Listen to this short but graphic account of the March 8, 2017, communal clash. It happened at Sabo, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
It was recounted by one Majeed Owoyemi, a vulcaniser (tyre repairer). He was actually reported to have been beheaded during the crisis, his head hung on a pole and paraded.
Owoyemi was asked, “Did Hausa people also fight during the clash?”
He exploded: “Yes. They fought. I don’t know why they said none of them was arrested. Most of the shops burnt belonged to the Yoruba because there are many Yoruba traders in Sabo. The losses were not limited to any particular group.
“When the crisis started, the two sides were throwing stones and bottles at each other. Suddenly, we started hearing gunshots and the Hausa also were shooting arrows. I ran away from the scene because in that type of situation, anybody could be shot.”
In that melee, police said 46 people lost their lives, while 96 others were hospitalised at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife. Eighty-one of them were treated and discharged. Fifteen were not so lucky, they were admitted.
From there, 38 suspects were picked up. Eighteen were found not to be culpable and were released. Police insisted the 18 included the Yoruba and the Hausa.
The remaining 20 were ferried to Abuja from Ile-Ife and paraded. They were all Yoruba. And that is the crux of the matter. How come? Two groups clashed, both sides inflicted damages, but only one side was arrested.
It is out of this world. It can only happen in Nigeria. And the reason it is raising serious debate, eyebrows and contentions.
Trust the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, it did the kick-off and opened the floodgates of claims and counter-claims. Afenifere called attention to the perceived lopsidedness in the arrest of suspects.
Since then, there has been no stopping the fire, as it were. It is ranging ferociously. Afenifere’s publicity secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, fired the first salvo: “The Abuja show is undue sectional deployment of federal might to intimate and harass a party in the conflict.” The statement came on March 20, 2017.
Promptly, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), the Yoruba Progressive Movement (YPM), the Ife Development Board and Yoruba Youth Socio-Cultural Association followed the next day. And the fire is not near to being put out.
The situation is becoming more worrisome. Salvos are being fired almost without restraint. That, perhaps, compelled the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, to come out of his shell. He was obliged to join the debate.
However, his reaction scarcely helped matters. He roared: “Crime has no tribe. If you are a criminal, you are a criminal, crime has no face.”
He insisted that, “We (police) don’t look at crime in the identity of where you are coming from. As far as you are a criminal and the police find you wanting, we apply the law.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) took it up from there. It came out strongly in support of the IGP. This was reflected in its publicity secretary, Anthony Sani, boiling: “So, what the Yoruba groups are expected to do is to help the police identify and arrest any culprit, irrespective of tribe or religion, rather than try to fan the embers of division.”
This is rather strange. It is the height of absurdity. None of the Yoruba groups claimed knowing either Yoruba or non-Yoruba culprits in the crisis. It is alarming how some people are grossly and intentionally missing the point.
In any case, who “helped” the police to successfully identify the “Yoruba culprits”? Are they culprits? Not at all! They are not even accused persons. They are yet to be arraigned in a court of law but the police has already labeled them culprits.
That is bothersome because, by parading them as culprits, they have on their own sentenced them. You only need to pronounce the jail terms. They ought to know better, as law enforcement agents. Again, why must the Yoruba be saddled with the responsibility of searching for non-Yoruba culprits?
What other manner of giving the crisis ethnic coloration? Have we not determined the identity of the Ife crisis? This crime appears to have a name.
Sani, however, beat a subtle retreat. He said in the later part of that interview: “I do not expect the suspects to be only Yoruba, considering the fact that the fight involved more than one group.”
That is it! Omoyomi also lent genuine credence to this. Two groups were involved. And there were heavy casualties on both sides. Common sense dictates that suspects should come from both sides. Anything short of this is completely off the course. It is merely beating about the bush. It hugely falls below natural justice. It exposes a hidden agenda.
We cannot run away from the realities the Ile-Ife crisis is throwing up by the day. Afenifere again brought one such reality to the fore at its Akure, Ondo State, meeting on Tuesday:
“Afenifere becomes worried with the way the police handled the Ile-Ife crisis, especially considering the fact that the leadership of Presidency and that of the police are from one of the sections involved in the crisis.”
The elders have spoken, and their words are full of wisdom. Don’t dare doubt them.