By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
More questions, emerged, yesterday, over the death of the late Flight Officer, Tolulope Arotile, as the umbrella body of Yoruba-speaking areas of Kogi State, Okun Development Association, ODA, called on the Federal Government to order an immediate investigation into the matter.
The association described the official explanation on the cause of her death as curious, saying only a proper investigation could clear growing suspicions over the matter.
Arotile, who was Nigeria’s first female combatant helicopter pilot in Nigerian Airforce, NAF, died in an accident on July 14, 2020, at the Nigerian Air force Base, Kaduna.
As of the day, the news of her death broke, there was hardly any detail regarding the incident.
But a day after, the Nigerian Air force, in a statement by its Director Public of Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said 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, undertaking several combat missions. Flying Officer Arotile joined the Nigerian Air Force out of passion for the job. In her words “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”. Gone too soon like a candle in the wind, she will be greatly missed by the entire Nigerian Air Force family, “the statement said.
Ever since the official statement was made, many have been describing it as unsatisfactory.
Notable among persons and organisations that had spoken in that regard were World Yoruba Congress, WYC, Afenifere, Are Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba nation, Iba Gani Adams, and elder sister of the deceased, Mrs. Damilola Adegboye among others.
The deceased 24-year-old officer hailed from Ife in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
She was a member of the 64 Regular Course and was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on September 16, 2017.
Arotile, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy, 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.
In the latest call for a probe into the circumstances leading to her demise, National President of the umbrella body of the Yoruba of Kogi State, Chief Femi Mokikan, raised some posers for federal government.
He said: “These are very painful occurrences and dark moments for us as Okun people. By the virtue of the kind of people we are, we deserve to be celebrated, but certainly not this way as reflected.
“As regards Tolulope’s death, it is extremely very sad. She was a young and promising trail-blazer. Some kinds of deaths will occur and nobody will raise any suspicion. But others smell so offensively that you want to know more. Tolulope’s death falls into the second category.
“From all the reports we have read and the official explanation from her employers, the story is that a car reversed into her while she was trying to greet someone and she fell and hit her head on a slab. All within the Air Force Base. That is what makes it even more curious. This raises several questions: how can such an “accident” happen in broad daylight within the Air Force Base? The car was reversing at what speed? When did the Air Force Base become a racing track? And none of the people around including the one she wanted to greet could scream aloud enough to alert either the driver or Tolu herself?
“The whole world has attested to her accomplishments within so short a time. Her exploits in her combat rounds with insurgents, particularly in Niger State, remain a benchmark for others as we are told.
“It is only a proper investigation, that is transparent and credible that can remove the suspicions around Tolulope’s death.
Her parents want such an investigation done. Okun people support such an investigation. The only way the Federal Government can honour the memory of Tolulope and accord some respect to her parents who have been shattered by her death is to order an immediate inquiry into her untimely death.”
Meanwhile, the spokesman of NAF, last Friday, said an investigation had commenced into the incident, saying two people were in custody over the matter.
He said: “First of all, in my first statement, I said she died in a road traffic accident. I further clarified the nature of the road traffic accident where one of her excited classmates who saw her reversed his car which led to him hitting her and knocking her down. This led to head injuries and a lot of haemorrhaging which ultimately resulted in her death.
“The two boys are in custody and the NAF will do a thorough investigation into the matter. It is a routine process that is ongoing because it happened inside a NAF base. At the appropriate time, whatever information needs to go out will go out. But we cannot pre-empt that investigation process.
“Whatever needs to be known will be known. It is standard practice. So, we are investigating the circumstances leading to her death by a road traffic accident. It is an investigation because it may go beyond NAF.”
Kalu, Sani, Gbadamosi
Meanwhile, Nigerians of all classes on social media have continued to demand a detailed explanation from government.
A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinakulu, on his twitter account, said: “So, Tolulope Arotile, the 1st female combatant in the history of @NigeriaAirforce, was killed in an accident at the Kaduna Air force Base?!! When did the accident take place? Is there an investigation? When is the report going to be issued?”
Sen Shehu Sani on his Twitter account, wrote: “Tolulope Arotile; The authorities should avail the general public with details of the circumstances behind the death of this great Nigerian. Traffic accident comes in different forms. “
Also, a former governorship candidate in Lagos State, Babatunde Gbadamosi, on Twitter, said: “The death of 23-year-old Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first female combat pilot in a “car accident” at a Nigerian Air Force base is suspicious. The death of a frontline Yoruba pilot smells.”
Notwithstanding, eulogies have continued to pour in for the late Arotile from Nigerians across ethnic, political, religious, and social backgrounds. She would be buried in Abuja on July 23, 2020, with full military honours.