In this piece, ADELANI ADEPEGBA traces the sterling military career of Major General Aderonke Kale, the first female two-star general in the Nigerian Army and how her trail-blazing endeavours encouraged other women to aim beyond the sky
Women have participated in military activities throughout history, often in non-combat roles such as nursing, support staff, or even disguising themselves as men to serve in combat. The striking example of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), a French peasant girl born in the 15th century, has continued to enthral historians. She had supported Charles VII and helped him to reclaim the French throne. While she was not a traditional soldier, her leadership and involvement in military operations were significant.
In a similar fashion, many Nigerian women, driven by uncommon patriotism, had given their all to their fatherland at great personal cost and risks. One of such amazons was Aderonke Kale, the first female Major General in the Nigerian Army. Kale, who passed away aged 84, on November 8 in London, was also the first woman to attain the rank of Major General in the West African sub-region.
She was married to Oladele Kale, a distinguished Professor of Preventive and Social Medicine, and was a mother of five children. One of her sons, Opeyemi Kale, was appointed the statistician-general and chief executive officer of the National Bureau of Statistics in 2011.
Not much was known about Gen Aderonke Kale’s parents other than the fact that her father was a pharmacist and her mother was a teacher. However, Kale’s success in her medical cum military career evinced the worthy educational investment she benefitted from her parents.
Available records indicate that she was born on July 31, 1939, and attended primary school in Lagos and Zaria. She also had her secondary education at St. Anne’s School, Ibadan, and Abeokuta Grammar School. She later read medicine at the University College, which later became the University of Ibadan.
After her graduation as a medical doctor, she proceeded to the University of London to specialize in Psychiatry. She worked briefly in Britain and returned to Nigeria in 1971.
A year later in 1972, she took the landmark but unusual decision to join the Nigerian Army, a rare development in those days. Kale gave a good account of herself as a doctor and soldier, persevering against various odds and challenges.
She did not waver in her resilience, determination, and tenacity to reach the top, serving as an inspiration to millions of women in Nigeria, Africa, and beyond. Her competence as a psychiatrist was recognized in 1973, when she became a consultant psychiatrist, and in 1982, she became a chief consultant. With the promotion came more responsibility.
A few years later, she became the Commanding Officer of the Military Hospital in Ibadan, a position she held from 1980 to 1985. She also had the distinction of being the first woman to command a military hospital in the country. From 1985-1987, she held the same position at the Military Hospital, Enugu, and also managed the Military Hospital, Benin, from 1989 to 1990. In 1990, she joined the rank of the generals, first as a Brigadier-General and, in 1994, as a Major General.
Having proved her mettle, Kale was elevated to the position of Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Army Medical Corps and School where she held sway from 1991 to 1994. She reached the zenith of her career when she became the Commandant of the Nigerian Medical Corps in 1994. For the first time in the history of the Nigerian Army, a woman was given the crucial responsibility of taking charge of the health care of all Nigerian soldiers at all levels.
She also emerged as the first woman to attain such a status in the Nigerian Army at a time when the nation was under military rule and the hierarchy was dominated by men. After her meritorious service and trail-blazing exploits, Kale, the woman of steel, retired from service in 1997. In celebration of her contribution to the army, the female hall of residence of the Nigerian Defence Academy was named after Major General Aderonke Kale in 2011.
Her contributions to nation-building went beyond her career in the military as she was involved in many organisations that are relevant to her profession. She contributed to the growth of the Nigerian Medical Council, the West African College of Physicians, the Institute of Management Consultants, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, and the World Psychiatrists Association.
She also contributed to the field of psychiatry in particular by presenting seminal papers at different national and international programmes.