My first encounter with the Bola Ige was as a rookie journalist, then with The News/Tempo Magazine in Lagos. It was in early 1994, and Nigeria was then in the eye of the storm of dictatorship. Only a few people were willing to talk and say the truth without fear of reprisal from the Khaki Boys and Uncle Bola Ige was one of them.
We were doing what was called Guerilla journalism. The News magazine was under the boot of military proscription and Tempo Magazine – with several thousand copies seized before the truth hit the street – measured the pulse of the nation.
That was the scenario, when the team of three led by Seye Kehinde, now publisher of City People magazine, set out for Ibadan. Ademola Adegbamigbe, the present editor of The News Magazine, whose last name at that time was Saliu, was the third person. Our mission was to get exclusive interviews with two people: Uncle Bola Ige and Dr Olatunji Dare. We got both of them, had a beautiful package and the magazine sold out to the chagrin of the enemies of democracy.
The memory remains fresh in my mind, for shortly after that time, Uncle Bola adopted the “siddon look” posture and did not grant interviews anymore. It was still fresh in 1998, when as a foreign correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief for Thisday Newspaper, I had another intimate encounter with the late “Cicero of Esa-Oke”.
There is something interesting about the 1998 encounter. Here I was acting two roles. One, as a media representative for Thisday, I was angling to get an interview with Uncle Bola Ige and Chief Alex Ekwueme, both of whom were in Washington D.C. to attend the first Nigeria Investment Summit, organized by Thisday Newspaper.
At the same time, as one of the project managers with Ogho Nakpodia who came in from the United Kingdom, my cell-phone and the phone at the suite in Omni-Shoreham hotel in Washington, which was the Secretariat as well as the venue of the summit, were jammed with calls from other foreign journalist asking about how they can get to have a chat with not only the late Bola Ige but others in town for the summit.
Eventually, only the interview with Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s former vice-president pulled through. Okagbue Aduba, Dan Akponwa and myself did justice to the session. Uncle Bola Ige explained to me at that time that, as much as he would love to talk with Thisday and the other foreign journalists that I had lined up, the time was just not there. It was not really the “siddon look” posture but the fact that a new dawn was coming in Nigeria and he was in the thick of things. That was the last time I spoke with him.
It came as no suprise therefore that some colleagues here at the Washington Foreign Press Center have found my phone number again to ask for answers to questions like “Who is Bola Ige, Why was he killed, Who could have killed him and What does this portend for security and Democracy in Nigeria?”
The killing of Uncle Bola Ige was given enough publicity here in America media with both the Washington Post and Washington Times devoting half of their pages to it and the Cable News Network (CNN) beaming live visuals from Nigeria. Expectedly, these were not just reports of another killing in a world overwhelmed by violence but reports that expressed concerns for security in Nigeria, a nation in solidarity with America’s war on terror, as the country’s Attorney General is killed, like a chicken.
In several other circles the discussions continue to revolve around the peculiar circumstances surrounding the Ige killing. At the time the news of the killing of the attorney general who was billed to resume a United Nations job in New-York next January came, several Nigerians who had made arrangements to go to Nigeria to be with their family as many are wont to do around Christmas simply freaked out.
Speaking with me on Christmas eve in his Hyasttville Maryland home, Prof. Ekpo Eyo said Ige’s assassination is the latest testimony to the fact that the democracy being operated in Nigeria by President Obasanjo and company was not genuine. The Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) and respected professor at the University of Maryland, like others, wondered aloud: “Who is safe in Nigeria?”
Given the fact that we may have to wait for a long time to get an answer to that question, Nigerians here are dwelling on other implications of the killing of Bola Ige. People are concerned not only about the implication for security of lives but also for the survival of the nascent democracy which is all of a sudden being trailed by violence and bloodshed, even inside the building where laws are supposed to be made.
Many a Nigerian here now navigate the Internet on a regular basis, reading reports from Nigerian Newspapers with websites as well as other reports from web news services. Several of such reports have it that the killing of Ige may not have been unconnected with the unhealthy political rivalry going on between Osun state governor Bisi Akande and his deputy, Iyiola Omisore.
If this is true and it may well be, the question on the lips of many Nigerians here who genuinely mourn the loss of Bola Ige, the political icon and statesman, is: Could uncle Ige still be alive today if, as a national figure who has gained international prominence, he had played the role of an impartial arbiter and abstained from taking side in local politics?
This question, improper as it may initially sound, becomes more germane as more and more people began to dwell on the trend in Nigerian politics where “the Old politicians” want to continue to pull the strings and play king maker. Whether they are in power like Anthony Anenieh or permanently perched like a bird in the corridors of power like, Olusola Saraki, the trend – a dangerous one at that – is for such people to seek to use their position, money and political clout to determine who becomes what and who runs for a second term of office or steps down for who.
True, this is part of how the game of politics is played the world over. It is part of the scheming, alignment and re-alignment of political interests and display of political tentacles but a situation where gun duels take place because of reactions spurred by such political tendencies seem peculiar to Nigeria. There should be a time to let go for the ultimate good of truth and democracy.
Maybe Bola Ige had nothing to do with the Akande/Omisore fracas. Maybe the gun duel in Osun state house of assembly and the killing of a house member, Odunayo Olagbaju, in Ile-ife are not even remotely connected with the political positions of the late Attorney General.
Maybe the bad-blood that came from the nomination of Chief Olu Falae instead of Bola Ige at the Alliance for Democracy (AD) presidential nomination exercise in Ibadan also had nothing to do with the local ethnic polarity in Osun State which threatens Nigeria’s fledging democracy and security. So, who killed Bola Ige?
Reading of the new developments, somebody coming forward to confess, some people being arrested, announcement of a N500.000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers, the cynicism only grows. The Nigerian here is just skeptical. When the condolence visits are over, maybe, some hoodlums will be paraded, like it was done for the killing of Rewane. We all know that monetary reward, even when not as paltry as N500.000 but as huge as the one America placed on information leading to bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, do not often yield the expected result.
There is also the question as to what happened on the night Bola Ige was killed. Reports that we read here have it that the security people could not intervene because they went to have their food. Did these people and the police orderly for Mrs. Ige, who is also a federal judge, all go to a “Bukka” somewhere to buy food at the same time or were they eating in that Ibadan house somewhere. Perhaps in the police vehicle parked under the tree or in the kitchen? (Which, by the way is just another pointer to how the rich and powerful treat such people in Nigeria)?
Nigerians here in America are just peeved. The brutal killing of Uncle Bola Ige – a minister of Justice is seen as the latest of several worrisome retrogressive events in Nigeria’s political terrain. Now that Ige has been killed, we wonder what will be the fire next time between Akande and Omisore. What will be the new alignment in Alliance for Democracy (AD) as that party continues to display peculiar local political prowess as against seeking national prominence?
What will also be the fate of Safiya, the young woman that is waiting for Sharia hangmen because she is pregnant without a husband? Most importantly, what will President Olusegun Obasanjo do to re-assure Nigerians at home and abroad as well as the international community that life and investments are safe in Nigeria and that the Killing of the country’s Attorney General was an isolated case of politics gone awry?