Nigeria: Still On The Ife/Modakeke Feud

By Bola Ige, 12 April 2000

Lagos — The Ife-Modakeke conflict is about 160 years old. The latest version can be traced to 1997 when the military administration of the late General Sani Abacha engaged in a reckless and whimsical local government creation exercise.

The Ife East Local Government whose headquarters was initially located in Modakeke evoked a passionate resentment from the Ifes. Attempt by the regime to relocate the headquarters to Ife fuelled greater resistance from the Modakekes. The resultant disagreement snowballed into a full-scale fratricidal warfare that has refused to end even though it had been punctuated by intermittent ceasefires.

The latest round of blood-letting between these two contiguous communities is just about two months old. Its cause is as mysterious as the ruthlessness and barbarism that seem to be the hallmarks of the latest edition of this cycle of mutual annihilation.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s visit to the war-torn communities on Thursday, 23 March 2000 was the government’s own effort at effecting a reconciliation between the two communal gladiators.

Although it could be said that the President’s visit ought to have come earlier, it is difficult to justify the escalation of the conflict shortly after the President’s departure.

Although President Obasanjo set up a committee to broker peace, it has been almost impossible for the committee to hold well-attended regular meetings.

Nigerians and, especially, the Yoruba are profoundly disturbed at the inexplicably unending nature of the Ife-Modakeke conflict. The arguments about Modakekes being tenants on Ife land has not even bowed to the logic of its unconstitutionally.

We condemn in the most vehement terms the senseless carnage going on in Ife-Modakeke. Its persistence is indicative of an absence of good leadership in the two communities. It further affirms the embarrassing truth that some of these community leaders are likely to be benefiting from the continuation of the feud.

The government has a duty to save these two communities from the path of self-destruction along which they are almost irrevocably set. There are innocent women and children as well as the aged who may continue to be innocent victims of the senseless killings.

The government and the society have a duty to protect these vulnerable segments of our population from the misadventure of the Ife- Modakeke leaders. We are convinced that a road map for conflict management has to be designed. In doing so, we must identify the errors that were committed in the past and correct them.

President Obasanjo’s decision not to visit Modakeke when he actually visited Ife is indefensible. He must, on account of this error of omission, do everything to enjoy the confidence of both parties. It is also our view that the committee he set up to look into the crisis is rather too large.

Being so unwieldy, it is not likely to be effective.

There is an urgent need to prune down the membership of the committee to a more manageable size. After all, it took the efforts of only the ageless Nelson Mandela to broker peace in the Rwanda-Burundi conflict.

The Osun State government ought to mount effective public enlightenment programmes on radio and television to underscore the futility of internecine conflicts. Such programmes must include drama sketches and jingles that should expose the manipulative activities of the leadership of those communities whose children are not likely to lose their lives in the conflict.

The two parties also need to be told in plain terms that the war is unwinnable. It is time for government to respond to the logic of the principle of self-determination by allowing for the creation of a separate local government for Modakeke without tampering with the existing one (Ife East) which is currently located in Ife town.

Perhaps, the mediators should let the two communities know that the 1999 Constitution does not recognise some people as tenants in a land where they have spent almost 200 years.

Both communities must end the current hostilities and give peace a chance in order to stop the further desecration of “the ancestral home of the Yoruba.

We call on the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade to live up to the image of the custodian of Yoruba culture by showing a translucent interest in peace.

His current attempt at buck-passing flies in the face of reality. History will not absolve him if him fails to devise imaginative strategies for breaking the current cycle of blood-letting in the home of Oduduwa to a speedy end.

Publication date: April 20, 2000

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