.. First female combat helicopter pilot dies
By Elohor Igbru
In October 2019, Tolulope Arotile, a newly commissioned officer into the Nigerian Air Force ( NAF) stood with 12 other officers to receive yet another garland from the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar to be winged as NAF pilots.
Tolulope was one of only two females to be winged as combat pilots in the 55-year history of the Service. Tolulope appeared destined and in a hurry to make history, henceforth everything she did would be a first.
There was so much promise in the air that day. The CAS, a distinguished helicopter pilot himself beaming with joy said:
“I am particularly happy because out of the 13 pilots to be winged are two female regular combatant officers,” he said.
“They are not only female officers but outstanding aviators. While one of the two pilots is the first female fighter pilot in the 55 years history of the NAF, the second one is the first female combat helicopter pilot.”
There would be no end to her career in the NAF. First female soldier to fly an attack helicopter and who knows what other garlands fate would still have to bestow on those tender shoulders. First female Chief of the Air Staff perhaps.
The sky, which would then be her home and a major part of her life seemed just the beginning. Tolulope began work immediately. Insecurity had weighed the country down and every new help is welcomed. In about eight months, she flew several sorties in her helicopter to fight the menace of the armed bandits ravaging the northcentral state of Niger in Operation GAMA AIKI.
But on July 14, 2020, Tolulope’s dream crashed, ending with it her young and promising life. Ironically, her life ended where it all began: In a freak road accident at the NAF base in Kaduna.
A distraught CAS through the Director Of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola announced her demise:
“It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died today, 14 July 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna.
“Until her death, Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service.
“During her short but impactful stay in the Service, late Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.”
The CAS expressed his deep condolences to her family and the Service.
“The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on behalf of officers, airmen, airwomen and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserates with the family of late Flying Officer Arotile over this irreparable loss. We pray that the Almighty God grants her soul eternal rest,” he said.
Though details of the accident is sketchy at press time, but there will be questions asked, inquiries will be made and corrections taken.
But since the announcement, sorrow had enveloped the military community and the nation for an officer who seemed in a hurry to make history packing a lifetime of achievements into her 23 years and leaving amidst a sad song at noon.