NAF releases preliminary investigation report on death of flying officer, Arotile

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has insisted that neither the Force authorities nor its personnel had a hand in the death of Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile.

On 14 July 2020, Arotile’s death was announced in very unusual circumstances, triggering a lot of conspiracy theories and innuendoes in public space, especially on Social Media.

Fingers were pointed at the NAF leadership of complicity in the death of the 24-year old Arotile over ethnic sentiments among other accusations.

As a result, the NAF had ordered an investigation into the unfortunate incident to formally determine the circumstances of the incident.

A report on the preliminary investigation issued on Sunday by Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information said that while it would have been ideal for the entire investigation to be concluded before details on the incident are released, the NAF, in sensitivity to public concerns occasioned by the spread of false information, believes it is important to provide more clarity at the moment.

According to the report, the Late Arotile, a Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG) Enugu, attached to the Air Component of Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, having recently completed her promotion examinations, was in Kaduna awaiting deployment for her next assignment.

During this period, the report said, she stayed with her sister, Mrs Damilola Adegboye, at Sabo Area in Kaduna, visiting the NAF Base whenever necessary.

“On 14 July 2020 at about 10.55am, 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 4.00 pm, where she proceeded to photocopy and laminate some documents. It was while she was returning from the Mammy Market at about 4.30 pm 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.

“Upon recognizing 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,” the NAF revealed.

The report said 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 NAF said Arotile was later confirmed dead by the on-call doctor at the 461 NAF hospital at about 4.45 pm on 14 July 2020, as a result of the head injuries. 

It said 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 and 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, the report said.

The report, therefore, said that having carefully considered the foregoing, 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.

It said being a civil case, the matter will be handed over to the Nigeria Police with a view to further investigating and charging the suspects to court in accordance with extant laws.

The report read that the Nigerian Air Force will not join issues with any individuals or groups regarding the allegations of foul play espoused in some quarters, maintaining that the late flying officer was a pride of the NAF in whom the Service had invested massively in terms of resources, time and energy.

According to the report, 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 is 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 Nigerian Air Force wishes to implore everyone to respect the sensibilities of all those who have suffered most by this loss, those who really knew Tolulope – her family, her friends and her Nigerian Air Force colleagues. It is of absolute importance that the memory of this fallen hero and our precious child is not tainted by the propagation of misplaced sentiments and wild shenanigans,” it concluded. 

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