Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s Top Gunner

Suddenly, Tolulope Arotile flew away. Taking an early flight to join the One to whom she had devoted her last hours in prayers and fasting. The One who her mother had taught her to take all matters, small or big. Whether matters of her expected deployment after successfully completing her exams. Or matters of the heart about her fiancé. Or matters of her bosses and colleagues at the Nigeria Air Force, who were very proud of her. And who did not hide their delight at her success; always quick to present her as a model for others to emulate. She had met the challenging physical, medical, vision and academic demands of the Service. And was on her way, her engine fully primed and her tank fully loaded for what promised to be a remarkable flight.

But everyone is left disappointed and pained; from her family, her friends, her employers and every lover of those who model what’s finest about our humanity: heart, bravery, relentlessness, gentleness, humility, faith, hope and love.

As her remains are interred today, I find myself looking for something that beats the freakiness of the whole episode. Something that is sure and steadfast. Something unshakeable. Unmoving, like the trees and buildings we see when we drive by. Something that gives meaning and perspective in the moving madness. Anything that shakes will just not do. Anything that is fleeting will not do. However, captivating or compelling, if it is not something that can accommodate the anger, unimaginable grief, despair and hopelessness, in a truly enduring way, it will not do. If it will only distract or make us displace the energies from the disruption on to other things, it would not do. If its aim is simply to distract us from the sense of irreplaceable loss, it will not do. It must be something of heart. The truth. Coherent, satisfying all the fundamental requirements of meaning.

As we continue to grieve, and monitor the judicial process for the trial of those responsible for her sad passing, I am consoled by the fact that the reports say the driver of the car was moved by excitement when he first sighted Tolulope, his former classmate at the Airforce Secondary School, Kaduna. He wanted so eagerly to happily reconnect with her; actually, he was overtaken by excitement and the unthinkable followed. He was not filled with venom, hate and anger, as would have been the case where she in combat, and trying to demobilize an adversary. I am taking this as some consolation. That Tolulope may have turned upon hearing her name from a familiar voice. What kind of emotions might have come over her when she heard her name? Dread or terror? Or something pleasant?

Our prayers go out to her parents, her siblings, her friends, her employers and everyone else diminished by this huge loss.

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