By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me take you on historical excursions today. At this unfortunate time that History is not a compulsory subject in our school curriculum, it is pertinent to educate ourselves properly about our dear beloved nation. For those who may not know, Ile-Ife is the ancestral home of all Yoruba people. Please, ignore attempts by all manner of historians attempting to rewrite history. Ile-Ife occupies an eminent space on the world map today, and as far back as I can remember, as being the cradle of Yoruba civilisation, at the very least. That is why you will find that all Yoruba’s in the diaspora lay claim to no other ancestral home than Ile-Ife. The Ooni of Ife is their revered King.
I’m proud to have been born and raised in that ancient town. I was born in 1960, just before Nigeria attained Independence, in a neighbourhood called Obalufon, a stone-throw from Sabo, where the Hausa community lived, and still lives today. My father had migrated, according to oral history, from Ihievbe, now comfortably situated in Owan East Local Government of Edo State. He met and married my affectionate mother and I’m the only product of their conjugation.
Ile-Ife welcomes hundreds of immigrants from different parts of Nigeria and beyond and we were fully integrated. We lived in peace, and as one. Ile-Ife produced four Deles in journalism and three of the four – Dele Giwa, Dele Agekameh and Dele Momodu – had their origin in present day Edo State. The fourth, Dele Olojede, is from Modakeke, and lived close to Ojoyin and Akarabata Roads in Ile-Ife. No one could tell the difference. We can easily be called bona fide sons of Ile-Ife and you won’t be wrong.
I spent 26 out of my first 28 years fully in Ile-Ife, the other two years were used serving the former Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, of blessed memory. I also served The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. I had studied Yoruba for my Bachelor of Arts degree and graduated in 1982 and returned in 1986 to enrol for a Masters in Literature-in-English and finished that in 1988. I’m therefore humbly qualified to regard myself as an authority on Ile-Ife, and indeed an adopted Ife son. I can vouch for Ife people as very friendly and welcoming people despite the internecine wars that have recently ravaged the town and halted the peace we all enjoyed growing up with.
In my close to 57 years on earth, I have come to see Ile-Ife as a modicum of tolerance and accommodation. Ile-Ife plays host to one of Africa’s greatest universities. I’m mightily honoured and proud to be an alumnus of University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. Most of our lecturers including non-indigenes usually build their homes in the town upon retirement because of the comfort and serenity provided by Ile-Ife.
I’m very familiar with the Sabo area of Ile-Ife. My father had worked with the Public Works Department, not far from Sabo. He also owned a small hotel and restaurant in Sabo and catered to the Hausa Community. My mum was also a food-seller by Ilare Prison, and we lived in Ogboku Road, by Akui Road, all very close to Sabo. I never heard of skirmishes between the Hausa and the Ifes, or anyone for that matter. You can therefore imagine my shock, horror and devastation when I read of the latest wanton killings in Ile-Ife and the communal strife that had spawned it. I was somehow relieved when I heard that the terrible situation had been brought under control. Kudos to the security forces for the big task of separating the warring communities.
I have read different and conflicting accounts of what led to the war. In every conflict, there must be two or more parties involved. In this particular case, all accounts I read pointed to a case of provocation and retaliation. I cannot confidently determine or say if the reaction was commensurate to the action, as propounded by Isaac Newton in his Law of Motion, but something definitely triggered the conflagration and dastardly massacre. I can still manage the news up to that point. But something else happened that rendered me speechless.
Those who should maintain the peace, protect the people and punish the homicidal lunatics who beheaded and murdered recklessly came in and took sides in the matter by arresting one side while studiously ignoring the other. “Which kind injustice be this?” in Fela’s voice. How can the prosecutor also be the Judge even before the case begins in the court room? Is it that the suspects just woke up and started shooting sporadically at anyone in sight, especially people in their community? How come not even one person was picked up from the other obvious party in the imbroglio? I also fail to see the logic in the mass arrests of Ife people and abducting them from the State of Osun to the seat of the Federal Government in Abuja. Any rookie lawyer knows that they can never be tried in Abuja but in Osun State. What Gestapo and Gulag facilities exist in Abuja that are not available in Osun State to warrant these people being moved?
I sincerely reject the excuses offered by the Inspector General of Police while trying spiritedly to justify the perfidiously odious decision to villainize only one party to the conundrum. I respect the Inspector-General of Police and considered him a thorough bred professional. However, it defies logic that the head of any of our security agencies would utter words to the effect that the Yorubas involved in this sad and ugly incidents are criminals but the other side are not. Clearly, this was a clash between Hausas and Yorubas. Why have the Hausas not been branded criminals as well? Is it because the Inspector General of Police is from the North? such misguided, uninformed and ill-advised statements can only add to the palpable tension in Yorubaland and fan the flames of the seething discontent and anger that is becoming all pervading not just in Ife but amongst all Yorubas wherever they are.
Although the Ifes know who their assailants are, they have been reluctant to name them because their hospitable nature does not allow them to snitch on their guests. That is no reason for the Police who were on the scene quiet quickly, on Tuesday 7 March 2017 when the incident actually took wings, from arresting those Hausas that they saw committing atrocities. To take the position that until those involved on the Hausa side are named by the Ifes, they would not be arrested is too naïve and utterly presumptuous.
The response and reaction of the Nigeria Police bemuses me for a force seeking to assure Nigerians that it can be relied on for its neutrality and sense of justice. Its response to the crisis was utterly confused and disorganised. Once events began to unfold on Tuesday 7 March, a seasoned and professional Force would have begun to gather intelligence and deployed a strong contingent to the flashpoints to prevent further disturbance. On the contrary, the Police waited until full scale war had blown out before seeking to control the situation. By then it was too late.
The other thing I cannot understand is why the Police will not inform Nigerians of the current state of their enquiries and why only one side has been fingered in the crisis. I keep saying we are no longer in the dark ages. Information is key. The way that the British police has managed the information as regards the Westminster attack is a case in point. Regular updates are released. Nobody can therefore speculate.
The only solution to the current Ife Crisis is for the Police to release the remaining Ifes currently being held by them. If they need to be in some form of protective custody or to prevent a recurrence because of their presence, then they can be bailed with a condition that they should not return to Ife. There have been similar riots and incidences in other parts of the civilised the world. People are not just locked up but released on bail pending further investigations. There is a presumption of innocence until guilt is pronounced by a Court of Law. We cannot continue to behave in an anachronistic and primitive manner.
The bias of certain powerful forces is already extremely shambolic. I wonder if there are agent provocateurs and fifth columnists who are deliberately setting up our President Muhammadu Buhari for monumental failure. Nigeria has known no peace since we succeeded in sacking the profligate government of PDP. It is embarrassing that some government operatives cannot see what damage they are doing to our President who suffered so much personal attack because of the perception that he is an ethnic jingoist and religious bigot. There is a saying by the Yoruba that a man accused of being a thief should never romance someone else’s goat. Our President needs to rescue our people and disabuse the minds of Nigerians about his branding as a President who does not think other Nigerians are important except his own people. Some of us laboured hard to convince our people that General Muhammadu Buhari is a true Nigerian patriot who would come to defend every Nigerian, especially the poor. I still believe in him and wish to assume that some people are using his name to commit and perpetrate all kinds of malfeasance while he is ensconced within the gilded cage of Aso Rock.
The tension in Nigeria at the moment can be cut with a razor blade. Nothing is more dangerous than playing ethnic games in the midst of economic tragedy. Nigerians voted for change to enjoy the highfalutin promises we made to them. We promised to deliver them from prodigal sons and daughters; liberate them from terrorists and general insecurity; rescue them from hunger and disease; eliminate ethnic and religious crises; provide jobs, social security and succour for our agonizing youths and many such goodies.
We did not promise to abdicate leadership responsibilities for irrational pursuit of personal vendetta and wars of attrition. We did not tell Nigerians that they would have to survive and live more by faith and promises than by concrete plans and effective and efficacious governance. We did not envisage the nightmare staring us in the face today so horribly.
My appeal is to the President. Politics is give and take. Politics is about practicality. A good lesson came from America just last night. Democracy is a game of numbers. Being obdurate and obstinate has no place in democracy. Anyone telling the President that he can fight all battles and win all wars is a big liar. In fact it was such a belief that heralded the downfall of the PDP that the President has now succeeded. We saw what happened in his absence when a different approach was tried and tested, Nigerians were happy, joyful and hopeful and they cooperated beautifully with the APC government despite their prior anxiety and palpitation.
President Buhari should stick to a winning formula. He should encourage and empower his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to carry on with the good news of the kingdom. The Ife crisis loomed large in our reckoning on 8 March 2017, While the then Acting President was marking his 60th birthday in a low key manner. Due to my obvious connections, I am aware that Senator Jide Omoworare was at the private dinner to mark the occasion. I know that Prof Osinbajo mandated both him and Senator Rabiu Kwankwanso, who was also at the occasion, to utilise their influence and contacts in the respective communities to ensure that peace prevailed immediately. He also gave necessary marching orders to the security agencies.
History teaches us that a similar situation occurred in Ife and the lack of neutrality displayed by the authorities during the first Modakeke crisis led to the second crisis which saw carnage and mayhem in frightening proportions. Once peace was allowed to reign, reconciliation was effected by the neutrality eventually displayed by the authorities. Both communities no live in harmony. My fear is that if the same approach of neutrality, reconciliation and rehabilitation is not adopted the resultant inferno will consume our country. It is only natural for those aggrieved to seek their own form of justice and retribution. President Buhari must never let it get to that. He must take charge now because the buck stops with him and not the Inspector General of Police!
There is so much to gain by this government collectively. I do not want to believe that President Buhari would want to blow this chance of a lifetime. I seriously doubt he would want to be remembered as a champion of myopia and parochialism above being a national hero and global statesman. I pray our President would direct all his disciples to begin to act like nationalists and be less of incendiaries determined to set fire to Nigeria and dismember whatever is left of the carcass.
Nigerians want peace and prosperity and no more!