The nation was in mourning on Thursday as it buried its first female combat helicopter pilot Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile.
But the mourning led to outpouring of tributes from many Nigerians to the history-making young military officer.
The late Kogi State indigene got full military honours with the traditional 21-gun salutes as her body was interred at the Military Cemetery in Abuja.
Her body was lowered into the grave at exactly 11.05 a.m, drawing the curtain on a short but memorable military career.
The brief funeral ceremony drew few dignitaries, apparently to comply with the COVID-19 protocol.
It was solemn and impactful.
Arotile was knocked down by a reversing car driven by her old schoolmate, Nehemiah Adejoh, her at the NAF Base in Kaduna.
She was a member of the 64 Regular Course at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and was enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in 2017 and winged as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot in 2019.
She was 24.
In his sermon by the graveside, NAF’s Director Chaplaincy Protestant, Group Captain (Rev.) Dogo Barri Gani, described the late pilot as a woman with exceptional courage and determination to fight evil.
Reciting from the book of Isaiah, the cleric regretted that “it is always a devastating time when those who hold promises for tomorrow are vanishing”.
“Arotile was one of the few courageous young women who elected to fight evil but are no more. Political leaders should take action to ensure that the dreams of this courageous young woman come true. Until these actions are taken, our tears are just hypocrisy.
“Young ladies should not only be seen as instruments of sex that should be used and abandoned, but should be encouraged to succeed,” he said.
The chief mourner and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Saddique Abubakar, recalled that the late Arotile broke many odds to attain the height she did in the service.
“I must confess that even at this moment, the Nigerian Air Force is still in palpable shock and grief on this loss. Our expectations have been cut short. As a Combat Pilot of several years, I can tell you that this young and confident first female combat helicopter pilot in the history of the Nigerian Air Force broke so many odds to get to where she was before her demise,” Abubakar said.
Dignitaries at the occasion included Kogi State Governor Yahya Bello and his wife; Defence Minister, Maj.-Gen. Salihi Magashi (retd), who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Sabiru Zakari and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin.
Others are: the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen; Chairman of Senate Committee on Air Force, Bala Ibn Na-Allah, and Chairman of the House Committee on Air Force, Shehu Koko.
The Senate on Thursday observed a minute silence in honour of the late Arotile.
It resolved to send condolence messages to the family of the deceased and the government and people of Kogi State over her death.
This followed its consideration of a motion, titled: “Demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile,” sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West).
In his lead debate, Adeyemi said the Senate was in grief over Arotile’s death on July 14.
He recalled that Arotile was winged as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot at the NAF headquarters in Abuja on October 15, 2019, after completing her flying training in South Africa.
Adeyemi gave a history of the late Air Force officer, saying: “Flying Officer Arotile, who hailed from Ife in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, was born on December 13, 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs. Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna.”
The senator also listed her educational background and career until she died.
Senator Isah Jibrin (Kogi East), who supported the motion, described the late Arotile as one of the illustrious daughters of the state. He urged the Federal Government to cater for the family the late Flying Officer left behind.
Also, former President Goodluck Jonathan has described the death of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile as sad.
Dr. Jonathan, whose tribute was posted on his Facebook page on Thursday, said: “My heart goes out to the family and colleagues of the late Flying Officer, Tolulope Arotile.
“She was a brave patriot who pushed herself beyond limits to demonstrate her uncommon love for our dear nation. In the process, she made us all proud.