How not to humiliate a Hero: The Story of Nigeria’s first Female Pilot

by Bisi Alabi Williams

Captain-Chinyere-O.-Kalu-female-pilot-620x350A sacking so cruel it hurts. Given a centenary award on Friday by President Jonathan but sacked on Tuesday by the ministry of Aviation…..Nigeria’s First female Pilot
SHE is Nigeria’s first lady pilot and captain. Her over 30 years experience in the nation’s Aviation industry is a pointer to the courage, passion, strength and doggedness she has displayed in her profession. Captain Chinyere Kalu’s resilience, even in the face of dangers, has greatly inspired those looking up to her. Her passion for hard work and excellence has elicited much respect and admiration from colleagues and peers. These rare qualities must have been partly responsible for her being counted among the 100 Nigerians honoured during the country’s Centenary celebration last week.
Friends and colleagues attest to the fact that Chinyere is a fine officer, who demonstrates uncommon enthusiasm, poise and character in all situations and circumstances. Her one dream is to inspire the nation’s teeming youth by nudging them in the direction of excellence, hard work and self-esteem. With this, she is convinced they would be enabled and empowered to contribute their quota to nation building and position the country for greater heights. 
Until a few days ago, Chinyere was the rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria (NCAT). The unassuming achiever has quietly carved an enviable niche that has led her to the very top of her career.
As the rector of NCAT, she has ample opportunity to implement her vision of building a virile aviation technology college, where only the best pilots, aeronautic engineers, cabin crew and sundry air transport managers are trained. And in her two years at the helm of affairs, she has facilitated several positive systemic transformations geared towards taking the college to the next level.
Indeed, the Captain says she and her team are poised to make the college “the foremost aviation training institution in Africa” as well as make it rank among the best in the world by continuously striving to raise standards and maintain best practices.”
Towards this end, she informs that the college management under her, boasts of a number of achievements, including attaining efficiency in the system; cutting down on waste, corruption, abuse and leakages, reducing time of training and cost of doing business as well as increasing productivity through raising the number of students trained and income generation.
Being Nigeria’s first female pilot, she has made her mark as one of the leading lights of the Nigerian aviation industry, recording several industry benchmarks, while moving up the ladder. She has also established herself as a worthy role model for Nigerian youth, especially the girl child. Full of zest and passion for her job, she can best be described as an achiever par excellence and an amazon in the aviation industry with an outstanding commitment to building courage in women and youth of Nigeria.
In this wise, she advises the young ones to pursue hard work because it has no substitute. “You can’t achieve anything if you don’t work at it. My principle is to work hard and pray the Lord to bless the work of my hands.
“Every young person should have a dream and try as much as possible to live this dream. However, it is equally important that older and more successful people mentor the younger ones and show them the paths to success. This is apart from what government must do to ensure there is job creation and opportunities for success,” she says.
She launched her career with a record-breaking achievement as Nigeria’s first lady pilot when, in 1978, she obtained her private pilot licence from the nation’s premier aviation college. Before then, she had, in 1973, attended Leadership and Citizen Course (SS88) Sea School, Lagos. Since then, Chinyere, who is always driven by excellence and is a member of the African Women Leaders Think Tank group, has undergone many leadership training programmes at home and abroad.
A professional pilot to the core, Captain Kalu has devoted her energy to raising the standards of training through staff development and provision of infrastructure and equipment upgrade for the College. As an experienced administrator, she places a lot of premium on staff development and welfare, which to her, is paramount and essential, as it is said that ‘staff are the heart of every organisation’.
“The welfare of our staff is considered second to none,” she says. “The driving force to work lies in the level of motivation given to staff. It is in that light that the management vigorously pursues the welfare of the staff, which has given rise to a new sense of commitment.”
Indeed, she is walking the talk by “ensuring staff promotion, starting with some 294 who have remained stagnant for nine years; re-instatement of staff of aviation school and security men laid off earlier; approval of over 1, 800 courses for staff including messengers and cleaners; subsidised school fees for staff in the college and staff school; revolving welfare loan for staff at no interest; workshops that prepare staff for retirement and upgrading of aero-medical facility to National Health Insurance Scheme status.
“The equipment and infrastructural requirements for the college is inexhaustible in that as the number of students and courses increases, the need for equipment and infrastructural development also increases. It is in a bid to make the institution reputable and of world-class standard that we deemed it fit to put several equipment and structures in place.
“So, in line with best practices, management constructed a new aviation management school to accommodate the postgraduate diploma course in aviation management and furnished hostels to provide a conducive learning atmosphere. The administrative and bursary departments have been automated and it is expected that very soon, the college will boast of a new library, an ultra-modern auditorium and safe perimetre fencing.
Some of the equipment acquired to improve service delivery are: Alsim AL-X Simulator, a three- dimensional flight simulator, which gives a feel of a real aircraft in nearly every sense’ a Boeing 737-200, primarily for the training of the cabin crew students. It gives a good atmosphere for training the students practically, the 3600 Visual Simulator, which prepares the student for a practical future control tower service delivery, two Bell 206 helicopters for expansion and improvement of the scope of training, a Gas Turbine trainer for training the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering students on the Gas turbine engine and the Aerodynamics (Wind tunnel) trainer for the training of Aircraft Maintenance Engineers.
During her tenure, the college has graduated 852 students and has clocked 3,386 hours on flight for training of student pilots. She has also deepened collaboration with similar training institutions in Minna, Niger State. There are plans to open similar facilities in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
It is under her stewardship that the college has won accreditation with international bodies for the purpose of enhancing knowledge transfer and synergy for smooth running of the institution. These include the Association of African Aviation Training Organisation, where Nigeria is represented as Council member, Aviation Accreditation Board International, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and International Civil Aviation Organisation among others.
Always mindful of the need to serve as a shining example to the youths and her social responsibility, Chinyere says: “I will use the privileges and opportunities I have to serve my nation to model courage and hard work, particularly among women and the youth.”
She believes she has done her bit to advance women development, as she has trained some women to become responsible caregivers and influencers of society. She advises women to always support and respect one another and to preserve their dignity at all costs. “They should always seek to achieve and do something meaningful. There is profit in labour. They should think, be creative and trust the Lord to support them. There is also need to be very focused and not give up in the face of the toughest challenges. Women should seek ways of empowering themselves for service, learn new skills, as nobody is ever too old to learn. Just get going and do something.”
She is gladdened by the fact that the world is becoming more open on issues of gender. She sees women as great achievers. “The Nigerian woman has come of age and it is evident in the number of businesses that are now owned and professionally managed by women. This is coupled with the fact that women also attend to their primary purpose of nurturing their families.
“I’m happy that more women now believe in themselves and this is because some of us have broken the old paradigm, which says that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. With the encouragement of our men, I believe that many Nigerian women will actualise their true potentials. Nigeria is no doubt a land of opportunities and with the right support system, I see more women excelling,” she says.
She believes that the veritable key to sustainable development is mentoring. “Young people must continuously learn from those that have positively impacted on others and the nation at large. We have a lot of youth restiveness, which government is addressing. We all have roles to play and young people must take their future in their hands, learn from books and people that have good values, because the future of this country belongs to them, especially those prepared by mentorship.
“I speak with a lot of conviction and I go all out to carry others along for good purposes. It is not good to wear one’s problems on the face. It is important that people know who they are and what they want to be. They should then focus on it and get it. You can make it and you will make it only if you try”.
And for her positive performance and achievements, Chinyere has earned many awards and recognition. She is Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR) 2006; Member, Nigerian Women Achievers HALL OF FAME; African International Achievers’ Merit Award 2007; Rare Gems Professional Achievements Award 2007 and Member, Nigeria’s Fifty Greatest Women of Democratic Administration of Ghana 2012 among others.

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Edition 52March 2014

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