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Aderonke Kale, a medical doctor, is a pioneer in a field which, from time immemorial, has been traditionally reserved for men all over the world – the military profession. She not only ventured into this field, she also distinguished herself by rising to the top of the profession. She is a Nigerian army psychiatrist who became the first female Major-General in the Nigerian Army. She rose to command the Nigerian Medical Corps.

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Early Life and Background

Aderonle Kale was born into a family of professionals. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother a teacher. They made sure that she had a good education. She went to primary schools in Lagos and Zaria and had her secondary education in St. Anne’s School, Ibadan and Abeokuta Grammar School. She opted to read medicine and was admitted for that purpose to the University College, which later became University of Ibadan. After her graduation as a medical doctor, she went to the University of London to specialize in Psychiatry. She worked briefly in Britain and returned to Nigeria in 1971.


Aderonke Kale trained as a medical doctor at University College, which later became the University of Ibadan. Kale then specialised in Psychiatry at the University of London. She was inspired to join psychiatry by Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo, Africa’s first professor of psychiatry. She worked briefly in Britain and returned to Nigeria in 1971.

A year later in 1972, she joined the Nigerian Army. This was a very rare decision for women in those days, particularly those at such a high professional level. She was a Colonel and Deputy Commander of the Nigerian Army Medical Corps by 1990. She was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and in doing so became the first female General in West Africa. Kale was promoted to Major-General in 1994 and became the first Nigerian woman to achieve that rank. She was also the first female Major-General in West Africa. Her role was initially as chief psychiatrist to the army. Kale later became Director of the entire Nigerian Medical Corps and was its Chief Medical Officer until 1996. This was the first time in the history of the Nigerian Army that a woman was given responsibility for the healthcare of all Nigerian soldiers at all levels in preparation for and during war. Her competence as a psychiatrist was recognized in 1973, when she became Consultant Psychiatrist, and in 1982, she became Chief Consultant.

With such rapid rise through the professional ladder, she had much responsibility thrust upon her. Her management career started when she became the Commanding Officer of the Military Hospital in Ibadan, a position she held from 1980 to 1985. She thus had the distinction of being the first woman to command a military hospital in Nigeria. She performed the same feat in the Military Hospital, Enugu from 1985 to 1987, and in the Military Hospital, Benin from 1989 to 1990. With such experience, it was not surprising that she was promoted to the position of Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Army Medical Corps and School, 1991 to 1994. In 1994, she finally reached the zenith of her career when she became the Commandant of the Nigerian Medical Corps. For the first time in the history of the Nigerian Army, a woman was given the crucial responsibility of healthcare for all Nigerian soldiers at all levels in preparation for war and during actual warfare.

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Kale: A Sterling Personality and Career

As she took on more responsibilities in her professional field, so did she continue to receive recognition as a military officer. By 1978, she was already a Lt. Colonel and in 1983 she became a Colonel. By 1990, she joined the rank of the Generals, first as a Brigadier-General and, in 1994, as a Major-General. No woman has ever achieved that status in the Nigerian Army. She now had a commanding voice in the decision-making in the military, particularly at a time when the governance of the country was in the hands of soldiers. She thus became the lone voice for women in a government which was entirely in the hands of men. Her colleagues recognized her distinction of which there could be no greater demonstration than their testimony when she eventually retired from the army after twenty years of meritorious service when she was pulled out ceremoniously, as is the tradition in the army. In 2011, shortly after the introduction of females into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) programme, the female hall of residence was named after Major-General Aderonke Kale.

Kale: An Exemplary Life and Worthy of Emulation

Her contributions, however, went beyond her activities in the army. She was involved in many organisations that are relevant to the practice of her profession – such organisations as the Nigerian Medical Council, the West African College of Physicians, the Institutte of Management Consultants, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, and the World Psychiatrists Association. She also contributed to the development of medicine, the field of Psychiatry in particular, through participation at seminars nationally and internationally at which fora she highlighted, through her contributions, the peculiar circumstances of psychiatric and general medical practice particularly in Nigeria. She was honoured in 2012 with the THISDAY award for her various contributions to the country’s development.

Kale has been a trailblazer and an achiever. She took up the challenge of aspiring to the top and succeeded in exercising leadership in a world still dominated by men. She has lived in the world of men both at her place of work and at her home, and she has made a success of it all. She ties her ability to succeed on all fronts to these words: “Be conscious of the fact that you have responsibilities to your career, to your husband and to your children, and must strive to discharge them to the best of your ability.”

She retired in 1997.




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This article was first published on 27th April 2020


Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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