THE famous writer, Williams Shakespeare wrote, “cowards die many times before their time but villians die but once.” I am not here to attribute bravery, courage or cowardice to anybody in particular. Life is a variety and variety is the spice of life.
I have always admired the lifestyle of a soldier. Sitting by the old charcoal-aided fire of my grandma of blessed memorial, years ago as she recounted memorable stories of how gallant her son, my uncle had fought in the popular Nigerian Civil War. Named Okoko after the great Okokosisi(according to Ohafia legend, Okokosisi was a rare great tree that grew in the forest. It was said to possess some supernatural and healing potentials).
I wouldn’t bore you with the stories as my focus is on the short-lived gallant air combatant, Tolulope Arotile. I would not have blinked an eye on her death considering the fact that she wouldn’t be either the first or last folk to have paid the ultimate price. The year has definitely defined itself as a contrasting, empathic and emotional year.
However, the circumstance of our meeting is quite a dramatic story to share. I met her via the popular social media, Facebook. She is a mutual friend to a close pal of mine, Officer Olukayode(surname withheld). Olukayode is a soldier of the Nigerian Army, 82 Division. As it is with the life of a regular soldier, I barely had a chat history with her.
Recall that serving soldiers are encouraged to avoid exposure to elements like social media, blog, etc. Hence, my brief moments with my military pals could be likened to a tentative visit of a shepherd to his flock.
Arotile was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force as a PO in 2017. She went further on trainings in South Africa. On completion, she was decorated as the first ever female combat helicopter in the command. Unrelenting, teachable and passionate about her service to God and humanity, she went on special flight trainings in Italy.
That decision singled her out as the first female air combatant soldier. That feat is now considered open after her untimely death on the Tuesday, July 24, 2020. Her death is one that arose hermatia as that of the child-actor, Nikita Pearl Waligwa, who passed out earlier this year.
While the Queen of Katwe’ chess star died of severe brain tumor, our dear gallant soldier died of hemorrhage (massive bleeding sustained from head injury).
According to spokesman for the Nigerian Air Force, Ibikunle Daramola, “Arotile died as a result of head injuries sustained at the Nigerian Air Force Base in Kaduna State, when she was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of excited former classmates who were trying to greet her while she headed out of the Mammy Market.
“Since that day, there have been mixed feelings from concerned Nigerians. Some smell foul play in the cause of death. Some others think there is a conspiracy behind it; shutting the mouth of a witness close for life.
All the same, we have indeed lost a rare gem; beauty, brains plus ability. Additionally, whatever point of circumference their minds direct, the most important remains; Arotile’s short-lived life had enormous impact and would remain a role model to many aspiring and currently serving military personnel.
If I could turn back the hands of time, I would wish I had spent quality time online to continually booz her via social media. However, the few lines of Hi, Hello, How is it going and so on conversations between her and I were worthwhile. As a soldier, she saw action against the popular Boko Haram terrorists.
Since she is the only female combatant pilot, I strongly believe that had she been given a second chance to life, she would have written an autobiography that would x-ray her daring moments from the very beginning- primary, secondary schools education to her combatant years and perhaps, her times as the joys of motherhood preps.
As my Warri brother would say, “All die na die- whether by air, auto, sea or land.” But it is a pity that the gallantry of this famous soldier who has fought and survived fierce dangerous moments died in the supposedly most secured part of the city.
The burial of the late soldier took place a week later and was replete with loads of emotional speeches from well-meaning Nigerians and dignitaries. But it shouldn’t end there. It would be good to immortalise her. As she stands for bravery and loyalty in spite of odds, I believe the government, particularly her state government has a role in ensuring that the name, Tolulope Arotile, remains indelible in the sands of time. Rest in Peace gallant soldier.