It was Yuletide season in 2001, plans were being made for Christmas as it has always been and that would not have been exceptional for the then number one lawyer of Nigeria. But little did he know that the cold hand of man-made death was lurking around to deprive him of the year’s Christmas celebration and every subsequent one. Nigeria This Week In History takes a look at the circumstances that led to the murder of Chief Bola Ige and the mystery that surrounds the unresolved case.
On 23 December, 2001, the 71-year-old then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation, Chief James Ajibola Ige, was with his son and some other members of his family in his house in Ibadun, Oyo state, when some assailants invaded the house, walked the family members of the legal luminary to a room where they were locked in and shot dead the septuagenarian.
The whole nation was thrown into shock as the news broke. Many questions were asked; some rhetorical, some demanded answer. Unfortunately, some of the questions that demanded answers are still begging for answers today.
The first question that came to the lip of everyone was where were his security details in the face of the attack. The answer to that came quickly: they had taken permission to go and eat.
However, that seemed to be the only question that got answer. Every other questions like, why was he killed? Who are those that carried out the killing? Who was the mastermind of the killing? And many questions that could give a lead to solving this national embarrassing murder case are still in limbo.
Where there are no answers, speculations thrive. And so, there were a couple of conspiracy theory that trailed the assassination of the top Yoruba leader, whom as at then was the deputy leader of Afenifere.
The first was his tendering of resignation letter as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation to the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The son of the late chief Bola Ige, Muyiwa Ige, who was privy to the letter said his father had stated in the letter his need to resign and go attend to his people as their leader and also to attend to his party, Alliance for Democracy, which he was also leading.
This theory has it that the power that be must have been irked by this decision, knowing well that, Bola Ige’s party, Alliance for Democracy, was controlling the south-western states. If the popular Chief Bola Ige who had served in two ministerial portfolio in Obasanjo’s administration was allowed to go and put his house in order and declare his presidential ambition for 2003 election, which he had made known in the build up of 1999 election before chief Olu Falae eventually clinched the candidacy for AD, it would be a tough call for the second bid of president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The second conspiracy theory was generated out of the squabble within his party, Alliance for Democracy, in Osun state, that the late chief was entangled in.
There had been a long-standing feud between the then governor of Osun state, Bisi Akande and his deputy, Iyiola Omisore. Omisore who was made to step down for Akande during the build-up of 1999 gubernatorial election was about to be impeached by the state house of assembly.
Omisore and indeed Ife people, where Omisore is from, were not pleased with Bola Ige (who was one of the prominent leaders of their party, AD), because they perceived he pitched his tent with Bisi Agande.
This, the theory said, had led to Chief Bola Ige’s assault in the palace of Oni of Ife on 15 December, 2001, during the coronation of the then first lady of Nigeria, late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, when hoodlums removed his cap, glasses and neck lace.
Iyiola Omisore alongside others were later arrested and arraigned before an Oyo State High Court as part of the suspected killers of the former Minister of Justice. But they were later released for lack of evidence.
Other drama that followed the gruesome murder of Chief Ige was the arrest of two suspects by police in connection with the killing. One of whom had earlier said to have made confession that he was spilling the beans because of the unfavourable way the money they had gone to collect in Abuja before the killing was shared.
Also, in 2007, Obasanjo released a statement that claimed that chief Ige’s killing was related to a drug baron case that the former Attorney General was prosecuting. The statement was however debunked by the said drug Baron’s family.
The sad event that followed the killing of Chief Ige was the death of his wife, Justice Atinuke Ige, on April 9, 2002 after she could no longer bear the grief of her husband’s death and the shady manner in which the case was being handled.
As we enjoy the Yuletide week, Nigeria This Week In History remembers the killing of a minister of justice that has refused to get justice.
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