Was Bola Ige’s murder avoidable?

Chief Bola Ige

By Festus Adedayo

Could Chief Ajibola Ige, former governor of old Oyo State, ex-Attorney General of the Federation and foremost apostle of Yoruba’s recent ancestor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, have escaped the gruesome death that took his life on December 23, 2001 if he had chosen the sobriquet “Demosthenes,” rather than “Cicero”? Ige’s gruesome murder and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding it have attracted mottled commentaries in the last 20 years.

This was the crux of the intellectual spat that respected professor of Political Science, my Master’s class teacher at the University of Ibadan and former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran and I engaged in after the death of Ige. Writing an elegy to the murdered wordsmith, orator and elder statesman, a piece I entitled Between Ige, Cicero and Demosthenes, in my Sunday Tribune column offering of March 10, 2002, I 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 strongly but passionately argued that the name, Cicero forebode a disastrous ending and Ige would have done well to avoid it. Adeniran, in a chapter he entitled “Bola Ige’s complex political philosophy,” in the book entitled, Bola Ige: The Passage of a Modern Cicero, while appreciating the arguments, he disagreed with the unscience of my postulation and sought to divorce a fatalistic connect between the sobriquet and fate of the assassinated minister.

My argument was that, granted that Marcus Tillius Cicero – Ige corrected us that the name’s pronunciation was Kikero and not Si-se-ro – 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 of Yoke and Macedon. Though attempts were made to execute Demosthenes, he fled and thereafter swallowed poison to avoid his approaching captors. Ige too was a brilliant writer who sermonized in treaties and on campaign rostrums.

Cicero, Roman statesman, lawyer and scholar, was known for upholding republican principles during the final civil war years which led to the destruction of the Roman Republic. He was a great Roman orator and writer whose writings on rhetoric, philosophy and other political treatises stood out. Like Ige, as a lawyer, Cicero’s appearances in court recorded profound legal firsts. His brilliant defence of Publius Quinctius and Sextus Roscius, the latter having been charged in a fabricated crime of parricide, stood him out. Cicero was an associate of the political trio of Julius Caesar, Crassus and Pompey who were called the First Triumvirate. He was sorely hated by the three Roman leaders, Octavian, Lepidus, and Anthony, who eventually ordered his execution. Of the three, it was Anthony who disdained him most.

Condemned to death, alongside his son, brother and nephew, Cicero fled to the Italian town of Caieta. There, Laenas pulled out Cicero’s head from a litter where he was hiding, dismembered it from his body and cut off his hand as well. While Ige was brutally gunned down at Similia Court, Bodija, Ibadan that dark December night at the age of 71, Cicero met his own gruesome death at the age of 63. Anthony was so delighted at the news of Cicero’s assassination that he gave Laenas, who brought the news to him, 250,000 denarii for the death of “the man who had been his greatest and most aggressive personal enemy.” He kept Cicero’s head and hand on a rostrum before the table where he had his meals, for a very long time.

It is not difficult to come to grips with the fatal reality that, 20 years after the death of this Nigeria’s affable Minister of Justice, 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 two decades-plus democratic “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.

Aside entering the pantheon of history as about the only country whose Minister of Justice was unjustly killed like a chicken and whose death is 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 civilized states. This heightened allegations that the state was actually the yet unknown gunman who pulled the trigger and that 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.

Though Ige was labeled by his vast array of supporters as the Cicero, his humanism was the most outstanding of his philosophy. Humanism is 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 the Tribune newspaper, Ige preached the invaluable essence of existence and human values. In very scurrilous pen drippings, 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 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 Ige’s readiness to vacate his Olympian societal height and acknowledge that he, like every human being, was fallible after all. While his Uncle Bola’s Column starred on Page 7 of the Tribune, this writer sought refuge in aping his public sphere dissection of issues of contemporary society on Page 3 of same newspaper in a column named Festus Adedayo’s Flickers. And so, Ige and others became ministers in the Obasanjo government that would yet be his death.

Soon, a great uproar erupted on the perceived humongous furniture allowance allocated to the Obasanjo ministers. In my column, I excoriated such an inflated governmental largesse and dragged the ministers and indeed the Obasanjo government by the nape of their agbada for what I felt was an unmitigated wastage of public funds. Same week, on the political page of the Tribune, the Political Editor had also taken umbrage at such ministerial financial rascality. Minister Ige apparently read both pieces and on his Page 7 the next 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” purportedly wrote, which was, and which turned out erroneously, a lift of the Political Editor’s words, verbatim.

Reading through Chief Ige’s gaffe, I was excited that I had him by his balls. To me, it was an ample opportunity to test Ige’s abidance by the same homily he preached to society. Being one assigned the task of proof-reading his column for years, I also wanted to take a pound of flesh from him for the back-of-the-tongue Ige always gave me at every misreading of his beautiful cursive handwriting which, on a few occasions, translated into errors in his column, errors that the finicky Ige couldn’t stomach. The manuscript of his column arrived Saturday afternoon. “Did that fellow go to school at all?” he would thunder whenever he spotted errors in his column.

Every attempt I made in discussions with my Tribune colleagues on the need for me to re-joind Ige’s gaffe led to cold rebuffs and sympathy for me. They all concluded that attacking Almighty Ige was tantamount to blindly walking into the unemployment market. How could a common reporter like me vilify Ige or show to the world that he was fallible, in an Awolowo newspaper? Indeed, the editor of the Sunday Tribune at the time also felt that I wanted to bite a bullet. He however acceded to my right to commit journalistic suicide; so far as my blood spillage would not splash on anyone else but myself. So the second week, I literally took the great Cicero to the cleaners in my column, condemning Ige’s condemnation of me and even almost imputing senility on the great Cicero, in a newspaper where he was held almost like a god.

But after that bravado, to parody the lingo of this generation, my liver failed me. I prepared for the worst. When I arrived office on Monday, I was told that the Minister had called to speak with me. I saw the last flame of my bravado spiral out into thin air. The stark reality of my audacity dawned on me and I almost turned jelly as the possibility of being asked to leave my job loomed. I told myself that shortly, the Minister would descend on me with his fabled and famous waspish tongue.

Same day, Ige called the central Newsroom analogue line, 02-2311675 and I was literally pulled by the trousers to pick the phone’s prong. “This is Bola Ige… Is that Festus?” he had asked. Waffling, I affirmed that I was the one speaking. And then, the bombshell, “I am really very sorry. Please, accept my apologies…”

It’s about 22 years now since that encounter and I cannot recollect plausibly my reply to this pleasantly shocking statement from Chief, the Honourable Minister (apologies to T.M. Aluko). A few days after, duty took me to Ikenne, Ogun State, Chief Awolowo’s country home, for an Awo family event and, lo and behold, the Minister arrived and went straight to the living room to discuss with Chief (Mrs.)  HID Awolowo and other dignitaries. All of a sudden, Mr Folu Olamiti, the newspaper’s then Managing Editor, came looking for me. The Minister had asked if I was at the occasion and wanted to meet me. So I folded myself, prostrated before the legendary man whose name I had heard of  from my primary school days. Ige held me by the shoulders 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. A video of Ige delivering a speech recently surfaced from God-knows-where and has suddenly gone viral. Therein, Ige’s idealism, something of the mould of the suffering animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, was revealed. In Orwell’s, animals sang, “Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland//Beasts of every land and clime//Hearken to my joyful tidings Of the golden future time//Soon or late the day is coming//Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown//And the fruitful fields of England Shall be trod by beasts alone…”

“By the grace of God, by 2000AD, freedom will come the way of Yorubaland. I am sure that the God of Oduduwa, the God of Oranminyan, the God of Obafemi Awolowo and the God of Adekunle Ajasin will take us to the new land where disgrace, suffering and cheating will be a thing of the past for Yoruba people,” Ige said in impeccable Yoruba in the video. He disparaged those who thought the idea of an Eldorado for Yoruba people was a mirage and likened their resentment to the mythic grumbling of gnomes. Valiant hunters in Yorubaland who reportedly encountered these mythic beings in forests told awe-inspiring stories of their weird composition. Ige however nationalized the “disgrace, suffering and cheating” being encountered as a Nigeria-wide thing with the Yoruba wise saying of “arun to ns’ogoji ni ns’odunrun, ohun to ba s’Aboyade, gbogbo oloya lo nse.”

Though he spoke Hausa fluently, Ige was persuaded about the strength and superiority of his roots and sought to wedge together every fractious part of the Yoruba nationhood. In the video, Ige unwittingly showed the Western region what it lost by the disagreement between Chief Awolowo and SLA Akintola. Just imagine a Western Region where Awo and Akintola worked together. The rest of Nigeria might never have kept pace with their race.

In the same video, Ige regaled his audience with Akintola’s profound ribaldry. Trying to discredit the alliance between NCNC and AG called UPGA, SLA called it OBUGA (it exploded), during a campaign in Ige’s Esa-Oke hometown. In his tiny feminine voice, SLA had pointed to a house which he said belonged to “Ige-Chukwu,” a scorn at the Igbo and Yoruba alliance. Akintola, said Ige, again at a campaign forum in Akure, still trying to discredit top stalwarts of AG, had told his UNDP members that he had just returned from Owo, the home of Chief Adekunle Ajasin. “Anyone who wants his children to bury them should please raise their hands up,” he pleaded. When they did, he played on Ajasin’s name which literally meant “Dog-buried” and said that when he went to Owo, rather than see a person buried by his children, he saw one who dog buried!

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 Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Yoruba 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 the party’s Jos convention, on allegation of illicit fraternization with him. In a later press interview where his government was accused of failure in provision of electricity, Obasanjo called Ige a minister of power “who knew not his left from his right hand.” With this, the analysis that Obasanjo wanted to calibrate the Ige enigma by offering him ministerial appointment got a semblance of truth.


Ige was a very brilliant political strategist and a firm believer in democratic ethos. Those who knew his antecedents, especially his revolutionary consciousness, were alarmed by the grave implication of an Ige’s resignation from the Obasanjo cabinet. He had opted to leave so as to solder his disintegrating political base, in preparation for the 2003 re-election. For a sitting Nigerian president who did not win even his Otta farm ward in the 1999 elections, another landslide disclamation of Obasanjo would have upset the power apparatchik that sponsored his election and stood to lose if he was kicked out. Thus, permutations that the Nigerian government or its lackeys killed Ige to guard against this apple cart upsetting were rife. So who was the government or its sidekick that pulled the trigger? No stronger motive for his assassination has since impeached this seemingly flawless skirt.

It is in the interest of government to unravel the knot of Ige’s assassination, 20 years after. 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 and never rested until it got justice. Perhaps, the socio-political bedlam and leadership miasma that Nigeria currently finds herself 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 while perpetrators of the dastardly acts strut about the landscape like some stray penguins.

  *Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist and lawyer writes from Ibadan