TARKAA DAVID, in this report, looks at the life of one of Nigeria’s finest and first-ever female combat helicopter officer, until her unfortunate demise.
The nation woke up on Tuesday 14 July, 2020 with the rude shock of the death of one of Nigerian Air Force’s finest female pilot. Her death came as a rude shock to friends, family, colleagues and associates and the NAF family who saw her as an asset to the NAF and the nation at large. This comes at a time the country grapples with terrorism and banditry amongst other sundry crimes where her courage, expertise is greatly needed.
The saying that potentials are mostly found in the cemetery, has never been true than it is with the cutting short of the aspirations and dreams of a young female combat pilot officer, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who was knocked down by an excited former classmate at the NAF Base Kaduna.
The news of her death sent chills down the spines of all who followed her rise to stardom as the first female combat helicopter pilot in the 55 years of existence of the Nigerian Air Force.
The Nigerian Air Force announcing her demise said the first female combat pilot Flying Officer Tolulope Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile was hit by a reversing car of an excited former classmate.
The director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said the young officer died due to head injuries sustained in the accident.
Flying Officer Tolulope Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile was born on 13 December, 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna. Flying Officer Arotile hails from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
She 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.
Flying Officer Arotile was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 16 September, 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Science 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 pilot 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 and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari during the induction ceremony at Eagle Square in Abuja on 6 February, 2020.
The director explained that “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.”
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, flying several combat missions.
Flying Officer Arotile joined the Nigerian Air Force out of passion for the job. Speaking during her winging ceremony 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.”
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on behalf of officers, airmen, airwomen, and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserates with the family of late Flying Officer Arotile over this irreparable loss and pray that the Almighty God grants her soul eternal rest.
“It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died today, 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 statement reads.
Air Marshal Abubakar in a tweet the CAS described the young officer as disciplined, confident, intelligent, and courageous.
“I was heartbroken when I received the sad news of the death of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile yesterday in Kaduna. Tolulope, who was winged in October 2019, as the first female @NigAirForce combat helicopter pilot, was one of our shining young stars.
“She was a very intelligent, disciplined, confident & courageous young officer who added value wherever she served. As a squadron pilot in Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State, she flew her quota of anti-banditry combat missions to ensure a safer, more secured Nigeria.
“I recall meeting her at the Minna Airport, while on an operational visit, after one of such missions & seeing her eagerness to contribute towards the restoration of lasting peace to the affected areas. Her death is a huge loss to @NigAirForce family & indeed the entire Nation.
“On behalf officers, airmen, airwomen & civilian staff of @NigAirForce, I once more condole with the family of late Flying Officer Arotile over this irreparable loss & sincerely pray that the Almighty God grants her soul eternal rest,” he said.
The minister of Defence Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (Rtd) while commiserating with the Nigerian Air Force and family of Flying Officer, Tolulope Arotile, said her death cut short a robust aspiration and expectations of a brighter and better career in the service.
In a statement by his special assistant Media and Publicity Mohammad Abdulkadir, the minister described the death as the exit of one of the finest and best national manpower asset.
He said that the deceased rendered an impactful but short service to the nation, pointing out that the nation should be consoled by the maxim which says it is not how far but how well that matters in the voyage of life at personal, interpersonal and national levels.
He noted that her death has cut short in its prime a robust aspiration and expectations of a brighter and better future of a promising career in the nation’s annals of professional pilot records of service in the Nigerian Air Force.
General Magashi in a condolence message to the nation said “we have lost a brave, gallant, courageous and patriotic Nigerian at a time when her service is needed most to upscale the tempo of Counter-Terrorism and war against banditry plaguing the nations security architecture.”
The minister sympathised with President Buhari, Kogi State Government, the Nigerian Armed Forces especially the Nigerian Air Force family and the family of the late Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile and prayed God to grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.
The Kogi State House of Assembly on 16 July, 2020 called on the State Government to immortalise the first female Combatant Helicopter Pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile.
The call was indicated in a resolution of the House following the adoption of an oral motion moved by Mr Kilani Olumo, (APC-Ijumu) at Plenary.
Presenting the motion, Olumo said that the deceased pilot who died at the age of 24 years, had contributed her quota to the on-going fight against insecurity, crime and criminality in the country in her short but eventful lifespan.
The legislator noted that her death was painful, describing it as a great loss to the country and Kogi.
Olumo said that immortalising the late pilot should be seen from the perspective of reward for hard work and dedication, to the protection of the nation’s territorial integrity as well as encouragement for the younger generation to embrace hard work.
The lawmaker prayed to God to grant the family and Nigeria Air Force and the state, the grace to bear the loss.
Alhaji Isah Umar Tenimu (APC-Lokoja I), while seconding the motion, described it as timely in view of the efforts of the late Pilot to the nation’s security and territorial integrity.
Speaker of the House Matthew Kolawole, in his ruling urged the state government to urgently immortalise the young icon in view of her immense contributions to the security of the nation.
The house observed a minute silence in honour of the first Nigerian female combatant helicopter pilot, an indigene of Ijumu Local Government Area of the state.
She was the first female Nigerian to be so decorated and was on a one week rest after returning from an operation against bandits in Katsina when she died in an accident in Kaduna.
Her father, Mr Akintunde Arotile, said that his daughter was not only of high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but simply “wonderful” adding, “I just thank God that she was able to achieve her dreams as a baby, to fly an aircraft one day.”
The late Arotile is to be buried on 23 July 2020 at the National cemetery Abuja with full military honours.