The prime suspect and ex-classmate who knocked down the Nigerian AirForce first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, is a civilian with no valid driver’s licence, military sources have said.
Channels Television had reported on Saturday that military sources, who pleaded not to be named, disclosed that Arotile’s ex-classmate had, in company with some of his friends, visited his relations living at the Nigerian AirForce Base, Mando, Kaduna, when the tragic incident occurred.
The military source, according to the TV station, added that upon interrogation, Arotile’s ex-classmate, who is now in custody with another occupant of the vehicle, had no valid driver’s licence.
The Daily Bells had earlier reported that NAF has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of its first female combat helicopter pilot, Arotile, in the auto crash that occurred inside the NAF Base in Kaduna.
Already, two suspects are being held by the NAF over the death of the 24-year-old officer.
The two suspects include the driver of the car that allegedly knocked her down while reversing to greet her, and another person also said to be connected to the accident.
It was gathered that following the outcries that greeted the sudden and tragic death of the young officer, the NAF authorities instructed the Air Police and Intelligence units of the force to probe the freak accident.
It was further learnt that investigation of Arotile’s controversial death may go beyond the Air Police and Intelligence unit as other security agencies with trained personnel in the area of such accidents are being drafted into the process.
This, it was gathered, is to enable the NAF to unravel the real motive and cause of the freak accident that claimed the life of the young officer inside the Air Force Base in Kaduna.
Confirming the probe of Arotile’s death by the force, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said when the investigation is completed, “whatever information needs to go out will go out.”
Daramola added, “First of all, in my first statement, I said she died from a road traffic accident. I further clarified the nature of the road traffic accident where one of her excited classmates, who saw her, reversed his car, which led to him hitting her and knocking her down. This led to head injuries and a lot of haemorrhaging, which ultimately resulted in her death.
“The two boys are in custody and the NAF will do a thorough investigation into the matter. It is a routine process – our own processes that are ongoing because it happened inside a NAF base. At the appropriate time, whatever information needs to go out will go out. But we cannot pre-empt that investigation process.
“Whatever needs to be known will be known; it is standard practice. So, we are investigating the circumstances leading to her death by a road traffic accident. It is an investigation because it may go beyond NAF.”
Nigeria was thrown into a national mourning last Tuesday when the NAF first announced that the country’s first female combat helicopter pilot died at the NAF Base in Kaduna following a freak traffic accident.
The air force said the combat helicopter pilot sustained head injuries from the accident when she was “inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force secondary school classmate while trying to greet her.”
But on Thursday, some Yoruba groups, including the socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, and the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams raised suspicion over the death of the female officer, rejecting the road accident explanation and calling for a Coroner’s Inquest into her death.
Another Yoruba group, Apapo O’odua Koya, demanded an international independent probe of the freak accident.
The Yoruba groups fingered agents of Boko Haram and North-Central bandits for Arotile’s death due to her exploits and success in aerial warfare as a combat helicopter pilot in the fight against the insurgents and criminals, which made many of her colleagues in the force to nickname her ‘Bandits slayer.’
This is just as the family of the late Arotile demanded a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sudden and tragic death of the 24-year-old officer.
Arotile’s elder sister, Damilola Adegboye, said that the Flying Officer’s death had devastated the family, wondering how the reverse of a vehicle could kill a person in such manner.
Arotile, a member of the Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, hailed from Iffe in the Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, and contributed to the efforts to rid the North-Central states of bandits and other criminal elements by flying combat missions.
She was particularly a squadron leader in Operation Gama Aiki in Minna Niger State.
Notable Nigerians, including the President Muhammadu Buhari, had since Wednesday expressed shock over her death.
Meanwhile, the late Flying Officer Arotile is to buried at the Military Cemetery, Abuja, with full military honours on Thursday, July 23.