The Nigerian Air Force on Friday in Abuja decorated its first female pilot, Flying Officer Blessing Liman, along with 29 other male pilots.
Decorating the officers in Abuja, the Minister of Defence, Dr Bello Mohammed, said that the Air Force had justified the vision of its founding fathers as a veritable tool for nation building.
Represented by the Minister of State, Defence, Mrs Erelu Obada, Mohammed said ``the contributions of the Air Force to national development had been attested to beyond our shores.''
He said that ``the business of ensuring adequate security in the country today cannot be left to any single service of organisation, it is a collective effort. ``I need to reiterate here that the ultimate aim of President Goodluck Jonathan's Transformation Agenda is to guarantee the security and welfare of the entire citizenry.'' The minister urged the armed forces to focus more on security and safety of every Nigerian, regardless of tribe, religion or creed.
He commended the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar and his team for maintaining consistent and significant strides in the pursuit of greater heights for the Air Force. Mohammed called on the new pilots to strive for hard work and improved service. ``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 want to add that you are a significant part of the success story of Nigeria since the advent of the current democratic dispensation. I, therefore, urge you to remain an outstanding example.''
Earlier, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar, had said that the decoration was another milestone in the policy thrust of the current leadership of the Air Force.
This, he said, was to position, transform and strategise toward making the service relevant in the nation’s quest for stability and development. Umar noted that as part of the President's Transformation Agenda, the armed forces were directed to produce female combatants in order to give impetus to the 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
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 internationally.''
The chief of air staff, however, told the new pilots that ``the nation looks upon you as combatant-pilots to measure up to the high expectations and confidence it has on you.'' In an interview with newsmen, Flying Officer Blessing Liman said she was happy that the Air Force was encouraging women to enlist ``because it believes that women too can contribute their quota to nation building.''
She said that joining the force was a way of serving the nation, noting that although it had been challenging, she had always maintained hard work as her watchward.