Nigeria: Warlords Of Ife And Modakeke Back To Their Trenches

9 March 2000

Lagos — After a few months respite, the warlords of Ife and Modakeke communities of Osun State are back to their trenches. The result, another round of bloodletting and wanton destruction of property. IDOWU AKINROSOYE AND TUNDE OLADIPO who visited the volatile zone report.

When in January, 1999 the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade and the Ogunsua of Modakeke Oba Francis Adedoyin embraced each other after a peace meeting convened to end the Ife-Modakeke conflict by the then military administrator of the state, Colonel Theophilus Bamigboye, many thought that peace had at last found home in the troubled communities. As it turned out last week, the hope was misplaced as warring youths returned to the trenches early in the week, signalling yet another round of bloodletting and arson in the seemingly intractable Ife- Modakeke conflict.

Already, many casualties have been recorded and with tempers still high by Tuesday, there is still potentials for more bloodletting. By Monday, 6 March, 2000, over 30 lives had been lost in the two communities. It was gathered that the casualty figures could have been worse but for the presence of a detachment of the police mobile force who had been deployed in the troubled areas to contain the crisis.

Fighting between the two communities broke out 3 March 2000. Eye witnesses told this magazine that tension began to build up in the communities since a parcel of land was designated as site for the launch of a mosque by the Modakeke community. Controversy had dogged the action. For the Ife neighbours of Modakeke, the action was provocative as they claimed that the land appropriated by the Modakeke people around Akarabata Junction for their mosque belonged to Ife. The discovery that Modakeke had even gone ahead to plant a sign post on the spot further incensed the Ifes. On Friday, 3 March, 2000, Ife youths stormed the controversial site to register their opposition. In the process, the signpost was pulled down. Unknown to the Ife youths, some Modakeke youths were lounging around, As soon as they saw their signpost go down, the battle-ready Modakeke youths drew the first blood by taking the Ife people hostage and subsequently inflicting severe injuries on them.

This re-opened communal hate in the area and triggered off a fresh round of fighting with both communities withdrawing to reinforce. But on the first day of fighting, the Modakeke had the better of the Ifes. TEMPO gathered that the Ife youths were caught flat-footed as they had no prior knowledge that the Modakeke youths were poised for war. But before they realised their folly, serious havoc had been wreaked by the rampaging Modakeke youths. Fighting which continued till Saturday, 4 March 2000, had however spread to the interior of the two communities, with both sides recording casualties.

Badly affected by the civil strife are buildings around Mayfair, a popular area in Ife. The Mayflower Hotel was burnt while Bollapat Court which houses Amicable Assurance Plc and Nigeria Agric and Co-operative Bank Plc was also razed. Also affected are the Universal College of Technology, Ile-Ife and the Gospel Faith Mission. These buildings were torched after being looted. Osun State Police Commissioner, Mr. Johnson Nwoye told newsmen that five houses were burnt but 15 buildings were observed razed. When TEMPO visited the ‘war zone’ last Monday, a group of Modakeke youths were still prowling the streets, fully armed with sophisticated weapons and chanting war songs. Employing guerilla tactics, they would retreat into the shrubs each time they saw the police armoured personnel carrier closing in on them only to re-emerge as soon as the coast was clear.

The police on their part appear determined to contain the situation. Nwoye practically moved his office to Ife to personally oversee the operations. The second in command, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Oshogbo, Mr. Supo Ajani has also temporarily moved his office to Ife. The Area Command for Ife Police division, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Ade Shinabu is also fully mobilised for what he calls “the mop up operation”. Some arrests have been made by the police.

At the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH) complex at Ile-Ife where most of the injured are receiving treatment, the casualty figures are increasing. Many victims with severe matchete cuts and bullet wounds on various parts of their bodies, were seen at the emergency ward. The head of the Public Relations Department, Olu Bello, told this magazine on Monday that only three people had so far died. He explained that one was brought in dead, while two others died in the hospital. He also revealed that about 66 victims have been treated for various injuries.

Dr. David Akinola, the Chief Medical Director of OAUTH could not be reached for comments. But sources told this magazine that some Modakeke indigenes who are staff of the hospital have fled for their safety since the casualities of the conflict started mounting.

Expectedly, violence in Ife and Modakeke have also made life difficult for the non-indigenes, particularly students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) most of whom were seen leaving the city. Others, including the Hausa traders were seen evacuating their property into trucks bound for their respective states in the North . But for the restive youths, both towns appear desolate, with fuel scarcity beginning to bite harder on Tuesday as only few petrol stations opened for business.

Speaking on behalf of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade who is holidaying overseas, the Asiwaju of Ife, Chief Orayemi Orafidiya described the attack on the Ife people as very unfortunate. While blaming the past military governments in the state for the non- implementation of the recommendations made by various panels on the Ife/Modakeke crises, he said that they decided not to retalitate because the Ooni had given them a standing instruction not to fight the Modakeke people even in the face of provocation.

Orafidiya told this magazine that they heard through intelligence reports that the Modakeke people had been stock pilling arms since the 1997 conflict between them. “You know there are a lot of ex-military officers among them through whom they get rifles, they actually carry Mark IV Russian rifles.

This is what they use to attack our people. Ordinarily, they are not up to us in number and if we want to deal with them, we can wipe them out, but we don’t want to create a situation where it will appear as if the Ooni can’t control his people or want to make the country ungovernable for the president who is our kinsman.”

Tracing the history of the clashes between Ife and Modakeke, Orafidiya said that, the hostilities date back to 1839. According to him, there were clashes in 1849, 1882, 1848, 1981,1983, 1997 and the current one. He alleged that the people of Modakeke had vowed to destroy all those things that make Ife beautiful, adding that they have been able to do this between 1997 and now.

Orafidiya, however, emphasised that there is a limit to the extent to which they can absorb the attacks. He argued that if the situation persisted, they may be forced to do what the government does not like. He berated the former military administrator of the state Col. Theophilus Bamigboye, (rtd) who he said mishandled the 1997 crisis.

“He did not allow the two sides to present their cases not to talk of blaming who was at fault, this is what led to the current crisis,” he maintained.

While corroborating Orafidiya’s views, the President of Great Ife Movement, Honourable Akin Adetumbi said the crisis re-opened because the Modakeke people were not interested in the current democratic government, as they did not vote or have representation in the governance. He added that there is a strong suspicion that a Muslim leader in the Oyo State capital, Ibadan, who was a very good friend of the expired dictator, General Sani Abacha is behind the current onslaught. He alleged that the so-called Muslim leader is at cross with the Ooni over the latter’s favourable disposition to the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, adding that it was not unlikely that the conflict was contrived to embarrass the Ife monarch. “The man believes so much in the military, he eats fat when there is anarchy and he really wants the problem to erupt from the cradle of the Yoruba race,” he declared. Adetumbi, however, maintained that they are still upholding the Ooni’s instructions not to fight.

The veracity of Adetumbi’s claim that they are not ready to attack the people of Modakeke, would be confirmed very soon. Meanwhile, the claim by the Ife people that they have not attacked the Modakekes has been debunked by the Ogunsua of Modakeke, Oba Francis Adedoyin who also denied any participation of his subjects in the attack. He told TEMPO that a number of people were missing in Modakeke, and most were feared dead. But the place remains calm with some armed security personnel keeping watch.

Since 1997, Ife and Modakeke communities have locked horns in communal clashes sparked off by the relocation of Ife-East Local Government headquarters from Modakeke to a supposedly neutral location in Oke-Igbo, by the then Osun State Government. The clashes had already claimed over 500 lives and property worth several millions of naira.

Additional report by Gbenga Arifayan.

Publication date: March 16, 2000

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