The death of Chief Bola Ige, like the death of any Nigerian leader, especially as it came through a gruesome assassination, was received by many with rude shock. His last service to his fatherland has proved to chauvinists and enthusiasts that he was a distinguished personality, an enigma in the Nigerian contemporary politics.
I have to admit that I never had any close contact with him, but I almost had the opportunity of working with him when I received a message from Mallam Sani Zoro, the detribalized former National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. The message to meet Mr. Zoro was conveyed to me by the President of the Students union, University of Abuja, Comrade Mohammed Kari.
Mr. Zoro asked me a simple question when I met him. He asked what I could say about Chief Bola Ige. It was a few months after the latter’s appointment as the Minister of Power and Steel. As one born and brought up in the North, with the knowledge of the different derogatory remarks made by the Chief against the North, it did not take me time to respond that Chief Ige was a tribalist, sectionalist and a leader of anti-north sentiments. As a respected columnist, his campaigns went further in his weekly column in the Sunday Tribune, which was seen largely as the page for merciless bashing of northern leaders.
Mr. Zoro could not take further vituperations on the man who was seen as the reincarnation of Chief Awolowo on an enviable political standing, as he abruptly asked me what the practice of most leaders were when they claim to have a constituency. He also asked about yardsticks by which tribal and sectional groupings judge their leaders and what earned such leaders more followers? I was a little dumbfounded. To cut the story short, I was asked if I could be recommended to work with the late Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I asked for some time, which was used judiciously to read and study the late legal luminary through some of his articles and interviews. In fact, I had to meet some officers and journalists covering his then ministry (Power and Steel), like Mallam Shuaib of News Agency of Nigeria. It was afterwards I discovered a different Ige from the views and little study I conducted which rubbished some of my earlier wrong perceptions.
From the little I gathered, I can say that Ige had accomplished his dream as a legend in his political life. He was an erudite and distinguished lawyer; courageous and active politician; fearless and principled columnist; a teacher’s teacher and a good disciplinarian to the core, who called a spade a spade.
There were those rumours that he wouldn’t last with President Obasanjo because they would disagree on many issues and that he might lash out at the President in public and that he would fight against the interest of the North and make it worse off. But what did we see at the end of the day? Knowing his weakness that he couldn’t see evil and keep mute, he must state it point blank in his column, he suspended contributions to his Tribune column. That and his other silence on sensitive state matters were no sign of weakness, but a political strategy, which made him more receptive to all and sundry.
He was a friend to many northerners and open to criticisms. Many were surprised at the kind of grand reception accorded him by the government and people of Zamfara State during an official visit when the so-called imbroglio on Sharia was still raging.
As a nationalist, a lover of the youth, he fought to make sure that his party, the Alliance for Democracy, was not seen further as the party of the Yoruba race, but an all-embracing national party that would accommodate others from different parts of the country. This singular act earned him many enemies in his region. It was most unfortunate that some young thugs in the palace of the Monarch of Odua, in the presence of Yoruba politicians and leaders, embarrassed and humiliated the statesman, their very own, in their midst. Such shameless acts would neither be condoned nor allowed to happen in the North, especially when the victim was a septuagenarian.
While he was fighting to see a more united cohesive Nigeria, tribal warlords would not give him a breathing space. But he remained calm, and resolute and yet he was killed in their midst by the same bigots who would have wished he was murdered in places like Zamfara, Kano or even Abuja so that they would have waged another campaign of calumny. Were El-Mustapha and Bamaiyi released, a new conspiracy theory would have been prominent in their analysis. Even with the sequences of gory events of attack on this humble orator, which were widely believed and confirmed as politically motivated, cacophonous singsongs would have rent the air. If not that Nigerians are more matured and understand their antics, the country would have been hot with the so-called list of assassin targets in their circulation.
Even though some may still have their reservation about the person of the chief law officer of the federation, it is a taboo in the North to pass uncomplimentary remarks on the dead. The northerners are among the teeming populace who condemned the nature of his demise and pay condolence visits to the family. The most senior political officer from the North, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is said to have wept, while the most respected northern icon and social critic, Alhaji Wada Nas, has extolled the quality of the man who has contributed the best he could to promote the unity of this great nation.
We should strive to appreciate those values and action that unite and promote our oneness instead of engaging in diversionary and trivialized sentiments that create a sense of vendetta and acrimony in the polity.
Cicero of Esa-Oke is gone and is at present highly missed but he left behind a legacy, which is adored by many. I pray he would be immortalized by naming the University of Ibadan or the Airport or both after him.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in National Interest January4, New Nigerian Jan 5, Thisday Jan 6, Nigerian Tribune January 9, 2002, Daily Trust January 7, 2002