Twelve years after the gruesome murder of the frontline politician, Chief Bola Ige, the killers have not been apprehended by security agents. Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the agony of the bereaved family.
He had no premonition of his death.
As the chief law enforcement officer in the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration, he was bubbling with life. The politician had proposed to host his associates for the Yuletide in his, Esa Oke, Osun State home. His plan was to resign from the government to strengthen his party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD), ahead of the 2003 general elections. That dream perished when Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige was murdered at his home in Ibadan the Oyo State capital in December 2001.
The tragedy provoked an uproar. The Southwest geo-political zone was seized by grief. His colleagues in the divided Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, bowed their heads in sorrow. Twelve years after, the scars have not faded. Yet, the puzzle remains unresolved? Who killed Cicero, the most colourful Awoist in post-Awolowo era?
The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice was killed in the presence of his family. The security personnel attached to him had deserted him, shortly before his killers invaded his residence. As usual, the police promised to bring the killers to book. His late wife, Atinuke, a retired judge, was following the case in court when he fainted, following the recanting of evidence by suspects. She never recovered from the shock. Few years after that incident, she passed on without securing conviction for the killers.
For Ige’s children, Muyiwa, Osun State Commissioner for Physical Planning, and his sister, Mrs. Funso Adegbola, the memory of the horror has not faded. In the family and political circle, his demise created a big vacuum. Ige’s death worsened the crisis in the Afenifere and AD, although he had ceased to be a uniting factor in the two organisations before he was silenced. In post-Ige era, the Southwest was up for a grab. Unlike 1999, the conservative forces invaded the region, seizing power through election rigging. Five AD governors-Chief Bisi Akande (Osun State), Alhaji Lam Adesina (Oyo), the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo) and Aremo Olusegun Osoba (Ogun) were swept out of office by the political earthquake. Only former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu survived the onslaught.
Ige, lawyer, prolific writer, eloquent speaker, ideologue and astute politician learned politics at the feet of his leader, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The former Premier of the defunct Western Region discovered his vast talents. He joined the Action Group (AG), serving as its National Publicity Secretary in the sixties. During that period too, he was the party’s defense counsel in celebrated cases between the defunct Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), which was in alliance with the AG. His incisive wit, charisma, and magnetism always came to the fore during debate. With a caustic tongue, Ige was simply electrifying on the podium. In public and private life, he was controversial.
Ige was some steps ahead of his peers in Awo camp. He was intelligent. He was bold and brave. He was also a subject of envy. Thus, on some occasions, his political career was threatened by malicious colleagues. He survived the bitterness in Awo’s days. But when Awo died, the suspicion between him and other associates of the late sage led to the fall of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere.
When Ige’s cap was seized by hoodlums at Ile-Ife, little did he know that his days were numbered. It was the forerunner to the sad event of December 22. His death provoked rage, emotional outburst and lamentation. Eminent Nigerians described the killing as too callous. At his lying-in-state, Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka decried the hypocrisy of his foes crying more than the bereaved. He said: “Ige’s killers are here with us”. The endless wailings could not resuscitate him from deep sleep. It was the end of an era.
Fork-tongued and skilled in the war of words, Ige’s mouth was sharper than the razor’s edge. His devotion to principle and commitment to his leader, Awo, made admirers to nickname him as the “Arole Awolowo”, a likely successor to the political throne. In Law, his profession, and politics, his vocation, Ige distinguished himself. Throughout his life, he was never afraid to make up his mind and pursue his worthy cause to a logical conclusion.
Ige once challenged Awo, the Action Group (AG) leader. He stated in his articles that the party had failed to articulate its positions as an ideological organisation. When he met Awo face to face, he stuck to his position. The leader admired that candour, for only a few could call a spade a spade. Recognising his potentials, Awo made Ige a member of the AG Committee for Review of Foreign Policy, along with the late Prof. Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Akin Mabogunje, Tunde Oloko, Olumbe Bashir and Samuel Aluko. He was also an active member of the AG Youth Association led by Remi Fani-Kayode, and later, Ayo Fasanmi, the revolutionary chemist with a long beard. Ige was a trusted lawyer who was asked by Awo to defend the oppressed United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) in court when tribulation arose in the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) controlled-Northern Region.
When the House of Representatives primaries on Lagos Mainland between Sikiru Shitta-Bey, secretary of the AG Youth Association, and Adewale Thompson, son of the licensed surveyor at Odaliki Street, Ebute-Meta, was deadlock, Ige was the young AG leader sent to hold a fresh shadow poll. He reported to Awo that, although both of them were popular, it appeared to him that the pendulum of victory tilted more to the direction of the son of “Seriki Musulumi” of Lagos. Awo ratified his report.
He was also a firebrand social critic and thorn in the flesh of Balewa Government. His platforms were the radio and television personality programmes. On the eve of the Commonwealth of Nations’ Head of Government meeting in Lagos, Prime Minister Balewa had to stop a live television programme in which Ige was a discussant. After dissecting the agenda of the meeting, Ige described the Commonwealth as an organisation where the wealth was not common. The programme was stopped immediately.
Earlier, he had dazed Akintola, who had regained the Premiership of the Western Region, with verbal missiles. SLA had boasted that the ring of power had been fixed on his finger and nobody could remove it. Ige was furious. He went on air, saying that, if the ring could not be removed, the finger could be cut off. Before then Awolowo boys were in for trouble. Around the same period, Sunday Afolabi slapped Akintola in Iree and vanished into the thin air. But Akin Omoboriowo was intercepted at Aramoko-Ekiti on the order of the deputy premier, “Fani-Power” and sent to the Owo Prison.
Ige shared in the tribulation of Awo and other AG leaders who were caged. In those days, restrictions were discriminatory during the emergency period. The administrator detained “Demo Party” leaders-Akintola, Osuntokun, Fani-Kayode in their homes. But Ige was detained in Kwale, old Midwest Region.
A wordsmith and effective campaigner, Ige had a heart of steel. He was brave and bold. Once, he led the AG campaign to Kano, relying on his fluency in Hausa. There, like Aminu Kano, he descended on Ahmadu Bello, the Sokoto Prince and Sardauna, who he described as an oppressor and epitome of aristocratic oppresion, urging the “talakawas” to free themselves from captivity. Ige, the ring leader, was promptly clamped into detention by the feudal landlords.
When Awo was released from the prison and became Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council in Gowon Administration, he recommended Ige for a ministerial position. However, Ige was to serve as Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources under Military Military Governor Adeyinka Adebayo in the Western State. But he was shoved aside for being a rebel criticising other agencies of government. Out of government, he returned to his legal practice. In1975, he became a member of Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) set up by Muritala/Obasanjo Administration to fashion out a new constitution, preparatory to the return of power to civilians. The committee was chaired by the late Chief Rotimi Williams. Awo declined to serve in the committee.
As a member of the “Committee of Friends”, Ige became a founding leader of the UPN led by Awo. In 1979, he vied for the governorship of Oyo State, defeating his rival and former Vice Principal, Venerable Emmanuel Alayande,who Awo favoured for the slot. When the AG chaplain was Vice Principal, Ige was Senior Prefect. Asked to step down for the old man by Awo, who promised to make him a minister after winning the presidential election, Ige was said to have retorted: “I cannot leave certainty for uncertainty”. After his victory at the poll, he mounted pressure on Alayande to serve as his Special Adviser on Education.
The 1979 governorship election was a tough battle between him and First republic Education Minister and former Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) President, Chief Richard Akinjide, the candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It was in post-Adegoke Adelabu period and the UPN, an offshoot of the AG, was about to assert dominance. At a television debate, there was a hot argument between the two lawyers. The old “NCNCer” was said to have, in Ige’s view, politically disparaged Awo’s Free Education Policy. Ige’s reply was harsh. He asked: “ How many of your relatives who benefitted from the programme are armed robbers, charlatans and social miscreants”. Tempers rose. Feathers had been ruffled. Some scolded Ige for extreme polemics. Others laughed it off.
Ige as an achiever as governor. But the relationship between him and his deputy, Afolabi, was strained. At a time, Afolabi’s allowances were stopped during the friction. Obasanjo, who had been the duo’s mutual friend, offered to mediate in the crisis. It became Ige’s undoing. His rivals in the UPN came up with charges of disloyalty against him at the Yola Conference of the party. The penalty would have beenn expulsion from the UPN and ostracisation from the Awo political clan. Historians have referred to that difficult moment as the “night of long knives.” Ige’s saving grace was Awo, who employed wisdom in handling the sensitive matter. Afolabi later defected to the NPN to team up with the late Chief Adisa Akinloye, Akinjide, the late Chief Busari Adelakun, the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and Dr Victor Olunloyo to sack Ige from power.
Following the 1983 coup, he was detained, tried and sentenced to imprisonment by the military tribunal. He was released by the Babangida regime, which toppled Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State. At a public lecture, he had conducted an historical excursion on traditional rulers in Yorubaland, contending that the Olubadan of Ibadan and Soun of Ogbomoso were Baales upgraded into first class obaship by former Governor David Jemibewon. His Ibadan title, the “Aare Alasa” was withdrawn by the Olubadan-In-Council and conferred on the Ewi exponent, Olarewaju Adepoju.
Ige avoided politics under the IBB regime, in deference to Awo’s advice that his followers should learn to dine with the devil with a long spoon. In 1986, Awo had shunned the Political Bureau set up by IBB and chaired by Dr. Cookery. He doubted the sincerity of the military President, warning that the nation had embarked on a fruitless search. Awo said: “When we imagine that the new political order has arrived, we will be terribly disappointed”. The prophecy came true with the annulment of the presidential election of 1993 won by Chief Moshood Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate.
Ige continued with the “siddon look” style during the Abacha regime when he dismissed the five political parties of the era as the five fingers of a leprous hand. When he later teamed up with pro-democracy fighters and “June 12” agitators coordinated by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), he was on the collision course with the military. Under the Abdulsalami transition programme, he traversed the two parties, PDP, which had majority of his colleagues in the “G 34” as members, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (APP). Although he wrote the constitutions of the two parties, he could not cohabitate with the political hawks of Abacha era. The closing date for party registration had elapsed. But, based on the advice of Admiral Mike Akhigbe, the military regime registered AD to forestall the exclusion of credible Southwest leaders from the process.
At D’Rovans, Ibadan, Awoists rejected Ige in preference for Chief Olu Falae as presidential flag bearer. When their decision was communicated to Ige, who was abroad, by Kusamotu, he described it as “ the second fall of man”. Observers contented that the scenario manifested the tension, suspicion and hate arising from battle for succession into Awo’s political stool. Bisi Onabanjo, the “Ayekooto”, was dead. Lateef Jakande, the “Baba Kekere” was fenced out of Afenifere circle. Now, Ige, the “Arole Awolowo” had met his political waterloo. The trio never succeeded Awo.
Ige fought back. Against Afenifere’s wish, he joined the Obasanjo government. There, he was mocked by his erstwhile deputy, Afolabi, Minister of Internal Affairs, who described his former boss as a visitor, who was invited to eat, only to hold the hand of his host. Ige replied that he had not come to eat, but to serve his fatherland. Although barriers were erected against performance in the Power and Steel ministry, it was a different ball game at the Ministry of Justice. There, Ige motivated the celebrated suit on resource control and laid the template for the anti-graft war.
Before his death, he had commenced a process of disengagement. Muyiwa Ige said that his father had written to Obasanjo, intimating him of intention to resign from the Federal Executive Council. How to rebuild the AD was his immediate priority. “I have a pivotal role to play in my party, AD, while you are engineering your party, PDP. I need to strengthen my own, so that in 2003, there will be a credible, strong and clean national government in which the major parties will be represented”, he wrote. Ige prayed that “nothing will happen adversely, which will frustrate the fond hope”. The great politician died without fulfilling this mission