Fallen Legal Heroes: Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige, SAN

Late Bola Ige

James Ajibola Idowu Adegoke Ige (also known as Bola Ige) 13 September 1930 – 23 December 2001 was born in Zaria. His parents were Yoruba natives of Esa-Oke town, in the old Oyo State (now in Osun State). Bola Ige left Kaduna and headed south to the Western region at the age of 14. He studied at Ibadan Grammar School (1943–48), and then at the University of Ibadan. From there, he went to the University College London where he graduated with a Law degree in 1959. He was called to the bar in London’s Inner Temple in 1961.

Bola Ige established Bola Ige & Co in 1961, and later became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He became well known in the country for his oratory prowess, as well as his advocacy work on civil rights and democracy. Bola Ige’s faith was Christianity. Uncommonly, Bola Ige spoke all the three major Nigerian languages, Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa fluently and had a first degree in classics: Latin and Greek. He wrote several books, and an anthology of articles and tributes about him was published shortly after his death.

During the First Republic (1963–1966), at age 31 he was at the centre of the Action Group crisis, Bola Ige was a Commissioner for Agriculture in the now-defunct Western Region of Nigeria (1967–1970) under the military government of General Yakubu Gowon.  In the early 1970s, during the first period of military rule, he devoted his time to the anti-racism campaign of the World Council of Churches.

Towards the end of the 1970s he joined the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the successor to the Action Group. When General Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the Second Republic, he was elected as governor of Oyo State from October 1979 to October 1983. Adebisi Akande, later to be governor of Osun State after it was split off from Oyo State, was his deputy governor during this period. In the 1983 elections, when he ran for re-election as the UPN candidate but,he was defeated by Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo. Ige unsuccessfully challenged the election in court. However, Olunloyo lost the seat three months later to a coup staged by Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon.

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Ige Bola was detained after the coup, accused of enriching party funds. He was released in 1985, after the next coup, by Ibrahim Babangida, and returned to his legal practice and to writing. In 1990, he published People, Politics And Politicians of Nigeria: 1940–1979, a book that he had begun while imprisoned. He was a founder member of the influential Yoruba pressure group, Afenifere.

Following the restoration of democracy in 1999, Bola Ige sought the nomination of the Alliance for Democracy party as a presidential candidate, but was rejected. President Obasanjo appointed Bola Ige as minister of Mines and Power (1999–2000). He then became Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2000–2001).  In September 2001 Bola Ige said that the Federal government had initiated a program to re-arrange and consolidate the laws of the Federation, publish them in digital form, and make them available on the website of his ministry. He campaigned ardently against the imposition of the Sharia law in the northern states of Nigeria. In November 2001 he said that the Federal government would not allow the Sokoto State government to execute the judgement of a verdict passed by a Gwadabawa sharia court to stone a woman, Safiya Hussaini to death for committing adultery.

Bola Ige was about to take up a new position as African’s Representative on the United Nations International Law Commission when he was gunned down in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

He died at the age of 71 on 23 December 2001.


Adenike Adesanya is a Brilliant young wig who is passionate about preserving the legacy of the legal profession. Nike wishes to bring back to our memories our heroes past. Email to Nike: nikey06@yahoo.com

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