The Labour of Our Heroes Past

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that in line with its long standing tradition, which has been further prioritised by this administration, the Nigerian Air Force while marking the 60th independence anniversary of Nigeria, chose among things, to immortalise its fallen heroes

The 10th stanza of the National Anthem reads thus; ‘the labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain’. Borrowing a leaf from that, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) recently immortalised some of its fallen heroes, who paid the supreme price in the defence of Nigeria.

Given that fallen soldiers have by their commitment and sacrifice enshrined themselves on our list of national heroes, it is imperative that measures be put on ground so that their loved ones take solace that they died serving their country. This creed is also a long standing tradition of the NAF in immortalising its fallen heroes.

However, under the administration of the Chief of the Air Staff, (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, this has further been prioritised. For those in the know, this not surprising given that for the NAF-led Abubakar, one of its core derivative is welfare- driven.

Memorial for Fallen Heroes

In keeping with its tradition of immortalising personnel who paid the supreme price in service to the nation, the NAF recently named 10 newly commissioned blocks of residential accommodation after nine officers and one airman for their sacrifices to their fatherland.

According to NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the
10 blocks of transit and married quarters for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) at the NAF Bases in Asokoro and Bill Clinton Drive, Abuja, which were constructed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) as part of its 2018 Capital Projects, were commissioned by the Honourable Minister of Defence (HMOD), Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (rtd), pursuant to the ministry’s efforts at providing qualitative and conducive accommodation for personnel of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.

Speaking during the ceremony, the HMOD, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary MOD, Alhaji Babangida Husseini, noted that the provision of befitting accommodation was part of the commitment of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), President Muhamadu Buhari, to support the AFN and the NAF, in particular, to gradually and progressively attend to the welfare needs of officers and airmen/airwomen.

While noting that welfare of personnel was critical to sustaining the operational successes of the AFN, the minister stated that the wellbeing of personnel would continue to be prioritised in keeping with the ministry’s unflinching commitment to ensuring operational efficiency.

The HMOD, who commended the CAS, for his efforts towards improving the living standards of personnel and the operational effectiveness of the NAF, pointed out that the laudable achievements of the NAF attest to the CAS’ relentless drive to reposition the service into a highly professional and disciplined force.

The commissioned accommodation consist of two blocks of 10 by single bedroom officers’ transit accommodation and two blocks of four by two bedroom married officers’ accommodation at NAF Base Bill Clinton Drive as well as four blocks of four by two bedroom married officers’ accommodation, one block of 16 by single bedroom officers’ transit accommodation and one block of 16 by single bedroom airmen’s transit accommodation at NAF Base Asokoro, Abuja.

The personnel immortalised include late Flight Lieutenants (Flt Lts) Akweke Nwakile, John Adams, Pereowei Jacob and Kalio Kilyofas. Others are: Flt Lts Prosper Idonije and Ebitimi Owei; Flying Officers AA Mohammed, Tolulope Arotile and Abdullahman Bayero as well as Lance Corporal Mustapha M.

Honour for Arotile
Also to honour the life of NAF’s late first female Combat Helicopter Pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, the ‘I Choose Life’ Foundation (ICLF), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), dedicated two books in her memory.

According to NAF Director of Public Relations & Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the honour was in recognition of her contributions to the fight against banditry and other forms of criminality in the country as well as the inspiration she provided for young girls to achieve their dreams.

The honour which was done in partnership with NAF saw two comic books tagged “Heroes Series”. He said the two books, “LOOK MUM, I CAN FLY!” and “GIRLS CAN FLY – A TRIBUTE TO TOLULOPE AROTILE”, written by Chi Dika and produced by ICLF, were launched and dedicated to honour her memory.

“The comic books are targeted at young Nigerians from ages three to 13. The colourful ceremony, which held on October 2, 2020, at the Fraser Suites, Abuja had three Ministers of the Federal Republic-Youths and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare; Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen as well as Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in attendance. Also present were the parents of the late Officer, Engineer and Mrs Akintunde Arotile.”

Speaking during the dedication of the books, the Chief Host, the Minister of Youths and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare, described late Tolulope as a flower that came at her appointed time, blossomed for a season and was no more.

He said she would forever remain in the hearts of Nigerians. According to him, there is the need for youths to discover their talents and skills as well as acquire the requisite knowledge to excel as there is no shortcut to success. “Thousands of Nigerian youths are doing sterling and decent things like the Late Arotile did”, he said.

In her remarks, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, while describing her as a star, recalled how the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, gave her the opportunity to decorate the late Tolulope with her wings on October 15, 2019.

According to her, “it took me over a month to stop crying as it is not easy to lose a trailblazer, a role model, very courageous, resilient, rugged and, a heroine, even in death”.

She said all other young female officers she was grooming are clear testimonies that she still lives on. She prayed for God to raise brave, young female officers that would step into her shoes.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alahji Lai Mohammed, noted that the late Arotile achieved within the short span of her life what others could not achieve in many years. While condoling with the Arotile family, the Minister encouraged the youths not to give up on their dreams.

While presenting the “Heroes Book Series”, the CAS, who was represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, stated that few stories celebrating men and women of valour who had sacrificed their lives in the line of duty ever get told.

Against this backdrop, the CAS disclosed that the NAF was committed to changing the narrative and had, in partnership with Nollywood, put together a feature film titled, “Eagle Wings”. The movie, he noted, would change the perception of Nigerians on Military heroes and would be available in cinemas soon.

Speaking further, the CAS noted that the NAF was devastated by the tragic and untimely death of Tolulope on July 14, 2020. “It is however gratifying that since her demise, many young Nigerian girls have personally requested to be recruited into the Air Force. Besides these, no fewer than 12 other female officers, who have undoubtedly been motivated by Tolulope’s inspirational life, are currently undergoing flying training, both within and outside the country, to become NAF pilots.

“It is our hope that this comic series will encourage young Nigerians to make choices that will benefit them, their family, and the Nation. It will especially do a lot of good for the girl child, who, like Arotile, will be motivated to study, work hard, and unreservedly pursue their dreams and legitimate aspirations”, he said.

NAF Standard for Fallen Heroes

While one of the challenges families of fallen heroes face is often abandonment by the government and being asked to leave the barracks, given that their loved ones are dead, this present administration has however moved away from the norm by extending a hand of fellowship to the families, even after the federal government has fulfilled its statutory duties for families of fallen heroes.

As gathered by THISDAY, the force does not let its fallen heroes down as welfare measures for the families they left behind are not toyed with.

It was gathered that asides the memorial, there are statutory provisions by the federal government for families of fallen heroes. As at now, the welfare program of the NAF has improved for people we have lost their lives in any form of internal security operations in Nigeria.

The NAF, apart from what government gives as various welfare programs, lives up to the statutory provision that when a personnel dies and has served up to 10 years in the Armed Forces, the person is entitled to accommodation.

However, what that person gets as pension is a function of the rank and the last salary collected and this depends on how long one has served. It is safe to say that it’s on percentage basis. It was also gathered that once a personnel has served up to 10 years and died in the service, the person gets bulk pension. The bulk pension is collected because they are dead as pension is supposed to be when one retires and is collected till death.

But for any personnel who dies on duty, whether officers of airmen, the family collects five years bulk pension and that is where it stops. But if they retire and spends two or three years before they die, the family only gets the balance of the five years.