A Growing Culture of Intolerance


The recent ethnic clash in Ile-Ife, Osun State is against the spirit of Nigeria’s diversity in unity and it is condemnable. Olawale Olaleye writes

It all started on Wednesday, March 8. The disagreement, the two versions claimed, followed an altercation between a man and a woman and consequently degenerated into a major clash that claimed lives and about 30 houses destroyed.Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba civilisation in Osun State relapsed into a needless and avoidable violent clash, days ago, when the Yoruba and the Hausa communities engaged in a free-for-all that left many dead and houses numbering about 30 destroyed. This is quoting different media reports. And as you read, the exact cause of the crisis has not been established, even though a panel of inquiry has been put in place by the state government. But there are two versions of what may have happened.

Here is the first account. That trouble started following a misunderstanding a man allegedly had with a certain woman, identified as Kubura – wife of a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). The man, believed to be Hausa, was said to have sat in front of Kubura’s shop, where she sold sachet water in the Sabo area of the ancient town.

Kubura, this account claimed, asked the man to leave (for whatever reasons) but he refused (since he could not relate with why she wanted him to leave) and this led to a quarrel between them, propelling the man, according to this account, to slap her. From there, all hell was let loose.

The second version claimed that a certain man ate at a woman’s canteen and did not make full payment for the food served him. This, it was said, ignited an argument between them, forcing the man to slap the woman. This then attracted others to take sides with either the man (Hausa) or the woman (Yoruba).

The development immediately compelled the Osun State government to impose a two-day curfew from 6am to 7pm in order to forestall possible spread of the crisis. Acting Commissioner of Police in the state, Mohammed Abubakar Koji, said mobile policemen were immediately deployed in to restore peace and order. Also, soldiers from the Nigerian Army Engineering Construction Regiments (ECR) were sent in to enhance the police effort.

Unfortunately, the police intervention, which allegedly saw to the arrest of mainly the Yoruba people, soon exacerbated tension as the Yoruba alluded to ethnic agenda by the police. They contended that nothing could explain the one-sided arrest made. This therefore spurred indigenes, lawyers and prominent Yoruba leaders to ask the police to be just and fair in handling the crisis, otherwise, their intervention could stoke further crisis.

The state Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, while inaugurating the five-man judicial commission of inquiry on the crisis appeared to still be in shock, because according to him, “The report that small arms and light weapons were deployed freely during the crisis was disturbing and frightening. It has implication for security of lives and property and the potential for more conflicts beyond the immediate theatre of war, if not nipped in the bud.

“I want you to look into this. The sources and the current location of these arms and their custodians should be investigated and determined. They should all be recovered. There were also reports that cultists, who have no regard for human lives, were recruited into the mayhem for a fee. This is most disheartening. Please investigate this and unearth the roles they played and let the law be applied without fear or favour.

“I charge this commission to be courageous and fearless. Undertake this assignment with all seriousness and the fear of God. You should pursue the truth and not fear where it will lead to.”

But at this point, it does not matter what led to the crisis or who started the fight, the focus should be on how a minor dispute between two people of the same country but different ethnic backgrounds could degenerate into such a blaze with wanton loss of lives and property. This, more than anything else, has exposed the growing culture of intolerance amongst the different ethnic nationalities in the country even as the nation advances in age.

Particularly disturbing is that it has revealed the existential strains and the often embarrassing indiscretion amongst some Nigerians of different creed. The dispute was by all standards baseless and could have been resolved peacefully without as much getting to a police station. A simple intervention by passers-by could have done it…It is a small community after all.

It is in view of this that last Wednesday’s clash between the people of Ipetumodu and Asipa in Ife north area of Osun State, three weeks after the March 8 Ile-Ife crisis, is also blameworthy. The clash occasioned by a mere misunderstanding at an inter-house sports completion would later claim 10 casualties and a major market burnt down. That too was needless and avoidable

Regrettably, this is not about Ile-Ife, but a fast growing culture – one of gross intolerance amongst a people once bonded by love. It stands to reason therefore that it could not have degenerated to this level of madness were it a quarrel between two people of same ethnic nationality. But because of the penchant of some Nigerians for wanting to take laws into their hands, the community would have to deal with these huge losses for a long time to come, some of them irreplaceable.

This is why an inquiry into this insensate, needles and avoidable violent crisis must be thorough and conclusive and those found culpable sanctioned.