The serenity and ecstasy, which pervaded Ikolaje, a border community in Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State was very symbolic in the penultimate week. The tense atmosphere which prevailed in this ancient town prior to Thursday, February 27, 2020, had been a major source of apprehension not only to the residents of this town, but also to the people in the neighbouring communities of Ilashe, Ihunbo, Oke-Odon, as well as those in neigbouring Republic of Benin who were equally concerned as effort to broker lasting truce among adherents of the three religious groups in the community reached it crescendo.
Background to the crisis
Adherents of Christianity and Islamic religion had reportedly formed an unusual alliance against traditional worshippers over the latter’s alleged penchant for imposing curfew on residents of the town for days, thereby inhibiting their fundamental human rights to freedom of movement and freedom to gather for religious purposes.
This development, Sunday Sun gathered, had resulted in frictions of varying intensities between the devotees of traditional religion and the supporters of other religious faiths. Such frictions in the past had assumed violent dimension with bloody outcomes.
Multiple sources in the community claimed hostility and bickering among followers of different religious groups had cost the community a lot in the past, with many expressing cautious optimism about the newly found peace in the town.
Their fear may not be unfounded after all. For decades, residents of this sprawling town had lived in apprehension occasioned primarily by what 71-year-old Pa Musibau Atanda described as religious bigotry and intolerance among followers of the different religious groups.
“Ikolaje is naturally a peaceful town except for the occasional confrontations among followers of various religious groups. Religion as we were made to believe should be opium and not the harbinger of discord and disunity because that was what we were taught when we were growing up. But it is very sad to know that religion is now causing us so much pains and anxiety in this town,” the septuagenarian lamented.
Historically, the people of Ikolaje, like most communities in Nigeria, were predominantly traditional worshippers, but with the coming of foreign religions into Nigeria, Christianity and Islam made silent inroads into this community. And with it came the gradual conversion of the town to either Islam or Christianity. But by the turn of the last century, traditional religion had partially lost its firm hold on the community as most of the residents of the community reportedly embraced Christianity or Islam as their second religion.
“So, for a very long time, an average indigene of Ikolaje could profess to be a Christian or Muslim, yet he or she would still devote time to worship his or her household deity until few decades ago. Our people did not see anything wrong going to church on Sundays or Mosque on Fridays and returning to the shrine to worship their household deities later in the day. This was made possible because those who brought these two foreign religions into the kingdom were very liberal and showed some form of respect to the religion of their host community,” Pa Atanda revealed.
Genesis of the crisis
Things, however, began to take different dimension some six decades ago as Pentecostalism began to make an inroad into the town. “The early set of Christians in Ikolaje was largely members of orthodox churches, who believe in the principle of ‘worship your god and let others worship theirs’. So, everyone was doing his own thing according to his belief and faith. But the problem started with the coming of these new brands of Christianity and Islam whose followers hold the opinion that they are the only one serving the true God and that others are serving worthless gods. So, they believe everybody must be made to worship God the way they worshipped,” Pa Atanda recalled.
With more indigenes of the town ditching traditional belief for the new faiths, apprehension and resentment began to mount among the custodians of the old faith who sources said reportedly vowed to reassert their faith in the community.
This development, Sunday Sun gathered, resulted into open rivalry between traditional worshippers and Christians and Muslims on the other hand . The resentment was further fueled by what Reverend Oluwaseun Abogurin, presiding priest of Gateway African Church, Ikolaje-Idiroko, described as the aggressive and offensive soul winning approach by some Christians in the town.
“As Christians we need to be tactical in our approach to soul winning. But what I have noticed here is that some of our brothers in Christ did not see the need to emulate Apostle Paul who endorsed dining and winning with idolaters with the aim of getting them into the fold. The majority of the people here have one traditional deity or another which they worship. As Christians, we have the mandate of showing them the right way, but this mandate must be carried out with diplomacy and without insulting the sensibility of the people as some have done. So, in my view, I believe the problem arose because we failed to show some degree of respect to the traditional worshippers and their faith,” Rev. Abogunrin said.
As a typical traditional setting, Ikolaje is renowned for its traditional festivals during which masquerades of different kinds and the Oro deity feature prominently. The dark side of this traditional celebration, however, is the imposition of curfew in the community, a development which forbids non-adherents of the religion, women and children, from coming out while the curfew lasted.
Consequently, economic, religious, social and other activities are often paralysed during this period as people are compelled to remain indoors while visitors are advised to stay away from the town.
The Oniko of Ikolaje, Oba John Olakunle Ojo, told Sunday Sun that imposition of curfew on the town during traditional festivity was an integral part of the celebration from time immemorial.
His words: “Imposing curfew during certain traditional festivals is an age-long tradition which our forefathers practised. We don’t just declare it for the fun of it. There are reasons for it.
“But some Christian and Muslim faithful in the town are of the opinion that such practice is meant to frustrate other people and as such, has no place in the present day Nigeria.
A Muslim cleric, Ahmed Olalade said that no religious group has the right to deny other people their rights to freedom of movement through the imposition of curfew.
“Our belief is that these traditional worshippers sometimes come up with curfew in order to stifle and frustrate other religious groups. Our people suffer a lot whenever there is curfew because people cannot go out to do their businesses. Those who are sick and women who fall into labour during the time are forced to stay indoors until the curfew is suspended. Other religious groups won’t be able to go to their various places of worship. So, that was the reason we mounted serious opposition against this practice in Ikolaje,” he disclosed.
Sunday Sun learned that attempts in the past to resist the imposition of curfew on the community had resulted into serious violence during which lives and property were lost. One of the most recent of such violence occurred on Saturday, September 3, 2019 during which some Oro worshippers reportedly attacked and unleashed mayhem, maiming some Muslims returning from a programme allegedly for defying the curfew order.
Futile truce attempts
Residents, as well as natives of Ikolaje are no strangers to religious crises which sources claimed began over five decades ago. It is, however, disturbing to know that efforts to find a lasting solution to these perennial violence often failed to yield the desired results. “There have been so many attempts to broker peace and to forestall recurrence of the crisis, but unfortunately these efforts always ended in vain because the Oro worshippers would always insist on imposing curfew to curtail people’s freedom of movement,” Oladele revealed.
Sunday Sun gathered that similar efforts by the state government to profer lasting peace to the problem in the past also failed to yield positive results.
Findings by Sunday Sun revealed that an Ogun State High court sitting in Ipokia Local Government Area of the state had given a judgment banning the imposition of curfew in the town and day-time procession by Oro adherents, which was never complied with.
Apart from this, the administration of former Governor Ibikunle Amosu five years ago issued a circular kicking against the imposition of curfew to Yewa monarch, but the traditional worshippers at Ikolaje were said to have failed to adhere to it.
A strange olive branch
But amid fear of another possible major confrontation came a shocking olive branch from the least expected quarters. Sunday Sun gathered that residents of Ikolaje were taken aback when report filtered in that Oro adherents in the town had resolved to embrace the olive branch by abolishing day-time Oro procession and the imposition of curfew on the community during traditional festivals.
“We didn’t believe the report initially. But after sometime, it dawned on us that truce move was real,” a notable religious leader in the town who does wish to be named, disclosed.
Multiple sources confirmed to Sunday Sun that the initial insistence by the leaders of traditional worshippers not to obey the court order and government’s directive against the imposition of curfew on the people of the town and the attendant incessant violence had made many prominent religious groups to leave the town, a development sources claimed impacted negatively on the fortune of the people of the town.
“We later heard that they made spiritual consultations about what could be responsible for the poor state of things in the town and it was revealed that God’s wrath had descended on the town because of the treatment they meted against children of God who were frustrated to leave the town and that, that was the reason things were not going smoothly in the town any longer. That was the reason they called for the truce meeting so that we could iron out our differences for lasting peace.” the source disclosed
Peace at last
So, on February 27, leaders of the three religious groups converged on Mercy Land Hotel, Idiroko, Ogun State where they all resolved to sheathe their swords and agree to live in harmony with one another. According to Oba John Olakunle Ojo, the Oniko of Ikolaje, who represented the traditional worshippers at the truce parley, the religious leaders agreed to conduct their religious activities without interfering with the rights of members of other religious groups.
“The traditional worshipers conceded to the resolution that there would longer be imposition of curfew beyond the hours of 12 midnight and 4:00a.m. If this is what will bring peace in Ikolaje, we are ready to abide by it,” the monarch said.
Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, Chief Imam, Idiroko Central Mosque, who represented the Muslim community at the truce meeting expressed satisfaction at the development and commended the monarch of the community for his role in the truce.
“We are really happy about the peace initiative. Since the adherents of traditional religion have agreed to desist from imposing curfew on the town beyond 12:00 a.m and 4:00 a.m, we also on our part, as Muslims, will ensure we don’t organize any Tahjud whenever they have their programme. The Christians also agreed that they would not organise vigil to collide with their programme. As long as we abide by these terms, I believe there will be no cause for acrimony in the town, “ the Chief Imam said.
The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Idiroko chapter, Venerable Oba Aro was said to have traveled out of the town at the time Sunday Sun visited penultimate week. Efforts to reach him through his mobile phone did not yield positive results either as he claimed he was attending a programme in Lagos and promised to call back after the event. But he was yet to do so as at the time of filing the report.