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Tolulope Arotile… Salute to super woman who broke glass ceiling

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When news of the death of Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Tolulope Arotile, filtered in on Tuesday evening, it was received with shock, especially for the womenfolk. According to the Nigerian Air Force, she died as a result of head injuries sustained from an accident at the Nigerian Air Force Base in Kaduna.

In her short but impactful stay, young Arotile made the nation proud, having achieved a feat in the 55 years existence of the nation’s Air Force. She was instrumental in the fight against insurgency, especially in the North Central States by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.

Born on December 13, 1995, into the family of Mr. and Mrs. Akintunde Arotile, the native of Iffe area in Ijumu Local Council of Kogi State, attended Air Force Primary School, Kaduna from 2000 to 2005 and Air Force Secondary School, Kaduna from 2006 to 2011, before gaining admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, as a member of 64 Regular Course on the 22nd September 2012.

She was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on September 16, 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the Nigerian Defence Academy.

Arotile was selected to train at the Starlite International Training Academy, in South Africa, following her performance during her initial flying training course at 401 Flying Training School Kaduna. As at October 15, 2019, she had acquired 460 hours of flight within 14 months in helicopter.

The late officer was decorated as the first female fighter helicopter pilot the Nigerian Airforce has had in 55 years; the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. (Dame) Pauline Tallen and Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar performed the decoration in October 2019.

In one of her interviews, Arotile said she joined the Nigerian Air Force out of a passion for the job. “I joined the military simply out of passion for it. Being a military personnel has been a long time ambition, the carriage and what it stands for are simply exceptional.”

Unfortunately, she passed on eight months after she was commissioned as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot. Arotile holds a commercial pilot license and also underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy. Hence, in February 6, 2020, she introduced the newly acquired Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, during their induction ceremony at Eagle Square in Abuja.

In her tribute, Tallen, who decorated the late Arotile on the day she was inaugurated as a combat pilot, wrote on her Twitter: “It is with shock, sadness and deep sense of loss that I received news of the ghastly departure of Flight Officer Tolulope Arotile. I and indeed, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs are in mourning. Arotile was determined to be a distinguished Officer; she was an impressive young woman. I wish her family and loved ones, peace and comfort. I pray for the repose of her soul.”

Also, tributes have continued to pour in from women led groups, advocates and Civil Society Organisations, describing the late Arotile as a pride to the Nation’s female folk, who proved that more young women and girls can achieve their dreams and tread parts known to be male dominated. For the Founder, She Forum Africa, Inimfon Etuk, the death of Nigeria’s First Female Helicopter Pilot is a tragic loss on many counts.

“At a time when the gender and broader development community is advocating for inclusion of more women in Security and Peace-keeping, her demise and the circumstances thereof, raises fresh concerns about women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in a sustainable way.” She continued: “As a young female whose career was just taking off, her death further raises issues around the need for more investments in social infrastructures for human and career security. It is indeed a painful loss and we pray God to comfort her family and grant her gentle soul peaceful rest.”

Founder, Echoes of Women in Africa Initiatives, Louisa Eikhomun-Agbonkhese, wrote: “With heavy heart and gratitude to God for the short life of Tolulope Arotile, all women mourn. A promising daughter, sister, colleague and pride of Nigerian women, is gone. The First female combat helicopter pilot of the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) went out like a candle in the wind when we had only just started counting.

“Tolulope, a young flying pilot so brave in the fight against terrorism and banditry on air only to be cut down on ground. Nigeria has lost one of the best of her women; Nigeria women have lost one of the bravest to walk in the turf of men. Tolulope was trained for war; she defied death in battle only to die when she is most needed.

“Tolu, you did not die in vain, you came, saw and conquered as a heroine in a profession seen as the prerogatives of men. You defied stereotypes, demystified cultural inhibitions for girls and women and became an eagle in the airways. Soar in the celestial realms, Soar to your rest, Continue to soar in our hearts.”

Also, the Founder, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Josephine Effah-Chukwuma said the death of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile came to her as a rude shock.

“A young girl, who at just 23 years of age, had threaded where others could not. She did not just join one of the armed forces; she trained as a combat helicopter pilot. The very First Nigerian female to achieve this; she broke the glass ceiling. She proved that being a woman does not deter you from being anything you want to be. Tolulope was a shining light of hope for younger women dreaming of a career in the military. I’m pained. Project Alert on Violence Against Women is pained. May her soul rest in peace.”

The Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women’ Trust Fund, Mufuliat Fijabi described the Late Arotile as a nationalist per excellence, who in her short life, upheld the unity of Nigeria and protected the geographical space.For the founder, Initiative for Women and Girls Right Advancement (IWOGRA), Nkechi Obiagbaoso-Udegbunam, in her message commiserating with the family of the late

“You will continue to be remembered by us and the young women whom your achievements have given hope to. Rest in peace!” Founder, Girl Lead Hub Network, Bella Anna Ndubuisi wrote: “Dear Tolulope, You are a Star! Your brightness will continue to shine; and your light will inspire many more girls to dare to fly. You are a Trailblazer! The path that you have cleared will lead many more girls to a future that they never imagined was possible.

“You are Courage! You have quieted the fear; the naysayers; those who say that girls and women can’t. Now every Nigerian girl will know that she CAN! Nigeria, and the world will remember you. Your story will be told for generations to come!”

In her tribute, the National coordinator, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding Nigeria (WANEP), Bridget Osakwe, on behalf of board, management and its over 250 Network members, condoled with the Nigerian Airforce and family, adding, “Tolulope, we have admired your skills and bravery in contributing to Nigeria’s fight towards ending terrorism and armed banditry. As the first female combat helicopter pilot in Nigeria, we have watched with keen interest your laudable feat in the field where men alone were believed to tread.

“As a female peacekeeper, you have set the pace and proven that women can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts. Though your loss is painful and costly to our nation, your beautiful name and legacy will forever remain etched in our minds. We Salute You!”


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