She is smart, well-dressed and very articulate. And yes, she is so neat that you do not have to wonder why many fall in love with the navy because of their spotlessly clean uniforms. Enter REAR ADMIRAL ITUNU HOTONU, the first female to attain the rank of a Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy, one of Africa's most sophisticated navies. That makes her the highest-ranking female officer in the Nigerian Armed Forces as her rank is equivalent to a two-star-general in the Nigerian Army. Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu is the second female two-star general produced in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The first was Major-General Aderonke Kale who retired in 1997.
While Kale was with the medical corps of the Nigerian Army and rose through the ranks, Hotonu, a trained architect, became an expert in naval logistics. Her expertise and skills cover a wide area: military, strategic planning and communications, crisis management and communications, command and international relations.
The name Hotonu is of the Fon tribe and Fon people are also found in Benin Republic where they founded the Kingdom of Dahomey around 1600. The kingdom was famous for the Dahomey Amazons, an all-female military regiment of the kingdom.
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Born 54 years ago in Badagry, Lagos State (18th January, 1959), she is the first child in a family of four girls. She stated that her father raised her as a boy, and even at a tender age, she was already doing all the 'manly' chores in the house, such as repairing sockets and driving vehicles. She also talked of a superb childhood where everyone encouraged her to aim for the highest goals and achievements.
EDUCATION AND NAVAL TRAINING
In 1985, she graduated from the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Enugu State where she read architecture, after which she worked for two years as an architect after which she went for her professional exams. After that, she made attempts to join the army but she was rejected as they told her there was no place for ladies in its engineering corps. Disappointed and feeling dejected, it was until someone hinted her to try the Navy, where recruitment take place irregardless of the gender. Then she tried, got enlisted in 1985 and today, she is a Rear Admiral. She said in an interview with the Sun of the tough training:
t was tough training in the Navy
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 acheing 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.
-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 was able to build and complete over 1,000 houses, with the first 460 completed within a year. Under her administration, water reserve capacity of the estate was increased from 60,000 litres to a whopping 600,000 litres.
BECOMING NIGERIA'S FIRST FEMALE REAR ADMIRAL
In December 2012, she was decorated by President Goodluck Jonathan and Mrs. Josephine Anenih as the very first female Rear Admiral in the history of the Nigerian Navy. She was one of the eleven Navy Commodores promoted to the rank of a Rear Admiral. She is the very first female Rear Admiral not only in Nigeria but in the entire West African sub-region. She was promoted alongside 22 other officers from the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force to the ranks of Rear Admirals and Air Vice Marshals respectively. The venue was the Nigerian Army Headquarters Officers' Mess in Abuja.
A delighted President Jonathan would later comment about the females making waves in the Nigerian Armed Forces. He said: “So, when will I see Nigerian women flying jets? We will want to start training women at the NDA to become regular combatant officers, those who are strong enough to face the rigours, in some years to come, maybe the Commander of the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) can be a woman.”
Actually, I think it will be very cool if a woman commandeers the President's Air Fleet. As in!
She says: 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.
It will interest you to know that her becoming a female Rear Admiral is actually one of many firsts. Right from primary school, she was always leading her class and when she joined the military, she continued to shine and recorded the following achievements:
-First female military officer to attend the National Defence College (formerly National War College). Owing to her outstanding performance, she became the first female officer to be recommended as a Directing Staff (Instructor) at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji, Kaduna. She was also the very first female architect in all the arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
-When the Nigerian Navy was celebrating its 54th anniversary, Rear Admiral Hotonu won the Most Outstanding Performance Award as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Navy Post Service Housing Scheme (NNPSHS).
-Best Overall Graduating Student in a class of 73 students at the National Defence College, Abuja (2003-2004) as a member of Course 12. She received the Commander-in-Chief’s Prize and the Commandant’s Prize for the Best Research. Great things happen when women have focus!
She also completed the NOWA Educational Centre complete with a creche, nursery, primary and junior secondary school (with boarding facilities).
OTHER APPOINTMENTS AND HONOURS
-In May 2011, she was appointed as a Member of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into election violence in Akwa Ibom State and the civil unrest in some Northern states.
-In 2011, she was invited by the Liberian Government as a Special Guest to mentor females in the Liberian Armed Forces.
-In January 2012, she was honoured at the 17th THISDAY Annual Awards for Excellence.
Affectionately called Mama in the office, she is happily married.
While delivering her speech at the Sixth Bowen University Convocation Lecture, she complained about the dilapidated state of infrastructure in Nigeria:
“My journey from United Kingdom to Lagos, took only 6:20hours. The journey was 3000 kilometers to Nigeria. It is a pity that my trip to Iwo from Lagos, a journey of 200 kilometers took six hours”. This was the condition of our infrastructure in Nigeria.
“We need to pray for the development of Nigeria. Cursing and criticizing the country would not help matter. It would only worsen it. Criticism will only bring the country down. Nigerians should not look down on the country. We are the changes and we are part of the changes we want in Nigeria”.
-"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 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.
OH, HER HAIR?
Yes na, you kuku trust ladies na. Here is what she has to say about her hair:
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.
Appointed the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Navy Holdings Limited, which included all the commercial ventures of the Navy, such as the Post Service Housing Scheme, hotels, suites, marine services, microcredit finance scheme and so on (January 2011-January 2013) and without any iota of doubt, her achievements will surely spur on many young Nigerians who also have lofty dreams in the face of countless obstacles. For the young and ambitious females, she has this to tell you: 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.
“Your parents have invested well in you. How wisely you protect that investment is up to you. You must be humble to believe that others know what you do not know. Avoid short cuts and slothfulness. Focus on what you want to do and pursue it. Never abandon your dream no matter how tough. Learn to rise up each time you fall because falling is real. Hard work is the key you need to unlock success....stand your ground and never let go your dream. ”