Saka Aminu, a retired teacher, and his wife, Saudat, sat in front of their house at Oke Yidi, one of the areas where lives were lost when Ile-Ife and Modakeke indigenes fought 20 years ago.
Now septuagenarians, the couple recalled how the conflict tore the people of the two towns apart, including close relatives.
Mr and Mrs Aminu said they went through physical, emotional and mental pains during the “war.”
“Nobody, no property was safe”, Mrs Aminu said. “May we not experience that again in this land.
“During the war in 1998, the only house my husband built was razed. Many fled Modakeke to other parts of Osun State. Some even fled as far as Ibadan and Lagos to work and build new houses. But we could not do so as a poor family with children in tertiary school then.”
Mrs Aminu said she was running a beer parlour at the time. She had stocked it with a loan from her cooperative society. But everything was destroyed when the “war” broke out.
“It took me seven years after the war to pay the debts,” she said.
“The day our house was destroyed, all I had left was the cloth on me. We later returned to the same house after family members donated money for us to renovate some rooms that we have since been using.”
Asked if she lost relatives in the conflict, she said, “hardly will you see a family in Modakeke or Ile-Ife that did not lose loved ones during the turbulence.”
Gbenga Olaegbe lives in Moore, Ile-Ife. The retired soldier narrated to our correspondent how he escaped with his family in the middle of the night to Ore in Ondo State.
“My house was razed like many others in the community. Despite being a retired soldier, I ran with my family to Ore.”
Mr Olaegbe started a new life in Ore as a farmer.
“Today, I don’t have a single evidence that I was once a military man because all my uniforms and pictures from my days in service were burnt with my house,” Mr Olaegbe said.
Historians have described the crisis between Ile-Ife and Modakeke as one of the oldest intra-ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. Seven major violent clashes have been recorded between them in 1835-1849, 1882-1909, 1946- 1949, 1981, 1983, 1997-1998, and 2000.
The causes include cultural identity, economics and politics as reflected in land ownership, payment of land rent (Isakole), creation of local government and location of its headquarters.
Ife, which the Yoruba regard as their source, considers itself the ‘landlord’ of the Modakekes. The latter had migrated to the area following the collapse of the Old Oyo empire in the 19th century. This was the underlying factor in the crisis between the two Yoruba groups that led to the slaughter of thousands of people.
The last conflict ensued over an agitation by Modakeke people for a local government council of their own. In 1997, the military junta of the late Sani Abacha granted their wish by creating Ife East Local Government out of the former Ife North and Ife Central local governments.
Ife indigenes wanted the headquarters of the new council in their part of town, but Modakeke people objected. The government then announced Oke-Ogbo in Ile-Ife as the headquarters, despite initially indicating that Oke D. O. in Modakeke would be the location.
Modakeke people swiftly protested the “cheating and injustice” and a full-blown “war” ensued that killed hundreds of people from both sides and destroyed hundreds of houses, cars and other properties. Some residents also died later from depression over the loss of their properties to the conflict.
The killings continued until 2000 when the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, set up a committee, led by Olabode George, to look into the intra-communal crisis.
The initiative was supported by the state government under the then governor, Bisi Akande.
The committee recommended the recognition of Ife East Area Office as a local administration entity with headquarters at Oke, D.O. in Modakeke, and adding “Ife” as a prefix to Modakeke for the town to become known as Modakeke-Ife.
The committee also recommended the location of a mobile police training school in Ile-Ife and police buffer zones in the flashpoints of the conflicts like Oke Yidi, Odo Okun, Iye Kere, Egbedore, Akrabata, Isale Agbara, and Mayfair/Obande areas.
The government accepted the recommendations and peace has since returned to the two communities.
PREMIUM TIMES findings, however, showed that many victims of the violence still live with the trauma.
“People from both sides are living together now but we continue to remember all that was lost in the crisis. The most important prayer is that a repeat of the crisis shall not happen,” Mrs Aminu said.
Her husband agreed that nothing is more important than maintaining the current peace between the communities.
“Ile-Ife cannot leave the land for Modakeke and Modakeke people also have nowhere else to go. The bedrock of our peaceful coexistence since 2000 is tolerance. There are disagreements but they can no longer escalate to war like before.
“We also appreciate the unity among our traditional rulers. The Ooni of Ife and the Ogunsua of Modakeke have both played huge roles in reconciling the parties anytime disagreements occur.”
In Ile Ife, Mr Olaegbe said religious leaders have been pivotal in ensuring that the peace is sustained.
“People have now realised that war produces only regret and not peace.
“If anyone tells you that there is no more disagreement in the communities, the fellow is lying. There are many issues on a daily basis. But with the support of the two kings, matters are always resolved amicably.”
Many residents also believe that intermarriage between the two communities, which is now common, will also cement the peace.
Jamiu Jeleel from Modakeke has been married to an indigene of Ile-Ife, Rukayat, for six years.
“I witnessed the crisis and we lost somebody very close to my family. But we have long reconciled and in fact, are intermarrying. My family is an example. I married her from Iremo in Ile-Ife and we already have kids together.
“I have friends from Modakeke who have bought land and built their houses in Ile-Ife. I also know Ile-Ife indigenes who have left to build houses in Modakeke.”
Role of the traditional leaders
Our correspondent visited the palaces of the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, and the Ogunsua of Modakeke, Oladejo Oyediran, three times in December for this report.
But he could not get to speak with either of the traditional rulers.
The secretary of the Ogunsua said the monarch needs the approval of Modakeke Progressive Union to speak with journalists. He promised to seek the approval and revert to our correspondent but he never did.
Our correspondent was not allowed to see the secretary on two subsequent visits.
At the Ooni’s palace, the Emeses (king staff) asked our correspondent to return the following day to speak with the Ooni. He did as advised but still could not see Mr Ogunwusi.
But sources at the two palaces corroborated that both kings were keen on ensuring that disagreements between their two communities never again lead to carnage.
“Even the late Ooni Sijuwade and late Oba Adedoyin, the kings during the last conflict, helped in pacifying aggrieved individuals. It has been the same with Ooni Ogunwusi and Oba Oyediran,” one of the sources said.
The two communities also have separate committees working in ensuring peace in the area.
The committees resolve disagreements to prevent their escalation to conflict between Ile-Ife and Modakeke. So far, those efforts are yielding results as Ile-Ife and Modakeke appear to have put the years of bloodbath behind them.
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