By Kingsley Nwezeh
The Nigeria Air Force (NAF) yesterday unveiled the killers of Nigeria’s first female combatant helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died in Kaduna last week.
It, however, ruled out foul play in the death, restating its earlier position that she was run over by a friend’s vehicle.
It said the deceased officer died of trauma due to the bleeding from head injuries she sustained in the accident.
NAF identified the three suspects being detained over the incident as Mr. Nehemiah Adejoh, Mr. Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr Festus Gbayegun, saying they were her former secondary schoolmates, who would also be handed over to the police for prosecution.
At a media briefing on the preliminary investigation report on the death of Arotile in Abuja, the Director, Public Relations and Information of the Nigerian Air Force, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said Arotile was run over by a friend’s vehicle and died of trauma to the head and bleeding.
“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,” he said.
Daramola noted that the late 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 and emergency nurse at the St. Gerard’s Catholic Hospital, Kaduna, administered first aid.
“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,” he stated.
He said the three suspects involved in the accident would be handed over to the police for prosecution.
On conspiracy theory surrounding the tragic accident, Daramola said: “The NAF sincerely hopes that the findings of the just-concluded preliminary investigation into this unfortunate and painful incident will address the misinformed issues raised in the social media on the tragedy.
“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, appreciates the imperative to provide more clarity at this very difficult moment.
“Please note that the details being revealed today have already been communicated to the Arotile family, who ideally should be allowed to mourn their daughter and sister in peace, but for the unfortunate nature of the sad occurrence”.
The NAF explained that investigation was instituted in line with the normal procedure in the air force during such occurrences.
He said an investigation was immediately instituted after the accident to formally determine the circumstances of the incident.
He said the preliminary investigation revealed that “the late Flying Officer Tolulope 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, 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 10.55a.m, the 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.
“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 five 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 three 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.”
He added that Adejoh, Folorunsho and Gbayegun, all civilians, who live outside NAF Base Kaduna, were on a visit to the air force base when the accident occurred.
According to Daramola, Adejoh, Folorunsho and Gbayegun were detained at the Air Provost Wing, 453 Base Services Group Kaduna while investigations began.
He said they were subjected to toxicology tests at the 461 NAF Hospital, but no traces of alcohol or psychotropic substances were found in their system.
“It was, however, discovered that the driver of the vehicle, Mr. Nehemiah Adejo, did not have a valid driver’s license,” he said.
In addition, he said traffic officers from the Kawo Police Station and the Kaduna State Police Command as well as Road Traffic experts from the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were also called in to provide support during the investigation.
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.
“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 Nigerian Air Force stated that being a highly professional and disciplined organisation, it “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.
“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 politicise 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.”