What began as mere rumour later snowballed into a conflagration that claimed more than 40 lives. What was known as the peaceful fraternal relationship which had existed for more than 100 years between the Hausa and their Yoruba hosts in Ile-Ife, Osun State, was shattered on March 7, when a minor dispute exploded into a violent free for all. Witnesses have told reporters that what began like a joke soon claimed 46 lives, according to the police. Also, ninety-six people were also reported to have been injured and treated in the hospital, with 15 still on admission. The destruction of property was also extensive.
Most affected was the Sabo area of the town, where most of the Hausa community lived. Houses, shops and motor vehicles were burnt, while hundreds, if not thousands of people, were displaced. For the first time in the history of Ile-Ife, the victims who are mostly Northerners, many of whom were born and bred in the city, fled.
The crisis reportedly followed an altercation between a certain Ife lady and a Northerner, who allegedly assaulted her. The decision of her husband to rise to her defence culminated in the communal fight which claimed several lives. We strongly condemn the inter-ethnic fight in Ile-Ife and urge that another theatre of bloody ethnic clashes is not opened in that part of the country. Nigerians of all extractions should learn to live in peace with their hosts and settler communities, and allow the rule of law to prevail whenever they have differences. Many Nigerians now have a penchant for taking the law into their own hands without recourse to law enforcement agencies whenever they have differences with their fellow citizens.
This is what is fueling many of the clashes between host and settler communities in many parts of the country. This should not be so. But then, it is important that the police and other law enforcement agencies are seen to be fair to all disputants, to earn the respect of the people. The State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, immediately visited Ile-Ife with his officials to assess the crisis. He later addressed the people, gave relief items and said the perpetrators of the crisis had been arrested. The police have since paraded 20 persons suspected to have taken part in the violence.
The loss of lives and property to this clash is unfortunate. It is gratifying to note the intervention of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, who worked hard to restore peace and ordered the release of those initially held hostage. It is also reassuring that a “peace and reconciliation” committee embracing all ethnic groups in the city, including the Igbo, Urhobo, Hausa and, of course, the Yoruba hosts, will be mandated to look into the tragedy to pinpoint its immediate and remote causes and how to ensure it never recurs.
This crisis is a shock to most Nigerians who are familiar with the exemplary history of the Yoruba in general, and Ile-Ife people in particular, in relating with non-indigenes. We look forward to the peace committee uncovering both the remote and immediate causes of the clash. We urge all Nigerians to resolve and give the rule of law a chance. We should embrace civility, and eschew impatience in settling everyday disputes. There is unanimity that this crisis began with a Hausa man who tried to forcibly keep his ‘load’ in a store belonging to a Yoruba woman, and slapped her when she resisted the move.
Elsewhere in the world, all she needed do was dial 911 and the police would come in minutes and take the Hausa man away in handcuffs. And, he would likely go to jail for battery. But the lady, who was said to be married to one of the leaders of the National Union of Road Transport Workers of Nigeria (NURTW) in the town, instead called her husband and his ‘boys’ to defend her. They beat up the Hausa man, thereby enraging the Hausa community, which rose up in his defence.
The cost of this crisis is likely to be in scores of millions, perhaps, hundreds of millions of Naira, which could have been saved by going the regular route of lodging a complaint with the nearest police division. The lives of hundreds of Nigerians are going to be changed forever by this tragedy. Many of those who fled for their lives may never return to Ile-Ife, and would bear the wound in their psyche all their lives. The dead, of course, are an irretrievable loss.
One of the major tasks is to ensure that those who fled the community in the wake of the killings are persuaded to return home. Both the Hausa and other groups who fled out of fear or anger should be recalled and resettled. Nigeria belongs to all of us. And we are happy that there have been no reprisals since this incident. This simply means that the country is growing into maturity in spite of all our pretensions to the contrary by ethic jingoists who pretend to be nationalists and persons of good judgment.