As Nigeria’s first female Combat Helicopter Pilot, Tolulope Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile goes home today, several Nigerians are yet to come out from the shock of her early demise.
Flying Officer Arotile who died following head injuries sustained in Kaduna, when her Classmates of Airforce Secondary School accidentally hit her is set for burial today at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja.
The sad development has subsequently instilled the message to Nigerians that anyone could experience the same fate anytime in life.
Arotile, a shining light in the Nigerian Airforce, NAF, treated as the gold piece in the force, little did she know that while leaving home after receiving a call to report to the office would be her last day alive on earth.
According to NAF, “Her unfortunate demise has elicited an overwhelming outpouring of condolences, prayers and support to the NAF as well as the Arotile Family. This has no doubt been so, not just for Tolulope’s outstanding accomplishments at the tender age of 24, but also because of her sterling personal qualities of excellence, hard work, dedication to duty, confidence and courage, which endeared her to her superiors, subordinates and peers in the Service.”
A friend of her, simply identified as Zubair Adam, stated that her death is a great loss to Nigeria, adding, “I wish the NAF more grace on their work.
“This story is an unbelievable accident inside the airforce base, however, her years of great impact in Nigeria will continue to speak till the end of this world.
“May God bless and protect our Nigerian arm forces, willing and ably ready.
Born on 13 December 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna, Flying Officer Tolulope, hails from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
Flying Officer Arotile attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna from 2000 to 2005 and Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna from 2006 to 2011 before she later gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna as a member of 64 Regular Course on 22 September 2012.
She was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 16 September 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Flying Officer Arotile was winged as the first ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force on 15 October 2019, after completing her flying training in South Africa.
She holds a commercial pilots’ license and also underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy. Incidentally, she introduced the newly acquired Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, during the induction ceremony at the Eagle Square in Abuja on 6 February 2020.
Why I joined the Nigerian Air Force
While several Nigerians go into their various profession in search of greener pastures, one would wonder why the 25 years old joined the NAF.
iBrandTV gathered that Flying Officer Arotile joined the profession joined the Nigerian Air Force out of a passion for the job.
Before her death, she said: “I joined the military simply out of passion for it. Being a military personnel has been a long time ambition, the carriage and what it stands for are simply exceptional.”
How she died
On 14 July 2020, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), and indeed the entire Nation, was thrown into mourning as a result of her death.
Flying Officer Arotile died on 14 July 2020 at the age of 24, when she was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate while trying to greet her.
According to her elder sister, Mrs Damilola Adegboye, “I and Tolu were in the room on the day of the incident, a call came into her phone which she picked but from the way they spoke, I knew the caller must be a senior officer calling her to come to Airforce Base. She felt reluctant and I offered to drop her off.
“One hour later, I saw the story online that something serious has happened to her. I couldn’t believe that somebody I just dropped off was dead
NAF react to her loss in road traffic accident in Kaduna
Meanwhile, while in a statement made available to iBrandTV by the NAF, Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, it stated that, “It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died on the 14 July 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna.
“Until her death, Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service.
“During her short but impactful stay in the Service, late Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.
“The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on behalf officers, airmen, airwomen and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserates with the family of late Flying Officer Arotile over this irreparable loss. We pray that the Almighty God grants her soul eternal rest.”
Social media attacks the cause of her death
Nigerians seem not to be cool about the circumstances that led to her death. Even the family insisted that they carry a special investigation on the true cause of her early demise.
Following the development and pressures from her family, friends and even social media, the NAF launched an inquest to present the actual fact and details leading to her death.
A statement from the NAF, reads: “Unfortunately, because of the peculiar circumstances of the incident that led to her death, a rash of falsehoods, innuendos, conspiracy theories and the likes have been propagated in the public space, especially on Social Media. The NAF sincerely hopes that the findings of the just-concluded preliminary investigation into this unfortunate and painful incident will address the misinformed issues raised in the Social Media on the tragedy.
“Moreover, while it would have been ideal for the entire investigation to be concluded before details on the incident are released, the NAF, in sensitivity to public concerns occasioned by the spread of false information, appreciates the imperative to provide more clarity at this very difficult moment.
“Please note that the details being revealed today have already been communicated to the Arotile Family, who ideally should be allowed to mourn their daughter and sister in peace, but for the unfortunate nature of the sad occurrence.
Preliminary investigation findings
NAF further stated that, in line with the normal procedure in the Nigerian Air Force during such occurrences, an investigation was immediately instituted to formally determine the circumstances of the incident.
Accordingly, the preliminary investigation has revealed the following details:
a. The Late Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, a Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG) Enugu, attached to the Air Component of Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, having recently completed her Promotion Examinations, was in Kaduna awaiting deployment for her next assignment. During this period, she stayed with her sister, Mrs Damilola Adegboye, at Sabo Area in Kaduna, visiting the NAF Base whenever necessary.
b. On 14 July 2020 at about 10.55am, Late Flying Officer Arotile received a phone call from her colleague, Flying Officer Perry Karimo, a fellow helicopter pilot from the 405 HCTG, who wanted to discuss arrangements for their return to Enugu, requesting that she comes to the Base so that they could work out the modalities. Subsequently, at about 10.58am, the Late Arotile placed a call through to Squadron Leader Diepiriye Batubo, the Group Operations Officer (GOO) of 405 HCTG, who was in Minna at the time, to clarify issues regarding her deployment. It must be highlighted that the call FROM Flying Officer Karimo as well as the one TO the Squadron Leader Batubo both took place before 11.00am, over 5 hours before the incident which led to her death.
c. Flying Officer Arotile was later conveyed from Sabo to the NAF Base Kaduna by her sister, Mrs Adegboye, where the Deceased dropped her phone for charging at a house in the Instructor Pilots’ Quarters belonging to Squadron Leader Alfa Ekele. Her elder sister later dropped her off at the Base Mammy Market at about 4.00pm, where she proceeded to photocopy and laminate some documents. It was while she was returning from the Mammy Market at about 4.30pm that 3 of her former schoolmates at the Air Force Secondary School (now Air Force Comprehensive School) Kaduna; Mr Nehemiah Adejoh, Mr Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr Festus Gbayegun, drove past her in a Kia Sorento SUV, with Registration Number AZ 478 MKA. It is noteworthy that Messrs Adejoh, Folorunsho and Gbayegun are all civilians who live outside NAF Base Kaduna, but were on their way to visit one Mrs Chioma Ugwu, wife of Squadron Leader Chukwuemeka Ugwu, who lives at Ekagbo Quarters on the Base.
d. Upon recognising their schoolmate, Arotile, after passing her, Mr Adejoh, who was driving, reversed the vehicle, ostensibly in an attempt to quickly meet up with the Deceased, who was walking in the opposite direction. In the process, the vehicle struck Flying Officer Arotile from the rear, knocking her down with significant force and causing her to hit her head on the pavement. The vehicle then ran over parts of her body as it veered off the road beyond the kerb and onto the pavement, causing her further injuries.
e. Flying Officer Arotile was subsequently rushed to the 461 NAF Hospital Kaduna for treatment, while Mr Folorunsho (one of the occupants of the vehicle) who is also an Accident & Emergency Nurse at the St Gerard Catholic Hospital Kaduna, administered First Aid.
f. Flying Officer Arotile was confirmed dead by the On-Call Doctor at the 461 NAF Hospital at about 4.45pm on 14 July 2020, as a result of the head injuries.
g. The trio of Messrs Nehemiah Adejoh, Igbekele Folorunsho and Festus Gbayegun were immediately detained at the Air Provost Wing, 453 Base Services Group Kaduna as investigations began. They were subjected to Toxicology Tests at the 461 NAF Hospital but no traces of alcohol or psychotropic substances were found in their systems. It was however discovered that the driver of the vehicle, Mr Nehemiah Adejo, did not have a valid driver’s license.
h. Traffic Officers from the Kawo Police Station and the Kaduna State Police Command as well as Road Traffic experts from the Federal Road Safety Corp were also called in to provide support during the investigation.
Having carefully considered the foregoing, the preliminary investigation concluded that:
a. The death of Flying Officer Arotile was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and significant bleeding resulting from being struck by the vehicle.
b. Being a civil case, the matter will be handed over to the Nigeria Police with a view to further investigating and charging the suspects to court in accordance with extant laws.
“The Nigerian Air Force, being a highly professional and disciplined organization, will not join issues with any individuals or groups regarding the spurious allegations of ‘foul play’ espoused in some quarters. Suffice it to say that Flying Officer Arotile was a pride of the NAF in whom the Service had invested massively in terms of resources, time and energy.
“Consequently, it is ludicrous for anyone to even remotely insinuate malevolent intent on the part of the Service against one of its most prized assets.
“Furthermore, it is extremely sad and disheartening that, rather than allow the Arotile Family and the Nigerian Air Force to grieve for our dearly departed Tolulope in peace, many have chosen to politicize her death, while others are using the incident to push meritless, misguided ethnic and religious agendas.
“The Nigerian Air Force wishes to implore everyone to respect the sensibilities of all those who have suffered most by this loss, those who really knew Tolulope – her family, her friends and her Nigerian Air Force colleagues.
“It is of absolute importance that the memory of this Fallen Hero and our precious child is not tainted by the propagation of misplaced sentiments and wild shenanigans. Before I end this august address, may I respectfully, on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff, the entire personnel of the NAF as well as members of the Arotile Family, express my profound appreciation to all those who in one way or the other have shown concern, support and sympathy over this unfortunate incident,” the statement added.
Before her untimely death, Flying Officer Arotile made significant and outstanding contributions to the war against terrorism, armed banditry and other forms of criminality in the Country, undertaking several combat missions.
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