The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on Thursday buried the remains of late Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, the service’s first female combat helicopter pilot, at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja.
Ms Arotile, who died on July 14, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna, was buried with full military honours.
A Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG) Enugu, she was attached to the Air Component of Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna,having recently completed her Promotion Examinations.
She was in Kaduna awaiting deployment for her next assignment when she died.
Speaking at the funeral ceremony, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Sadique Abubakar, said Ms Arotile would be greatly missed by the NAF.
Mr Abubakar said that even at this moment the NAF was still in shock and grief because it has lost a heroine whom the Service has so much confidence in.
He noted that the NAF’s expectations were cut short as a result of her sudden demise.
The air chief who eulogised Ms Arotile, noted that her short stay in the Service was highly impactful, as she was a committed, confident officer in her service in the North West and North Central missions.
He noted that Ms Arotile’s demise had affected the NAF and the nation whose sovereignty she protected.
Mr Abubakar thanked the late Ms Arotile for adding value to national security, saying the NAF and the country would always remember her contributions to nation building.
Speaking earlier in his sermon, Dogo Gani, the Director Chaplaincy, Protestant Nigeria Air Force, said the death of Ms Arotile was a difficult thing to comprehend.
He said Ms Arotile, a young woman of passion, and courage who took up the challenges of fighting evil, “is now gone.”
Mr Gani commended the CAS for taking up the boldness in putting resources together to realise Arotile’s dreams.
He called on political, religious leaders to raise young men and women like Ms Arotile to defend the country.
Speaking on behalf of the Arotile family, Damilola Adegboye, sister to the deceased, noted that she had dreamt to fly a plane as a child.
She said her sister was passionate about her job and family.
Mrs Adegboye thanked Mr Abubakar and the entire nation for their prayers, condolences and love shown to the family since the demise of Ms Arotile.
Present at the ceremony were the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gabriel Olonisakin, and the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Sabi’u Zakari.
Others were the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, among other dignitaries.
News Agency of Nigeria reports that the family was presented with the national colours by the air chief.
Also, there were the laying of wreath and the firing of volley by the Burial Party.
In another development, the Senate on Thursday condoled with the family of Ms Arotile.
The lawmakers also condoled with the governor, government and people of Kogi State over her loss.
This was after the Senate observed a minute silence for the repose of her soul after considering a motion moved by Smart Adeyemi and entitled: Demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile.
Mr Adeyemi also urged the Nigerian Airforce to immortalise the first female combat helicopter pilot of the nation by naming any a Airforce adifice after her or an institution of learning in Ijumu Local government area.
Mr Adeyemi had in his motion to the Senate said the upper legislative chamber noted with grief the death of Ms Arotile at the age of 24.
Mr Adeyemi said that “Flying Officer Tolulope 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.
“Recalls also that Flying Officer Arotile underwent tactical flying training on the Augusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy, and holds a commercial pilots’ licence;
“Recalls further that on 6 February 2020, she introduced the Air Force’s newly-acquired Augusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari during the induction ceremony at the Eagle Square, Abuja;
“She served the nation as a Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group, Enugu, attached to the Air Component of Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State; had recently completed her Promotion Examination and was awaiting her next deployment;
“Also as a participant in the GAMA AIKI in Niger State, she flew her quota of anti-banditry combat missions to ensure a safer and more secured Nigeria and that before her untimely death, she made significant and outstanding contributions to the war against terrorism, armed banditry and other forms of criminality in the country;
“Aware that Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile in her own 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”
“Aware also that Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile possessed deft skills as a combat helicopter pilot and truly earned the accolades from the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, who described her as ‘a very intelligent, disciplined, confident and courageous young officer who added value wherever she served.'”
The Kogi West senator also stated that Ms Arotile was a shining young star in the “Nigeria’s Air Force combat flying missions and her sad demise has reduced the ranks the Air Force’s female pilots to six, thus she deserves to be memorialized in the Nigeria’s history. ”
Isa Jibril, representing Kogi Central, called for another full investigation by the Nigerian Air Force as according to him, the manner of her death was “suspicious and leaves one in doubt that it was just an accident.”