Friday Discourse (109): Ige and Nemesis
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
The burial of Ige is taking place this afternoon, Friday, 11th January 2002, at his hometown, Esa Oke. A eulogy is what would traditionally best suit the situation. However, admirers should undertake such tribute. As for us, who were not blessed to be one of them during his lifetime or thereafter, we should be assigned a different task commensurate with the nature of our relationship with him when he was alive. And for a critic, who the late minister considered 'provocative', it will be a venture in downright fraudulence if I will now attempt to compose a glorifying piece in his name.
Thus, having been saved by my record from the burdensome task of hypocritical veneration of the dead, which the Afenifere leadership is now troubling with, I now feel free, as many writers from this part of the country started doing last week, to bend down for picking the bits and pieces of bitter lessons he left behind for the living.
I appreciate how my learned colleague and Editor-on-leave, Malam Isyaku Dikko, submitted his thesis of "deliberate choice" on the current debate about the appropriate place of Ige in the history of Nigeria. He wrote last week, as he rarely does, in the Weekly Trust arguing that a person like Ige, who made a 'deliberate choice' to become a tribal hero, would only feel insulted if he learns, while in his grave, that he was accorded the position of a nationalist. Ujudud Shariff has made the same point in the Daily Trust last Tuesday. It seems we have reached a consensus here that Ige should only be permitted the honor worthy of a leader who fought tirelessly to establish the doctrine of ethnic supremacy in the psyche of his people. The tragedy in his case, which is the only lesson picked for our discourse today, was that, for whatever reason, the same people were responsible for his death.
The reader should please forgive me on the disproportionate manner I shared the literary landscape of this article: the lesson was allocated a small plot at the tail end of the discourse, while the bulk of it was doled out to the background of the amalgam of ethnicity and violence that consumed his life.
I would like to tow the line of Dikko and Shariff. I will start by attempting to categorize the divergent roles which elite choose to play in their society. At the primary level of our classification are those who would emphasize their personal interests over the communal. It disheartens to notice that they constitute the majority in Nigeria today. In contrast, there are others, few though, who will put the communal interest before their personal ones. They are daily preoccupied with pursuing goals that are of collective benefit to their society.
The latter category is further divided into three secondary groups depending on which way they decided to interpret 'collective interest' and pursue its goals. The first subgroup will, in a multiethnic traditional society like ours, believe in the rules of exclusive competition that result only in a win - lose situation. To them collective benefit only means benefit to their ethnic group. This is the group of most ethnic champions.
The second subgroup would forsake all their primary group interest and identity to submerge it into that of the entire nation. This is the group of ultra-nationalists, not the best, in my opinion, in a country like Nigeria.
The third subgroup appreciates the differences between cultures. But instead of regarding them as masters over the fate of their adherents as the first subgroup would do, or dissolving them completely into the national identity as the second group would wish, this subgroup will choose to view such differences as assets that could be helpful in building a nation of multiple potentials and which is flexible but strong enough to face any challenge the national question may pose.
We must confess that members of all the above groups can be found in all parts of Nigeria, in varying proportions though. What is interesting to our discussion today is that if we were to weigh the resultant outcome from each region, few Nigerians will dispute the fact that elite of the Yoruba Southwest have chosen to belong to the first subgroup that is essentially ethnocentric, in spite of their domination over the nation's economy, academics, civil service and white-collar jobs.
It will not be surprising therefore that many writers have found that Ige chose to belong to the ethnocentric category. It is the choice of the majority of his people which we must respect it in spite of its consequences.
It was a fatal choice obviously, from which other regions would suffer more than the Southwest itself. Had Awolowo not adopted tribalism as a doctrine in politics and pursued his what he termed 'abundance' only for his people; had he followed the rule of democracy and respected the majority decision by being a good sportsman, thereby treating the governments of both the First and Second republics with the respect that their legitimacy demands; had he helped to build a better Nigeria by giving a supporting hand to them; he would have saved the country the animosity of tribal politics, which deposits layers of hate in the mind in place of love, of the civil war that claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens, and of the military coups that many times unwound the clock of our political development back to the zero hour.
It was sad to note how an English trained lawyer, full of energy like Awolowo, returned to his country to divide its people more than he could unite them. From his Southwest enclave he declared every election he lost as fraudulent, the winner of which must be opposed, subverted and toppled. That was how the First Republic suffered from his machinations, under the pretext of 'opposition politics' in that parliamentary constitution.
Even when the presidential system was adopted in 1979 specifically to avoid the unrests witnessed during the first, and where by doctrine cooperation is preferred to opposition, not only did the father of Yoruba politics turn down President Shagari's invitation to form a government of national unity composing elements from all parties, he also traveled twenty years backwards to recruit his habitual subversive devices. After the fall of Shagari's government, the military that took over revealed astonishing documents on how Awolowo worked hard with his followers under the leadership of Senator Abraham Adesanya to terminate the life of that republic. Such people do not deserve to be called nationalists.
The desire to rule Nigeria and the egocentric misconception that he alone could give Nigeria the best leadership has denied the Southwest a partnership position in Nigerian political enterprise. A person of Awolowo's training should have realized that the ultimate result of ethnic politics is isolation. It has made the southwest an irrelevant factor in the political equation that determines the leadership of the nation.
Other regions have managed to open up and build bridges that carried them across to other regions, after the regional structure of our independence politics was vacated. The North has maintained a strong partnership with the Southern minorities during the Second Republic and with the Igbo recently. President Shagari's deputy was an Igbo. The ruling party in the Second Republic was even able to bring into its fold people like Ojukwu, who led the Igbo Biafran secession in 1967. The effort of late Shehu Yar'adua registered spectacular progress in our political integration that is yet to be witnessed in the annals of Nigerian political history, though that was facilitated by the fact that maradona, in his surplus wisdom, suppressed the emergence of a third party that would have been Yoruba, inadvertently.
The Igbo on their part, under the leadership of Nnamdi Azikwe did gain supporters under his National Peoples Party among some northern minorities and, later in the span of the republic, even from the Sahelian north when it formed the progressive alliance with governors like Rimi, and Gwoni.
In this republic also we have seen the merger cohabitation of political groups from the two regions under the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Such realignment of forces signifies the increasing political maturity of the North and the East, a healthy development for a nation like Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the Southwest has chosen to remain trapped in its static philosophy of ethnic supremacy. It has failed to conquer any extra political territory, neither in the North nor in the East, for the past half century. That is why it introduced the undemocratic concept of power shift.
One would ask: if the Southwest cannot reach other regions, what prevented others from reaching it? The fact is that attempts were made by politicians from other regions to reach it. We have seen the effort of Azikwe that was a success during the pre-independence era before he was overrun by the ethnic appeals of Chief Awolowo. He was not to feature anywhere again in Southwestern politics, since after the collapse the First Republic.
The Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the ruling party during the First Republic, did also attempt to find partners among the Yoruba Southwest. It succeeded in forming an alliance with the UNDP of Chief Samuel Akintola. Unfortunately, that significant development was brief because Akintola was immediately perceived by the doyens of ethnic politics in the Southwest as a threat to the political interest of the region and to the future ambitions of Awolowo in particular. The crisis that trailed Akintola's election as Premier of the Western region during the First Republic was a major factor that contributed to its collapse.
The instrument used by Southwest politicians since the early days of the Action Group has been violence. Political differences, in their understanding, must necessarily be settled, not through dialogue and persuasion, but through the violence that threatens the life of the opponent, burns his properties, kills his followers and runs down his government, even if it means supporting the military to oust democratically elected governments.
Thus terror came to earn the notoriety of a thumbprint in southwestern politics. It is the gloss coat applied to the strata of ethnic politics that prevents any political intercourse with outsiders of that region. Once applied, it was easy for the coat to remain intact because the Yoruba nation is renown for its long- standing culture of bloodshed. It was, as historians recorded, at the verge of self-annihilation if it were not for the timely intervention of the colonialists. After independence it was to return to the its culture of hostility to earn the despicable and infamous connotation of "wild, wild West."
In addition to routine increase in armed robbery, political carnage and assassination have returned with the approval of its leadership in the present republic. It has approved the massacre of thousands of innocent citizens from other regions, mainly Igbos and northerners by the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), in its major towns such as Ibadan and Lagos. Not a single Yoruba leader showed sufficient remorse. We cannot remember any serious word of condemnation of such carnage and arson from people that parade themselves as leaders of the 'Yoruba nation', people like Soyinka, Akinyemi, Akinrinade, Ige and Falae. Some were afraid that the barbaric group would turn against them; others kept silent, signifying their approval of the massacres; and some, worse still, came out to publicly side with the criminals.
The fact that many policemen including officers have lost their lives in addition to those of other thousands was not enough to move their governments. In fact, the butchery on all occasions could validly be contended to have earned the blessings of the Lagos state government, if one attempts to rhyme the killings with Governor Tinubu's ejection notices issued to Hausa traders from various areas of their commercial activity. Non-Yorubas were chased out by mobs even from federal establishments like the Nigerian Ports Authority.
On all occasions the Yoruba-led federal government preferred reluctance to swiftness, in contrast to its handling of the Odi and Zaki Biam crises in the Southeast and North respectively. In both cases, troops were sent to raze down entire communities by distant artillery fire and wanton rampage.
In whatever crime it commits, Obasanjo and his security personnel treat the Southwest softly. He is hesitant to punish them because he is afraid of their vengeance; he is also eyeing their votes in 2003; and, finally, he is seeking their forgiveness from the crime he committed against them in 1979 when he handed over power to a Hausa- Fulani winner. I wonder if he had the chance to default on the promise of his predecessor.
However, the prize of using "magnanimity where sword is the answer", to borrow the poetic expression of al-Motanabbi, cannot be avoided. This is what killed Ige, from a philosophical perspective. Nothing else. Ige witnessed the carnage that his people meted on other Nigerians in their attempt to exclusively control Lagos and other parts of Yorubaland. Someone would contend: though Ige was a member of the federal cabinet, what could he do when the President himself was reluctant to take the appropriate measures as he did in other regions? Did not the President tell us on national television that he has ordered the arrest of anyone who claimed to be a member of OPC? Just wait for Ige's turn.
One of the OPC leaders, Dr. Fasehun, was arrested, but he was released shortly after, with all charges against him dropped. Then Ganiyu Adams, the other leader of the group, was also arrested and charged with murder, arson and related crimes in three different courts. He was quickly released on bail. We were justifiably surprised at this imprudent display of prejudice by the same judiciary. Ishaya Bamaiyi, a northerner, was denied bail on a charge of attempted murder. Hamza Al-Mustapha and Mohammed Abacha were also denied bail for the death of Kudirat Abiola, the evidence of which is not conclusive enough to warrant the ending of their trial for years now. But in the same country, a leader of a group that carried out ethnic cleansing murders was granted bail under pretentious conditions and terms that the entire Yoruba elite schemed to meet.
At that time, Chief Bola Ige was the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. The biggest surprise came shortly after: Ganiyu Adams was released and acquitted of all charges barely two months later. He has since been appearing in public, enjoying a heroic reception wherever he goes in the Southwest. In a nutshell, the Ministry of Justice, headed by late Ige, has entered a nolle proseque through the backdoor, implicitly telling Nigerians that the life of Ganiyu Adams or his prison term is better than the lives of thousands of Northerners, Igbos and police personnel that were shot or burnt alive in the Southwest since the inception of the Obasanjo administration.
This was the supremacy that Ige was fighting for. This was the manifestation of the violence and partiality he practiced and preached since the First Republic: Punish others maximally of the slightest offence, but forgive your own even when they charged with the most heinous crimes.
Our solace is in God, Who is not unmindful of our actions, good or bad. He pays us with what we do. He has decreed, as one of His universal laws, that we can only harvest what we sow. Ige has actively preached and practiced violence as the chief instrument of preserving Yoruba votes for this mentor Awolowo and for himself. Innocent lives have been lost, not least was that of the most illustrious son of Yorubaland, the late premier of the Southwest, Chief Samuel Akintola.
Consumed by his confidence that his record of such service to the Yoruba nation cannot be denied even by the unborn, the former Justice Minister never cared to walk with an eye over his shoulder, once he was in the Southwest. He was so much enslaved to this belief that he became unconscious of the dangers approaching him in the final days of his life.
Ige's job as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice was by its nature hazardous. His desk routinely witnessed the highest traffic of cases that could be termed dangerous especially in this era of campaigns against drug trafficking, corruption and terrorism, in addition to the customary cases of armed robbery, legislations and so on.
Ige was oblivious of the fact that the Southwest must share the same fate as the North and the East when their political ranks fell apart with the passage of their patriarchs. The dream that he could wear the cap of late Chief Awolowo in attempt to keep Yorubaland united was wishful, no matter how many columns he wrote in the Sunday Tribune or the thousands of Fasehun or Ganiyu Adams he released from detention. Nor would his hate for other groups, especially the Fulanis whom he tagged 'Tutsis' and the detention of Mustapha, Bamaiyi and Mohammed Abacha earn him half the admiration that Awolowo had among his tribesmen.
Ige did not even care about his involvement in the political mess that pervaded the Afenifere and his home state, Osun. The physical assault on his person in public, as a consequence of his involvement in his state's leadership crisis, few days before his death, was not enough to make him vigilant. Nor even could the murder of two leading politicians, his partners in the leadership conflict in the state, serve as a notice that no head was too big to roll once it comes to settling political scores in the Southwest, in contrast to the hypocritical assertion of the Afenifere leadership that no Yoruba son would contemplate killing him.
So as he returned to his homeland to celebrate the last Christmas with his family, the monster that he helped to create and sustain since the early sixties came knocking on his door. It walked right into his bedroom, quietly shot him in the heart and disappeared into the darkness of the late evening.
Ige's death is a lesson to all those who preach, employ, support or condone violence as their political tool, regardless of the ethnic group or region they may belong to. The loss of any life through violence is undoubtedly sad. However, for him in particular, a person who expounded, supported and protected violence in the past and someone once reported to have expressed his desire for a section of the Nigerian population to be wiped out in a nationwide genocide as it happened in Rwanda, it was simply nemesis that took its toll.
He has, as did most politicians of the Southwest, chosen bloodshed over peaceful coexistence; he deliberately chose to strengthen ethnic interests at the expense of nation building. A person that made that choice, and who is known to answer the Cicero of his village, should have also known that whenever we chose evil over righteousness, we can only manipulate our earthly laws, but the universal one will catch up with us one day, somewhere, somehow. For him it was at Ibadan, in his bedroom, among his people, by his people, at the eve of Christmas.
This is a lesson to people: that they will be warned against employing violence or condoning it, that they should become aware of its severe consequences, and that the intelligent among us would so remember, anytime the name of Ige is recalled as the militant in the action group or the Minister that acquitted OPC leaders of all charges in their murderous campaign against other ethnic groups.