James Ajibola Idowu Ige was born in Esa Oke, Obokun Local Government Area of Osun state, Nigeria on September 13th, 1930.
Bola Ige would have been 89 years old, if he were alive today. May his soul rest in peace.
Although a westerner from the Ilesha area of Yorubaland, Ige spent most of his early life in the then capital of the northern region, Kaduna, and his knowledge of, and insight into, the north never left him. His sensitive memoir, Kaduna Boy (1991), is a minor classic of English-language Nigerian literature. Ige left Kaduna at the age of 14 to return to the western region. He was educated at Ibadan grammar school (1943-1948), followed by University College, Ibadan, until 1955, when he went to University College London, graduating in law in 1959.
Ige was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1961. Back in legal practice in Ibadan, he was sucked into the western region's turbulent politics, joining the Action Group (AG), the opposition party of Chief Awolowo, who became his political mentor. With the political changes after the 1966 coups, when Awolowo entered the federal government, Ige became commissioner of agriculture in the west for three years.
Increasingly critical of military rule, in the early 1970s he devoted his time to the anti-racism campaign of the World Council of Churches. However, after the return to civilian politics later in the decade, he hitched up with the AG's successor, the United Party of Nigeria (UPN). With the advent of the second republic in 1979, although the party lost out federally, Ige was elected governor of Oyo state. He occupied the job for the next four years, and although ousted in the controversial federal elections of 1983, he was detained after the coup at the end of that year, accused of enriching party funds.
Ige was released in 1985 following the next coup by Ibrahim Babangida, and returned to legal practice and writing. People, Politics And Politicians Of Nigeria: 1940-1979 (1990), an erudite and often biographical book he had begun in jail, demonstrates what a loss it is that his full memoirs will never be written.
Although a founding member of the influential Yoruba pressure group, Afenifere, Ige kept a careful political profile in the worst years of the Abacha dictatorship, though remaining a trenchant critic of military rule. With the return to politics at the end of 1998, he took up his old trade with gusto, moving with considerable agility from one party to another. He is said to have been involved in writing the constitutions of all three main political parties that emerged at that time.
He ended up as a marginalised member of the main Yoruba political party, the Alliance For Democracy (AD), which allowed him to take positions in Obasanjo's government, first at power and then at justice, and despite his elder status, he seemed to relish controversy. He had earned criticism from both the delta - over control of oil resources - and the north, as an outspoken critic of the sharia justice system being applied in Nigeria's Islamic northern states. But the president, whose own Yoruba people voted for him in limited numbers, valued Ige as a senior Yoruba politician and bridge-builder. Unfortunately, this also brought him into the whirlpool of local Yoruba politics, especially in his own Osun state, which in a mood of rising violence, seems to have been his undoing.
Although he professed a desire to quit politics and return to the law - especially to his new position as African representative on the United Nations international law commission, he remained a politician until his death.
Ige was married to his wife Tinuke, herself an appeal court judge, and they had two sons and a daughter - Muyiwa Ige, Olumuyiwa Ige and Funso Adegbola respctively. He was shot dead at his home in the south-western city of Ibadan on December 23rd, 2001.
His net worth is not available.
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