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Storm of the elders

By Dare Babarinsa
29 March 2017   |   3:15 am
We need to pay keener attention to the uneasy calm in Ile-Ife, the ancient capital of the Yoruba nation which recently was convulsed by ethnic violence.

Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris

We need to pay keener attention to the uneasy calm in Ile-Ife, the ancient capital of the Yoruba nation which recently was convulsed by ethnic violence. There was a bloody clash between the Yoruba and the Hausa community in Sabo, Ile-Ife, which led to the death of many people mainly Yoruba and Hausa. So important was this clash that many of the powerful and mighty in Nigeria descended on the town to assess the situation and reassure the community that such violence would not be tolerated. Among those who came to Ife were the Ministers of Defence and Interior and the Inspector-General of Police.

Such ethnic clashes are rare in Yorubaland. Yoruba are noted for welcoming non-Yoruba intheir midst. This has been the trend for generations since the pre-colonial days before Nigeria was invented by the British. Therefore, what happened in Ile-Ife was not normal, but every cause has consequences. We are still waiting for the full details of police investigations but there are indications that the crisis started when a resident of Sabo, an Hausa, allegedly assaulted a Yoruba lady who was married to an Ife indigene. The Ife man brought his colleagues to avenge the humiliation and he and his team were worsted. Before the police could intervene in full force, hell was let loose and Sabo became a theatre of war between the migrant Hausa and members of the host community, the Yoruba.

Now there is uneasy calm in Ife, thanks to the effort of the security agencies that reacted finally after almost two days of bloody battles. However, when the about 40 suspects were paraded in Abuja, only the Yoruba were so paraded. When asked about this, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police explained that crime does not recognise any ethnic group and there was nothing wrong in arresting only Yoruba suspects in this case. I disagree with him. Would it have been possible that only the Yoruba were responsible for the killings and destructions in Ile-Ife? Those who provoked the battle were they all Yoruba? The Yoruba who died, were they killed by witchcraft, or did they kill themselves? The IG and his colleagues have a lot of questions to answer.

One is delighted about the alacrity with which the IG and his team quickly fished out the suspects in Ile-Ife. Now that he has shown us that he can move, he needs to move fast and bring to justice those who killed other Nigerian citizens in Benue, Anambra, Plateau and Kaduna State and other theatres. Not all of them were killed by Niger Delta militants or Boko Haram terrorists.

The Hausa community in Sabo, Ile-Ife, is an old one. It developed, like other Sabos in Yorubaland, after the Yoruba Civil War ended in 1886 with the Peace Treaty brokered by the Governor of Lagos Colony and top clergies of the Church Missionary Society CMS. Before the Yoruba Wars, the Hausa were often hired as grooms by rich men who find their skills in horse breeding exceptional. The Calvary unity of the old Oyo Imperial Army under the command of the Aare Ona Kakanfo would have been handicapped without the dedicated handling of their horses by their Hausa slaves. With the coming of colonial rule, the Hausa moved into Yorubaland and other parts of Nigeria, creating settlements in different towns and villages. Indeed, there is a settlement today, not far from Akure, which is known as Sokoto. It is one of the most important centres for the kolanut trade in Ondo State.

The Yoruba too, once the British imperial blanket was thrown on Nigeria, found the warm embrace of the North irresistible. Indeed, there is no part of Nigeria that has welcomed the Yoruba more than the North. Many Yoruba have risen highly in the public service of the old North and many of them stayed on after the creation of states in 1967. In many traditional bastions of the old North, Maiduguri, Sokoto, Kano, Jos, Bauchi, Yola, the Yoruba are present in large numbers. This is the practical demonstration of Nigerian unity beyond the rhetoric of politicians.

There is also the fact that the Yoruba is the largest minority ethnic group in the old North occupying the present Kwara State and a substantial part of Kogi State. Ilorin, the present capital of Kwara State, was a military outpost of the old Oyo Empire until its last Yoruba ruler, Afonja, revolted against his overlord only to fall prey to a coup d’état engineered by his Fulani collaborators headed by Malam Alimi. This led to the seizure of power in Ilorin by the Fulani, precipitating a war that had serious consequences for Yorubaland, its demography and society. One of its consequences was the destruction of Oyo City, the capital of the empire. It was only through the sagacity and prowess of Prince Atiba that another capital was created in the present day Oyo.

It is not surprising that the clash in Ife generated deafening echoes across Nigeria. It reverberates not just in the Yoruba settlements in the North, but also in the areas of great Hausa concentrations in the West, the Sabo of Ibadan, Osogbo, Ogbomoso, Sagamu and other areas. It drew attention in Agege, Idi-Araba, Ketu, Obalende and other parts of Lagos. This is more so because the political leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is dominant in both the North and the South-West.

The right of Nigerians to reside and work in any part of the Federation is a sacred right that should be upheld and defended. However, this right must be exercised with due respect to local sensitivities. We can just imagine if what happened in Ife had happened in Kano, if a Yoruba trader or an Igbo spare part dealer had assaulted an Hausa lady. “Let us understand our differences,” advised one of Nigeria’s founding fathers, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, first and only Premier of the defunct Northern Region. The advice is apt at this moment and it is good for all times.

What happened in Ife is not acceptable but that should not be an excuse for blatant injustice. Yorubaland is noted for its tradition of hospitality to non-Yoruba people. Indeed, when the British forced Oba Dosumu of Lagos to sign the treaty of cession in 1867, there were already people from other parts of Yorubaland and Nigeria in Lagos. Indeed, one of the most important figures in the Lagos of the 19th Century, Madam Tinubu, was a citizen of the Egba state of Abeokuta and many Nupe people served in Dosumu’s army. At the dawn of colonialism, citizens from all over the world were resident in Lagos. There were Portuguese, English, German, French and Spanish traders. That was the trend in other Yoruba states. Therefore, many of the Hausa who are living in Ile-Ife regard Ife as home and have known no other homes. It would be wrong now in the pursuit of justice to deepen the division and create an impression that those at the helms in Abuja have already adjudged one side guilty and the other side guiltless in a communal clash. This simply cannot be the case.

In 1966, when Nigeria was in upheaval and there were ethnic killings in the North, many of the fleeing Igbo people found refuge in Lagos and other parts of Yorubaland. In 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon was looking for an Igbo man who would be the Administrator of the newly created East Central State, (now divided into Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu states) he got a lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Dr. Ukpabi Asika, to take the job. It was only in Yorubaland you could find an Igbo person at the dawn of the Civil War in 1967.

This period of tragedy led to acts of fidelity and heroism in many quarters. One of the private stories concerns a young banker, who had a house in Apapa G.R.A. His neighbour then was a young Igbo architect. The architect fled in the wake of the crisis and relocated to the Eastern Nigeria enclave of the ill-fated Republic of Biafra. When the war ended in 1970, the architect returned to Lagos and the banker not only returned the house to the owner, he had kept all the proceeds of the rent for him in the bank. That young banker is our most respected elder, Otunba Olasubomi Balogun, the founder of the First City Monument Bank, FCMB, and the architect is our elder statesman, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of the Republic of Nigeria. While Otunba Balogun did that, like other Yoruba in other parts of the West, we know what happened to abandoned properties in other parts of the Federation.

Therefore what happened in Ife is not going to change the nature of the Yoruba people. However, we need to look closely to ensure justice. We should not forget that in the wake of the crisis, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, did set up a Reconciliation Committee, to put off the fire permanently. This committee would succeed if justice is seen to have been done and the fire would die permanently.

Ile-Ife is the land of Orunmila, the Wise One. Our leaders need to be wise and not allow every storm in a tea cup to become a real storm. Why would every suspect in a communal clash be taken to Abuja and not to the state capital for trial? How would the accused persons have access to their witnesses? Is the government going to fund the movements of the witnesses from Ile-Ife to Abuja throughout the trial? How many suspects in the Agwatu Massacre of Benue State have been transported to Abuja to face trial? How many from Jos? How many from Southern Kaduna?

So far, the Federal Government inelegant footwork in Ile-Ife is, to say the least, disappointing. The silence of the Yoruba leaders in the APC to this creeping assault on our sensitivities is beyond comprehension. Governor Rauf Aregbesola has set up a judicial panel under the chairmanship of Justice M.A. Adeigbe to investigate the crisis and recommend the next line of action in the pursuit of justice for the victims. At least the panel would be able to confirm whether some of those who died in the mayhem were actually killed by witches and wizards.