Molly Kilete, Abuja and Moshood Adebayo
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), yesterday, revealed the identity of the killer driver, who killed its first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, on July, 14, in Kaduna.
It said the suspect alongside three of his friends were schoolmates of the deceased female officer at the Air Force Secondary School (now Air Force Comprehensive School), Kaduna. It gave the name of the driver who drove the vehicle a KIA Sport Utility Vehicle(SUV), with registration number AZ 478 MKA, as Mr. Nehemiah Adejoh and his two friends as Mr Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr Festus Gbayegun.
NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, who made this known at a briefing at the headquarters in Abuja, however, ruled out any foul play.
Daramola, looking emotional, said the deceased combat pilot was pronounced dead on arrival at the medical centre at the NAF base, in Kaduna where she was rushed to.
“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.
“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,” Daramola said.
“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.
“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. 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.”
Meanwhile, Yoruba leader and President of the Yoruba World Congress, Prof. Banji Akintoye, has described her death as irreparable and a grief unbearable.
In a statement in Lagos over the weekend, Akintoye, who also expressed sadness over the death of the promising pilot, called for a thorough and transparent investigation of the accident.
According to the YWC leader, the investigation was necessary “so that we, who are Tolulope’s people may have some peace in knowing what really happened and also that useful lessons can be learnt that can help prevent a recurrence of such monumental waste of human and material resources.
“So much resources were expended on the training of such a highly talented Tolulope to make her the very first woman combat pilot and a high-calibre military personnel in Nigeria. So, much hopes were pinned on her by family, friends, loved ones and country.
“According to the statement by the Air Force authorities, Tolulope had contributed so much to the military efforts towards making Nigeria safe and great in her short life span and military service that losing her at this point is simply unimaginable.
“Accidents do happen but getting to the roots of the circumstances of such accidents and putting measures in place to prevent a recurrence will serve the interests of all. As her people, we commiserate with her immediate family, friends and loved ones, praying and believing God to comfort and strengthen them all in these trying moments.
“We pray that Tolulope’s soul may rest in peace and may we never suffer this kind of loss again,” the group said.