Chief Bola Ige (SAN): Sacrificial Lamb of High-Wire Power Play? | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Law Report

Chief Bola Ige (SAN): Sacrificial Lamb of High-Wire Power Play?

Chief Bola Ige
Posted: Jul 21, 2016 at 7:03 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

President Muhammadu Buhari recently gave a directive for the reopening of investigation into the murder of former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige (SAN), a move that has won for the nation’s leader many plaudits. In this report, STEPHEN UBIMAGO examines the alternative theories, which over time have developed to explain the motives and incidents that may have informed the dastardly elimination of the Cicero of  Esa Oke some 15 years ago..

When on July 17, President Muhammadu Buhari gave Acting Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, instructions to reopen investigation into the assassination of former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige (SAN), and fish out his assailants, not a few Nigerians commended the move as spot on.

For example, the late Attorney General’s son, Arc. Muyiwa Ige, is quoted as having described the presidential directive as a glorious dawn for the Ige family, stressing, “We are happy; we will get justice after 16 years.”

Yet, many Nigerians are not so impressed despite the positive symbolism of the presidential directive.

While some maintain that the president, by the move, was merely playing to the gallery; others say it was a dubious stir only aimed at shoring up his dwindling popularity, especially among his die-hard supporters from the South West, who seem to have started withdrawing their support for him in the face of growing criticism that he seem not to have a handle over the management of the nation’s affairs, particularly on the economic front.

Indeed many were the high-profile politically-motivated killings that took place during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which lasted from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007.

These unresolved murder cases include those of ex-Deputy National Chairman, South-South, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Harry Sokari Marshall; the assassination also of the man who succeeded him in office, Chief Aminasoari Dikibo; the killing of the 2007 governorship candidate of the PDP in Lagos State, Chief Funsho Williams; as well as the murder of the 2007 governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC) in Ogun State, Otunba Adedipupo Dina, among others.

It is however curious that despite this harvest of unresolved political killings, the president only gave instructions for the reopening of investigation into just two of the cases, Dikibo’s and Ige’s.

For the more sanguine observers, however, nothing could be more sagacious and bolstering of their confidence in the president’s ability to deliver on the initiative than that he chose to start with a few.

According to them, to have instructed otherwise could have been as naïve as it might have amounted to throwing too much in the plate of the investigators, with the effect of seeing them overwhelmed and perhaps bumbling the initiative altogether.

Accordingly, the president’s nomination of Ige and Dikibo for starters only suggests the inauguration of a long process, they argue. It is being seen as a portent in that before long the attention of the investigators would be broadened to cover the yet uncharted territories.

The development has however raised a number of questions, which hereunder are distilled as issues to ponder:

  1. Whether public institutions statutorily saddled with the task of detection and investigation of crimes or apprehension of offenders like the Police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others lack a sense of initiative and thus must tarry on the instruction or body-language of the president to be able to act?
  2. Whether these institutions are as good or bad as the mindset or predilection of the commander-in-chief otherwise they are as ideas-less or will-less as experimental cadavers?
  3. Whether critics are correct in saying that the Police or EFCC, for example, are simply the attack dogs of the president, having regard to the above instantiating development?
  4. Whether in being beholden to the President’s proclivities, these institutions become politically exposed or corrupted and compromised by politicization?
  5. Whether their inability to assert their independence and take initiatives primes them for reform?

Suffice to note that the former Attorney General was gunned down by unknown gunmen in his bedroom at his Bodija home in Ibadan, Oyo State, at about 9:00pm on December 23, 2001, for which some explanatory hypothesis had been formulated according to which investigators in the past had attempted to trace his killers, albeit abortively.

One theory that had preeminently featured in the past, which for some reasons seemed to have excited officialdom to no end, and which had been whipped to frenzy and even used ineffectually to track and prosecute his alleged killers is that the man was eliminated by his political associates in the old Alliance for Democracy (AD).

The narrative was located in Osun State. The state had been engulfed in a crisis occasioned by a rift that had pitted then Governor Bisi Akando and his deputy, Chief Iyiola Omisore in some war of attrition over political differences.

While late Chief Abraham Adesanya, leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization Afenifere and the AD rallied support for Omisore; Chief Ige, Adesanya’s second-in-command in Afenifere and AD drummed up following for Akande.

Indeed, the rank of Yoruba leadership during the period seemed to have been torn along the fault-lines drawn by their leanings for or against Akande or Omisore.

Moves quickly thickened to have Omisore sacked vide an impeachment hearing in the Osun State House of Assembly.

The development saw the House being hauled into a fractious mode that spilled into a general din in the state, resulting in the assassination of one of the lawmakers, Hon. Odunayo Olagbaju.

Successive developments in tow also witnessed naked assaults on the person of Ige.

In fact few days prior to his assassination, the Oni’s Palace in Ile-Ife had recorded a humiliating treatment delivered on the man by tugs in which his cap had been pulled off his head.

Omisore would subsequently grant a press interview in which he appeared to have endorsed the attack on Ige.

In the light of this interaction of events, commonsensical logic came to the conclusion that the murder of Ige might not be unconnected to the political differences that existed within the Afenifere/AD leadership at the time and that Omisore and his backers must be the killers.

Few days after Ige’s murder, one Adeniyi Yinusa, 27, turned himself in to the Police in Ibadan, confessing to being part of the gang that killed the late AGF.

He was however quickly dismissed as being only off his rockers, or had been financially induced or otherwise.

On Monday, January 14, 2002, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, with one Joseph Olugbenga Damola Elubode Adebayo (a.k.a. Frayo) in tow, articulated at a press conference, via a deposition, what he knew about the killing.

Frayo was however quickly taken into custody in Lagos, and ferried off to Abuja in a heartbeat, following which investigations into the incident tapered into an inexplicable lull until Wednesday, February 13, when the Police arrested two journalists, Messrs Segun Banjo and Femi Davies, of the Ace magazine over their relationship with Frayo.

Apparently, they had quartered Frayo for a few days before advising him to approach Keyamo for counsel.

Then suddenly, on Friday, February 15, a newspaper published a retraction letter by Frayo, saying he’d been coerced and coached by Keyamo into writing his earlier deposition, wherein he’d confessed to what he knew about Ige’s murder.

On Saturday, February 16, 2002, Keyamo himself was arrested, kept in custody for months and later released.

But the point of interest is that the lawyer was subsequently appointed prosecutor to try Omisore, who had been arrested and accused of the Ige murder.

The former Osun State deputy governor was kept in detention for two years. He was tried but finally discharged and acquitted of the murder charge by the court.

In the light of the foregoing narrative, question has arisen as to whether in reopening investigation into Ige’s murder, recourse would be had to the hypothesis that Ige had been consumed by political differences in the leadership rank of the old AD/Afenifere.

Wouldn’t a revisit of Omisore for investigation be at the risk of offending the constitutional rule against Double Jeopardy?

This explains why some observers have argued that the politicization of Ige’s murder made locating the real culprits of the dastardly act a recondite assignment; and hence why another explanatory model may have to be admitted for unraveling the thorny case.

According to this alternative hypothesis, Ige was eliminated by the Obasanjo government, who ahead of his 2003 second term ambition felt the need to do away with the man, given his significant influence as a key Yoruba leader, in order to leave the AD in disarray and aid PDP’s scheme of penetrating the South-West.

In a strategic ploy of keeping one’s enemy closer so as to aim at his decimation with precision and ease, the Obasanjo government threw at him the bait of ministerial offices to enable close tabs on his itinerary, following which he could be finished off seamlessly.

Alluding to this line of thinking, Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo had asserted in an interview, “The Federal Government of that period murdered Chief Bola Ige, and incidentally, instead of confessing, they passed the buck, accusing Ige’s political associates of the murder.”

Born in Zaria, near Kaduna, on September 13, 1930, Chief Bola Ige (SAN) studied at Ibadan Grammar School between 1943 and ’48; and at the University of Ibadan, where he bagged a BA in Classics with honors.

He later proceeded to the University College London where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in 1959, and was called to the bar in London’s Inner Temple in 1961.

The late lawyer and politician, then fondly called the Cicero of Esa Oke, was former governor of old Oyo State; Minister of Mines and Power; as well as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, among others.