One Year After Nigeria's First Female Combat Pilot Ws Killed, Will Justice Be Served?

 A year after the death of Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria's first-ever female combat pilot, justice has not been served.

Arotile died in an accident on July 14, 2020, at the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) base in Kaduna at the age of 24. Her family had called for a quick dispensation of justice in the case.

Her father, Akintunde Arotile, said if justice could be served as soon as possible, their minds would be put to rest.

However, the circumstances surrounding Arotile's demise remain challenging to comprehend, amid allegations that powerful forces conspired to eliminate her.

The deceased was renowned for her gallantry and skills, including flying fighter choppers to areas dominated by bandits and terrorists for aerial strikes.

A cross-section of Nigerians believes her contributions to counter-insurgency operations cost her life and continue to demand a probe.

But the answers they seek may not be provided soon with the seeming bungling of the prosecution of the person(s) arrested over Arotile's death.

The NAF, according to former Director of Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, stated that its late officer was killed by a "reversing car."

"She was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate while trying to greet her," Daramola said.

Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, had earlier rubbished NAF's account of how Arotile died.

"The idea that she was killed after being knocked down on the Airforce Base by her friend's car is nonsensical. I suspect that Tolu was murdered, the truth is being covered up," he noted.

Gani Adams, Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, and socio-cultural organization, Afenifere called NAF's "reversing car" explanation unfathomable.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, posed ten questions on the national tragedy to NAF.

Daramola declared that the military arm would not join issues with individuals or groups regarding the "spurious" claims of foul play in response to public outrage.

"Arotile was a pride of the NAF. It is ludicrous for anyone to even remotely insinuate malevolent intent on the part of the service against one of its most prized assets."

The Magistrate Court in Kaduna discharged two of the accused – Folorunsho Igbekele and Gbayegun Deji in August last year.

The Magistrate, Benjamin Hassan, said the Kaduna Justice Ministry's public prosecution department found nothing against them "other than being passengers in the vehicle of the 1st suspect".

The first defendant, Nehemiah Adejor, was expected to be re-arraigned before a High Court for manslaughter on September 3, 2020. Curiously, the case has gone cold and tongues are wagging.

Tolulope Arotile hailed from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi. She attended the Air Force Primary School, Kaduna (2000 to 2005) and the Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna (2005 to 2011).

The celebrated pilot gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Kaduna, as a member of 64 Regular Course, on September 22, 2012.

Arotile held a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the NDA and was commissioned into the NAF on September 16, 2017

She was winged as the first female combat helicopter pilot on October 15, 2019, after completing her flying training in South Africa.

Just two years into her career, Arotile acquired 460 hours of flight, an exceptional milestone that, among others, earned her commendation from President Muhammadu Buhari.

It is expected that the Nigerian leader will honor her memory by ordering a diligent prosecution of the death.

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