“Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
-William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
The pain runs deep-beyond wishful words, beyond tears of tragedy! No doubt about it, death is our constant companion, a shadowy haunter that wields its cudgel at its whims and caprices. That explains why in a tribute poem to a loved one years ago, I described death as a ‘cruel coward’. It triggers terror, anguish, agony and often times torrents of tears. But mortals must die, at one time or the other. It is the debt we all must pay for having lived. Yes, citizens rejoice when their tyrants and oppressors die, for the living to understand that earthly power is transient.
The pain however, is when death stalks the young and the innocent, the good-hearted and the care-givers, the brightest and the best amongst us, and rips them off the bosoms of their beloved ones. So, we grieve especially when such happens in preventable circumstances. That perhaps, explains the soaring waves of shock that have so far trailed the recent sudden death of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile. She was only 25 years old but she had made history as Nigeria’s first female fighter pilot back in October 2019. That was less than one year ago.
“Damn! We lost her before we even had her!” So stated ageless Angela Agoawike, Nigeria’s world renowned veteran journalist. And that grieves us the more. Tolulope was poised to do exploits; to make not only members of her family, Kogi State, Nigeria, the African continent but the world proud of her courage to dare in a male-dominated profession. But all that is gone- her brilliance, her efforts, her toils, her sacrifices, all gone like a candle in the wind!
The fact that she did not die in the course of duty, up there in a fighter-plane or maneuvering against the turbulence of the cloudy sky, but down here as a voiceless victim of a car accident in Kaduna makes it all the more heart-rending.
According to Chiemelie Ezeobi, writing for one of the dailies, Tolulope’s dastardly death has defied logic. “She was targeted by the bandits who shot repeatedly at her aircraft but the dogged fighter engaged her combat skills and evaded them, while successfully carrying out what she was deployed for. She had successfully evaded death only to die in a freak accident inside the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Base in Kaduna on Tuesday, July 14, 2020”.
According to recent media reports, she had just returned from ‘Operation GAMA AIKI’ in Minna, Niger State when an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate saw her strolling and reversed his car to greet her. That move proved fatal as his car pushed her down and crushed part of her head! How tragic; how horrendous!
What matters now are the lessons to glean from her short but illustrious life and what measures to put in place to prevent similar accident in the future. The Nigerian Air Force will certainly miss her. For instance, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said: “During her short but impactful stay in the service, late Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State”.
Aside her gruesome death, there have been several reported cases of the carnage on our highways, especially along Abuja-Lokoja-Okene federal government highway that have claimed the lives of some young Nigerians. For instance, on 3rd August, 2011, residents woke up to behold the crushed bodies of over 50 victims of armed robbery at the Zariagi end of the Abuja/Okene highway. The victims were said to be passengers of an Abuja-bound luxury bus, marked XI 300 ABC, belonging to a popular transport company. The passengers were ordered to lie face down on the highway before they were dispossessed of their belongings. Soon after, an unsuspecting truck was said to have run over the victims and later escaped the scene of the accident!
And in early April, 2011 virtually all the national dailies had the shocking and scary headline news of how over 80 passengers perished in separate auto-accidents, specifically in Edo and Anambra states. According to those who offered graphic accounts of the horrifying tragedy, a trailer having a burst tyre rammed into a petrol tanker marked GA 71 XA and a fully loaded luxury bus.
The implications are grave for thousands of homes, communities and countries. Such accidents deny them of the active labour force, while rendering not a few children as helpless orphans. As reflected in my earlier essay entitled, ‘WHO and road accident prevention’’ published in the defunct ‘Daily Times’ of April 16, 2004 available data showed an escalation in the incident almost annually within the Nigerian context.
The first study was between 1960 and 1989. For instance, Police Accident Records, PAR revealed that no fewer than 92,000 accidents occurred between 1980 and 1989.The frightening figures showed an exponential rise from 12,424 of such accidents in 1999 to 12,705 in 2000; 12,954 in 2001 and 14,267 in 2002. There was a bizarre correlation in the number of precious lives wasted as well as those
Amongst the several factors fingered as responsible for the sheer wanton waste of priceless human lives on our roads are; the use of dilapidated, non-roadworthy contraptions called commuter buses, recklessness on the part of the drivers, outright disregard and disrespect for traffic rules and regulations and of course, pot hole-riddled roads.
Drivers who engage in drunk-driving, over speeding, over-taking other vehicles at dangerously sharp bends, over-loading vehicles with both passengers and goods and driving at night, even when fatigued have led to the loss of several lives. The pain in all of this is that most of these accidents were clearly preventable.
The FRSC has to be empowered numerically and financially to carry out its core functions of ensuring that we return to our homes safe and sound after our journeys. The same policy should be extended to the National Emergency Management Authority, (NEMA) and Vehicle Inspection Agency. The National Assembly should make an enabling law for the establishment of more well-equipped and staffed hospitals within some stipulated kilometers along the highways. The frequency of the patrol teams of both FRSC and NEMA should be increased.
Beyond all these, public office holders found to have embezzled billions of naira meant for road construction should be brought to speedy justice, instead of being treated as untouchables and demi-gods. Enough of this culture of impunity that has killed millions of innocent souls!
Let the younger generation read this from her as food-for-thought: “My advice to younger ones out there is that they should keep doing their best, they should keep running the race until they finish and they should not set limit for themselves because the only limit they have is the one they set for themselves.” As we ponder over her death, may her family be consoled and her beautiful soul rest in perfect peace.