Nigeria: Communal Fighting Leaves Scores Dead In Nigeria

2 August 1997

 

Lagos (APS) — Clashes between two feuding communities in south-western Nigeria’s Osun state left up to 50 dead in a flare-up of decades-long rivalry and hatred, according to witness accounts and reports here.

Despite a curfew imposed upon the Ife and Modakeke communities on August 17, some people were burned alive during continuing violent unrest in the two towns the following day, witnesses said.

The violence erupted after a decision on August 14 by the local government to relocate its headquarters from Modekeke to Oke-Ogbo, an Ife-controlled town. The headquarters was earlier moved in March from Enuwa, where it had been housed in the former palace of the traditional Ife king.

An uneasy calm pervaded the two communities at midday on August 19 as an exodus of residents continued, with the two towns left partly ruined by the violence. “It was through God’s special grace that I managed to leave Ife on Monday,” one of them said on arrival in Lagos.

After the latest move of the government offices, about 5,000 youths from Modakeke took to the streets of Ife chanting war songs and insulting the Ife monarch Oba Okunade Sijuade, sparking clashes which brought riot police in from Ibadan and Osogbo, sources here said.

The two communities, which have no clear boundary, have known mutual suspicion and hatred for almost a century. The last major clashes were in 1983 when hundreds of residents of the two towns were killed and property extensively burnt or vandalized.

The Ife, who outnumber the Modakekes, see the latter as “settlers” and “intruders” outstaying their welcome on what they regard as Ife land. The Modakekes see the Ife as “landlords” and “slave dealers” who would like to keep them in perpetual subjugation. “For us in Modakeke, it is a struggle for survival and independence, a struggle against domination and oppression from a people who do not respect our humanity and our contribution to the development of the area,” a prominent Modakeke resident who requested anonymity said.

Displaced by tribal wars in their place of origin near Oyo town, about 200 kilometres from their present location, the Modakeke arrived in Ife in the last century. The king of the time allowed them space in his domain but asked them to pay annual tenancy for the land they occupied.

But as the Modakeke community expanded and developed its own identity, the Ife felt threatened. Resentment burst into violence in June 1981 when an Ife university student, Bukola Arogundade, was beheaded a few days after testifying before a tribunal set up by the government to look into communal disturbances in Ife.

Ife people believed Bukola was killed by Modakeke people, which they denied, but scores of people, especially students, died in subsequent pogroms. Similar bloody clashes erupted in 1983 when the present king of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuade tried to prevent the Modakeke from inaugurating a palace for their own king. Oba Sijuade maintained it was impossible to have a king for Modakeke, which he said was an integral part of his kingdom.

Modakeke people have also refused to pay tenancy and politicians have fuelled the situation, with the two peoples supporting opposing parties, each making extravagant promises at the expense of the other’s community.

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