Nigeria: Ife: A Sordid Heritage

1 July 2000


Lagos — Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba is in ruins because of protacted communal clashes between her and the Modakekes. The recent peace accord initiated by President Obasanjo has hit the rocks. Adeniyi Ojebisi who visited the area reports.

The date line was June 22, this year. With his bag held tightly to his left side, this reporter stood at the Mayfair Round-about, Ile Ife, surveying a city that was still on trial. The whole area was deserted.

There were neither human beings nor animals on sight except a detachment of mobile policemen who mounted a road block. He watched motorists paying the usual twenty-naira ‘levy’. The driver of the vehicle that brought him from Ibadan had paid the illegal fees in more than thirty checkpoints between the Oyo State capital and Ife.

The magnificent houses, which beautifully adorned the area in the past, have been reduced to ruins. Residential quarters, business houses, Churches and Mosques were wearing battered looks. Motor vehicles appeared in long-spaced-out relays headed in both directions of Ife and Modakeke. He then moved near the armoured tank where the most senior officer, an Inspector, was sitting.

“Hello, officer, I am a journalist on a fact finding tour of this area.” He introduced himself. The Inspector fingered the junction of his right ear and head. “Yes Mr. Pressman, welcome, what can I do for you”.

Suddenly there was a sound of gunshots. Everybody including the reporter took cover. After about five minutes, we were on our heels fleeing in various directions.

The renewed hostilities in the troubled Ife and Modakeke communities confirmed that the last week peace accord initiated by President Olusegun Obasanjo has collapsed.

Olabode Gorge held a marathon meeting with the representatives of the two neigbouring communities in Abuja last week. The panel’s recommendation was accepted by the President.

Stating the Federal Government’s decision at the end of the meeting, Obasanjo urged the two communities to eschew bitterness and live together as good neighbours. Other highlihghts of the communique are:

* that the Baale of Modakeke should go to the palace of Oluaye and Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II for formal installation;

* that Modakeke should be addressed as Modakeke Ile-Ife, and not Modakeke, Osun State;

* that Ife East Local Government, Oke-Ogbo, should have an area office at Modakeke in order to pave way for their effective political participation and an enabling environment for social reintegration;

* that there should be an immediate establishment and approval of Mobile Police Training College in Ile-Ife;

* that adequate compensation should be given to victims who lost their lives and properties during the crisis;

* that as a minor chief, the Baale of Modakeke should not appoint or install other minor chiefs;

* that it was Ife East Local Government that was requested for by the Ifes and that it was approved by the Federal Government;

* that the Ooni of Ife is magnanious to forget and forgive the misdeeds of the Modakekes and

* that all arms and ammunition of the warring communities should be submitted to the nearest police station.

However, it appeared that the accord was imposed rather then agreed upon.

The skirmish at the Mayfair area sent the signal of what laid ahead for the visitor. He knew that his task would not be easy, simply because this was a familiar territory. As he came down from the motorcycle that brought him to the palace of the Ogunsua of Modakeke, Francis Adedoyin, his heart was beating vigoriously.

The palace was an old building, which was recently renovated.

An imperfect grid of corrugated iron sheets, visible from the market is its most conspicuous feature.

The Ogunsua was briefing the leaders of Modakeke when the visitor arrived. He was ushered by a palace assistant to a garage, which was converted into a reception. As he sat on the wooden bench, he began to consider the extent of damage and casualities recorded on both sides.

The intermitent shout from the meeting became another source of concern to the reporter.

At the end of the meeting, it became apparent that the Abuja accord had hit the rock.

Tall and elegantly dressed Ogunsua sat on his throne as the visitor was ushered into his presence. After the exchange of pleasantries, he sat down to begin the business of the day.

“What is the decision of the leaders to the Abuja accord”? The visitor asked the first question. “I cannot comment on the Abuja meeting” he replied. Adedoyin revealed that a congress of the Modakekes at home and abroad would soon meet to take a decision on the matter.

Asked to assess the security situation in the community, he said, “I know there is peace now as you also can see. But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, I cannot guarantee permanent peace”.

However, one of the chiefs who pleaded anonymity hinted that the accord is unacceptable to them. He contended that the Federal Government took side in the crisis. “The government decision favoured the Ifes. Our representatives were intimidiated to accept the accord. It cannot work” he further said.

By the time the visitor rose up to continue his trip, the chamber has become rowdy, several indigenes came to submit claims of their operational expenses.

The community is said to have incured massive debt in the process of prosecuting the ‘war’.

Apart from many widows and orphans that besieged the palace for assistance, many warriors have become disabled needing medical attention.

Movement between the two communities is still resticted. Armed warriors on both sides are keeping surveilance on border lines. Modakeke was initially, an Ife suburb. The indigenes were said to be war refugees from Oyo who settled in the area in the 19th century. The Ifes and the Modakekes had a past record of bloody communal clashes spanning over a hundred years.

The recent crisis was sparked off by the creation of Ife East Local Government in 1996 with the headquarters at Enuowa, it was relocated to Modakeke following a protest by the leaders of the community. A second relocation to a neutral place has also remain contentious. The Post Express’ gathered that the Modakekes quest for autonomy is the root cause of the unending crisis. Political observers have said that the decision of the Federal Government to sweep the grievances under carpet would not solve the problem.

The Ife City Hall is the operational base of the Ifes. The magnificient edifice houses the Ife Development Board. Eminent citizens were celebrating when The Post Express visited last week. They sang, danced and rejoiced. Victory has come at last.

Speaking during a chat with our correspondent, the Asiwaju of Ife, Chief Orayemi Orafidiya stated that the Ifes have been vindicated. “I have said several times that the truth will eventually prevail. It is in their interest to abide with the Abuja accord” he argued.

Orafidiya, 82, appealed to the Modakekes to lay down their arms. “Let’s forget the past. Let’s rebuild Ile-Ife together” he said.

Why has the crisis become endless? Observers have stated that rather than redress the grievances of the two parties, government efforts have been geared towards sweeping them under the carpet.

Stating the position of the Ifes, Orafidiya at a news conference described the Modakekes as a bunch of ungrateful settlers whose ambition was to lord themselves over their landlord. He further said, “The Modakekes were the Oyos driven from their home in Oyo to Ife because of the Fulani Jihad in the 19th century. But because they were troublesome, the Modakeke were driven out of the outskirt of Ife where they settled”. However, he revealed that they were allowed to return in 1908 after reaching on agreement to pay Isakole as tenants. “They are tenants and they will remain so. They cannot be autonomous. They are not entitled to a separate local government as long as they are on Ife land” he said.

The Ogunsua of Modakeke disagreed with Orafidya contending that it was an attempt to rewrite history in order to serve a selfish purpose. “The Modakekes who are originally from Ife merely returned home. Our fore fathers did not sign any tenancy agreement with anyone. As a distinct people, we are entitled to a separate local government.

For such a crisis to end, according to a former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, “the redress of the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors”.

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