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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:07 GMT
Crowds mourn Nigerian minister
Bola Ige
Tributes have poured in from across the country
Tens of thousands of Nigerians have attended the funeral of assassinated Justice Minister Bola Ige as tribal tensions rise in the country's volatile southwest.

We will miss him

President Olusegun Obasanjo

The crowds packed into a football stadium in Ibadan city, where the 71-year-old lawyer was shot dead in December in a killing that stunned the nation.

The ceremony was the climax of an elaborate programme of tributes which began with a church service in the federal capital Abuja on Tuesday.

President Olusegun Obasanjo led the mourning in Ibadan at his old friend's funeral, attended by scores of dignitaries from across the country.

The BBC's Sola Odunfa says the killing has revived old ethnic rivalries between different factions of the minister's Yoruba community.

Ethnic tension

Violence flared on Tuesday in connection with the murder, when hundreds of youths reportedly rioted in the nearby town of Ife.

Map of Nigeria

According to the Reuters news agency, trouble started after newspapers reported that police had arrested a university lecturer and two others believed to be members of the gang that attacked Mr Ige.

Although the motives behind the murder remain unclear, the government has linked the killing to a feud between two leading politicians in southwestern Osun state.

But our correspondent says the grief among the Yoruba people, who include President Obasanjo, has been palpable.

"We will miss him," the president was quoted by the AFP news agency as telling the mourners.

"It is an irony that he who believed that the worst civil government was better than the best military government, was himself assasinated under a civil regime," he said.

After the funeral service, which was due to last several hours, his body was to be buried at a private service in his nearby home town of Esa-Oke.


The murder has sparked widespread fears of unrest as Nigeria prepares for elections in 2003.

Up to 10,000 people have already died in sectarian, religious and political unrest since the civilian administration took over from the military in 1999.

Grieving relatives
Ige's family will bury him in his home town

Given that no civilian government since independence has ever organised successful elections, many are now asking if that toll is destined to rise.

In his tribute to Mr Ige delivered at the service in Abuja on Tuesday, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Dr Peter Akinola, articulated what many are quietly thinking.

"If chief Ige could be killed so easily, who is safe? Who is next?" he said.

Aside from speculation about local political disputes, commentators have wondered whether his death was linked to his outspoken criticism of the introduction of Sharia law in 13 states in northern Nigeria.

There has also been talk that his job of fighting drug traffickers may have provided the motive for his murder.

Whatever the motive, Nigerians are bracing for trouble.

The BBC's Sola Odunfa
"The assassination of the country's chief law officer has brought fear of insecurity"
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