•Case handed over to the police for investigation, prosecution of the prime suspect
By Kingsley Nweze
Following insinuations that an autopsy was not carried out on Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile to determine the cause of her death, the Nigerian Air Force came out yesterday saying the autopsy was not done because her family did not demand for one and that they wanted to move on quickly.
The Director of Public Relations and Information, Nigerian Air Force, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, stated this while speaking on a television programme in Lagos, barely 24 hours after the distinguished Arotile was buried at the National Military Cemetary, Abuja.
The Spokesman for the NAF said further that the second factor which made autopsy unnecessary was because the circumstances surrounding her death were clear.
Daramola said the deceased’s parents were satisfied with the way the service handled the incident.
He also disclosed that the Nigerian Air Force had handed over the case file of Arotile to the police for investigation and prosecution of the prime suspect, Nehemiah Adejoh.
The NAF spokesman said: “On the issue of autopsy or otherwise that would have been initiated by the family but based on discussions with them and the fact that witnesses were there at the time she was taken to the Nigerian Air Force hospital in Kaduna, there were no doubts as to the cause of death which was head injury as a result of blunt force trauma caused by the vehicle hitting her from the rear.
“So, in consultation with her family, her father, Akintunde Arotile, said they wanted closure on this matter and that he was comfortable with the Nigerian Air Force’s investigation which, of course, is also being transferred to the police.
“Autopsy was not done because it wasn’t requested, the cause of death was already known based on the investigation and how she was taken to the hospital and the confirmation was made. There were no doubts in that regard and there was no request from the family for that specifically. No autopsy was done.”
According to NAF, Arotile, who was Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, died at the NAF base, Kaduna, after being hit by a car driven by her former classmate with two others onboard.
Daramola said contrary to claims by a lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), the age of person that drove the car, Nehemiah Adejoh, that knocked down Arotile was not 36 but 24 and was a junior of the deceased in the Nigerian Air Force Secondary School.
He said the Nigeria Police Force and the Federal Road Safety Corps were invited to investigate the incident.
The NAF spokesman said, “First of all, we carried out a preliminary investigation to determine those who were involved, their level of involvement, interviewed witnesses and looked at the scene. That was our own first phase of investigation because it happened on the base.
“The Air Force has its own Air Police Directorate where we have forensic and K9 investigators many of whom are trained in and out of the country. Some of them also trained in police institutions and there is a lot of collaboration between the Nigerian Air Force Air Police Wing and the Nigeria Police. Immediately it occurred, we involved the police.”
Daramola said NAF had concluded its first level of investigation into the incident and would now present the case to the police for further investigation since it involved civilians.
According to him, the police from the Kawo Divisional Police station were involved in the case from the onset.
The NAF spokesman said: “In terms of handing over to the police, the handover will be done today ((Friday); It does not preclude further investigation by the police, they will still call all the witnesses, and they would still interview everybody and also visit the crime scene.
“From the first day, the traffic officers from Kawo police station were invited, an inspector and two corporals were brought in and were able to capture crime scene evidence that was relevant.”
Arotile, 24, Nigeria’s first female combat pilot was knocked down by Adejoh who was driving a Kia Sorento SUV at the NAF base in Kaduna on July 14.
The driver was reportedly reversing the SUV when it hit Arotile who fell and hit her head on the tarmac. The car also ran over part of her body after knocking her down.
The Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group, Enugu, subsequently died from loss of blood and trauma to the head at the 461 NAF Hospital, Kaduna.
The driver and the other two occupants of the car, Mr Igbekele Folorunsho and Mr Festus Gbayegun, all former schoolmates of the deceased at the Air Force Secondary School (now Air Force Comprehensive School) Kaduna, were taken into custody.
Adejoh may face manslaughter charges and on conviction, is liable to seven years imprisonment, according to section 28 of the Road Traffic Law.
Speaking on the NAF preliminary findings, which indicated that the deceased died of head injuries, Daramola stated, “There is a process in terms of investigating incidents that occur in the Nigerian Air Force Base.
“First of all, we carry out a preliminary investigation to determine who are involved, their level of involvement, to interview witnesses, to look at the scene. That is our own first stage of investigation, because it happened on the Base.”
He said the NAF has its own Air Police Directorate comprising forensic investigators, who were trained locally and abroad with deep collaborations with the police.
But many Nigerians are calling for a national inquiry into Arotile’s death, stressing that an independent postmortem was also necessary to establish the cause of death.