By Kunle Ajibade
It was Mother Teresa who once said that one powerful way of promoting world peace is to learn how and when to go home and love one’s family— family as a genetic inheritance and family as a set of emotional and social bonds. Funso Adegbola’s memoirs, He Gave Me Wings, and its sequel, She Gave Me Roots, are subtle and profound affirmations and celebrations of both senses of this concept of family. The two books explore in a personal way the nature, the meaning and the importance of family. To be sure, she is not preachy in the books. Yet, in telling the stories of her life-long relationship with her dad and mum, she is inspiring in her intent and enlightening in her purpose. The two books are lean in size but they are fat in their significance. They brim with compassion, kindness, love, intelligence, dignity, fear, sorrow and pain. Here the personal is connected to the public and this public is invariably political.
With anecdotes, reminiscences, family pictures, spiritual, and biblical passages, and reflections, Funso Adegbola renders a moving and brilliant account of Chief Bola and Justice Atinuke Ige as responsible parents who believed and demonstrated that solid family blocks are essential if we are serious about building a good society, a great country and a peaceful world.
Most public figures in their private domains are lousy in the way they neglect their filial duties or are just unlucky to have bad children in spite of their best efforts to raise good wards. How did these two amazing public figures manage to plant and nurture a lovely family tree? How did they shape the lives of their children in the glow of God’s light and in the radiance of His grace? How did they get inside the minds of people who admired them hugely during their lifetime and remember them fondly after their demise? Were there things in their backgrounds that taught them to take care of their children and others in their private and public lives? We know from reading Funso Adegbola’s books and Bola Ige’s autobiography, Kaduna Boy, and his prison memoir, Detainee’s Diary,that Chief Bola Ige was born into a working-class Ijesha stock and had a hardscrabble life. But he grew up among siblings who loved each other dearly. He was not a genius but he was super-smart. Despite all his troublemaking in his junior years at Ibadan Grammar School, he was still chosen as the Senior Prefect of that elite school in his senior year.
With that post he became a subject of admiration and pride not only to the school authority but also to some members of the Ibadan elite which included the Oloko family. He then went on to study Classics as the first University Scholar in the Arts at the University College Ibadan. This was where he consolidated his relationship with Miss Atinuke Oloko, whom he had met earlier as a teacher of Latin at CMS Girls School, Lagos,which was later relocated to St Anne’s School, Ibadan. At the university, he was a campus journalist. He, along with the likes of Akin Mabogunje, was an active member of the youth wing of the Action Group, the dominant party in the Western Region led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was also an active member of the Student Christian Movement that represented Nigeria at the World Christian Student Federation Conference at the University College Ibadan. He later went to the University College, London to study law. After he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1961, he returned to Nigeria to practice law and continue his full participation in politics.
He was elected at the Jos Congress of the Action Group in February 1962 as the Federal Publicity Secretary of the party. And he wrote a weekly column in the Nigerian Tribune which was very critical of the government of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Apparently for those reasons, on 29 May 1962, while he was addressing a Chief Magistrate in a court at Ibadan, he was served with a Restriction Order signed by Dr Koye Majekodunmi, who had been made the Administrator of Western Region in the wake of the escalating political crisis in the West. He was ordered to report to the police at Ubiaja, a community in the Esan South-East Local Government Area of Edo State, where he spent over six months. Ubiaja in those days had no pipe-borne water, and no electricity. But he was allowed to listen to the radio and read newspapers.
He was later made a commissioner in Western State by the military regime of Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo. In 1979, when the military lifted the ban on partisan politics, he went into it in full force. He competed against his former principal at Ibadan Grammar School, Chief Emmanuel Alayande, to win the governorship primary of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and won a landslide election that made him the First Executive Governor of Oyo State in the Second Republic.
The military soon truncated that republic and put him and other prominent politicians in jail between 1983 and 1986 when the regime of Major-Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Babatunde Idiagbon ruled the country with draconian decrees. He was moved from Agodi Prison to Bonny Camp, Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Zaria Prison and Ikoyi Prison. He spent most of his time reading and writing in jail. While the then governors of Ondo and Ogun States, Chiefs Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Bisi Onabanjo read non-fiction voraciously in jail, Chief Ige read fiction and non-fiction. In order to prevent Ige from stealing his books, Bisi Onabanjo, the distinguished journalist, most famous for his well-informed, witty and carefully crafted Aiyekooto column, always wrote on the first pages of his books in all caps: Stolen from Bisi Onabanjo! Bola Ige kept a detailed diary in jail which he published as Detainee’s Diary.This prison memoir does not contain all the charges against him and his trials by the military tribunal because he set aside the material for a different book titled The Brigadier Lied. He also wrote in Prison People, Politics and Politicians of Nigeria (1940—1979).
Upon his release, he returned to his legal profession and continued to hold clandestine political meetings with political associates as the military regimes kept gambling with the lives of Nigerians. At the height of the banning and unbanning of politicians by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, when his regime established and funded two political parties—the Social Democratic Party(SDP) and the National Republican Convention(NRC), Chief Bola Ige wrote a very popular piece in The Guardian newspaper titled “Siddon Look.” The main trust of his argument was that he had arrived at a stage in his political career where he had decided to just sit down and watch the military as they did their thing. But that was a deliberate decoy, for he never stopped holding talks and planning with his political family. He also paid serious attention to his legal profession and rose to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The ban on the old breed politicians led to the emergence of a new crop of politicians many of whom were lackeys of the soldiers in power. In 1993 Chief M.K.O. Abiola of the SDP won the presidential election, beating his rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC even in his own state, Kano. General Babangida, who organised that presidential election, obviously did not want to leave power. He cancelled the results of the June 12 election. What followed in many parts of Nigeria was mayhem. Nigerians, at home and in the diaspora, were so incensed. They poured into the streets like angry bees, protesting that injustice. Many protesters were killed, many more were maimed and more fierce decrees were rolled out. But Nigerians, particularly in the media and the civil society groups, were more determined to fight the fascists in the military. To pacify the Yoruba, as if the June 12 mandate was not given by all Nigerians, he put in place an Interim National Government and asked Chief Ernest Shonekan, a Yoruba man, to head it.
The UAC boss became an object of ridicule among his people, and remained so till death. As a way of flushing out the critical officers in the military, phantom coups were arranged and announced and many officers were found ‘guilty’ and dismissed. Still, Nigerians did not relent.
They kept calling for the restoration of democracy and insisting that Abiola, who had been detained, should be released and his mandate actualised. Chief Bola Ige was one of these people. On 1 May 1998, he participated in a peaceful protest in Ibadan. That protest was hijacked by some thugs who unleased violence on that city. As a result, the then military administrator of Oyo State, Colonel Ahmed Usman, ordered that all the organisers and prominent participants like Alhaji Lam Adesina should be arrested and detained. He immediately declared them ‘prisoners of war.’ So, on 28 May 1998, Chief Ige was brought to Makurdi prison where I was serving a 15-year sentence because TheNEWS magazine had done an investigative story that exonerated Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and all the officers who were arrested, tried and found guilty of the1995 phantom coup. Ige was not released until General Sani Abacha died on 8 June 1998 and General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1999 once again lifted the ban on partisan politics. Chief Bola Ige once again became a rallying force for other politicians. He was a co-founder of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
He wrote the manifestoes and the constitutions of these parties. He eventually settled for AD and contested for its presidential primaries but lost to Chief Olu Falae. This inevitably led to unresolved animosity between him and some members of the Afenifere, a social, cultural and political group, of which he was deputy leader under the leadership of Chief Abraham Adesanya.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had contested as the presidential flagbearer of PDP upon his release from jail, had won the general election without the votes of his Yoruba base.Sensing an opportunity to further divide and conquer the Yoruba political elite who were up in arms against him, he asked Chief Bola Ige to join his government which he did. Some of his close associates still believe that that move was a strategic political error. He was made Minister of Power and Steel. In no time, he was frustrated out of that office and was then made Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, a position he was holding when he was assassinated in his bedroom on Sunday 23 December 2001 by people suspected to be his political enemies. He had just been made a member of the United Nations International Law Commission about a week before he was killed. His death was a national tragedy with grief and anger enveloping the nation at the time, for many people knew that Chief Bola Ige belonged to a rare breed of politicians who saw politics as a means of rendering public service.
His political vision was clearly egalitarian. Not for him the platitudes and chicaneries for which despicable politicians are most notoriously known. He just did not know how to suffer fools gladly. As a sharp shooter, he could win arguments so easily because of his logical mind. He had a facility with words. He spoke English, Yoruba and Hausa fluently. It was not for nothing that Demosthenes was one of his popular sobriquets because he too, like that Greek statesman, that champion of democracy, could rouse people to frenzy with his eloquence. He was always at ease among intellectuals because he was one of them. He always loved to have serious and politically savvy younger people around him largely to update his own ideas and generally to motivate them. As a people person, his children had to bear the burden of sharing him with a lot of others. More than the rest of us, his immediate family bore the pains of his years of imprisonment for political reasons both as a young man and as a senior citizen.
His wife, Justice Atinuke was of Ibadan ancestry whose prosperity cut across two generations of the Oloko and Okeowo families. She was the first child of Chief Samuel Oloko, M.B.E., the Otun Are of Ibadan. After her Secondary School education at CMS Girls School, Lagos, she attended University College Ibadan, where she studied Liberal Arts briefly on a Western Region Scholarship before she went to England to study Law at Kennington College of Commerce and Law Studies, having been encouraged to do so by her uncle Chief Samuel Olasupo Moroundiya. In 1959, she was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn and became the first female lawyer in Western Region. She had a stint in active private legal practice with her uncle and guardian, Chief Moroundiya, in their jointly-owned firm. She got married to Chief Bola Ige on 17 April 1960. She was an exemplary role model to her five equally high-achieving sisters from her mother and other children in her father’s large family. She later moved to the bench and rose through the ranks from a Magistrate to a Senior Magistrate, Chief Magistrate, and Chief Registrar. On 1 June 1977, she was appointed a High Court Judge in Oyo State.
And then in 1979, her husband became the First Executive Governor of Oyo State. But playing the role of First Lady never became her main job. She simply devoted much of her time to her official duty as a judge. Funso Adegbola writes in She Gave Me Roots:“ My mother was a woman of remarkable professionalism, always exuding an air of sophistication with her impeccable attire and punctuality at work. As a lawyer, she conducted herself with utmost diligence. As a Judge, she ensured prompt sittings in her court. Yet, her admirable qualities extended far beyond her career. She possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, constantly engrossed in reading, writing and seeking intellectual growth. It was as if her mind knew no bounds.” As a judge she never went to any social gatherings where lawyers who had cases in her court were present. If her husband was more of an idealist, a dreamer, even a romantic and a diehard optimist, she was the more practical person in the union. She was the treasurer and the financial strategist in the house. She loved investing in properties. To quote Funso Adegbola again: “She worked as judge during the week and supervised her construction projects on weekends. She knew the exact number of blocks that could be made from a bag of cement, gravel, and sand. She always had a block maker on hand when building her properties.” She, in fact, supervised the office building of the Bola Ige & Co in Adamasingba in Ibadan. Quite often, she would take the kids out on inspections of her sites. That must have been partly responsible for the interest of Muyiwa Ige, her most beloved son, whom she had after a couple of miscarriages, in studying Architecture.
In September 1993, she was sworn in as a Justice of the Court of Appeal same day as Justice Morenikeji Omotayo Onalaja, a very good friend of the Ige family, who, as a lawyer, defended Wole Soyinka in the Tape Robbery case at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Ibadan, before Justice Kayode Esho. The appointment of Justice Atinuke Ige as a Judge of the Court of Appeal came at a time that she had been denied the Chief Judge position in Oyo State, a position to which she was entitled as the most senior judge in the State. Having been sidelined, the position was then given to her junior by politicians whose specious argument was that she should go to Osun, her husband’s state, for that post. On 18 December 2001, she was honoured by the Federal Government of Nigeria with the Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) for her meritorious contributions to the Nigerian judiciary. In spite of all her commendable accomplishments, she was never arrogant.
She was a wonderful mother-in-law to the spouses of her children: Gbenro, Tokunbo and Oyinda. Indeed, she always prayed not to see the weaknesses in the spouses of her children, only their strengths. Gbenro Adegbola describes her as gorgeous in bearing. That’s very true. She could also be called Mrs Temperance, for she remained a simple, serene and elegant matriarch till 10 April 2003 when she died, a day after the star witness withdrew his testimony at the trial of the suspected killers of her husband. It was a heartbreaking moment for her. She couldn’t just bear the injustice of it all. She was shattered.
According to Funso Adegbola, the bond between her father and mother was so profound that “it seemed inconceivable for one to exist without the other.” At the passing of her husband, forty-one years into her marriage, Funso and Gbenro Adegbola wanted her to come over and stay with them in their Bodija home or to move into her own property, not far from them also in Bodija neighbourhood, but she bluntly refused.
In She Gave Me Roots, Funso Adegbola pays Justice Atinuke Ige and her husband a glowing tribute for impacting her life and the lives of her siblings so deeply at all the crucial periods in their growth and development. Among other things, she writes: “My parents were so loving that I grew up surrounded by love, which has helped me greatly in life. I never witnessed my parents fighting. I am sure they must have had their disagreements, but my brothers and I never had to listen to them arguing behind closed doors.” She says that their approval, moral support, prayers, and financial assistance encouraged her every inch of the way. They did not leave their imprints on their children by precepts, but by their own concrete examples and carefully measured involvements in the affairs of their children and those of their spouses.
Funso Adegbola in He Gave Me Wings and She Gave Me Roots shares fond memories of their teachable examples. They showed true love in the way they related to one another. They made a lot of sacrifices for their children. They also extended their love to the needy and the vulnerable. The admonition of Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians meant so much to them: “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience never fail…” Unconditional love was so cardinal in their household. Believing that communication and trust are fundamental in any meaningful relationship, they encouraged arguments and constructive criticisms in their home.
In He Gave Me Wings, Funso Adegbola recounts the first and the last time her father ever beat her. She was a day student in Form 3 at St Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan. The school had closed for the day and her father’s driver had come to pick her up, but Funso told the man she was not ready. She did not tell the driver she was following her schoolmates to buy a special St Anne’s delicacy that students called 4:2 (40 kobo worth of rice and 20 kobo worth of dodo). But the driver knew, so he went back home to tell his boss who was then a commissioner in the government of Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo. The father, who thought that his daughter was in danger, panicked, left everything he was doing and came to the school with the driver. As soon as Funso saw her angry father, she knew she was in big trouble. When they got home, she was given twelve strokes of the cane. It is amusing that as Funso was crying, her father was also weeping because of the strong bond of love between them. Justice Atinuke Ige and her husband were protective of their children, but they were not helicopter parents. They were not tiger parents either. They managed to strike a balance between protecting their children and giving them space to realise their own dreams, their own aspirations.
That was why they were overjoyed when on 7 November 1994, The Vale College, after eight years of planning, opened its gates to its first set of students. Justice Atinuke Ige donated her house in Bodija as her own contribution to the school. Funso Adegbola turned the house into a hostel in 1994. The Vale Tutorial College occupies the building now called Atinuke Court. A Girls’s hostel is also named for her at the permanent site of The Vale College: the Atinuke Ige Hall. The feasibility study of the school was done by the first son of the family, Babatunde, who, unfortunately, died in his sleep on Thursday 22 April 1993 aged 30. Education was the first priority of these parents. The early fond memories that Funso Adegbola shares in He Gave Me Wings include being taught at 18 months how to read stories and plays. When she read newspaper headlines at 4, her dad was extremely happy. Their parents did not only take them out on weekends for swimming lessons, mum and dad took turns to read them bedtime stories. They taught them Yoruba culture, making sure the children learnt how to speak the language fluently, which they all do now, how to greet elders properly, and other proper ways of being Yoruba. Outside of Nigeria, they took them to theatres, galleries and museums and bookstores. The father particularly lectured them on Pablo Picasso, the Spanish painter, Peter Paul Reuben, the Flemish artist, and other artists on display. He also shared his love of popular and classical music with them.
Despite her busy schedule, Justice Atinuke Ige never missed a Parent-Teacher Association meeting of her children’s schools. She also trained the children of her loyal driver and cook, and several other people. Funso Adegbola tells us in the two books how both parents left every stone unturned just to give her and her siblings the best education in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and America. After her first degree in Modern Languages at Essex University, Funso read Law at Bristol University. Just like her father, she then registered at the Inner Temple. And Babatunde Ige, who had graduated magna cum laude in Economics at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, also went to Essex University to study Law and, like his mother, whom he resembled facially and temperamentally, registered at the Lincoln Inn.
Muyiwa Ige read Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Chicago. Their parents taught them to be independent. Justice Atinuke Ige always insisted that her children must do their own share of house chores. A terrific cook, she wanted Funso Adegbola to learn how to cook but instead, Funso only learnt how to perfectly arrange for the best caterer in town to do her cooking. Maybe, one day, Mrs. Ayotunde Salami, her daughter, who derives a lot of pleasure in cooking, will be kind enough to teach her the art of good cooking.
To conclude: while they were growing up, Funso Adegbola and her siblings were taught the importance of sharing their possessions with the less privileged. They were always encouraged to visit the Ibadan Home for Motherless Babies and donate gifts. The Ibadan Motherless Babies Home was founded in 1960 by Mrs Rachel Olubukola Solanke who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Mrs Solanke, who died in 1998, is described in He Gave Me Wings as the “Mother Teresa of Nigeria,” an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. Funso Adegbola, who once served as the chairperson of the Management Committee of the Home, is now the Chairperson of the Board of the Ibadan Home for Motherless Babies. Her parents were very proud that she had chosen to continue with the good work of Mrs Rachel Olubukola Solanke. Even though Chief Bola and Justice Atinuke Ige celebrated in He Gave Me Wings and He Gave Me Roots are dead the love they shared generously and the impact they made on their children and many people have created their immortality, for they are now two ancestors who dwell in the hearts and minds of those who love them.
–Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor/Director of TheNEWS/P.M.NEWS, read this review at The Vale College, Ibadan, on 19 August 2023.
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