Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first female combat pilot, died suddenly at the Kaduna Air Force base in a ‘freakish accident’ on July 14, 2020.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) announced Arotile’s death a day after she died. It said Arotile died “as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna”.
“I was heartbroken when I received the sad news,” Sadiq Abubakar, Nigeria’s chief of the Air Staff at the time and current APC candidate for the Bauchi gubernatorial election, tweeted.
Two years on, the circumstances surrounding Arotile’s death remain dubious to many, and an investigation into her death is stuck with the police.
THE ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENT
Arotile’s death came with an explanation from the Nigerian Air Force within 24 hours.
Ibikunle Daramola, Nigeria Air Force Director of Public Relations and Information, released a statement on July 15, 2020. He said, “Flying Officer Arotile died on July 14, 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.”
“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, flying several combat missions.”
At the time of Daramola’s statement, NAF had not named the former Air Force Secondary School classmate who hit Arotile in their ‘excitement’.
NAF later named Nehemiah Adejoh the prime suspect in the death of Arotile. Adejoh was driving the KIA Sorento Sports Utility Vehicle that allegedly hit Arotile.
Igbekele Folorunsho and Festus Gbayegun were with Adejoh when the vehicle hit Arotile. They were all civilians who visited the NAF base in Kaduna to visit the wife of a NAF officer. The NAF turned Adejoh, Folorunsho, Gbayegun, and the vehicle that hit Arotile over to the police to continue the investigation into her death on July 24, 2020.
Daramola had said that all three occupants of the vehicle were not intoxicated but Adejoh had no driver’s licence.
Folorunsho and Gbayegun were Arotile’s classmates at Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna. Adejoh was her junior by one year in the same secondary school.
NAF turned the suspects and exhibits involved in the ‘road accident’ over to the police a day after Arotile was buried. When questions about an autopsy report arose, NAF said there was no need for an autopsy because the cause of Arotile’s death was clear.
“Autopsy was not done because it wasn’t requested, the cause of death was already known based on the investigation and how she was taken to the hospital and the confirmation was made. There were no doubts in that regard and there was no request from the family for that specifically. No autopsy was done,” Daramola said in a televised interview on July 24, 2020.
“On the issue of autopsy or otherwise that would have been initiated by the family but based on discussions with them and the fact that witnesses were there at the time she was taken to the Nigerian Air Force hospital in Kaduna, there were no doubts as to the cause of death which was head injury as a result of blunt force trauma caused by the vehicle hitting her from the rear.”
Daramola said that the Arotile family told NAF that they wanted closure. “Her father said that he was comfortable with the Nigerian Air Force’s investigation which of course is also being transferred to the police,” he said.
Remembering Arotile in July 2021, Akintunde Arotile, her father, complained about how long it took to secure justice for his daughter.
“It’s like it is unending,” Arotile’s father said. “The last time I asked, they said that the case was postponed. It is difficult to bring closure to that aspect of this tragedy”.
The Nigeria Police Force has not officially announced the close of the investigation into Arotile’s death.
FIJ could not get comments from Muyiwa Adejobi, Police Public Relations Officer, as his phone was switched off at press time.
PREPARED FOR SERVICE, PASSIONATE ABOUT AIRCRAFTS
Tolulope Oluwatoyin Sarah Arotile was born on December 13, 1995, in Kaduna. Arotile hailed from Ijumu Local Government Area in Kogi State.
She attended military schools throughout her lifetime. Arotile attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna, from 2000 to 2005 and Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna from 2006 to 2011. She proceeded to the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, as a member of 64 Regular Course on September 22, 2012.
NAF commissioned Arotile as a pilot officer on September 16, 2017, after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Akintunde told reporters that his daughter had been passionate about aircrafts from her childhood days:
“One day, when she was very small, she pointed to one small aircraft parked on a field and said, ‘Dad, one day I am going to fly that aircraft,’ and I said amen,” Arotile’s father told The Punch.
She underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy and obtained a commercial pilot licence.
Arotile was winged as the first ever female combat helicopter pilot in NAF on October 15, 2019, after completing her training in South Africa.
NAF remembers Arotile as a ‘shining light’ and one of its ‘most prized assets’.
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