Fractured Peace in Ondo

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The peaceful co-habitation among the Yoruba and Hausa communities in a part of Akure, Ondo State capital, was temporarily disrupted when a clash broke out between the two sides. James Sowole reports

The age long peaceful co-existence between the Hausa community and their Yoruba host at Sabo Odojoka area in the heart of Akure, Ondo State capital, was penultimate Sunday disrupted as some members of the two communities clashed over the celebration of traditional Egungun-Usopo (masqueraders) festival in the area.

The area, which is traditional in outlook, was populated mostly by Hausas from the Northern parts of the country, whose means of livelihood are trading, embroidery works, commercial motorcycle operations and tailoring.

Some of these Hausa men also engage in digging of well, preparation and selling of meat, barbecue, working as guards, shoe mending and other unskilled jobs.

During the clash which lasted for hours on Sunday, one woman simply called Mama Lekan lost her life when she fell down while looking for her son, who accompanied the masqueraders from their abode located in the outskirt of the Akure township.

Also, two houses, four vehicles and about 10 motorcycles were burnt during the crisis.

THISDAY learnt that the traditional Egungun Festival is an annual event being celebrated by the natives and which is always preceded by announcements that usually lasted for no fewer than five days.

The clash was said to have started following an attempt by a cart-pushing Hausa man to pass through the midst of the traditional masqueraders.

According to the source, while other people in the street gave way for the masqueraders to pass through on their way to their destination, the cart pusher refused to give way.

The action of the cart pusher made the masqueraders to hit the man with sticks.

The hitting of the man infuriated other young Hausas in the street who descended on the masqueraders, derobed one of them and which caused pandemonium in the ever busy Old Garage area.

The crisis attracted various security agencies in the state as policemen from various departments, men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) Department of State Security (DSS) and soldiers from the 323 Brigade, Owens Barrack, Akure, were deployed to quell the crisis.

“The fight was avoidable. We have been living with the Hausa people for years. They are conversant with our culture and traditions.

“The Egungun Usopo Festival requires that people should keep off the street for the short period it will last.

“But this Hausa man defied the traditional worshippers and wanted to pass through their midst, prompting the masquerade to flog him.

“But some of his people came out and fought the masquerade. They removed his mask. That was the cause of the problem,” a source said.

It was gathered that the community had earlier gone on air to announce that the festival would hold and directed residents living along the area to keep off the streets during the period.

When the crisis started, different versions including religious colouration were speculated.

The religious aspect of the speculations led to the issuance of a statement by the Chief Imam of Akureland, Alhaji Sheik Yayi Akorede saying that there was no religious crisis in the city.

The clarification was sequel to unverified speculation that the crisis was created by an assault on a lady that wore hijab and who refused to give way to the masqueraders.

Rumour mill was rife that some young Hausa men abandoned their prayer to attack the masqueraders when the young Muslim lady was assaulted.

The level of destruction created tension and apprehension in and around the area leading to closure of commercial activities in and around Sabo Odojoka Street even on Monday.

The tension led to the visit of the state deputy governor, Hon. Agboola Ajayi and the Paramount Ruler of Akure Kingdom, the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade.

The deputy governor and the monarch were accompanied by the Commissioner of Police for the Ondo State Command, Mr. Gbenga Adeyanju, the State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Pedro Ideba and the State Director of Department of State Services (DSS).

Addressing the people of the area, Aladetoyinbo appealed to the Yoruba community to continue to live in peace with the people from the Northern parts of Nigeria.

The monarch, who spoke in Akure dialect, said the two parties had been cohabiting for a very long time without any problem.

“My people, let us accommodate our brothers from the Upper Niger, they had been living in peace with us for many years without crisis.

“We are here to appeal to you to allow peace to reign. We are going to invite your leaders to a meeting to forestall recurrence of the matter.

“The Akure community in Kaduna had invited me to come and celebrate with them. If there is no peace there, they would not be able to invite me but they asked me to come because they are living together peacefully.

“Please, let there be peace in Akure and it is when there is peace that there can be progress,” Aladetoyinbo said.

Living up to his promise, the State Government invited leaders of the Hausa Community, the Seriki Hausa, Alhaji Babangida Sadiq and the Elojoka, Chief Ropo Afolabi to the Cocoa Conference Hall of the Governor’s Office for a meeting in order to resolve the matter.

Addressing representatives of the two communities, the deputy governor, Ajayi said the crisis was caused by misunderstanding of each other.

He said: “whatever happens between you, do not take the law into your hands. Always remember that the Police are there to address the issues.

“On the other hand, you have government appointees, who can reach the government. As a people, we should always be conscious of the rights and privileges of one another and respect such.

“All Nigerians are one, irrespective of our languages and tribes. Both parties have said, they have lived together for decades without trouble.

“You must check the youths among you, who might like to cause trouble and hand them over to the police. Ondo State is noted for peace and we must sustain that at all costs.

The deputy governor said a committee will be set up to look into how government can assuage the losses incurred by those whose properties were touched.

Also speaking, the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi implored the people to continue to live together as one.

“I am the king over the whole of Akure. We must all work together to have peace in this kingdom, so that we can work towards personal and collective progress.

“We must bear with one another by not taking anything to the extreme,” the Deji said.

Leaders of the two parties, the Elejoka of Odojoka, Chief Ropo Afolabi and the Seriki of Hausa in Akure, Alhaji Babangida Sadiq both pledged to abide by the agreement reached at the meeting.

They promised to appeal to their followers and make them embrace peace.