How I missed becoming a General in the Army —Col. Akerele, Rtd

Colonel Adenike Adisa Akerele is the first woman from Oyo State, to rise to the post of a Colonel in the Nigerian Army before her retirement. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks about her sojourn in the military, the most defining moment of her career and how she was able to combine her military career with the home front, among other issues. Excerpts:

 

How did you get into the army?

After my primary and secondary school education, I had a brief stint at Saki Teachers College before going to Oba Ademola School of Nursing and Midwifery, Abeokuta, Ogun State. When Ogun State Television (OGTV) opened, we would go there to do continuity announcers job. We enjoyed it even though there was no salary. That was where I saw the advertisement of the Nigerian Army  and  applied. We were then taken to the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, where we spent six months before returning to Lagos. While at the Nigerian Army School of Medical Sciences, because I was young and there  was nobody to counsel me, I  did a lot of courses. I did Dental Therapy, Dental Technology, Pharmacy, Public Health  and so on. When I finished at the Nigerian Army School of Medical Sciences where I obtained my HND in Environmental Health Sciences, I was posted to a school as an instructor, and after one year, I was posted to the Military Hospital Yaba, Lagos State. I joined the Army in 1981, I was  promoted a Lance Corporal after seven years and was commissioned into the officer cadre in 1989 as a Second Lieutenant. In 1990, I was promoted Lieutenant. During this period, I was doing some courses. I proceeded to Ladoke AKintola College of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Oyo State where I obtained Masters in Public Health. I  also obtained Global  Masters  from Rutgers University, United State of America and Masters in Human Resource Management.

 

What was your parents’ reaction to your decision to join the army?

Funny enough, my father retired from the police. I didn’t inform him before joining the army. It was three months after I joined that I sent my pictures to him and he was happy. He placed the pictures all over the sitting room but my mother started crying that who was going to take care of me there.

 

What was your experience in service like?

My experience in the army was another life on its own. I enjoyed my work, I enjoyed all the postings I had. There were challenges and I was always looking forward to more. I was in Sokoto for two years. I was the coordinator and facilitator for National Immunisation Programme for two years and was decorated with the title of Lion Lady of Sokoto South. Along the line, Lagos State government gave us the task to rehabilitate area boys. I worked with retired Major Opeolu during the tenure of General Buba  Marwa. We worked with University of Lagos Counselling Department and trained them in many areas and to the glory of God, many of them are doing well today and they still call me. I did a lot of counseling, rehabilitation and child welfare. I was also the liason officer for Nigerian Army during the ECOMOG period.

 

What was the most defining moment of your career?

That was when I got  commissioned. We were always looking forward to promotion every three to four years, but I got stuck along the line and there was no reason for not being promoted. I did not fail any examination but sometimes, the military would say no vacancy. I didn’t see it as a challenge. When I got to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, I was happy to learn that I was the first woman from Oyo State to attain the position and praised God for doing that without any blemish. When I became a full Colonel, my husband was very sick and I thought he was going to die. The doctors could not pinpoint what was wrong with him. When we started praying, God revealed what should be done and under thirty minutes, somebody who had been in bed for three months got up. We should be careful what comes out of our mouth. While going through that experience my promotion board was on and I told God, there was no point promoting me if I was going to be a widow. I told Him that I was too young to be a widow (I was under 50) and asked Him to hold on to the promotion and release my husband to me alive and God answered that prayer. I didn’t know I was making a serious request. The man got better under 24 hours, but when the promotion list was released the following week, my name was not on it. Some people called me and said they did not know what happened but my name was there until four days ago and I told myself I had exchanged something for something. I did the interview thrice but I didn’t get the promotion and that was when I knew  the gravity of what I said but I didn’t regret  it. I retired in 2017 without getting to the rank of Brigadier General.

 

Has any other woman from Oyo State attained the rank of a Colonel in the army?

Sad enough, nobody to the best of my knowledge for now. I don’t know what went wrong. I remembered when I was having issues with my promotion, the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi called me and said, “look, we should have a General in the Army and you should be the one.’’ But it didn’t happen. We have a few male senior officers from Ibadan, we have Major Generals who are retired but no other female apart from me. We tried to push some girls into the military but they are out.

 

How did you meet your husband?

I got married to my husband in 1985 as a young girl. I met him as a divorcee. What brought us together was that he had these little children that I fell in love with. He retired from the Air Force. For three years, I was a big aunty to his children, they would come to my hostel, I would cook for them and take them to lesson. There was no relationship between me and their daddy at the time. After three years, the mother was ill and I went with him to Abeokuta. When we left there, we came to Ibadan to see my daddy. He was in the car but my daddy said “go and bring your husband to greet us.’’  I told my dad he was not my husband but one uncle in our church. When he got down to greet my daddy, he (daddy) gave him two pounds to buy fuel. He was financially buoyant but my daddy gave him money. We left and on our way, he asked me to marry him. I was angry and  got down from the car. To cut a long story short, we later got married.

 

How were you able to combine your career with the home front?

Let us thank God for the man I married. Men naturally determine how far women would go far in life. It was a big challenge, especially when I had to go from one place to another outside his area of operation, but I was lucky that my mother and younger sister were always available to help take care of my family whenever I was not around. My husband was very supportive too. When I was in Jaji, he visited me every weekend. Also being a retired Air Force officer, he was close to my superiors and anytime he called them, they would tell him his wife was in safe hands. Trust also goes a long way in marriage. If you don’t trust yourselves, there is a  problem in that marriage. Whenever I am not on duty, I am always with my family and till today, I am every close to my children. I love my family so much. I don’t joke with my husband. He has been marvelous to me. He is everything to me.

 

How were you able to  inculcate moral values in your children?

Whatever success  I have recorded is from God. Mothers should be alive to their responsibilities and train their children early. Children emulate what they see you do. I used to give my children assignments from their school work and the Bible. When we come back from church, I would ask them to preach the sermon they heard in church to me. Also, whether I am home or not, they don’t go out. I have all boys but we cook together. The one in the Air Force, he finished from Air Force Secondary School and got admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). I didn’t influence it. In fact, it  was somebody that called me that his name was published in the paper. I have never influenced anything for them. One of them, during the holidays took my car out with the driver. My colleagues saw them, stopped them and called me. I told them to take him to the guard room. I went to meet him there and beat him with my koboko (horsewhip). He said, “it is like you stole me from the hospital, you are not my mother.” I thank God, today, he is an engineer and he would hold me and say thank you. We need to monitor our children and pray for them. Mothers should create time for their children and stop monitoring their husbands. You cannot stop a man from womanising, he is the only one that can stop himself.

 

Now that you have retired, how have you been coping with life outside the barracks?

I miss my colleagues. I miss the way we relate. Life in the military is structured. Life outside the military is a different ball game. It is not easy to blend but I am coping now.

 

What advice do you have for young girls?

They should be focused, be hardworking and not depend on men. There is no gain in being  parasites to men. Emulate good things; dress decently.

 

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