Nigeria: Ife, Modakeke Crisis: the Modakekes Raise the Stakes

6 March 2002


Lagos — In a new twist to the seemingly unending Ife/Modakeke crisis, the Modakekes, having waited in vain for the implementaion of the recommendations of the Bode George led peace panel, decided to create their own local government. But such a move can only raise the stake for a peacful resolution of the crisis

In a twist that will surely make political watchers wonder what Osun State, nay Ife/Modakeke, is up to this time around, a certain Yekeen Awopetu, is presently the chairman of the newly ‘created’ Ife East local government. Like some of his ‘colleagues’ that are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in their bid to remain in power after the expiration of their three year term next month, Awopetu is not likely to have that fears. But his fears surely will come when the tanks roll in again to challenge an outright illegality.

Modakeke, which has been embroidered in an age-long fratricidal war with Ife, added a new dimension to the crisis when the town decided to implement the recommendations of the peace panel set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo and headed by Olabode George, a retired naval commodore and Vice-Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the South-west. The committee, the report of which could not be ascertained whether it was Modakeke that it was submitted to or the President, was said to have recommended that a separate local government be created for the Modakekes in order to put to rest the restless ghost of recurrent bloodletting.

When it appeared, in the reckoning of the Modakekes, that the President did not know what to do with the report or he was too slow for their political well-being, Modakekes decided to make history by becoming the first community to create a local government for itself and at the same time name a chairman for the council.

Ironically, the community did not see anything wrong nor unconstitutional in what it did. Hear the new ‘chairman’, Awopetu: “We have duly informed the federal government about what we are doing today. What we are doing is constitutional and anybody that has contrary view should go to court and seek legal redress.” Perhaps, Awopetu was referring to the Ifes. But he might soon discover that his community might have more than Ife to contend with.

The Osun State government, through the Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the state governor, Lani Baderinwa, said there could never be a “sovereignty within a sovereignty.” According to him, he was not aware if the people of the community had had any contact with either the state government or the federal government.

Baderinwa might be playing safe by not being categorical on the possible position of his boss on the matter, but definitely the community has raised the stake in the search for peace in the area. And there are possibilities that the community might have successfully pulled a masterstroke on both the state and federal governments ostensibly to achieve one aim: get attention, once more, to the fact that the Ife/Modakeke crisis is far from being over. And it was not the first time they would do that.

Late last month, youths in the community, apparently miffed by the reluctance of the government to implement the report of the panel, threatened to set up an internal government for the town. Leader of a group by the name Coalition of Modakeke Youths, Wole Animasaun, said that 20 months after the panel was set up and submitted its report, the government has not implemented the provision that said a local government area office be opened in the town.

Later, the youths nearly broke the fragile peace in the area when they were marching towards Lagere area, an Ife territory to protest the beating up of a Modakeke youth by the Ifes who was accused of “breaking into Ife.” It was the timely intervention of a police team who dispersed the youths who were said to be throwing stones already that solved the situation.

But the problems of Ife and Modakeke go beyond throwing stones. They have to do with age-long animosity which has been politically watered to satisfy selfish ends. On both sides, lives have been lost and ironically, even those who should know on the two sides have often allowed sentiment and emotions to run so deep that they blur all their sense of reasoning.

The question here is whether the problems can really be politically solved. If it can, there seems to be an unwritten rule that so far the solution is not likely to be in favour of the Modakekes, then it could not be applied. And that is why there seems to be a conspiracy on the part of successive governments to push the crisis on until another government comes in that will definitely inherit the problem.

In 1996, the regime of the late General Sani Abacha had created a new local government in the area, Ife East, with the headquarters in a place called Enu Owa. By the creation of the council, which ostensibly was meant to pacify the Modakekes, a part of the palace of the Ife monarch, Ooni, had been technically put under the said local government. That local government council never functioned for one day. The youths and adults alike in on both sides took up arms and wanton destruction of lives and property began in earnest. The first casualty was the council itself. It was stillborn. By the time the madness subsided, the regime knew it made a tactical blunder by creating the said local government which the Modakekes wanted but the Ifes would hear nothing of it. Even with its legendary ruthlessness, the regime of the late Abacha knew that it was perhaps biting more than it could chew and it quickly beat a retreat.

The area remained a volatile one until 2000 when the madness resumed. Some students residing in Mayfair Junction of Ife, just a few kilometers after the university gate had some squabbles with vigilante group and that was all. The age-old rivalry was rekindled and for days, peace took a forced backseat as anarchy rained supreme in the area. It took some time before some semblance of normalcy could be restored but some of those areas are yet to be re-occupied up till today by residents.

But in the midst of all these, what political mileage do the Modakekes want to achieve by declaring a local government for itself? Perhaps, to score some political points or to bring the issue back to the front burner of national discourse. Whichever way it is, the community is not likely to win. And the reasons are many.

The Ifes and the Modakekes might be locked in a brutal fratricidal war, but in the political equation of the present Osun State, the two communities belong to the same camp: the Omisore camp who is seen as representing the Ifes in the Osun State government. And he is not having his best of times politically. Therefore technically, the two communities are holding the short end of the stick as part of politics of the state is concerned. But that may be where it ends.

Were there to be a referendum in Ife today whether Modakeke should be allowed to have its own local government, the verdict is likely to be a resounding no. And that is exactly what is at the root of the crisis.

The Ifes, either rightly or wrongly or perhaps antecedental arrogance, still see the Modakekes as a tenant, who no matter how successful it might be must not be allowed to rise above certain level. The Modakekes do not seem to believe that they are still tenants. In fact, they see themselves as being at par with the Ifes in all aspects of life.

While this might be outside political contention but the fact is that it has become a ready tool of political maneuvering. The question that must be asked is: why, after 20 months, the recommendations of the Bode George panel have not been implemented? And closely related to this, is what the Ifes, in real terms, stand to lose in the events of the Modakekes having their own separate local government.

The monarchs of the two warring communities: the Ooni of Ife and the Ogunsua of Modakeke, have at different times called for a ceasefire but the question is how committed they are. However, the ‘creation’ of a local government for itself by Modakeke can not but raise tension in the area. And that is why the Modakekes might not be helping matters as they are only raising the stakes for peace.

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