The Event of December 23, 2001

On this day, gunmen shot and killed Nigeria’s Justice Minister, Chief Bola Ige, a close aide and friend to President Olusegun Obasanjo. Chief Ige, aged 71, an outspoken Yoruba politician, was killed at his Bodija residence in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, in the southwestern part of Nigeria.

According to a report by Agence France Presse, the killing caused nervousness in ruling circles, with politician worried about more victims, and on this day, President Obasanjo called an emergency meeting of his senior staff members. Bola Akinterinwa, a public commentator, said that, “If Bola Ige, the nation’s chief law officer, could be killed that way, then there is a serious problem in this country, which the government urgently needs to tackle”

After the emergency cabinet meeting, the Information minister, Professor Jerry Gana, said “The president has given directives to the chief of army staff and defence chiefs to have a military presence in strategic places” to prevent reprisals. Political analysts said it was possible that Chief Bola Ige was assassinated because of a crisis in Osun state, where for two years he was enmeshed in political turmoil within his party, Alliance for Democracy.

Mr. Akinterinwa said further in his statement that he did not rule out a political vendetta and therefore called for a conference to discuss the various problems of Nigeria. “If people are aggrieved and you use state power to keep them quiet, they will revolt and manifest violence. The killing of Ige shows that Nigerian politics is not only dirty but barbaric.”

Chief Ige was the most senior politician to be killed at the time since the return of democracy to Nigeria in May 1999. He had also been a critic of aspects of the introduction of Shariah, or strict Islamic law in the northern parts of Nigeria mainly dominated by Moslems. A former Foreign Affairs minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and a close associate of Chief Bola Ige said, “If Bola Ige can be killed like that, who then is safe? The police investigation must be seen to be open and all members of the political class must work toward reducing the current tension.”

Chief Bola Ige was generally seen as the political sponsor of Governor Bisi Akande of Osun State, who had quarreled with his deputy, Iyiola Omisore. When Chief Ige was the governor of the old Oyo state, from which Osun was carved out in a redrawing of Nigeria’s political map, Chief Bisi Akande was his deputy, and supporters of Chief Iyiola Omisore had accused Chief Bola Ige of fuelling the political crisis in Osun state.

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