Yushau Shuiab: Tolulope Arotile – Curtains drawn on an inspiring Nigerian

That was the message in an email received from Janice Hill, the Member Services Manager of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA), notifying the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) of its campaign on gender balancing in the Nigerian military. Earlier, the crusade won the Public Sector/Government Category of African PR awards for Superior Achievement in Branding, Reputation and Engagement (SABRE).

The first female combat helicopter pilot in Nigeria, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died in an unfortunate freak auto-accident on July 14 at the age of 24, was one of the prominent faces of the programme. Before her untimely death, Arotile’s outstanding profile and that of Kafayat Sanni, Nigeria’s first female fighter jet pilot, formed part of NAF campaign on ‘Women of War’.

NAF sought to eliminate the stereotypical notion that the military is dominated by men; and that more so women have no place in the combat operations of the armed forces. Through a video presentation and other types of narrative, the ‘Women of War’ campaign proves that “what a man can do, a woman can do better”. It depicts how female inclusion in the military is paying off.

The documentary spotlighted other top female officers. It proffers answers to questions pertaining to the roles of women in the NAF – unfairly underrated and unnecessarily burdened by distorted cultural expectations – and shows how women of war have persistently showcased fearlessness and courage as pilots, combatants, armament specialists, among other significant roles.

There is increased participation of female personnel in combat and war support functions, especially in the battle against banditry and insurgency. This has portrayed the NAF as a gender-sensitive and balanced military institution which boasts of female role models like Flying Officer Arotile. Their achievements are greatly admired by Nigerians.

The campaign boosts the morale of the female troops, valiantly fighting bandits and terrorists in Nigeria’s North-West and North-East geopolitical zones. It has also further gingered the enlistment of female citizens into the NAF. During the unveiling of the newly acquired Augusta 109 Power Attack Helicopters in Abuja, it was Arotile who introduced the features and operation of the aircraft to President Muhammadu Buhari.

As such, it was not surprising that her death witnessed unprecedented outpouring of emotion, grief and disbelief. Arotile was laid to rest on July 23 with full military honours. Air Chief, Sadique Abubakar, said the NAF was still in shock and anguish over the loss. He described Arotile as a dedicated and goal-oriented young woman who carried out her assignments, both on the ground and in the air, with a high level of professionalism and commitment.

Born on December 13, 1995, Tolulope Arotile attended Air Force Primary School and Air Force Secondary School, both in Kaduna, from 2000 to 2011. She gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) as a member of the 64 Regular Course on September 22, 2012, and was commissioned into the NAF as a Pilot Officer on September 16, 2017.

Arotile was winged as the country’s first-ever female combat helicopter pilot on October 15, 2019, after completing her flight training in South Africa. She equally held a commercial pilot licence and underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy. Within a short period, she attained over 400 flying hours in the service to the nation.

Truly, Arotile has left her mark in the sands of time, proving that to attain excellence and add value to the society, age or gender are poor rating indices that should not be barriers. While we thank her for fighting to protect Nigeria’s sovereign integrity, I pray that other women of war would keep the flag of excellence flying and never allow their gender to constitute a hindrance to their remarkable capabilities.

Adieu patriot.
Yushau A. Shuaib
Author, Award-Winning Crisis Communication Strategies

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