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 Unsolved Ige murder says a lot about Nigeria and Obasanjo's presidency


Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

On April 23, 2002, to be exact, it will be four months since the former attorney general and minister of justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ajibola Idowu Ige was assassinated by yet-unknown gun men, in his own bedroom. This occured while his family was locked up in another room in his home, in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state. Ige was governor of the same Oyo from 1979-1983. This assassination introduced a new and diabolical dimension to the ugly spate of politically-inspired violence in Nigeria. Ige had been a key actor in Nigerian politics since he emerged in 1962 at the age of 32 as the publicity secretary of the Action Group. A senior advocate [SAN] of the Nigerian Bar, commissioner in the military government of Adeyinka Adebayo in the old western state, governor of Oyo state and federal attorney general and minister of justice, Ige had a rich and distinguished tenure in public service.

A gifted orator with an acid tongue reserved for his political opponents, Ige commanded a significant followership among his Yoruba kinsmen who saw him as a highly principled and upright politician, admired by Nigerians of other nationalities for his progressive politics but feared and demonized by the conservative elements of the Hausa-Fulani establishment as a dangerous radical. Millions who never set eyes on him in his life time [like this writer], admire him for what he stood for; a progressive federal republic based on the ideals of liberal democracy /the rule of law and respected in the comity of nations.

I recall like yesterday, my initial reaction to this murder. On Monday, December 24, 2001, I had stayed up late, enjoying a Christmas holiday. I got online at 3:00 a.m to read Nigerian-based newspapers. As I got to the ThisDay website, there it was in bold headline' Ige Assasinated'. I stared at the monitor, totally stupefied, mouth agape, unbelieving and disbelieving at the same time.

I blinked, then stared again at the monitor, looked away, as if the words would disappear. What is this? 'Assassinated?' Who by? And why? Forgetting the early hour of the day, I picked up the phone to call my cousin Niran Solarin in Atlanta, ignoring his groggy voice, I blurted, 'Ige has been assassinated in Nigeria' He bolted upright, 'he was what?' I repeated the news to him and we raised questions we had no answers to. Then I called Ibadan. After that, I could not sleep.

Soon, it will be four months to that day, and the Nigerian society knows no more today than it did then, as to who exactly killed Bola Ige and why. Of course, there are speculations, but conjectures and speculations do not convictions win., in a case of homicide. The Nigerian Police has not been able to come forward with any concrete development about the resolution of this case. But we are treated to theatrics about the Keyamo brothers;their claims and counter-claims. But nobody has claimed the Keyamos had any hand in the killing of Ajibola Ige and the central question about the culpability for this crime remains unaddressed.

This assassination raises many troubling questions about the nature of our society, apart from the taking of the life of a leading citizen and public figure. Nigeria is descending progressively into a land where anything can happen and there will be no accountability.

Ajibola Ige was the chief law enforcement official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that he can be so brutally dispatched 'just like that' by 'unknown' persons ought to make us all pause to think about just where we are headed in Nigeria. What is anybody's life worth in Nigeria? What dark and malevolent force is afoot in our society? What has our land become? What murderous desperation informs our life and politics? What evil and soul-destroying mindset lurks in the inner recesses of our hearts?

Many beautiful words have been written extolling the virtues of Ige since this murder. His wife, the Honourable Justice Atinuke Ige, recently retired from the Federal Appeals Court ;the Ige family has a right to insist that a man like Ajibola Ige, who was one of the leading lights of our land, and who gave much of his energy and talent to make our society a better place, ought not to meet his end at the hands of 'unknown ' persons. All decent citizens of Nigeria ought to be outraged and indignant that four months and counting, we know no more than we knew on the morning of December 24, 2001, about the identity of those who killed the late attorney gerneral and minister of justice.

This is a major indictment of our society and its criminal justice system. There is such corrosive cynicism and to accept this as just another unresolved case of homicide will constitute a lasting blemish on our society. Nigeria's president, retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a close friend of Ige's for more than three decades and who the Nigerian media reported had difficulties controlling his emotions on visiting the Iges has a challenging responsibility here.

The resolution of this case is an acid test of the statements from the Obasanjo administration that it will confront the evil scourge of crimes and political violence in Nigeria. Nigeria must get to the bottom of this crime. He owes it to posterity, as other responsible Nigerians do, to unmask those behind this crime and make them face the full wrath of the law. It will be a firm attestation as to how far our society and its institutions have traveled since June 8, 1998.
Solarin, a political scientist and university lecturer at Texas College in Tyler, is a contributing editor of and USAfrica The Newspaper where his columns appear.

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