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Ile-Ife, small arms and light weapons

By Saheed Ahmad Rufai   |   21 March 2017   |   3:44 am



What happened in Ile-Ife was beyond the accusation by a Yoruba man that his own wife had been sexually exploited by a Hausa man. It had its roots in ethnic identification as will be demonstrated below. Ethnic conflicts and communal clashes of ethnic orientation are rooted in old sources of ethnicity and memories of past atrocities that make violence attractive and inevitable. Nicholas Sambanis of the World Bank recently argues that the strength of kinship ties promotes altruism in favour of the generic evolution of the group. This argument is better explained by the clash of cultures (civilization) theory which suggests that irreconcilable differences due to cultural gaps cause fear and conflict that culminate in violence. The atrocities of particular political leaders of injustices perpetrated by him against members of a particular ethnic group are evergreen in the consciousness of the offspring of the oppressed and may easily turn flammable in a crisis situation.

Closely related to this is the fear factor which is central to the implication of the theory of the ethnic security dilemma. This theory suggests that territorial intermingling and mutual vulnerability exacerbate assurance problems that may lead to preventive wars by ethnic minorities who want to secede to increase their security. Secession in this context may just mean freedom from whatever conditions or social regulations. It may even mean freedom to be allowed to construct a big mosque or church. It may equally mean an attempt to facilitate the cessation of a particular cultural or religious practice. The issue involved may be as noticeable as the sun in broad daylight and may be as insignificant and invisible as an atom in a dark enclave. Ethnic conflicts have a multiplicity of veils in which they appear. Modernisation is also a factor with potential to cause ethnic conflicts as economic and social change can accelerate and intensify group competition for scarce resources. This may be so where members of a particular ethnic group are seen to have dominated a particular economic space. Any factor whatsoever could be capitalised upon to facilitate their exit or reduce their influence.

Now we have begun to witness the exodus of the Hausa from Ile-Ife and the remote outcome of this may not be pleasant! Ethnic conflict may also be the result of mobilisation of ethnic groups by ethnic entrepreneurs or elite pursuing private interests and capitalising on the availability of ethnic networks. Who among us sees any hidden or veiled hand behind the curtain of Ile-Ife inter-ethnic conflict. It is noteworthy that ethnic identities may also be socially reconstructed by elite who may also reinforce racial, religious, or linguistic cleavages in a manner capable of bringing about new sources of frictions and conflict. This is why the political class and ruling elite may not always be deemed innocent. It also explains why it is not impossible to see members of two or three different ethnic groups who have for many years co-existed peacefully waking up one day to raise arms against one another and engaging in a most deadly struggle. None of these factors may be totally ruled out from the Ile-Ife crisis.

One may also understand the Ile-Ife crisis in the context of ethnic fragmentation which is often regarded as a proxy for the coordination costs of rebellion. The dominant thinking among scholars of ethnic studies is that the greater the ethnic fragmentation, the greater the coordination costs and the lower the risk of a conflict or of onset of civil war. In analysing the concept of ethnic fragmentation, Collier and Hoeffler argue that ethnic fragmentation should be preferred to ethnic dominance which is very harmful because, unlike ethnic fragmentation, it allows an ethnic group to oppress the minority and significantly increases the risk of ethnic conflict or onset of ethnic war. The point I am driving at in this argument and in connection with the Ile-Ife crisis is that although poverty and low levels of economic development have been identified as factors with potential to increase ethnic conflicts as they would other types of conflicts, ethnicity is a concept much more closely associated with political and cultural identity than with economic rights or class. Hence the need to cast a more critical look at the Ile-Ife crisis in the context of identities and violence in Nigeria.

Prof. Eghosa Osagie and Prof. Rotimi Suberu have found that ethnicity “is the most basic and politically salient identity in Nigeria”. They illustrate their view with the argument that “both in competitive and non-competitive settings, Nigerians are more likely to define themselves in terms of their ethnic affinities than any other identity”. The two notable scholars posit that the creation of more states and local governments in Nigeria has brought about an expansion in domain of salient identities and there has been a focus of attention in contestations and conflicts, on local issues. This development, according to the two scholars, “has provided the impetus for the sharpening of communal identities and conflicts between ‘indigenes’ and ‘non-indigenes’, ‘sons-of-the-soil’ and ‘migrants’ and ‘settlers’”. While arguing that the system of discriminatory citizenship in Nigeria has historical roots, Osagie and Suberu attribute the unprecedented rise in cases of ethnic conflicts and communal crises from the 1990s, to “shrinking state resources and the attendant recourse by groups to communal resources on the one hand and on the other hand, to a number of state policies, interventions, omissions, including the neglect and abuse of police and security bodies, that are supportive of discriminatory practices.”

Among the major cases of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria captured by the two scholars are the Tiv-Junkun conflicts in Taraba and Benue states, the three-cornered Urhobo-Ijaw-Itsekiri clashes in Warri, Delta states, the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba clashes in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kano states, and the recurrent clashes between Hausa-Fulani and Igbo groups in Kano State which have acquired an ethno-religious complexion. The recent ethnic conflict in Ile-Ife may be characterised as a replication of some of the past Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba clashes recorded in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, and Kano states. Osun State may now be added to the long list, as a consequence of the insensitivity and lethargic dispositions of our governments at various levels. After all, it was once intra-ethnic in nature a la Ife-Modakeke crisis and now it is inter-ethnic involving the Yoruba and the Hausa! I hope the Presidency is attentive.

There is hardly an aspect of insecurity in Nigeria that could be divorced or dissociated from arms proliferation and small weapons acquisition. The farmers/grazers crises, the indigene/settler conflicts, the internal displacement problem, cattle rusting, rural banditry, political/electoral violence, destruction of property, increased crime rate, sophisticated nature of militancy, feeling of vulnerabilities and high sense of insecurity among the civilians. When killing and maiming became rampant among civilians in Burundi during the last decade, a commissioned study later revealed that an analysis of spent cartridges showed that the ammunition used in most of the homicidal attacks among the civilians was manufactured in China. In a study on the impact of arms proliferation in Tanzania from 2004 to 2007, it was found that the availability, possession and usage of small arms and light weapons are associated with greater incidents of violent crime, murder, armed robbery, cattle rusting, insurgencies and other violent engagements of similar nature. The Ugandan experience in this regard was not different as small arms and light weapons were said to have been concentrated in the hands of insurgents, armed communities and criminals.

Daily Trust of December 25, 2016 reported an experience recorded at a peace dialogue held in Gidan Jaja Village in Zurmi Local Government Area of Zamfara State where “a top commander of the armed gangs known as Alhaji Beti…shocked the peace mediators when he said that every true Fulani settlement in Zamfara forest had at least an assault rifle…and added that the activities of the vigilante groups in the area forced them to acquire the assault rifle”. “We make contribution to buy rifles and there is no household without one”, he brazenly remarked. I once in some of my recently published interventions on national security correlated this disclosure with Chief Tola Adeniyi’s lamentation (Thisday, January 11, 2017) that Fulani herdsmen were carrying AK47 rifles! But, the salient issue is not about the Fulani herdsmen’s possession of AK47 rifles. Rather, it is about the small arms proliferation, light weapons acquisition, ubiquitous presence of criminals, the alarming rate of violence and unprecedented level of insecurity in our country where there are arms and weapons everywhere, from Lagos to Maiduguri and from Kano to Calabar!

There is need for the Federal Government to prove sensitive to security matters in view of her geographical location where she is surrounded by countries which have either recently experienced civil war or one form of armed conflict or another, or are currently experiencing one. Such countries include Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Chad and others. This may be a good rationale for a regional security bloc the absence of which has made easy for terrorist groups to hold spell-bound a vast expanse of trans-border territories. No one would controvert the fact that the Ansar-al-Shari’ah Group of Mali and the Boko Haram of Nigeria whose operations extend to Cameroun, Niger, Chad, exposed the deficiencies that characterize border security in the West African sub-region. It may be appreciated for Nigeria to persuade other big African countries with strong armies to come together with a view to constituting themselves to very strong sub-regional security blocs. Countries in this category include Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, and Kenya. This is just by way of general advice on regional security and may not have direct bearing to the Ile-Ife ethnic conflict.

It seems to me that the Ile-Ife ethnic conflict may somewhat be associated with the age-long discrimination against settlers and non-indigenes which makes it impossible for a Nigerian to enjoy an indigene status and full citizenship rights in a particular state on account of his birth or residency. In this regard, Osagie and Suberu have implicated the Nigerian constitution for compounding since 1979 “the unfortunate dichotomy between indigenes and non-indigenes at the state level by explicitly mandating the representation of an indigene of each state in the federal cabinet and then defining an indigene genealogically (rather than residentially) as a person whose parent or…grandparent was a member of a community indigenous to that state”. There have been several instances of ethnic conflicts occasioned by some settlers’ attempt to resist or put a stop to discrimination or a kind of injustice perpetrated against them by the indigenes who marginalize, oppress, suppress, or exclude them from certain rights and privileges. Such unfavourable situation has been described as a product of the colonial experience “which shaped identities that created a culturally artificial Nigerian state but failed to nurture a unified Nigerian nation”.

It is of great value to carefully investigate the Ile-Ife crisis and prosecute culprits in consonance with the Law with a view to reducing the frequency of such violent and fatal conflicts. A good way of approaching this is to make public the findings of the investigators or commission of inquiry and also implement to the fullest recommendations by such commission. Failure to implement such recommendations on Jos, Southern Kaduna, and other volatile settings in Nigeria has been an impediment to the enthronement of sustainable peace in the affected areas. There may also be need to strengthen and inject sanity into the local security structures with a view to making for discipline or accountability. This is necessary in view of the accusing fingers pointed to certain directions of the security operatives in connection with the recent Ile-Ife conflict. There may also be need to cast a meticulous look at the legal provisions for arms acquisition, for the purpose of ensuring effective control on firearms and ammunition. The immediate alacrity with which the Ile-Ife warriors accessed their arms and weapons for use over a private matter, has left many of us curious and mouths\agape!

Saheed Ahmad Rufai is Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University.

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