Tolulope Arotile: One year after death of first female combat pilot

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Today July 14 marks one year of the death of Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first-ever female combat helicopter pilot.

The Flying Officer, born December 13, 1995, died of head injury within the premises of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Base, Kaduna.

The circumstances surrounding Arotile’s demise remain difficult to comprehend, amid allegations that powerful forces conspired to eliminate her.

The deceased was renowned for her gallantry and skills, which include flying fighter choppers to areas dominated by bandits and terrorists for aerial strikes.

A cross-section of Nigerians believe her contributions to counter-insurgency operations cost her life and continue to demand a probe.

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But the answers they seek may not be provided soon with the seeming bungling of the prosecution of the person(s) arrested over Arotile’s death.

The NAF, according to former Director of Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, stated that its late officer was killed by a “reversing car”.

“She was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate while trying to greet her”, Daramola said.

Many rejected the account which stirred controversy and argued that speed limits are strictly enforced and observed in military bases.

Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, had earlier rubbished NAF’s account of how Arotile died.

“The idea that she was killed after being knocked down on the Airforce Base by her friend’s car is nonsensical. I suspect that Tolu was murdered, the truth is being covered up”, he noted.

Iba Gani Adams, Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, and socio-cultural organization Afenifere called NAF’s “reversing car” explanation unfathomable.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa posed ten questions on the national tragedy to NAF.

In response to public outrage, Daramola declared that the military arm will not join issues with individuals or groups regarding the “spurious” claims of foul play.

“Arotile was a pride of the NAF. It is ludicrous for anyone to even remotely insinuate malevolent intent on the part of the service against one of its most prized assets.”

The last time most people following the matter heard anything of those indicted for the accident was in August 2020.

The Magistrate Court in Kaduna then discharged two of the accused – Folorunsho Igbekele and Gbayegun Deji.

The Magistrate, Benjamin Hassan, said the Kaduna Justice Ministry’s department of public prosecution found nothing against them “other than being passengers in the vehicle of the 1st suspect”.

The first defendant, Nehemiah Adejor, was expected to be re-arraigned before a High Court for manslaughter on September 3, 2020. Curiously, the case has gone cold and tongues are wagging.

Tolulope Arotile hailed from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi. She attended the Air Force Primary School, Kaduna (2000 to 2005) and the Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna (2005 to 2011).

The celebrated pilot gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Kaduna, as a member of 64 Regular Course, on 22 September 2012.

Arotile held a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the NDA and was commissioned into the NAF on 16 September 2017

She was winged as the first female combat helicopter pilot on 15 October 2019 after completing her flying training in South Africa.

Just two years into her career, Arotile acquired 460 hours of flight, an exceptional milestone that, among others, earned her commendation from President Muhammadu Buhari.

It is expected that the Nigerian leader will honour her memory by ordering a diligent prosecution of the death.

Tolulope’s father, Akintunde Arotile recalled how she, at a young age, announced her dream to fly planes.

“One day, she pointed to one small aircraft parked on the field and said, Dad, one day I am going to fly that aircraft. I said Amen.

“I thank God that she was able to achieve her life dream as a baby before her death,” the bereaved dad told NAN after the July 14, 2020 mishap.

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