Another look at community clashes

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By Abu Baba

On an assignment that took me across Erinle and Offa in Kwara State recently, I came first hand with the destruction that took place during the recent clash between the two communities.

Indeed, the Offa/Erinle crisis is not new to many of us, we have been used to hearing this for over a decade but I never had the opportunity of witnessing the enormity of destruction involved. I also remember other similar crises we have had in the country and they dot all the landscape of Nigeria.

They are so numerous that a dissertation on the crises would definitely be in volumes. The number and the frequency of this type of problem is part of a nation that is still groping for identity and a people that are yet to recognise the reality of nationhood. It is, therefore, not too surprising that we have them.

What is, however, surprising is the propensity to destroy through violent means and not taking into consideration the attendant costs that may accompany such destructive tendencies. Imagine the agony of a widow who has a shop between Offa and Erinle and whose child is in the university and has promised her to come for money at the end of the day, hoping that business would be positive.

What she got at the end of the day was that her shop and all her wares have been destroyed on her life! Imagine if her daughter had returned during the crisis and she was consumed in it just as her store and stock were consumed. What consolation would the governor’s fact-finding committee or boundary commission give such a family?

There can be no reimbursement that will reproduce life. Once it is taken, it is gone forever. To whom do the unfortunate victims of these internecine crises turn for succour? In most cases, they are made to run to the government for compensation, thus stretching the already lean resources of the state. One thing is, however, clear in all these crises. In most cases, the perpetrators go unpunished.

In most cases also, it is very difficult to point out who was responsible for the acts. The only thing is that the root causes of the crisis are always known. The type that had happened between Offa and Erinle, for example, has its root in dispute over boundary or more appropriately, a dispute on land ownership.

It has been there and can always come to the fore under various guises. But, for how long must we allow people who have propensity for destruction to hold us to ransom? The obvious inability of security forces to track down the perpetrators, identify the individuals who threw the stones, who struck the matches and those who poured the petrol actually shields the criminal-minded ones who enjoy recourse to violence.

There is only a solution in this regard that may work, incapacitating people with love for violence and forcing communities to rely on peaceful means of resolving all crises. I derive my solution from a story. Long ago in a traditional community I have read about, there was an internal crisis. It all started when an indigene attacked and de-robed a masquerade thereby exposing the man wearing the mask.

In this traditional community, like most Yoruba communities, it was the belief that masquerades are from heaven or that they are spirits and therefore should not be touched by men. They were to be honoured, respected and offered sacrifices.

This was therefore considered a sacrilege that must be punished. Without much ado, the man was declared guilty. The traditional way of punishment was designed for the offender. Therefore, the youths of the community were mobilised and let loose.

They invaded the offender’s compound ,killing all animals and birds and destroying everything of commercial value that they came across. By the time they were done, goats, dogs, sheep, rams, chicken, and hen had been killed and traditional dyeing pots had been broken.

According to tradition, the offender would pay the price for all the destructions. However, the offender was not ready for this kind of reaction and was not ready to pay. Therefore, while the destruction was on, he rode his bicycle to the Divisional Headquarters where a single policeman, a corporal, supervised a territory that is today about three local governments in size.

He reported what happened and the reaction of the community to the Corporal who then directed the man to go back home in peace and refrain from responding to the provocations. Not long after the man had returned home, the officer also arrived on his bicycle, well dressed in his short nickers from which his weapon, a stump, hung.

He rode to the kings palace and summoned him to the divisional headquarters to answer to charges of wilful destruction and taking laws into his hands. The king was shocked but the Corporal did not wait for explanations.

He rode back to the headquarters. The whole town was thrown into confusion and distress but it was not the days of lawyers so the king had no option.

The following day, the king trekked to the headquarters but instead of reporting at the police station, he went to the king of the town who then brokered peace between him and the policeman.

He was to produce the men who carried out the destruction with the animals and birds that they killed and the properties they destroyed. It was a long and harrowing experience for the king, the youths and the whole community but the demands of the police officer was met. Invariably, the community had to beg the complainant to get the youths off the hook of law before peace was restored in the community and thereafter such barbaric way of punishment ceased to be used in the community.

All such issues were taken to the kings palace where the offender was awarded fines to be paid and he naturally must pay such fines till date.

But violent reactions died and no one ever thought of using it again. We can borrow from this experience. In all these warring towns are kings and associations formed for the descendants and for progress of the town.

The king must guarantee peace in his domain and refrain from using violence to seek justice, irrespective of the level of provocation. Whenever the youths use violence to seek justice, the king and the towns union must be ready to indemnify those who lost their properties without delay while the king may lose his crown for incapability or ineptitude. In essence, let leaders take responsibility for their leadership, once they know that there would be repercussion, there would be restraint.

You can vouch that all the internecine crises between union leaders, especially the transporters would simmer down since they know that they will account for their obvious actions and may pay dearly for situations where they express their complaints with destructive tendencies.

About a decade ago, when armed robbery attacks along Lagos – Ibadan Express road became widespread, this was arrested by warning the leaders of the communities along the express road. Each community knows the thugs, the thieves and wandering errand boys of cultists. They know those who will throw the first stone in every crisis situation and are better placed to check them.

Besides, it is also a way of ensuring that leaders know that leadership is about responsibility which must be discharged. Once leaders know that they would be taken to task, they will avoid breeding thugs and they will ensure that people with propensity for crisis are kept at bay and disagreements are nipped in the bud.

And, if this is done successfully in a state, leaders in other states would avoid allowing this to be repeated in their communities. This is a solution, even though tough. Baba writes from Kwara State.

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