Meet Kafayat Sanni; First female fighter pilot in Nigerian Air Force’s 55-year-history

October 21, 2019 at 09:30 am | Success Story

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

October 21, 2019 at 09:30 am | Success Story

First Lt. Kafayat Sanni stands in front of a T-6 Texan II on Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Sanni became the first female fighter pilot from the Nigerian air force, to graduate from the Aviation Leadership Program. Photo credit: columbus.af.mi

Kafayat Sanni has etched her name in history, becoming Nigeria’s first female fighter pilot.

Emerging as the overall best pilot at the Nigerian Air Force’s 401 training school in 2017, Sanni moved to the United States to train at the US Aviation Leadership program.

Upon completion, Sanni returned to Nigeria where she alongside 12 new fighter pilots were decorated. 

As Sanni embossed her name as the first female fighter pilot in the 55-year-history of the Nigerian Air Force, her colleague Tolulope Arotile also became the Force’s first female combat helicopter pilot. Arotile trained in South Africa.

“It is a privilege for me to be winged as the first female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force,” Sanni would say after being decorated.

Alongside her male counterpart, Sanni awaits deployment soon to Nigeria’s North-East to join in the Boko Haram counter-insurgency operation and other internal security operations across the country.

Boko Haram seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria. It opposes the Westernization of Nigerian society and the concentration of the wealth of the country among members of a small political elite, mainly in the Christian south of the country.

Upbeat about the task ahead, Sanni told the Punch she is more than motivated to be in the front-line. 

“There are other pilots there on the fronts and they are playing their part. They have been doing their best. So, I am also just going to join my male counterparts in the insurgency fight and every other thing that [has been going on in our country. So, I am just going to get there and play my part,” she said.

Fulfilling the dream

Sanni said she’s always wanted to be a fighter pilot and “I was just lucky to be chosen.”

“It was also my choice. It was what I wanted to do. And I felt that everyone is not supposed to fold their arms and watch what is happening in our country. 

“Everyone could always play their part. So, I did not think there was any reason for me to think that it is not possible for me to actually fly the jet because there was no female that ever flew the jet. I believe I could achieve it and I did,” she said.

She has therefore admonished younger girls “never say no to opportunities.”

“They should always strive to be the best and put in their efforts. They should never look at anything that seems to want to overpower or overshadow them. For me, you can always attempt things and if they do not work out well; fine. But at every point in time, you just need to put in your best.”

Capt. Christy Martin, Columbus AFB international military student officer, said she’s excited to watch Sanni grow and thrive as the first female fighter pilot in Nigeria.

“I think she is going to perform that title well. Sanni has a very bubbly personality and is was very positive throughout the whole entire training,” Martin said. 

“Pilot training is a very stressful, strenuous course, but she has always stayed positive. I think she is very determined and very excited to go back and fly fighters in her country as well,” she added.

Sanni’s feat comes barely a month after the Air Force had its first female Air Warrant Officer, Grace Garba who joined the Nigerian Air Force at age 20 as a member of the Basic Military Training Course (BMTC) 10 in 1986.

The Director of Public Relations and Information of Nigeria’s Airforce, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said then that Garba’s “promotion demonstrates the commitment of the current NAF leadership in paying adequate attention to the empowerment of female personnel to realize their full potentials.”

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