The death of Flying Officer Arotile

TOLULOPE Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile had a noble ambition: to fly combat aircraft. By the time she died on July 14, she had not only made a reality of her ambition but had done so excellently well. To say the least, the entire nation is in pangs at the manner of her passing. In a terse statement, the Air Force spokesman, Ibikunle Daramola, had on Wednesday July 15 formally informed the nation: “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 father, Akintunde Arotile, an engineer, she had spoken to him earlier that day at 1:00pm, intimating him of the fact that she was on a two-week break and would be going out later in the day to make photocopies of some documents. By 5:00pm, however, he was informed that the body of his daughter was lying cold in the morgue. Mrs Damilola  Adegboye, the deceased officer’s elder sister with whom she was living in Kaduna before the tragic incident, however had misgivings about the force’s narrative.

It was only last year that the nation celebrated the unusual feat achieved by the 24-year-old when she was commissioned as the first female Air Force winged pilot. She was an encouragement, a symbol that Nigerian youths were not all about laziness and internet fraud. Arotile was winged as the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force on October 15, 2019 after completing her flying training in South Africa. She holds a commercial pilot license and also underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy. Born on December 13, 1995 to the Arotile family in Kaduna, the officer hails from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State. She attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna, Kaduna State, from 2000 to 2005 and Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna, from 2006 to 2011, before later gaining admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, as a member of the 64 Regular Course on September 22, 2012. She was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on September 16, 2017 and held a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy.

Naturally, the circumstances surrounding her demise aroused suspicion. Since Arotile was reported to have proven her mettle in the fight against terrorists in the North Central geopolitical zone, carrying out several successful missions decimating the camps of the terrorists, and had in fact only recently returned from one of such missions, questions were asked regarding the identity of the secondary school classmate who killed her inadvertently,   the speed in which the culprit was reversing his vehicle, resulting in the massive hemorrhage in the Air Force Officer’s death, whether or not speed limits/limiters obtained on the premises of the Air Force Base, why she did not see the oncoming vehicle, and who the senior officer who summoned her to the base was. These questions were however addressed in a subsequent release by the Air Force spokesman.

Giving a report of the preliminary investigation carried out by the force, the NAF spokesperson said: “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. 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.” He added that the suspect, who he said did not have a valid driver’s license, would be handed over to the Nigeria Police with a view to further investigating and charging him to court in accordance with the extant laws.

Noting that the circumstances surrounding Arotile’s death had already been communicated to her family, Daramola said that the Nigerian Air Force, being a highly professional and disciplined organisation, would not join issues with any individuals or groups regarding the spurious allegations of ‘foul play’ espoused in some quarters. He added: “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 politicise her death, while others are using the incident to push meritless, misguided ethnic and religious agendas.”

While the update by the Air Force was in order, it is quite clear that the speculations it referred to were fuelled substantially by its own very terse initial statement. The statement left out too many key details and gave vent to suspicion about a cover up. Even the victim’s elder sister, Mrs Adegboye, was quoted as saying: “We in the family are not convinced that Tolu can just die like that in a freak accident. I know that the military is well trained in the art of investigation; we want them to carry out a thorough investigation that can convince us beyond all doubts that the incident that led to her death was real.”  We expect the Air Force and indeed all security agencies in the country to have learnt valuable lessons from this tragic incident. Nothing is gained by withholding key information, especially in circumstances like the one under reference.

We commiserate with the Arotile family and with the Nigerian military. We endorse the calls on the Federal Government to immortalise the deceased. This is indeed a very painful and avoidable loss.

 

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