Thursday, December 27, 2018 9:52 am
By Festus Adedayo
It is not difficult to come to grips with the fatal reality that, 15 years after the death of Nigeria’s affable Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Ajibola Ige, the Nigerian state has literally left his coagulated blood as an advertisement of its inhumanity and an encouragement to would-be mindless murderers that Nigeria is at home with their nefarious activity. From empirical evidence of the last decade and half-plus of governmenting in Nigeria, successive governments’ conspiratorial silence, lackadaisical attitude to bloodshed or even pure naivety about the destructive spiritual implication of shed blood, have become legendary.
A lot has been said about the man who was gunned down at Similia Court, Bodija, Ibadan, on December 23, 2001. Aside entering the pantheon of history as about the only country whose Minister of Justice was unjustly killed like a chicken and yet unraveled, the peremptory back-off of the state from finding out who actually pulled the trigger has not only raised dusts of suspicion, it has baffled the comity of civilised states. This heightened allegations that the state was actually the yet unknown gunman who pulled the trigger and its motive was to stop an Ige who was on the verge of committing the perceived hara-kiri of tendering his letter of resignation from the federal cabinet to regroup his politically fractious South Western base.
The murder of Ige and the unfortunate circumstance of his murder have attracted mottled commentaries in the last 15 years. Respected professor of Political Science, my teacher and former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran, had taken up this writer’s Between Ige, Cicero and Demosthenes, March 10, 2002, an elegy to the departed wordsmith, orator and elder statesman, where the writer had concluded that probably, the name Cicero had spiritually attracted to Ige his fatal end. Perhaps, if Ige had adopted the sobriquet Demosthenes, a Greek philosopher whose end was not as fatal as that of his Roman compatriot, Cicero, Ige probably would not have met such a ghastly fate in the hands of his traducers, I had written. Writing a chapter entitled “Bola Ige’s complex political philosophy” in the book, Bola Ige: The passage of a modern Cicero, Adeniran had sought to divorce a fatalistic connect between the sobriquet and fate of the assassinated minister.
Marcus Tillius (Cicero) and Demosthenes were both imbued with great oratorical prowess and were the greatest of their time in Rome and Greece respectively. Ige’s path with Cicero crossed in that, like him, Cicero held several political offices and became governor of Cilicia, wrote the first and second Phillipic and was equally assassinated on December 7, 43 BC. Demosthenes, whose life was wrapped up in same vocations like Ige’s, was also an orator whose life was devoted to law practice, philosophy and politics and who also wrote three Phillipics. The third Phillipic, which he entitled, On the Peace (346 BC) had as its thrust a call for a cessation of the war and Yoke of Macedon. Even though attempts were made to execute Demosthenes, he fled and thereafter swallowed poison to avoid his approaching captors. Ige was a brilliant writer who sermonized in treaties and on campaign rostrums.
Even though Ige was labeled by his vast array of supporters as the Cicero, his humanism was the most outstanding of his philosophy. Humanisms a philosophical and ethical school that underscores the value and agency of human beings in the use of reason and their ingenuity as against blindly deploying tradition and authority in the improvement of their individual or collective lives. Ige’s humanistic philosophy was a huge clone of the seminal thoughts of German philosopher, Martin Heidegger and that of Soren Kiekergaard. Like them, he believed that existence and humanity were more material and vital than any other consideration.
For years writing his weekly homily, Uncle Bola’s Column, in this newspaper, Ige preached the invaluable essence of existence and human values. In very scurrilous drippings of his pen, he frowned on disorderly administration of society wherever he found one and sought to take the world through a path earlier trodden by his political leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He could not stand mediocrity and did not suffer fools gladly. Those who knew him spoke of his perfectionism and his finicky abidance by the dictates of truth. When he eventually became the governor of the old Oyo State, Ige struggled to match his years of political discourses with action, skirting a practical path that would serve as a showcase of what he stood for and espoused in newspaper discourses.
For this writer, an encounter with Ige that remains unforgettable was one that was readily a poster for his readiness to vacate his Olympian societal height and acknowledge that he, like every human being, was liable to foibles. While his Uncle Bola’s Column starred on Page 7 of this newspaper, this writer also sought refuge in aping his public sphere dissection of issues of contemporary society on Page 5 via a column tagged Festus Adedayo’s Flickers. And so, Ige and others became ministers in the Obasanjo government and a great uproar followed the perceived humongous furniture allowance allocated to them. On Page 5 of the newspaper, this writer excoriated such an inflated governmental largesse and dragged the ministers and indeed the Obasanjo government by the nape of their babanriga for unmitigated wastage of public funds. Same week, on the political page of the Tribune, the Political Editor had also taken umbrage against such ministerial financial rascality. Minister Ige apparently read both pieces and on his Page 7 the other week, he sought to put a lie to all the vilifications of the government over the issue. What pained him most, he wrote, was that “one Festus Adedayo” of “our own newspaper” also joined the fray by “adding salt and pepper” to the issue. He then went ahead to quote what the “one Festus Adedayo” supposedly wrote, which was, erroneously, a lift of the Political Editor’s words, verbatim.
Reading through his gaffe, the writer felt that he had an ample opportunity to test Ige’s abidance by the same homily he preached to society. Being one assigned the task of proofreading his column for years, the writer also wanted to take a pound of flesh from him for the back of the tongue Ige always gave at every misreading of his beautiful cursive handwriting that translated into errors in his column which he couldn’t stomach. “Did that fellow go to school at all?” he would thunder. Ige’s pieces arrived Saturday afternoon.
Every attempt the writer sought to problematise Ige’s gaffe in discussion with his colleagues led to cold rebuff and empathy. They all concluded that he was on his way to blindly walk into the unemployment market. How could a common reporter vilify Ige or show to the world that he was fallible? Indeed, the editor of the Sunday Tribune at the time also felt that the writer wanted to bite a bullet. He however acceded to his right to commit journalistic suicide, so far his blood spillage would not splash on anyone else but himself. So the second week, the writer literally took the great Cicero to the cleaners on Page 5, condemning Ige’s condemnation of him and even almost imputing senility on the great Cicero, in a newspaper where he was held almost like a god.
But after that bravado, the writer also prepared for the worst. When he arrived office on Monday, he was told that the minister had called to speak with him. Then the bravado turned to stark reality and he turned jelly: the possibility of leaving his job loomed as the minister would soon descend on him with his fabled and famous waspish tongue. Ige called same day and I was literally pulled by the trousers to the central telephone prong. “This is Bola Ige… Is that Festus?” he had asked. Waffling, the reporter affirmed that it was him. And then, the bombshell, “I am really very sorry. Please, accept my apologies…” Till today, the reporter cannot recollect his reply to this pleasantly shocking statement from Chief, the Honourable Minister (apology to Chinua Achebe). A few days after, the reporter was in Ikenne, Ogun State, for an Awolowo family event and lo and behold, the minister was said to be in the living room with Chief (Mrs) HID Awolowo and other dignitaries. All of a sudden, Mr Folu Olamiti, the newspaper’s then Managing Editor, came calling on the writer. The minister had asked if the reporter was at the occasion and wanted to meet him. So I folded myself, prostrate before the legendary man I had heard of his name from my primary school days. Ige held me by the shoulder and repeated his apologies. In the next installment of his column, the minister had written, “I apologise to Festus Adedayo, whom I wrongly castigated.”
Bola Ige was not abashed about his Yoruba-ness and flaunted its superseding epistemology and culture above others. He constructed an idealist theory about a welfarist and humanist society that would cater for the weak against the strong, one where survival of the fittest had no place. Even though he spoke Hausa fluently, he was persuaded about the strength and superiority of his roots and sought to wedge together every fractious part of the Yoruba nationhood. Perhaps aware of how Chief Awolowo met him, underscoring his youthfulness and brilliance, Ige never forsook the assemblage of young, brilliant persons. He had an unrepentant obsession for them, with whom he surrounded himself.
Many posthumous analysts of the foot Ige took wrongly that ultimately led to his death believed that his decision to leave his Western flank for the federal, and work with Olusegun Obasanjo, perceived as the enemy of the party and its leader, Awolowo was the crucifix on which he was hoisted, preparatory for the final nail on his coffin. Same Obasanjo was the reason the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) sought to punish Ige and his deputy, S. M. Afolabi, at its Jos convention, on allegation of illicit fraternisation with him. In a later press interview where his government was accused of failure in provision of electricity, where Obasanjo called Ige a minister of power “who knew not his left from his right hand” gave this analysis a semblance of truth.
Ige was a very brilliant political strategist and a firm believer in democratic tenets. Those who knew his antecedents, especially his revolutionary consciousness, were alarmed by the grave implication of an Ige’s resignation from the Obasanjo cabinet to help solder his disintegrating political base, for the 2003 re-election bid of the President, who did not win even his Otta farm ward in the 1999 elections. No stronger motive for his assassination has since impeached this seemingly flawless skirt.
It is in the interest of this government to unravel the knot of Ige’s assassination, 15 years after. First, Ige’s and thousands of unjustly spilled blood are crying for vengeance. Right from the time of creation till now, the corrosive spiritual implication of unjustly shed blood has always been evident. The blood of the biblical Abel, for instance, was on its prowl for justice. Perhaps, the socio-political bedlam and leadership miasma that Nigeria currently finds itself are a reflection of the numerous unjustly spilled blood in the land seeking vengeance. No sane society allows such spillage of blood to pass without a wink and its perpetrators strutting about the landscape like some stray penguins.
*Dr. Adedayo is on the editorial board of the Tribune