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Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Arotile, dies

‘Inadvertently killed by ex-schoolmate’
Flying aircraft, my daughter’s childhood dream -Dad
Buhari, Senate President, Reps mourn

Emmanuel Onani, Philip Nyam, Lawrence Olaoye and Muhammad Bashir An auto crash at the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Base in Kaduna, hasclaimedthelifeof Nigeria’sfirst female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile. The record-breaking 24-yearold combat officer was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017, as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Regular Course 64. President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday mourned Arotile’s death. The Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), NAF Headquarters, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, announced Arotile’s death in a statement.

He said: “She died as a result of head injuries sustained from the accident. “It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) 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.” Tolulope’s father, Mr. Akintunde Arotile, has said his late daughter had aspired to fly an aircraft since her primary school days. Arotile, who retired as Assistant General Manager and Power Engineer at the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), told New Telegraph that his daughter was a hard working and intelligent child, before her death. He said: “From day one she had been not just unique but special.

I was in Kaduna then, where she schooled at the Air Force base, starting from kindergarten, nursery and secondary schools, before she proceeded to the Nigeria Defense Academy (NDA). “Right from her childhood, she told me one day that ‘Daddy, look at that aircraft, I am going to fly it one day’. That was when she was in primary six. Even though I took it as childish talk, I said okay and amen. “Majorly, she worked hard, got admission into NDA, studied BSC Mathematics, through that she became a cadet student, then she was selected as part of those that will fly aircraft.

When she was commissioned, she was sent to Enugu, and was later sent to several overseas’ training and courses. “I just give thanks to God that she was able to achieve her childhood dream.” Until her death, Tolulope was the first ever female combat helicopter pilot to be commissioned by the 56-year-old NAF. The NAF was established on April 18 1964, consequent upon the establishment Act by the National Assembly.

Daramola said: “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 bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation Gama Aiki in Minna, Niger State.”

The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has on behalf of officers, airmen, airwomen and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserated with the family of the late Tolulope over the irreparable loss. The winging ceremony Arotile at the NAF Headquarters, Abuja, in October 2019, had attracted the presence of eminent personalities, including the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Pauline Tallen. The late Flying Officer was decorated alongside 12 other pilots, among whom was another first female combat fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni. She had said shortly after the winging that, “the carriage and what the force stands for”, was what motivated her enlistment into the NAF. Meanwhile, Daramola said Tolulope was “inadvertently” hit by her former schoolmate, whose name was not given. He said: “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.”

President Buhari has commiserated with NAF, airmen, airwomen and all friends of Arotile. The President recalled Tolulope’s deft skills in manoeuvring combat helicopters, which he had physically witnessed with pride. Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, said in a statement that the President received with deep pain the passing of the Flying Officer, condoling with the family on loss of such a promising officer, whose short stay on earth impacted greatly on the nation, especially in peace and security.

He said: “The President laud-ed Arotile’s bravery in the field to protect the country from onslaught of bandits and terrorists, assuring that her memory will be indelible, and her efforts remembered. He sympathised with the government and people of Kogi State on the loss.” Buhari prayed that the Almighty God will receive the soul of the departed, and comfort the family she left behind. Also, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has expressed shock and sadness at the tragic news of the death of Tolulope. Lawan, in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media), Ola Awoniyi, said despite her brief service, the deceased flying officer left indelible footprints as a dedicated officer and Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot.

The Senate President noted the attestation of the Nigeria Air Force that Tolulope flew several combat missions and made remarkable contributions to the military efforts against banditry and other criminal activities particularly in the North Central states. Lawan said Tolulope was a role model for young women and the Nigerian youths in general with her focus and dedication to service and calling. Lawan condoled with the family of the late Flying Officer, the Chief of the Air Staff, her officer colleagues, other airmen and airwomen.

The House of Representatives also expressed sadness over Tolulope’s death. The Chairman of the House Committee on Air Force, Hon. Shehu Koko (APC, Kebbi), yesterday described Tolulope as a heroine whose contribution in the war against terrorism and other criminal elements in the country could not be wished away easily. He said: “It is with great sadness that I learned today of flying Officer Tolulope Arotile’s passing. Arotile overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service — service to the nation, to the Nigeria Airforce, the women, and indeed all the people of Nigeria.

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