Ace Journalist, Yinka Fabowale remembers a great jurist, Justice Atinuke Ige who died on April 10, 2003
In all the five years I’d been visiting her husband at Solemlia Court, their home in Bodija, an elitist quarter of Ibadan, I never saw or ran into Justice Atinuke Ige. The Court of Appeal judge and wife of the Second Rebublic governor of old Oyo State, late Chief Bola Ige(SAN), remained, for me, an enigma, because there was never any sign of her being around. Perhaps, because her husband mostly received me in the ante-room on the ground floor of the house, an architectural masterpiece, where we had our discusssions, whether brief or long, whenever I had to see him or had a message to deliver from my bosses in The Guardian then, I usually thought.
Or it could be in her character and discipline as part of that pantheon of reserved and quiet judicial deities hardly seen in public, like sacred Egungun masqurades, save when regally seated on the magisterial bench.
I often quietened my curiosity and yearning to behold the matriarch of the family with the latter explanation, although, I never stopped to wonder what an incredibly contrasting pair she and her husband must be.
Chief Ige was your debonair, gregarious and quintessential extrovert, if there ever was one.
He was a public figure and a people’s man, who naturally seized attention on the social stage much as he did from the political podium, with his legendary eloquence and bright intellect. How could he enjoy life with such an apparent recluse the wife must be, a spouse compelled to unsmilingly send people to jail with all dispassion of the law? I rued.
Then in 1997, I was invited to the house by Chief Ige, who, like his numerous young friends and admirers, I fondly called ‘Uncle Bola’. The renowned politician had asked me over to pick an invitation card to a special soiree in commemoration of the late sage and nationalist, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s transition and post humous birthday, of which he was the chief organiser.
To have me at the event , which featured the ace musician, Lagbaja, and some of Africa’s foremost poets, was, for Uncle Bola, a way of compensating for being unable to attend my wedding that he was to have chaired.
This time, the emiment lawyer asked that I be brought straight up the short flight of stairs that led into an expansive, plateau -like
chamber on the upper floor of the mansion, where I met him and a few assistants busy addressing and sorting the IVs for onward dispatch. While her husband was yet talking to me, Justice Atinuke Ige walked into the room from one of the wings. Uncle Bola immediately introduced me, saying excitedly: “This is Yinka, He’s the one who just got married and I couldn’t go…”
Uncle had apparently shared with her the circumstance that led to his non attendance of the wedding, for which, according to him, he had actually dressed up.
I was humbled as the esteemed couple went over the reason again which was to the effect that a colleague of mine who was to have been Uncle’s escort to the venue in Lagos, failed to show up.
Then, Mama turned to me with a happy smile and admiring look, offering her congratulations and prayers. She also asked after the bride “iyawo nko”?
When Chief Ige announcedd that he was inviting me to the musical evening, Mama gleefully said I must bring along my new wife.
“Of course, it is for both of them to come and enjoy”, Uncle said.
Throughout, we all chatted convivially in Yoruba and the meeting corrected my preconceived notion of Justice Ige. I noticed the old lady was a genial and humorous soul and she giggled like a dating teenager.
It was my first and last encounter with the jurist until the brutal assassination of her husband late in December of 2001, which brought me to the house again among a horde of mourners and news reporters.
Of course, I doubted if she ever remembered or recognised me again among the throng of sympathisers who came to pay respects and condolences.
But a year or so after, I was back in the house again. I think it was the anniversary of Chief Ige’s murder and I’d gone to interview her on life without her deceased spouse. I met her in front of the house, where a canopy had been erected to entertain guests and visitors. Only few people were around yet and I found her personally supervising and directing some women who were preparing and serving food.
She warmed up to me, flashing that warm, hypnotizing smile, as I introduced myself and told her my mission.
She listened with apparent interest and agreed to the interview, but insisted I must first eat and be entertained like other guests. Realizing she could not immediately be dragged off her preoccupation, I agreed and she ordered that I be served. I was led to one of the seats in front of the house and served a sizeable mound of steaming Amala with ewedu stew, garnished with two big chunks of ram meat, which I took time to devour with relish. I washed the delicious meal down with a bottle of soft drink also handed over to me and then accosted Justice Ige for our most cherished promised interview.
Her reaction stunned me!
“What interview?” She queried with deadpan expression.
Then, with a mischievous smile dancing at the corners of her lips, she asked: “First, have you eaten”?
Smiling innocently, I answered in the affirmative.
“Then, there is no interview!,” she declared.
The smile froze on my lips and I broke into sweats.
I was still trying to break the haze of confusion, when she further startled me:
“If you have eaten, then there is no interview, because obviously, you have chosen to do that which must be more important to you.”
I wanted to swoon and felt like purging. But then I protested, pointing out that I came primarily for the interview and that she it was who insisted I must first eat.
To this, Mama gave a sardonic laugh. She reminded me of the folktake of “Elewu Etu”, the proverbial suitor, who went to borrow Yoruba’s most expensive and gorgeous ceremonial Etu dress he could wear to impress his inlaws from a friend, but, who instead of immediately stating his mission, first accepted an invitation by his host to a dinner he met the latter having.
However, while still enjoying the sumptuous meal, another fellow in need of the same dress, walked in and, although equally invited, declined to join the feast. Rather, he directly stated his wish.
The host rose to oblige him his request, ignoring the other man’s belated explanation that, that was what he also came for and not the food.
Moral: Get your priorities right.
I felt a fool. I had logged in about 14 years in journalism by then and I just could not imagine I could so fall for a trick and carelessly trade off a good chance of getting a potential, head-shaker of an interview.
What must my teachers, who brought me up on the best reporting traditions- the Femi Kusas, the Emeka Izezes , the Rasaq Adedigbas and Harriet Lawrences think of me, if they should hear of this sloppiness?
I had to admit that I’d been outsmarted with the wisdom of an elder.
But, in a last ditch effort, I tried another tact. I begged her for a spot chat, even if only for a few minutes. The jurist was unmoved.
She just slowly shook her head, adjusted the rim of her eye glasses and turned to give me a long impassive gaze.
For some awkward moments, I stood before her dumbstruck.
But apparently noticing the sign of defeat in me, the old woman decided to put me out of my misery and embarrassment. She suddenly burst into laughter. Then, gently placing her hand on my shoulder, she smiled beningly and dropped her voice almost to a whisper, saying: “My dear, let’s leave the interview till some time later. I’m not prepared for any interview today. Let’s just remember and celebrate Uncle, okay”?
I heaved a sigh of relief as it occured to me the old jurist had only been pulling my legs. Evidently, she never intended granting me an interview in the first place and it was doubtful that I would have succeeded with her, even if I’d applied the best art of persuasion or professional skill.
I managed a smile , thanked her and left.
On my way way back to the office, however, I was in stiches as I now found the chance to see the hilarious side of the prank, aside its lesson.
Justice Atinuke Ige and her late illustrious consort are, no doubt , two of a kind- Incredibly witty and philosophical!