Historical Appraisal of Ife-Modakeke Crisis: Implication for Conflict Resolution in Nigeria



 Background to the Study

Nigeria is a large multi-ethnic country where ethnic cleavages remain a critical problem and ethnic violence has erupted periodically. Among the prominent conflicts in Nigeria are: Ife-Modakeke Crisis in Osun State; Yoruba-Hausa Clashes in Shagamu, Ogun State; Eleme-Okrika Conflict in Rivers State; Zango-Kataf in Kaduna State; Tiv-Jukun in  Wukari, Taraba State; Ogoni-Adoni in Rivers State; Chamba-Kuteb in Taraba State;  Itsekiri-Ijaw/Urhobo in Delta State; Aguleri-Umuleri in Anambra State; Ijaw-Ilaje  conflict in Ondo State; Basa-Egbura in Nassarawa State; Hausa/Fulani-Sawaya in Bauchi, among others. These conflicts have provided a pattern that makes scholars to attribute their causes to greed, power and wealth distribution. The impacts of these crises have led to loss of lives, displacement of people, destruction of properties, etc. Thus, the greatest challenge facing the process of conflict resolution in Nigeria is the issue of maintaining balance among the conflicting parties by the third party (preferably the Nigerian Government). This balance, however, can only be met if the roots of the conflict(s) are traced and treated fairly. Going by this analysis, the lessons from the Ife-Modakeke crisis makes a good study because of its strategic importance in Yoruba history; and again, its prospect for conflict resolution in Nigeria.

 Conflict resolution in Nigeria is multifaceted in that it refers to a process aimed at resolving ethnic conflicts through constructive means. In most cases, Panels/Committees set up to investigate communal clashes often identify the underlying causes of the conflict and address them through solutions that are mutually satisfactory, self-perpetuating, and sustaining. While it is true that not all conflicts lend themselves to conflict resolution techniques, the Ife-Modakeke crisis makes an exception. In the words of A. R. Asiyanbola (2007), the Ife-Modakeke crisis remains the oldest intra-ethnic conflict in Nigeria which makes the process of peace making a realistic one.1

 The Ife and Modakeke are both Yoruba of Osun State in southwestern Nigeria. According to oral tradition, both are descendants of Oduduwa, the perceived progenitor of the Yoruba people.2 The socio-cultural and political systems of the two communities are essentially identical and their geographical distribution largely overlaps. As related as Ife and Modakeke are, however, both have engaged in protracted conflict for over a century. The Modakeke people are generally considered strangers, tenants, and migrants in Ife. On the other hand, the Ifes’ regard themselves as the ‘landlord’ over the people of Modakeke.

 Historical accounts suggest that the people of Modakeke migrated and settled in Ile-Ife in the aftermath of the collapse of the Old Oyo empire in the nineteenth century, causing a refugee crisis to the south and resulting in the occupation of their contemporary location.3 Two distinct categories of people were thus created: the original settlers (landlords) and the migrants, tenants, farmhands, and a resettled group considered as refugees (Modakeke).4 These categorizations form the remote causes of the conflicts between the two groups.

  It is recognized that the causes of the conflicts between Ifes and  Modakekes are many and varied. Historians generally trace the crisis to pre-colonial Nigeria especially during the Yoruba internecine wars of the nineteenth century.5 Some of the identified major conflicts that broke out between the two groups include:

  1. The two bloody battles of 1849.
  2. The communal war of December 1882.
  3. The conflict over selection of Imam by the Modakeke in 1934.
  4. The Isakole (Land Rent) dispute of 1946 – 47.
  5. The confrontation over the reception of a British parliamentarian (Rev. Sorenson) in January 1949.
  6. The conflict over the establishment of Modakeke High School.
  7. The conflict over the establishment of Olorunsogo Plank Market,
  8. The opposition to self help development projects by a Fund Raising activity of Modakeke in 1980.
  9. And the request for a separate Local Government Council with began in 1950s.6

Efforts of the Nigerian government (both the Federal and the State Governments) in resolving these crises and the impact of the resolutions taken have had on the peoples of Ife and Modakeke is worth studying.

 Objectives of the Study

This study seeks to achieve the following objectives:

(i)          Provide a historical background to Conflict resolution in Nigerian using Ife-Modakeke Crisis as a case study;

(ii)    Examine the origin of the Ife-Modakeke Crisis;

(iii)   Analyse the various factors responsible for the continuous mayhem between Ife and Modakeke despite the intervention of the Nigerian Government (as the third party);

(iv)  Discuss the implications of Ife-Modakeke Crisis and the conflict resolution adopted in the area on the future of peace making among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.

 Statement of the Problem

Conflict resolution in Nigeria is still in its developmental stage. The Ife-Modakeke Crisis in Osun State; Yoruba-Hausa Clashes in Shagamu, Ogun State; Eleme-Okrika Conflict in Rivers State; Zango-Kataf in Kaduna State; Tiv-Jukun in  Wukari, Taraba State; Ogoni-Adoni in Rivers State; among others all follow the same pattern of escalation. While the Ife-Modakeke crisis remains the oldest of these conflicts, there is a need to develop an adaptive conflict resolution model that would arrest the situation before escalation. Using Ife-Modakeke as a case study, the causes, course and effects of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria could be understood and would have a long term implication for peace process in Nigeria.

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Scope of the Study

This study covers conflict resolution in Nigeria using Ife-Modakeke crisis as case study. It also focuses on the various resolutions and peace processes initiated by the Nigerian government, the various community stakeholders, and the peoples of Ife and Modakeke in resolving the crisis.

Limitation of the Study

While this study attempts to give a comprehensive detail on conflict resolution in Nigeria, it does not attempt to historicize conflict resolution in all the conflicting regions of the country.

Significance of the Study

This study is of practical importance to the indigenes of both Ife and Modakeke who are the main actors in the crisis. This study will expose their historical origin of these two communities which should unite them rather than separate them.

It will also help both the indigenes of the two communities to understand the history, traditions, customs, beliefs and taboos of the other group in other to accommodate each other.

This study is useful to scholars’ especially historians, political scientists, peace educators and conflict resolution experts.

Finally, this study is of strategic importance to the Nigerian government especially in the area of conflict resolution. It will help policy makers to detect early conflict, manage early escalation of conflict and ensure peaceful relations among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Research Methodology

This study adopts the historical research methodology. historical research methodology is most appropriate in studying the history of a particular society. It has a documentary value of the local achievements and challenges faced by the people.

In regard to the above method, this research depends largely on primary sources especially oral tradition, chants, war songs, official documents (from the Osun State Government and from the Federal Republic of Nigeria), pictures, and many more. Over twenty people have been contacted in the two communities of Ife and Modakeke for oral interview. Different modes of collecting data (mostly oral interview) were adopted. Tape recorder was employed to collect data. The language used in collecting data was Yoruba and later transcribed to English language and then cross-examined to check their level of objectivity and relevance.

In addition to the above, field work were carried out in the two communities so as to get first such hand information as regards the perceptions of the indigenes concerning the crisis.

Secondary sources were also sourced to enrich this research work. Published works on the history of the peoples of Ife and Modakeke were consulted to provide a scholarly guideline on the causes, course and effects of the Ife-Modakeke crisis and its overall implication on peace building in Nigeria.

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