilot has been described as a ‘blessing’ to womenfolk, the military and the nation, judging by her achievement. It would however be apt to note that her pioneering feat could only be possible through the determination of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, to transform and revolutionise the Air Force into a modern, effective and efficient combat arm of the military.

More importantly, the 28-year-old Kaduna State born lady’s rise to excellence was directly hinged on the directive by President Goodluck Jonathan last year on the occasion of decoration of the first military female General and Naval Officer, Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu, that the Nigeria military should begin to train women for combat operations and join the league of few countries like Israel with enviable numbers of active female military combatants.

Liman’s journey to stardom entered a crucial stage last December, when she was commissioned as a Flying Officer along with 126 others who completed the Direct Short Service Course 2010/11 Cadets of 325 Ground Training Group at the NAF Base, Kaduna.

After her commissioning, Liman was nominated for the 2012 THISDAY Award for Excellence, an honour that further served as tonic for her to soar higher. In no time, she became a reference point, a ready example of how gender myths can be broken, thus providing a challenge to the womenfolk to see her feat as a call to exploring their capabilities “for nation-building”.

“It is very uplifting and I feel very proud of myself though it has been very challenging. Coming from the civil war and the civil mentality, the Air Force has done a great job because it has changed our orientation.

“I believe that all females have equal opportunity to dignify their rights in whatever adventure they choose they can do,” she said.

Speaking at the occasion, Umar who commissioned the officers, said that the successful passing out from cadet training of the first female pilot was “a very laudable achievement” to the nation.

He emphasised that the armed forces were directed to produce female combatants, in order to give impetus to gender equality in the polity as part of President Jonathan’s transformation agenda – as well as affirm the belief that women could make valuable contributions to nation building.
“By producing the first female military pilot, NAF has given a good account of itself and justified the vision of its founding fathers as a veritable tool for nation-building,” he noted.

Having successfully passed that crucial stage, Liman’s big moment finally arrived on Friday, April 27, 2012 when she was decorated and winged by NAF along with 29 other male pilots.

Confirming her new status, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information (DPRI), Air Cmdr Yusuf Anas, explained that decoration and winging of NAF officers is the final act that qualifies them as flying combat officers.

While decorating the flying officers, Umar, who was represented by the Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada, said that with winging of the female pilot, NAF’s contribution to national development had been attested to beyond our shores.

She said: “For the female pilot in your midst, as well as every woman serving in the Armed Forces of Nigeria, let me state that you represent independence, power, equal rights and obligations.

“I dare add that you are a significant part of the success story of Nigeria since the advent of current democratic dispensation, I urge you therefore, to remain an outstanding example.”

In the same vein, the NAF boss said that the latest winging ceremony was another milestone in the policy thrust of the current leadership of the Air Force.

He said: “To also affirm the belief that women can make valuable contributions to nation building. In the Air Force, women are welcomed to serve in any capacity where they can serve and contribute to operational activities.

“In this regard, I am pleased to announce that the first female pilot in the Nigerian Air Force, the first female military pilot in West Africa is part of the new pilots that will be winged.

“To the young pilots, I want to state unequivocally that you have every reason to be proud of your accomplishments.”
“By earning your wings today, you are inheriting a tradition of excellence and in fact, privileged to be joining ‘men of wings’ who have committed themselves to the service of their fatherland not only within our shores but international,” he added.

Speaking with journalists after her winging, Flying Officer Liman expressed satisfaction that the Air Force is encouraging women to enlist because it believes that women too could contribute their quota to nation building, stressing that though it had been challenging but with hard work and dedication she was able to overcome the challenges, especially the age long gender barrier which many women dread to break.

With the historic rise of women like Itinu and Liman in the Nigerian military, a profession which for long has been hugely dominated by men, there is hope that more women will stand to be countered as active participants in our national development.


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