The remains of late Flying Officer Tolulope Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile, Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), were buried with full military honours in the presence of her loved ones at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja, on Thursday.
Flying Officer Arotile died penultimate Monday when she was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate while trying to greet her at NAF Base, Kaduna, NAF said in a statement.
NAF also informed that being a civil case Mr Nehemiah Adejoh (the driver of the vehicle), Mr Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr Festus Gbayegun, all former classmates of the deceased, would be handed over to the police with a view to further investigating and charging them to court in accordance with extant laws.
The death has elicited outpourings of national collective mourning with condolences and overwhelming show of supports to her family and the NAF.
President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “deep pain” at the death, regretting the “loss of such a promising officer, whose short stay on earth impacted greatly on the nation, especially in peace and security.”
Born on 13 December 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna, Flying Officer Arotile hailed from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
She attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna from 2000 – 2005 and Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna from 2006 – 2011 before gaining admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna as a member of 64 Regular Course on 22 September 2012 and graduated with Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.
Flying Officer Arotile was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 16 September 2017 and was winged as the first female combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force on 15 October 2019, after completing her flying training in South Africa.
While on Basic Helicopter Course in South Africa, because of her excellent performance, she was selected to undergo a more advanced flying course on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy before returning to finish along with her other colleagues in South Africa.
Incidentally, Arotile, who held a commercial pilot license, introduced the newly acquired Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter to President Buhari during the induction ceremony at Eagle Square in Abuja on 6 February 2020.
Her death is akin to the sun setting at noon, a trailblazer’s life cut short. The nation laments the loss of this intelligent, highly committed and extremely patriotic officer who excelled in virtually every endeavour. The circumstances of this death pain more as she had been given one week to rest after flying her mission against bandits.
The outpouring of grief is coming because Flying Officer Arotile left indelible footprints as a pacesetter and dedicated officer who flew several combat missions and made remarkable contributions to the military efforts against banditry and other criminal activities particularly in North West and Central States.
She was a role model for young women and the Nigerian youths with her devotion, tenacity, focus and dedication to service and calling. She also made her colleagues in the service proud.
Female Generals from the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), in mourning Arotile, said “A life worth living depends on how much you mean to those left behind. You were a Pacesetter.” While female officers from the Nigerian Navy said “You came and made your mark. You made us proud.”
Indeed, Arotile made not only her family and colleagues but the entire nation proud. NAF should immortalise her by, among others, continuing to give equal opportunities to female officers in terms of recruitment and training. May her soul rest in perfect peace.