Political killings and the weakness of Nigeria’s criminal justice system were the focus of discussions at the annual Bola Ige symposium held in Lagos last Tuesday, as speakers condemned the inability of the state to find the late minister’s killers. Funke Olaode reports
Politics and political competition are the dominant features of democracy. On the field of politics, various political interests engage in a lot of things to show how powerful they are, apparently, as a warning to real or potential opponents. Of course, in Nigeria, like many other underdeveloped climes, such muscle flexing often degenerates to dangerous acrimonies, leading to crimes, like political killings. In such extreme situations, the gladiators try all within their powers to ensure that the perpetrators are never found. It takes a strong, impartial criminal justice system to stay ahead of such nefarious plots.
But Nigeria has been very unlucky not to have such justice system. This was the general conclusion and regret of speakers at this year’s Bola Ige symposium held at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja. It is an annual event organised to commemorate the death of Ige, who was murdered on December 23, 2001 at his home in Ibadan, in what was widely suspected to be a political killing.
Campaign for Justice
In the last 15 years, Ige’s family, his followers, and human rights activists have held the annual lecture to immortalise the man who was called the Cicero of Esa Oke and continue to put pressure on the authorities to find his killers. This year’s symposium was attended by hundreds of politicians, lawyers, and rights campaigners from different parts of the country. They were led by Ige’s children, Mrs. Funso Adegbola and Architect Muyiwa Ige.
Among the dignitaries at the event were renowned lawyer and activist, Festus Keyamo, Mr. Gbenro Adegbola, Mrs Oyinda-Muyiwa-Ige, Ms. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, Senator Shehu Sanni, and Mrs. Adeola Rotinwa, who represented the Lagos State First Lady, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode.
The occasion was also used to re-present the book, Kaduna Boy, a childhood autobiography of the late Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
This year’s lecture, titled, “Political Killings and Our Criminal Justice System: The Impediments,” was delivered by Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
In his lecture, Fagbemi examined political killings in the country vis-à-vis the workings of the justice system, taking a keen interest in the shortcomings of the system that has made resolution of political killings a mirage. He advocated urgent steps by stakeholders to move the criminal justice system forward.
Fagbemi described Ige as a political colossus whose reputation and personality had remained engraved in the political psyche of Nigerians since he entered the political scene a few years before independence, and at a stage became a rallying point for progressives. He said that such a man could be killed without any trace of his murderers was a shame to the country.
He observed that prior to Ige’s assassination Nigeria had witnessed a series of politically related killings, dating back to the 1960s. Despite the frequency of the killings, the murderers are hardly found, he said. “Though no matter the justification canvassed for the action and more particularly, the justification of the school of thoughts for and against the killings, one thing stand constant, the killing was political.”
Fagbemi stressed that political killings were also carried out by the solders. But he said while it was relatively easy to bring the military perpetrators to book, it was not easy to find and nail the committers of such killings among politicians.
Between Judiciary and Criminal Justice System
Fagbemi said there had always been a misconception that the criminal justice system was synonymous with the judiciary, or that the court is the determining factor on issues of administration of criminal justice. Thus the public is quick to conclude that the judiciary mostly undermines the system by not convicting or promptly convicting accused persons, he observed.
But Fagbemi clarified that while the judiciary constituted a major aspect of the criminal justice system, it was like the last leg runner in a relay race, whose performance depends largely on the performances of its forerunners. He said the judiciary was the last step in the effort to remedy an already bastardised situation, adding that judges and courts are not magicians because a situation where there are no facts, evidence and a well-presented case for the court to work with, the only inevitable result was an unprovable accusation.
According him, “Therefore, that our courts have not been able to convict most of the few persons that have been accused and arraigned in some of the listed political killing cases is a failure, not of the court, but of the whole criminal justice system.”
While it is a common practice in the developed world for citizens to provide useful information, the reverse is the case in Nigeria, as Nigerians rarely demonstrate the ability and readiness to assist the security agencies in the investigation and detection of crime, Fagbemi lamented. This reason, he said, is not far-fetched, as their security is not guaranteed.
While establishment’s interference, unavailability of modern equipment to combat crime, inadequate funding and lack of requisite training for the police have been an impediment in resolving high profile murder cases, moving forward, Fagbemi recommended that useful information should be provided at all times. He advocated provision of up-to-date forensic and bio data laboratory, separation of office of attorney general from office of minister for justice, and protection of crime scenes. In all, Fagbemi stated that the system could only work as expected if there was sincerity of purpose.
Pressure to Reopen Ige Murder Case
Some of the guest speakers at the occasion urged the President Muhammadu Buhari government to institute fresh probe into the murder of Ige. Among those who held this position were chairman of the senate committee on foreign and domestic debts, Senator Shehu Sanni, human rights activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo, and wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode.
Sanni urged the Buhari government to urgently open up fresh probe into the murder of Ige so that justice could be done in the matter.
In his intervention, Keyamo, in what looked like a compelling proof of the need to reopen the matter, explained that it was not too late for the government “to institute fresh probe in the murder of Ige. If we do not do it, the spirit of Ige will continue to hunt Nigeria until justice is done.”
Sanni lamented that it had almost become the pattern that whenever a high profile murder was committed, the police would be serious for a while, only for them to cool down after the attention of the media in the case had waned.
He assured that when the Senate was back from recess, he would sponsor a motion on the floor of the upper chamber to pressurise the government of Buhari to open fresh probe into the murder of Ige.
Keyamo, who played a key role in the efforts to unravel what led to Ige’s murder, alleged state complicity in the murder of the late attorney-general and called for a fresh probe. He explained that the state “is culpable in Ige’s murder. Ige as a serving attorney general and minister had eight days earlier, before he was assassinated, been assaulted publicly by a top politician at Ooni’s palace. As a result of that, a red flag should have gone up in the security sector to protect him. The government of the day should have known and protected him. How can you have a minister of justice assaulted outside and nothing was done about it?”
Keyamo regretted that the police accused him of tutoring the prime suspect, Fryo, on what to say when the evidence were there to show that he was saying the right thing, adding that before Ige was murdered, a top politician in Osun and others had celebrated his humiliation at the Ooni’s palace in a hotel in Osun. He added that instead of the police to act on Fryo’s evidence to nail the culprit in the murder, the police were struggling to disprove the confessional statement of Fryo because the statement he made was seen as unpalatable to the palace.
Ambode, who was represented by Rotinwa, decried the murder of the former attorney-general and also called on the Buhari government “to ensure that the masterminds are brought to book.” She said the failure to arrest the suspects had worsened the matter, saying, however, “We are still hoping that justice will be done. The criminal justice system has a huge task and that is that killers must be brought to book.”
In her vote of thanks, the late Ige’s daughter, Mrs. Funso Adegbola, said she was still optimistic that justice will prevail one day. “I haven’t given up. For me, one can’t have closure, and up to 50 years’ time it will remain open until there is a final conclusion to it,” she said. “The matter is not going to go away. The killers are human beings and no matter how long it takes, I am hopeful that justice will prevail.”