By Olatorera Dickson-amusa
“Like a comet; blazing across the evening skies– gone too soon”–Michael Jackson
This week started on a tragic note for lovers of progress in Nigeria. It was two tragedies wrapped in one; first, the loss of a young, vibrant 23 year old. Second, Nigeria lost her first female combat helicopter pilot.
That 23 year old and the high-flying pilot are one and the same person; Tolulope Arotile, who allegedly died in ‘accidental circumstances’ that are still vague to a lot of deep thinking citizens.
The question we must ask today, is this: why did Tolulope’s death come in such an ignominious fashion? Before we concerned Nigerians are accused of being excessively emotional, let me quickly say that ‘Yes’, people die everyday. Yes, accidents are a dime a dozen and are so rampant that we might barely blink an eyelash when they occur.
However, it shouldn’t have been Tolulope. What is the Nigerian Airforce not telling us? Or rather, what subtle message is the Nigerian Airforce trying to pass to us, and to women who dare be more?
We recall the tragic story of Hadiza Oboh,1st female pilot of Nigeria Airways. Murdered at 39 by her domestic staff on 8 Feb 1998. The killers were arrested, bailed out,escaped police custody, and are yet to be found, even to this day.
Rewind and read that brief analogy again. Bailed out? Escaped Police custody? How? Why? These questions are on the lips of Nigerians everywhere, as the fresh wound of Tolulope Arotile’s death has unearthed the deep scar from Hadizah Oboh’s gruesome murder.
Spokesman to the Nigeria Air Force (NAF), Ibikunle Daramola in a statement late on Tuesday, announced the death of Officer Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first ever female combat helicopter pilot.
Daramola disclosed that Arotile died as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria.
Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, died barely a year after she was winged as a combat helicopter pilot in the Air Force following the completion of her course in South Africa.
Arotile’s career was described as one of “impactful service” who contributed “significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.
She was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64 and later rose to achieve the distinction of being Nigeria’s first ever female combat helicopter pilot in the service in Nigeria.
Did Arotile have to die?
The immediate elder Sister to the deceased first female helicopter Combat Pilot in the Country, Damilola Adegboye recently called for the Military to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of her Sister; saying that the Family, like most concerned Nigerians, remain skeptical over her death.
Adegboye said that the investigation earlier conducted by the Nigerian Air force (NAF), into the nature of her death is not convincing, adding that the family are yet to agree on events that led to her untimely demise.
According to her, “it is funny how a person reversing with the vehicle can end up killing a person. The entirety of the family, wants a proper investigation to be carried out”, she stated.
“That fateful day, Tolulope Arotile, received a call I think from one of her Senior officers, requesting that she reports to the base. She was hesitant on going, so I offered to drop her; it was barely an hour after I dropped her off that I saw online that something bad has happened to her”, she said.
The pioneer. The one who dared be more. Captain Hadiza Oboh first checked out as a Flight Officer (F/O) aboard a Boeing 737 of the Nigeria Airways in 1984.
By 1989, she was already a well-established pilot defying the norms all through, well into the 1990s.
Hadizah Lantana Oboh was murdered by her domestic staff because, ‘she get money’. This mentality that women who aim higher, achieve more, and break records are intimidating needs to stop. Why should a woman who has been able to secure a good job be afraid to live alone, afraid to buy a car, so that she does not seem ‘proud’ and attract hatred, when a man who does the exact same is praised?
Just as Tolulope’s death remains vague, Hadizah’s death went unavenged.
Veering back to Hadizah Oboh’s death, on the 1st of June, 1998, all the four suspects involved in her murder were arraigned at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Lagos for the following:
• Armed robbery
Why then did the High Court order the release of two of the accused on bail with two sureties?
Why should the bail of proven murderers be ‘ordered’?. What machinations were perhaps working behind that murder? Was it just a cover story for something deeper, more primal, emanating from much higher powers?
The sureties who had processed the bail for Hadizah’s killers had used fake names and addresses. That in itself, is highly suspicious.
Who cares deeply enough about a murderous houseboy and gateman, to risk the wrath of the law and rescue them? Who is powerful enough to arrange for those killers to seemingly melt away in plain sight? Perhaps some powerful, well-heeled persons who did not like Hadizah’s well-deserved fame? We can only ever continue to guess, 17 years after.
Dear Nigerian Airforce:
Presently, we know NAF had six female pilots who have distinguished themselves in a field often seen as the exclusive preserve of their male counterparts. From Flight Lieutenant Blessing Liman and Flight Lieutenant Chika Ani to Flying Officer Genevieve Nwaogwugwu, Flying Officer Olubunmi Ijelu; Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, and Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, they play combat support roles.
Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile has died. The remaining five are in your hands.
Blessing Liman must not disappear under ‘shady circumstances’.
Nigerians do not want to hear that Lieutenants Ani and Nwaogwugwu were thrown from their planes midair, or anything else. Officers Ijelu and Sanni, like every other hardworking, goal-crushing Nigerian woman out there –- military or not–- deserve to be protected.
Nigerians are watching. Even as we continue to honor the legacies of experienced Hadizah Oboh and young, dynamic Tolulope Arotile, we are keeping an eye out for every successful woman out there. May their sacrifices not be in vain.