In the decade and a half since Chief Bola Ige was murdered while serving as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Nigerian public has gone from the tortured feelings of shock and outrage to resignation and now cautious hope that justice may, at last, be done. The current tampering with our emotions comes courtesy of the totally unexpected decision to reopen what had become the coldest case among the dog-eared files of the police and Ministry of Justice. It is unclear at the moment whose initiative it was—President Buhari’s or Acting Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris’s—to revisit the unsolved cases of political murders that were the chief terror instrument of silencing opposition and independent thought under psychopathic dictator Abacha with an unhappy spill-over into the early stages of General Obasanjo tenure as civilian head of state. Some reports say that the president directed the IG to bring the cold files out to the heat of the sun, while others have the police claiming to have been totally self-directed. No matter, as long as justice is done to the public and to the families of Ige and Chief Aminasoari Dikibo, ex-deputy national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party.
It is a measure of how low we had sunk as a country, how far from a nation of laws Nigeria had fallen to become a near-perfect picture of the Hobbesian state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish and short,” that the chief law officer of the country was assassinated in his bedroom and for fifteen years his killers could not be found. As if the murderers were ghosts who incarnated themselves for homicide and turned spectres once again the moment Ige stopped breathing! President Obasanjo went through the usual pantomime of pain and anguish, even weeping as Ige was buried and promising, if I recall properly, to fish out the murderers. That, it seems, was the full extent of his commitment to justice. And not for want of time: Ige was assassinated a mere two years into his two-term presidency. Now that Buhari-Idris have decided to tread the path of justice, we will see just what it was that so helplessly tied Obasanjo’s hands and those of his successors, Yar’Adua and Jonathan.
And we shall learn more than that. In the midst of the charade of paraded suspects, but without the principal one, as some reports had it, then the escape of some out of jurisdiction, one name seized the attention of the public: Iyiola Omisore. As if the drama of Ige’s murder which had him arriving home in Ibadan from Abuja, going up to his bedroom to rest, then his police orderlies conveniently begging leave to go for dinner outside the premises, and the assassins arriving promptly to carry out their mission, was not enough, Omisore was elected as a senator while in custody for his alleged involvement in the murder. I hear he is ecstatic about the reopening of the case as that will finally exonerate him. I imagine that Obasanjo is equally delighted by this chance to remove the blemish of his inability to find his friend’s killers. I just wish he would say so loudly and shame those who, like Ayo Adebanjo, believe that he knows Ige’s killers, or Wole Soyinka who, while not naming names, believes that those whose duty it is to find the assassins but who failed to do so were (and are still) dancing on Ige’s grave.
The simple truth that may have motivated Buhari to direct or permit the reopening of the cold cases of Ige and Dikibo is this: a nation that allows crimes to go unpunished soon finds itself in a state of anarchy and loses all legitimacy. The more serious the crime, the greater the erosion of the moral authority to govern and ensure peace, stability and the welfare of the citizens. As with the crime, so also with the victim or victims, whether it be a highly placed citizen such as a minister or an elderly woman, a baby or schoolchildren, or a whole community. It is why a government would go to the ends of the world to find anyone who kills a law enforcement officer. For if a police officer, a minister, an old woman, a baby in a crib, schoolchildren or a community can be murdered or harmed at will, then nobody in the society where this happens is safe. More than rote assurances of individual and collective security by the police and the government, this is the only way of deterring crime and guaranteeing law and order from the perspective of criminal administration of justice.
The effect on a society of a government’s indifference to solving high crimes, maintaining order and ensuring justice couldn’t be more palpable than in Ige’s case. While the government made a spectacle of itself by doing everything possible, it seemed, to sabotage investigation, Ige’s wife, a justice of the Court of Appeal, died of shock and heartbreak. In effect, then, two murders were carried out on 23 December 2001, only that the second victim bled to death very slowly. But now that Buhari-Idris have chosen to exhume Ige and Dikibo, quite literally, they must ensure that justice is done in the end. It must not be for the ghoulish humour of merely showing their restless bones to the brutalised families and the traumatised public.