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Sunday, 11 September 2016


Written by  Viyon Awhanse|


Her dream was to join the services of the Nigerian Army. But when she applied, she was told bluntly that the Army had no place for women in its engineering corps. She was heartbroken. Saddened by the unexpected turn of events, she spent the following days brooding until someone told her that the Navy would accept her, regardless of her gender.
She did, and today Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu has been setting the pace in the force, and has gone ahead to become the first woman to attain the exalted rank of a Rear Admiral in the history of the Nigerian Navy.

The 52-year-old Admiral from Badagry, Lagos State, can be said to be first in everything she has done. Hotonu is the first child in a family of four girls, and has always taken the first position in class right from her primary school days till this day.
She was among the first set of architects to be enlisted into the Nigerian Navy and it is on record that 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.
Born on January 18, 1959 Hotunu studied Architecture from the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, and enlisted in the Nigerian Navy in 1985. She has served at various naval formations and in different capacities across the country. She was director of projects, Naval Headquarters Commander, Lagos Logistics Depot, Command Logistics Officer, Headquarters Eastern Naval Command, Calabar. In 2008 when she was appointed Managing Director of the Nigerian Navy Post Service Housing Scheme(NNPSHS), a position she held until her promotion to the rank of a Rear Admiral in December, 2010.
Admiral Hotunu, who has been the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Navy Holdings Limited since 2010 is a highly decorated senior officer who has the military prestigious awards of FSS, MSS, DSS attached to her name. She etched her name in history when she was promoted the first female Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy. In just 12 months after she was appointed the MD of the NNPSHS in Karshi, Nassarawa State, this Amazon built and completed 460 houses. As at today, Admiral Hotonu has built over 1,000 houses in the estate.
Popularly called mama by her staff, Admiral Itunu told the story of how she wanted to join the army after her university education when she made up her mind to join the military but was turned back by the army authorities on the grounds that they didn't take women in engineering corps. Call her the stone rejected by the builders that suddenly became the chief corner stone, and you won't be wrong. Having been rejected by the army, she was accepted by the navy and no doubt become a pillar in that branch of the Armed Forces. She made the Navy proud with her achievements at the post service housing scheme where apart from building those houses, she also built and completed the NOWA Educational Centre comprising a creche, nursery school, primary school and a junior secondary boarding school, which is already in session. As if that was not enough, she went further to increase the water reserve capacity of the estate from 60,000litres in 2009 to 600,000litres.
Recently, she was invited to the 54th anniversary celebration of the Liberian Armed Forces by the government and people of Liberia and to also help in mentoring female officers in that country's armed forces. In this interview, Admiral Itunu who is a staunch believer in hardwork, attributed the strength she display to the upbringing she had from her father whom she credits with what she is today.
At a very tender age of eight, she said her father started drumming it into her ears as his first child that he was going to hand over his family to her when he was gone. And so at age 13, Hotonu said she had already assumed her responsibility of taking care of her younger ones and the management of their home. She took care of things like fixing of sockets, tiles and even drove her father around town while he sat at the owner's corner.
I am Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu. I am the Group Managing Director of Navy Holdings which comprises all navy commercial ventures namely the Post Service Housing Scheme, the Micro Credit Finance Scheme, the hotels and suites and the marine services to name a few.
I have always been a very adventurous person and I was just very curious and one thing led to the other and I found myself in the navy. There was really nothing in particular that lured me into joining the Navy. I actually wanted to join the Army but they wouldn't have me. They said they didn't take women in engineering but the Navy said, look they would take me anywhere, it wouldn't matter.
Before I joined the navy, I worked in an architect office for two years after I graduated from the university because you need to work for at least two years as an architect after graduation before you take your professional exams. So I spent those two years working for my professional practice certification.
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 wao, 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.
So in all, life was very interesting while I was undergoing my training as a naval officer. First of all, you know I had done NYSC so I had the creamy taste of military training. But the real Navy basic training was much more than that, and the thing is that at the end of it all you know it taught me a lot of discipline and it gave me strength that I didn't know I had, physical strength; so it was very good. Even though the training was not easy, the truth is that after surviving the first few days when you are aching all over, you actually get used to it. I mean the human body is very resilient and at the same time interesting and you can actually train yourself to get used to it.
If somebody offends in a squadron they will punish the whole squadron, I couldn't understand it. I was like if somebody offends and the person owns up why should you punish all of us? But one of the instructors told me that look, if you are in a hostile situation may be in a war situation you have to look out for everybody and that the mistake of one person can cause everybody's life because your survival depends on you as a group.
So if just one person steps out of line it could actually endanger the life of everybody else. So you have to have a collective responsibility for each other's safety and you have to make sure that nobody goes out of line. So that was the one that I couldn't understand for a very long time but after a while, I got to understand it. But so far I thank God because one of the greatest things that could happen to anybody is actually being at the pinnacle of your career and you know it is something one has to always give glory to Almighty God for. It's wonderful.

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. And believe me there were times when it got really rough and those were the times when that dream was like a dot but somehow with God on my side and a lot of wonderful friends here am I.
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 everyday 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.
That is the major challenge but you see as time went on it started to be the least of my problems because at the same time I met a lot of men that I will say are real men and those are the ones who are not threatened by your gender. Rather, they see you as helping to improve the lot of the Navy and they supported me and cheered me up every step of the way.
So my major challenges were with people who would, even to your face, let you know that as far as they are concerned, you are an intruder. But I made them realize that if I am an intruder, they too are intruders. And it is very simple because the constitution of this country does not assign lesser rights to me as a woman. So if a man is sitting on my seat, I will shove him off, no apologies and that was how I survived. Sometimes people say that you lose some of your feminity by doing those things, it is true. You cannot afford to be a woman's woman as such because if you are a woman's woman, that is what the stereotype says a woman is and if you are one of those…well I don't know.
At times you lose the essence of what makes you feminine, but when you look at what you gain, you know, you gain a good career, you gain respect, you act as a mentor for younger women coming along, the sacrifices you make, they don't look so large. But the fact that I am here today is an attestation to the fact that I have a chief who believes in merit. He doesn't care what you are made of as long as you can do the job. So people like that have encouraged me, kept me on and made it a lot easier and honestly those are the men that I really respect very much.
Nooo, intimidated ke? If you allow yourself to be intimidated then…but I must correct myself, there are a lot of wonderful men who encourage you, who tell you to go for it and those are men that I really respect because they are men who are sure of themselves. But there are others who unfortunately feel threatened and if a person is threatened by you because you are doing your legitimate duty, I don't think you should be intimidated.
My growing up was really fun because I was a tomboy, big time. I climbed trees and did all the things the boys did and I even did more. But I must tell you that growing up for me was lovely. I had wonderful parents, they taught us to believe in ourselves. They taught me that the star, not the sky is your limit and they taught me that if you have a dream you should hold on to it and never let it go. So I had wonderful parents and you know growing in the University of Ibadan in the sixties and seventies was wonderful.
People say I am a tomboy and like I usually would say, I think a lot of it has to do with the way my father brought me up. I had a wonderful father who is still accused to this day by my mother of turning me into a tomboy because you see I am the oldest of four daughters and my father made it very clear to me that he didn't care whether I was male or female; the important thing was that I am his oldest and I should be ready to fill his shoes when he is gone. So he brought me up to be his heir. He said when am gone, am going to hand this family to you so I grew up learning to change tiles, change electrical sockets in the house, I would drive my father out and he would seat in the owner's corner in the car so I think my upbringing more or less prepared me for this work.
As a child, my life ambition was to be an architect and I chose to become an architect because I was always good at fine art and I also was very good at mathematics and in those days if you were good at fine arts, then you are an artist and if you are good at mathematics then you are a science student. But I believe it was my father who first mentioned architecture to me because I said I wanted a profession where I could combine fine arts and mathematics. It was my father, brilliant man himself, who said what I believe you are talking about is architecture.
And I said hmm, architecture? So at the age of 13 he sent me off to an architect’s office to go and work and see what they do and I fell in love with it and from that moment on, I wanted to be an architect. It was my father who also told me to hold on to my dream because he said that if you are sure you want to be an architect then go for it, hold on to it and that is what you will be.
As a matter of fact I don't have anything against making my hair. It's just that I had very long hair and I will just cut it when I want to and grow it back when I want to. Then one of the times when I cut it, my husband to be then said ha, I like this hair and he never let me grow it back and I got use to it and apparently it's different and people tell me they like it so I kept it that way and it has automatically become my trademark.
Well I exercise, I go to the gym, I watch what I eat because when you get to my age, you can't just afford to do a lot of things, otherwise you just spread all over the place.
Well, I am happy about my promotion to the rank of a rear admiral in the Nigerian Navy and the fact that it is during my life time that females are now been recruited into the Nigerian Defence Academy to train as Regular Combatant Officers. And it is very good for women, young girls coming after me came out of my promotion to the rank of a Rear Admiral, I can only say I thank God. I feel humbled. I never for once in my life thought my name would be linked to the first set of female regular combatant cadets. I am just so thankful, I'm just so overwhelmed and I'm so humbled.
Yes I knew that lots of criticism would come up when the federal government announced its decision to commence the training of female combatant officers at the NDA. But I would like to echo an interview that I once listened to and it was about some veterans of World War Two who were asked what happened when they brought women.
Of course in those days women were nurses in the military and when they asked them what happened when they brought women and how they felt, they said that if anything, it sharpened them up. They said because they knew that there were women present, they were more alert. They were more mindful of their language, they looked after themselves better, they dressed better, they were more disciplined. So I like to think that having women go into the NDA will probably even encourage the men to do better.
After all, who wants to sit in a class and have women beat them? So I think that the men would even work harder because the truth of the matter is that those girls would go there not aiming to fail, but aiming to beat the men. So I think standards will really rise. I also believe that those girls would make a success of their training because I believe that by their presence the men would be forced to be more disciplined than they have been. Having the competition of girls in class, the boys would want to do better. So I actually think it is a good thing. I think it would improve the standards in NDA.
I want to advise the young girls who want to join the military that it is not easy at all, mostly because we are still in a largely male-dominated society. The only thing that I will say is that to succeed as a woman, you have to be ready to work hard. When I say work hard, I mean work hard, that is number one. Two, you must not be the kind of person that gets frightened easily. You know you will have a lot of put downs, you will have a lot of snide remarks, but you must be ready to stand up each time you fall down and keep going. And very importantly, you must keep your self-respect because it is a place where if people cannot get you one way, they will try to get you another. So you have to be a very strong person, strong character, very resilient, very bold and ready to work hard.
The military profession is not an easy place for women to be at all. First, you have to be physically strong. Second, you must not be the kind of person that will start making excuses like everyday I am ill, I want to go to the hospital and you go and lie down. No, it doesn't work that way. You cannot do that. Any woman who knows that she is not physically strong should just forget about joining the military, that is the truth. It's just the same way as some men who may not be physically strong. But if anybody thinks tha4 they are going to go to today'r armed forces and bust be anyhgw people, welL they should think about it tgice. But a person who is intellectually and physically sound, feel free because the challenges will be more. The physical demands and physical fitness demands from you will be plenty; so anybody who know she/she cannot rise to that challenge should not just bother.
And so I will want to advise that before they get there, if they know they are people who have not been exercising a lot, going to the gym, running cross country, I will suggest that they start doing so immediately because you have to be in peak physical condition. In fact they will put them through the kind of rigorous exercise that they cannot imagine in their lives. So by way of preparation, because there is nobody who takes an exam without preparing, so apart from reading up, they should try and go on long jogs. I am not talking of the lazy type of jogging. I mean real physically groaning, exhausting thing.
Go to the gym, work out, do strength training so that at least you will be in good physical condition. They must have faith in themselves and they must have self-discipline. They must have strength of character. They must never allow themselves to be intimidated by anybody because believe me people will try but it depends on how they handle it. They must never, ever compromise themselves. That is the advice I have for them.


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