Mourning our Air Force heroine By Lasisi Olagunju


Someone said after COVID-19, the next most-talked-about incident in Nigeria this year would be the death of the 24-year-old Air Force pilot, Tolulope Arotile. I agreed. In her life (and death), the wise must have learnt how old age and wealth count very little in calculating success. Within 24 short years, the lady ran the race of life and came tops. She won. The only wealth she had was her genius generously spiced with the right dose of diligence, resilience and patriotism. And, this gave her what mountains of naira and dollar bills have refused to give our big men and women whose lives are defined solely by how much of tomorrow’s money they steal today.

I watched the dad’s, the mum’s and the sister’s heart-rending, solemnly engaging TV interviews. Even in that moment of anguish, they managed to give us a glimpse into what made the fallen a heroine. She worked hard; she rested; she fasted and prayed hard. As a cadet at the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), she suffered so much that the mum said she could not recognize her after just a year there. “You won’t go back to academy again. Must you die?” the mum told her. What was her response? “Mummy, since you’ve always said you love me, if you love me, pray for me.”


She put her petite but firm feet on generally perceived difficult terrains. She finished her training, got winged as a fighter pilot, and, clutching a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, she proceeded to plant her flag in Nigeria’s sky of heroes. The rest is history.

The Air Force issued a statement yesterday (Sunday) evening. It was its “preliminary investigation report” on the unfortunate accident. The statement appeared to have answered almost all the questions blowing in the air over this death. The Force condemned what it called “a rash of falsehoods, innuendos, conspiracy theories” that had enveloped public discourse of the accident and the circumstances it occurred. The Air Force should blame itself for the negative vibes that followed the death. The authorities were very tardy, either in their investigations or in their report of investigations into the incident. The accident occurred on July 14; apart from the initial announcement of the death of the officer on that day, there was no official word again until the statement of Sunday, 19th. The door was left ajar for all sorts of theories and permutations and insinuations. And given the deep silence and our grim history of cloudy deaths, you won’t really blame the ‘theorists’ for what they did. A statement was released on 19th July. There was really nothing deep in that six-paragraph ‘preliminary report’ that couldn’t be released with the very first statement of the 14th: Who called her; whom she called; why she was at the spot; the names of the men in the car; why they were at the base, and how she was hit. If, for any reason these details could not come with the first statement, they should not have been refrigerated for five whole days especially with posers being raised across our greatly polarized, suspicious nation.

Diligence and promptness make a lot of difference, especially in the handling of security (life and death) issues. Fahim Saleh, the Bangladeshi-American CEO of Nigerian bike-hailing startup, Gokada was grisly murdered inside his New York apartment about the same time the Kaduna accident happened to Arotile. An incredibly competent reading of CCTV footages plus a diligent tracking of the credit cards used in buying the tools of the murder (and for its attempted concealment) led the New York police to the prime suspect. He was arrested and promptly charged to court – all within three days of the crime. Nigeria is still scratching its head on whether the Kaduna matter would or should go to court and when it would, almost a week after the very sad death occurred inside one of the nation’s primary Air Force bases.

The departed does not deserve any controversy at this time but we wait for the final report to see if it will answer other emerging questions. The Air Force base is a security zone, and so, it should have Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) coverage. If that is correct, then the NAF’s final report should tell us what the footage says about that accident.

The dead lived a life of passion and hard work and Godliness. She, and all others involved in this tragedy, deserve justice. She also deserves a blissful eternity. And she has that already. May her soul rest in peace.


Then, we heard that a PORT HARCOURT GIRL SLAPPED A MINISTER – and went to the rooftops to announce it. Nigeria has always been one day, one drama/tragedy. Recent years have appeared too impatient with calamities in retail measures. It is now wholesale. Even in the midst of mourning the 24-year-old Air Force heroine, the country is having a harvest of ministers and subordinates fighting naked right in the marketplace. The most sensational of them is what interests me here. And I am sorry if you catch me hiding behind friends to assail their Bastille:

My friend’s wife was mad on the phone. “I called your friend three times and three times he cut the calls…”

“Calm down, madam…,” I told her.

“Calm down? I should calm down? You don’t think he may have been kidnapped by…?”

“Easy. He could be busy. Has he done that before?”

She lives in Lagos. My friend is in Port Harcourt. He was posted there three months ago. I asked her to call him again and let me know his response. A minute later, the noise was madder.

“I told you! O ti bere osi ni Port Harcourt. Can you imagine! He finally picked my call and you know what he told me: He was enjoying ‘this Port Harcourt girl,’ I should therefore give him some minutes; he would call back…”

“Port Harcourt girl?”

“Yes. Imagine!”

“You sure you heard right?”

“Ok. Eti ndun mi niyen. That means I have hearing problem, right? I said he told me he was busy with a Port Harcourt girl…”

“Alright…alright. Wait.” (I added the husband to the call).

“Bros, you don finish the Port Harcourt girl with you?”

“Who? Oh. You’re also watching the programme? Imagine this woman boasting about slapping a minister…” My friend explained what he was busy watching so early in the morning while I quickly switched my TV to the channel.

I laughed. My friend was actually watching an interview programme showing a sacked Niger Delta managing director sensationally announcing that she slapped her supervising minister because he sexually harassed her. “I am the only woman ever to have slapped him,” she boasted, leaving her listeners to wonder how she could be so sure of that trophy in room-temperature bouts. My friend analysed the lady’s histrionics plus her chest-beating boast that she is a Port Harcourt girl who should not be messed with by even a minister. We both laughed. But my friend’s wife didn’t find it funny.

“You mean she slapped someone’s husband?”

“She slapped her minister.” My friend corrected her.

“And what was the man’s wife doing? Someone slapped my husband? I will die there.”

“And what would a wife be doing in that setting, a hotel?”

“Hotel or office? With another woman?” She asked.

“Yes. Hotel.”

“O koja aaye e. He overstepped his bounds. He deserved what he got. And that man would get home and be doing shakara to his poor wife. He won’t tell anyone that he was castrated outside…”

“Ojo oru ni.”


“Midnight rain. If it beats you, you don’t tell at home. You know night rain does not beat angels. If the drenched victim is not a witch or a robber he must definitely be a sex thief.”

“It does not necessarily follow…”

“Eh, bros.” My friend’s wife cuts me short. “Who else gropes in the dark in search of what is not lost?” She didn’t wait for my response before excusing herself from the conference call. She had had enough.

“I just pray she doesn’t become a minister soon,” I said and smiled to myself.

“If she does nko?”

“She will one day slap the president and you know how young and strong our president is.”

“And security will deal with her.”

“Security in the other room? Who does that?”

“What of the other woman?”

“How would she know?”

“She is the queen, with very long ears at home and in the bush.”

“But it is a big shame, those two leaders are supposed to be role models…”

“Leaders? You are funny. Does someone become a chief simply by sitting on a big stool? It is the same with becoming leaders. A big office doesn’t make a leader. Leadership is in the head.”

“Hmmmm. Good head; bad head. The bad ones are in charge…Imagine an army of lions commanded by a sheep.”

“You are right. To think that all this war is about money and more money…”

“Is it just money? Sex is there too.”

“Sex! For menopausal people?”

“So? Age does not kill the flame of passion, bro. Kings feel the pangs of hunger just as slaves do.”

“Hmmm. Money and sex…Is that why a whole minister would grab a grandma the way lion grabs deer? Are we in a jungle?”

“Are we not in a jungle? Anyway, he has denied it…and we were not there. So, let it remain in the realm of allegation.”

“Slap and politics appear inseparable.”

“I remember a famous story in the old Western region. It happened somewhere in the present Osun State. The slapper became an instant folk hero. But dirty slaps are not peculiar to our politics here. In India, it is called ‘tight slap’ – a ‘whack across the face.’ An Indian columnist/commentator said tight slaps ‘seem to be a big part of the soundtrack’ of the country’s electoral politics.”

“If slap is the soul of politics, then fire on…”

“And if there is another issue raging now after the unfortunate death of the Air Force lady, it is the Port Harcourt big girl’s case.”

“You may be right. But, you know, it is a developing story. She may, in fact, be lying. I learnt she really does not fit that dude’s specifications. Besides, this rain that has just started, only God knows how many people it will beat.”

“True. Imagine the billions they are sharing and fighting over?”

“Especially the NDDC disclosures. I almost fainted.”

“Haba! What is your own in Niger Delta matters? Are the people complaining? Very soon, you will hear that ‘it is our oil money.’ So, don’t faint bros. It is the king’s goats that are eating the king’s yam. If you talk too much, the ordinary people there will insult you.”

“I don’t think you have an idea of what we are talking about here? Listen: Community relations — N1.3billion; Condolences — N122.9 million; Consultancy – N83 million; COVlD-19 — N3.14 billion; Duty Tour Allowance – N486 million; Imprest – N790.9 million; Lassa fever — N1.956 billion; Legal services — N900 million; Maintenance – N220 million; Overseas travels – N85.6 million; Public Communication – N1.121 billion; Security – N744 million; Staffing-related payments N8.8 billion and Stakeholders engagement – N248 million.”

“Yes. I read it. There are many more. The total is N81billion – all spent or shared between 31st October 2019 and 31st May 2020. Seven months.”

“Chicken change. The Niger Delta is rich. The elite there have large mouths, deep throats and big bellies.”

“Na wa o. I still can’t believe that the same Niger Deltans that shouted resource control and blew up unresponsive pipelines are the ones doing this to themselves. Billions spent on inanities and there are no consequences anywhere apart from celebrity slaps and dingy contests for queen-size beds. It is a shame.”

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