A calculated insult and the guilt preceded his death, stealing from the actual murder all its potential impact and drama. There never was a crime more dramatically rehearsed, and the tale only provides it could not have been otherwise. Yet there are no clues to be uncovered, no enigmas to be revealed; for this was a murder almost predicted like its predecessors. As a principled and astute politician, even though he agreed to serve in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet, Chief Bola Ige did not preach to Nigerians. But he provoked questions and left us in no doubt as to where he stood . He shared none of the current tastes for blurred conflicts, ambiguous characters and equivocal opinions. Nor was he disdainful of strong dramatic situations building up for firm climaxes. From the critic’s point of view, the plot of Ige’s senseless murder, in its high velocity treachery, summarizes modern Nigeria in one word: “shame”.
In his epic novel, SHAME (1983), Salman Rushdie, the Indian born controversial English writer, paints the picture of a disconcerting political hallucination in Pakistan, which he calls “Peccavistan” - existing fictionally as a slight angle to reality. The major thrust of the novel is that the shame or shamelessness of its characters returns to haunt them. Yet the recurrent theme is that there are things that cannot be said, things that can’t be permitted to be true, in a tragic situation. To this end, fiction and politics ultimately became identical or rather analogous. That so banal and damaging an emotion could have been so manifestly created from within the Yoruba nation itself, is a ringing surprise to us keen observers of that macabre drama. But the truth or falsehood of the accusation or counter-accusation is not of the first importance.
The critical issue that must enlist our concern here is Nigeria’s sick criminal justice system and the poverty of integrity of its police force. Fifteen years after the well-planned assassination of the Chief Law Officer of the world’s largest black nation (Chief Bola Ige was a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation when he was killed), his killers are still walking the streets of our cities without challenge. In this sense, Nigeria is back in mediaeval times. The Orwellian qualities and nightmarish implications of the investigations make one sick since the whole exercise is as absurd as it is puerile. Only in Nigeria that a patriotic, brilliant and hardworking lawyer who turned in a prime suspect to the police for prosecution, be arrested and arranged by the same police before a court of law just to engage our false sense of judgement. Did the police not declare Fryo wanted in connection with Ige’s death? Only in Nigeria would a prime suspect in such a heinous crime be declared winner, released from detention and sworn in as Senator of the Federal Republic in an electoral contest he did not even campaign.
The senseless and cowardly assassination of Chief Ige therefore serves to reassert the vulnerability of men and women and to poignantly underline their impotence. For, it is a well known fact that the vulture that eats the flesh if its neighbour knows what awaits it at death, as even the eyes that weep still see. To portray a credible part of moral degeneration is deadly enough in itself; yet, to do so in a dimension and style requiring undiminished pity is to court disaster. The attempt would be brash even in fiction or epic, with all of their additional resources for portraying subtle changes and for building sympathy. Little do we know that because we lack the intellectual precision and moral discipline to dissect with admirable lucidity and illuminating temper, the insularity and perplexity of our turbulent society, we have resorted to primordial solutions to our national problems. Our recent experience in the hands of the military is replete with the shameful fact that almost two-thirds of our men and women of conscience and nobility of outlook or high integrity were either murdered or banished into exile in foreign lands and the rest condemned like guinea-pigs to a life of forced idleness in our stinking unhygienic prisons and police cells.
If we detest our memory of the unparalleled crudity of that dark era, what do we say of the murderous clouds hanging ominously over the entire nation in a so-called democratic dispensation? The truth is that Nigeria is still detained in the past. For the police not to have unraveled the enigma embedded in the mockery killing of the Attorney General and Justice Minister of the federation, fifteen years after, shows that nothing has changed. From Dele Giwa, Chiefs Mashal Harry, A. K. Dikibo, Chief Funso Williams, Abayomi Ogundeji, the Igwe couple, etcetera, the story remains the same: fate makes everything invisible and works its inexorable course. Remember the story of the emperor who wore no clothes? Only the innocent saw that he was naked. Why waste our time asking who killed Chief Bola Ige while the obvious question should be: why was Chief Bola Ige killed? It is patiently disastrous that our integrity as a nation has been consumed by a democracy gone mad. And if we are to grasp reality in the face of madness, it is the reality of Ige’s death that we must grasp. But this is one reality that sears us whenever we attempt to comprehend it, and so we try, by the use of our superficial investigations, to prove that the reality does not exist, despite our emphatically underlined knowledge to the contrary.
We watch humanity grotesquely tormented, cruelly and with mockery impaled. Nearly all the characters suffer some form of crude indignity in the course of the tragedy. Yet, indeed, the overriding critical problem in this matter is the conspiracy of silence among the people of Nigeria. In spite of our pretensions, Ige’s death confronts us like a raw, fresh wound where our every instinct calls for a thorough examination. This problem, moreover, is as much one of political will and courage as of dramatic effect. Whether we believe it or not, our lives and freedom are hostages of our limited knowledge of the day after, the waywardness of chance and the decay of our national institutions. It is only in fighting for others that we can circumvent these limitations. President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have promised to revisit these cases of high profile killings. Can he bell the cat? Why was Chief Bola Ige killed?