“The military is profession you can join and still have a life, a home and a family”
Commodore Jamila Abubakar Sadiq Malafa is the most senior female Northern officer in the Nigerian Navy and the first Lawyer from her village. A nurse by profession, she has risen to the rank of Commodore in the Nigerian Navy. In this interview, she talks about how destiny played a role in her becoming a naval officer, the role of female officers in the Nigerian Navy and the negative perception northern women have for the profession among others.
This interview was done when she was a Navy Captain. She has been promoted to Commodore.
Can you introduce yourself?
I am Navy Captain Jamila Abubakar Sadiq Malafa. Presently, I am the Deputy Director Civil Military relation (Law support) in the Nigerian Navy. I am in charge of law department at the headquarters.
Can you please give us a brief history of your life?
I am from Gombi local Government area of Adamawa state, precisely Whona by tribe. I had my primary education in St. Theresa School, Luggere in Adamawa. After my graduation from Government Secondary School Hong, I went to Yola School of Nursing and Midwifery for my national certificate but because nursing was not exactly what I wanted to be, I thought of furthering my education.
Unfortunately, I had an accident before that, and had a broken jaw, and was in the hospital for months. While I was on admission at the hospital, I developed interest in the nursing profession again because of the way the doctors and nurses who were on my case treated me.
I later applied for University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, while I waited for my admission at the University of Maiduguri, a friend came to meet me one day and said the Nigerian Navy are recruiting and that she wants to apply and asked me if I would want to, but I said “no” because I knew nothing about Navy.
All the same, she encouraged me to go with her and we went there to join the Navy. While we were waiting under a tree, a beautiful female officer neatly dressed in her uniform came and asked us what we were doing there and we told her that we came to join the navy, and she encouraged us to join.
On the first day, I reported at the camp, I went with many boxes, a set of TV, a refrigerator and a sound-set because I did not understand the system. The officers I met at the gate welcomed me, took my luggage to a room and gave me a pair of shorts and a T-shirt to wear, which I refused, and ran away as fast as I could because during my school days I was running for my school, but the officers ran after me and bundled me. They cut my hair and kept me in a room.
I was the only female northerner among all the newly recruited officers that time, though another female officer from the north joined towards the end of the course, but I was the first.
At the end of the course, I was posted to Ojo in Lagos, later I informed my employers that I want to go back to school as a nurse, and I was allowed because I was the only qualified officer. I went to School of Nursing and got my Midwifery certificate.
In 1995, I applied for LLB at the University of Lagos, but could not gain admission because I had no JAMB result. So, I enrolled myself in a school and sat for JAMB and got the cut off marks and was given admission.
I went back again to University of Lagos as a lawyer for my Masters in 2004 in Constitution and Criminal Law. Then I proceeded to Malta for my Masters in International Maritime Law institute University in 2009, and presently I am doing my PHD.
You can say that destiny play a role in my choice of career, because I never knew anything about navy because while I was growing up, I remember we see the navy on the television during Independence Day parade.
How do you juggle the demands of your job as a professional and a mother?
It is all about planning. The Navy is like any other profession. For me, my day starts from 4am after saying my morning prayers; I read the Qur’an and begin preparing for the day. The profession can take you anywhere at any time so, each morning I wake up ready for any assignment at any time of the day and anywhere in the country.
Who is your role-model?
Rear Admiral Itunu in the Nigerian Navy is my role model, and, incidentally, she is my godmother. She is a woman who has made remarkable achievements in the profession. I look at her as a role-model to me and to every Nigerian woman. I admire her and I am aspiring to become like her or even more than she is.
What is your take on the law in some uniform professions that don’t allow female officers to marry or conceive without taking permission?
The law still exists, and I support it. The reason for that law is that the system wants young officers undergoing training to grow without distraction of any kind before getting married, so that they can have a stable home once they settle down. I also had a permission from the Chief of Naval Staff before I got married.
Having come this far do you have any regret for not achieving something which you wish to before coming this far?
No. I don’t have any regret what so ever. I am happy with the profession and what I have achieved so far, because the military is an organization where you can be whatever you want to be – if you work hard, provided you know the rules and regulations and you abide by it. I joined the profession as a nurse and today I have two Masters degree in Constitutional and International Maritime Law. The opportunity was given to me by the military and we have a lot of officers with PHD today.
What are those challenges you face as a female officer in a male-dominated institution?
Well, we are given the same training with the men, and we are expected to do whatever they can do. I was among the first set to be commissioned as Mid Ship Men. Honestly, I never saw the profession as a male-dominated institution, or any of it activities as challenging that will make me have a change of mind because I love what I am doing.
What is your advice to the young generation of female officers?
They should be dedicated to their jobs and love what they are doing. Strive hard to get to the top and have confidence in themselves. Again, because of the regimental nature of the job, they have to do the right thing, and surely then will get to the peak of the career.
How would you assess the role of female officers, especially now that we have a woman as Rear Admiral in the Navy?
Female officers are doing very well. Like I said before, we take part in the same kind of training with the male officers. The only thing is that we have different branches: we have the executive, logistic, account, budget, education, legal, medical branches, and each department has its responsibilities, and you do exactly what is expected of you. There is nothing that differentiates us from the men, we do parade together, sit for the same kind of exams, and do the same kind of exercises, etc.
What was the most challenging task you have ever been assigned to do?
My most challenging task as an officer was when I was posted to Borokiri in Port Harcourt during militant days. I was posted there as the Chief of Command of the Medical Centre Port Harcourt because my Executive Officer went to Darfur. On the first day, I reported duty, the militants had taken over Port Harcourt, and were pursued by our officers. There was fire exchange that lasted for some time. I attended to all the wounded officers and the militants without any discrimination. It was not easy but, Alhamdulillah, we made it back home safely.
How do you spend your leisure time?
We have what is called Mess activities. On Wednesdays, we close office by 2 o’clock to enable officers go and play games. Whenever we go to the Mess, we relax, we sit down, talk with our superiors, and tell them what we feel about them and certain issues.
What is your take on the wrong perception of the profession by female northerners?
It is sad because now I am the only female officer from the core north and the most senior in the Navy profession. I understand that some female northerners do not like joining the profession because of the uniform, but now we have option. It is either you wear short skirt or long trousers. In 2009, when I returned from Malta where I went for my LLM in International Maritime Law, the then Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral I. I. Ibrahim, included my name with the then Navy Secretary, Rear Admiral Jibrin, to go to Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara and other core northern states to encourage young women to join the profession. I even went to the Sultan’s palace and the office of the state’s Commissioner of Information for their support for the initiative to no avail. I had to extend my stay when I was told that a woman from Zamfara was interested and was coming over to Sokoto for the exams, and I was ready to allow her to write the exams alone… but she never turned up. I also went on air to call on our women to join, but that did not change that perception up till date. The military is profession you can join and still have a life, a home and a family.
Would you have joined the profession back then, if the nation was still facing the kind of security challenge we have now?
Yes. I still would have joined because I love my country and I am ready to serve it in whatever way I can. As a citizen it is also my responsibility to protect my country regardless of my sex.