Nigerians from all walks of life have been mounting pressure on the authorities of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to probe the circumstances surrounding the death of first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile.
This was coming as NAF announced that the remains of late Arotile would be laid to rest with full military honours at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja on July 23.
Late Arotile died on July 14 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. She died as a result of head injuries sustained from the accident.
The controversial circumstances leading to her death have led many Nigerians to call on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, most especially NAF to probe Arotle’s death.
Late Arotile’s elder sister, Damilola Adegboye, demanded a probe on her death, 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.”
Meanwhile, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, Friday received some members of the Federal Executive Council as well as members of the National Assembly who visited him at the NAF Headquarters to condole with him over the unfortunate demise of the young NAF pilot.
Those who came calling include: the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, as well as the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
Also, a joint delegation from the upper and lower houses of the National Assembly, comprising 20 lawmakers, was led by the Chairman Senate Committee on Air Force, Bala Ibn-Na’Allah, and the Chairman House Committee on the Air Force, Shehu Koko.
Speaking during her visit, Tallen, who was accompanied on the visit by the Director-General of the National Council for Women Development as well as leaders of some other Women’s Groups, said she received the news of the death of Arotile with great shock, from which she said it would be difficult for her to recover.
She, however, noted that the death of the young pilot would not be in vain as she would forever be remembered for her gallantry and contributions towards ensuring a secured Nigeria.
The minister prayed God to comfort the entire NAF family and grant the departed officer’s soul eternal rest.
While conveying his condolences, Mohammed, on his part, prayed God to grant Arotile’s soul peaceful repose and her family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Also, Ibn-Na’Allah stated that the committee, and the Senate as a whole, lacked the words to express how painful her death was to them.
He said they were however consoled that there was no greater honour than when one dies while in service to one’s nation. He described the late Arotile as a dedicated and goal-oriented young woman who lived an exemplary life that was worthy of emulation by other young Nigerians.
While reiterating that the Nigerian Senate shares in the pain of the Service as well as that of the Arotile family, he urged NAF to continue to give opportunities to many young Nigerian girls to realise their dreams of serving their country as pilots in NAF.
Also, Koko, while recalling the day Arotile was winged as the first female combat helicopter pilot in NAF, noted that the lawmakers were aware of the many exploits the young officer made in her short but impactful career.
He said her passing was extremely painful, but they took solace in the fact that she had left a lasting legacy. He therefore urged the chief of air staff, and through him, the family of the deceased young officer to be consoled by the good deeds she left behind.
Responding, Abubakar expressed his appreciation to the esteemed dignitaries as well as all Nigerians for their overwhelming show of support to the NAF over the passing of Arotile.
He noted that NAF would never forget her, not only because she was the first female combat helicopter pilot in the service, but also for her legacy as a very intelligent, highly committed and extremely patriotic officer who excelled in virtually every endeavour.
The chief of air staff recalled how, while on basic helicopter course in South Africa, she was selected, because of her excellent performance, to undergo a more advanced flying course on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy before returning to finish the basic course along with her other colleagues in South Africa.
Such, Abubakar said, was her commitment to excellence on the job.
“This was what gave us confidence to assign her to introduce the 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; which she did excellently,” he added.
Abubakar added that late Arotile had left her mark in the sands of time, explaining that when it comes to displaying excellence and adding value to the society, age or gender should not be barriers.
He noted that her contributions through combat missions conducted, along with her colleagues, in the fight against armed banditry and other criminal activities in the country would also never be forgotten.
The chief of air staff disclosed that NAF would therefore continue to give equal opportunities to female officers in terms of training, noting that a total of 11 female student pilots were currently undergoing flying training both within and outside Nigeria.
While reiterating the huge loss Flying Officer Arotile’s death was to NAF, Abubakar noted that the Service would continue to be consoled by the legacy she left behind.
He assured that NAF, in honour of her memory as well as all those who had paid the supreme price before her, would continue to work assiduously to ensure success in the fight against terrorism, banditry and other security threats for the overall peace and prosperity of a united Nigeria.
By Idowu Sowunmi