THE remains of Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, were interred on Thursday at the Military Cemetery in Abuja, amidst tributes and tears.
She was accorded full military honours as the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, led other military brass and dignitaries in paying tributes and laying wreaths.
Arotile’s remains were interred at 11.05am with her family members standing at the graveside. A barrage of 21 gunshots also rent the air as part of the military honours accorded the departed pilot.
The 24-year-old died on July 14, 2020, at the Nigerian Air Force base in Kaduna, after she was knocked down by a Kia Sorento SUV driven by Nehemiah Adejoh, her ex-classmate at the Force Secondary School, now Air Force Comprehensive School.
Before the burial, there was a hymnal rendition by a choir, while the NAF Director of Chaplaincy (Protestant), Group Capt. Dogo Gani, delivered a sermon taken from Isaiah, 57:1-3.
He advised the audience to focus on doing the right things in order to leave a great legacy behind.
The Chief of Air Staff and the chief mourner, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said the Nigerian Air Force was still in shock over Arotile’s death, noting that her passage had cut short the service’s expectations.
He described the deceased as a confident combat helicopter pilot who braved all odds to achieve her dreams, adding that her short stay was impactful.
Abubakar stated, “I must confess that even at this monument, NAF is still in palpable shock and grief at this because it is the loss of a mentee, who the Nigerian Air Force had so much confidence in and our expectations had been cut short.
“As a combat helicopter pilot for several years, I can tell you that this young and confident combat helicopter pilot in the history of the Nigerian Air Force braved so many odds to get to where she was before her demise.”
The CAS added, “As a service, we have so many expectations for Tolu, which she was already living up to with ease. Though she is no longer with us, I must say that her short stay with us was highly impactful.”
He said Arotile carried out her assignment both on the ground and in the air with professionalism, commitment and confidence, noting that she contributed immensely to the decimation of subversive elements across all theatres of operation, most especially, in the North-West and North-Central axis.
The CAS condoled with the NAF, the President, the Arotile family and the nation.
The elder sister to the deceased, Mrs Damilola Adegboye, in her tribute, expressed gratitude to God for giving the nation Arotile and the NAF for giving her the platform to “outshine her peers.”
Adegboye said, “Because of their (NAF) trust and investment, Tolulope showed exemplary skills too difficult to emulate. As a child, Tolulope had always dreamt of flying a plane.
“At that age, her aspirations were blurry, but today, we can all gladly testify to the impact she had made not only in the Nigerian Air Force but among family members, colleagues and the entire nation.”
Senate honours Arotile
Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday, observed a minute silence in honour of the late Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, the first female combat helicopter pilot of the Nigerian Air Force.
The red chamber also condoled with the Arotile family, the Nigerian Air Force, Governor Yahaya Bello, and the people of Kogi State.
This was sequel to a point of order raised on the floor of the Senate about her demise by the representative of the Kogi West Senatorial District, Senator Smart Adeyemi.
The red chamber did not approve an additional prayer by Adeyemi, who sought his colleagues’ approval for a monument to be named after the late Arotile at her local community in Kogi State.
The representative of Kogi East Senatorial District, Senator Jibrin Issah, called for a full scale investigation into the death of Arotile.
Adeyemi had urged the Senate to note with grief, the death of Arotile, who died on Tuesday, 14th July, 2020 in a freak accident at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Kaduna, at the age of 24;
He added that the late Flying Officer was winged as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot at the Nigerian Air Force headquarters, Abuja on 15 October 2019, after completing her flying training in South Africa.
He said, “Flying Officer Arotile, who hailed from Ife in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, was born on 13th December 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna.
“She attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna from 2006-2011. In September 2012, she gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, where she was a member of 64 Regular Course.
“Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 16 September 2017, holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy.”