The Nigerian Air Force has provided more details that led the death of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile hit by a car driven by a former classmate who has now been identified as a civilian.
Arotile, who was Nigeria’s first and only female combat helicopter pilot, died on Tuesday due to head injuries sustained in an auto accident at NAF Base Kaduna.
Details of the circumstances leading to her death were provided on Sunday by Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the Director of Public Relations and Information of the Nigerian Air Force, as part of the preliminary report from the investigation into her death.
The driver of the SUV that hit inside the Air Force Base in Kaduna has been identified as Nehemiah Adejoh, a secondary school classmate, who was with two other mates of the deceased.
The report said, “On 14 July 2020 at about 10.55am, Late Flying Officer Arotile received a phone call from her colleague, Flying Officer Perry Karimo, a fellow helicopter pilot from the 405 HCTG, who wanted to discuss arrangements for their return to Enugu, requesting that she comes to the Base so that they could work out the modalities.
“Subsequently, at about 10.58am, the Late Arotile placed a call through to Squadron Leader Diepiriye Batubo, the Group Operations Officer (GOO) of 405 HCTG, who was in Minna at the time, to clarify issues regarding her deployment. It must be highlighted that the call FROM Flying Officer Karimo as well as the one TO the Squadron Leader Batubo both took place before 11.00am, over 5 hours before the incident which led to her death.”
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The preliminary report said Flying Officer Arotile was later conveyed from Sabo to the NAF Base Kaduna by her sister, Mrs. Adegboye, where the Deceased dropped her phone for charging at a house in the Instructor Pilots’ Quarters belonging to Squadron Leader Alfa Ekele.
Her elder sister later dropped her off at the Base Mammy Market at about 4.00pm, where she proceeded to photocopy and laminate some documents.
“It was while she was returning from the Mammy Market at about 4.30pm that 3 of her former schoolmates at the Air Force Secondary School (now Air Force Comprehensive School) Kaduna; Mr. Nehemiah Adejoh, Mr. Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr. Festus Gbayegun, drove past her in a Kia Sorento SUV, with Registration Number AZ 478 MKA. It is noteworthy that Messrs Adejoh, Folorunsho and Gbayegun are all civilians who live outside NAF Base Kaduna, but were on their way to visit one Mrs. Chioma Ugwu, wife of Squadron Leader Chukwuemeka Ugwu, who lives at Ekagbo Quarters on the Base,” Daramola said.
And upon recognising their schoolmate, “Arotile, after passing her, Mr. Adejoh, who was driving, reversed the vehicle, ostensibly in an attempt to quickly meet up with the Deceased, who was walking in the opposite direction,” the report said.
The went further to say that, “In the process, the vehicle struck Flying Officer Arotile from the rear, knocking her down with significant force and causing her to hit her head on the pavement. The vehicle then ran over parts of her body as it veered off the road beyond the kerb and onto the pavement, causing her further injuries.
“Flying Officer Arotile was subsequently rushed to the 461 NAF Hospital Kaduna for treatment, while Mr. Folorunsho (one of the occupants of the vehicle) who is also an Accident & Emergency Nurse at the St Gerard Catholic Hospital Kaduna, administered First Aid.”
The report said Flying Officer Arotile was confirmed dead by the On-Call Doctor at the 461 NAF Hospital at about 4.45pm on 14 July 2020, as a result of the head injuries.
The trio of Messrs Nehemiah Adejoh, Igbekele Folorunsho and Festus Gbayegun were immediately detained at the Air Provost Wing, 453 Base Services Group Kaduna as investigations began, according to the statement from Daramola
“They were subjected to Toxicology Tests at the 461 NAF Hospital but no traces of alcohol or psychotropic substances were found in their systems. It was however discovered that the driver of the vehicle, Mr. Nehemiah Adejo, did not have a valid driver’s license,” he said.
According the Air Commodore, the preliminary investigation concluded that;
The death of Flying Officer Arotile was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and significant bleeding resulting from being struck by the vehicle.
Daramola said that the case, being a civil one would be handed over to the Nigeria Police with a view to further investigating and charging the suspects to court in accordance with extant laws.
It also concluded that, “The Nigerian Air Force, being a highly professional and disciplined organization, will not join issues with any individuals or groups regarding the spurious allegations of ‘foul play’ espoused in some quarters.
“Suffice it to say that Flying Officer Arotile was a pride of the NAF in whom the Service had invested massively in terms of resources, time and energy. Consequently, it is ludicrous for anyone to even remotely insinuate malevolent intent on the part of the Service against one of its most prized assets.”
Furthermore, it said, it was extremely sad and disheartening that, rather than allow the Arotile Family and the Nigerian Air Force to grieve for our dearly departed Tolulope in peace, many have chosen to politicize her death, while others are using the incident to push meritless, misguided ethnic and religious agendas.
The NAF spokesman said it was important that Arotile’s memory was not tainted by the propagation of misplaced sentiments and wild shenanigans.
He said, “Before I end this august address, may I respectfully, on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff, the entire personnel of the NAF as well as members of the Arotile Family, express my profound appreciation to all those who in one way or the other have shown concern, support and sympathy over this unfortunate incident. Thank you for your attention.”