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For years, the new year festival had always been a binding cord between Ilofa and Odo-Owa, two sister communities in Oke-Ero Local Government in Kwara State. Residents of the two settlements often looked forward to eating new yam to start the yearly harvest. But this year, instead of getting together in the usual love to share the delicacy, the celebration was marked with guns, machetes and cudgels.

By the time the dust settled, two residents lay dead.

The festival, which was supposed to be a celebration of happiness and thanksgiving to the god of fertility and productivity turned out to be a springboard for a communal clash between the two neighbouring communities that had peacefully co-existed and even inter-married for years.
At the end of the mayhem, no fewer than 20 buildings, including a church building of the Redeemed Christian Church of God were either razed or vandalised while three cars were burnt.
One of the victims of the communal clash who had been rendered homeless is a 61-year-old retired primary school teacher, Mrs. Felicia Oluwadare.
She said she borrowed from cooperative societies and worked late hours in the farm to  raise money to build her house; hoping that after her retirement, she would live a comfortable life. She lamented that all her efforts and investments were razed within few hours, leaving her with only the cloth she wore while escaping from the rampaging mob.
She said she laboured to save money for 35 years that she taught in schools to build the house and parked into it in January 2014, only for it to be razed on Friday, June 30, 2017.
Oluwadare said, “In a dramatic and quite unexpected moment, they burnt my house. I am yet to comprehend it as it appeared like a movie. All the things that I bought since I started working were burnt. They burnt all my certificates and other properties. They burnt my primary school certificate, teachers training certificate, my NCE certificate, and  my marriage certificate. In fact, all my documents were burnt.  I do not know how I can get the certificates again.
“They also burnt the whole house. They burnt all my clothes. I only have the cloth that I wore before I ran out.  They also burnt my children’s property. They burnt our grinding machine.
“I taught for 35 years and retired in 2015. I got loans from cooperative societies.
After repaying, I would get another one. That was how I struggled to build that house. When I was teaching, I would shuttle between the farm and school and would farm till late before returning home so that  I could get a suitable place to stay after my retirement. But they have burnt everything now. I do not have anything anymore. I packed into the house in January 2014.
She added, “I have five children, only one of them is working but not with fantastic salary. Many of my children have graduated from tertiary institutions but because of the economic situation in the country, they do not have jobs.  After my retirement from the last school I taught, Ekosi Community Model Primary School, in Oke-Ore LGA, I thought I was to enjoy my retirement but see how things have turned out?
“I am appealing to the federal and Kwara State governments, all Nigerians, corporate organisations, donor agencies, groups, philanthropists and well wishers to help me. How cated knowledge for 35 years and had saved to build a house become homeless now? It is a pathetic situation.”
Another resident of Odo-Owa community, Mr. Bamikole Opeyemi, also decried the  destruction and narrated that the mayhem occurred over new yam festival.
He said a retired principal, identified as Mr. Joachim Adeleke, not only had his house razed but also his two vehicles.
  Adeleke, who according to him, is from Ayedun in the same local government area but resides in Ilofa escaped being burnt by the whiskers.
He alleged that it appeared that Odo-Owa people had been nursing grievances against Ilofa people while the yam festival rite, which turned to superiority contest, provided an inflammable ground for them to unleash venoms on their sister community members.
He further alleged that the Odo-Owa people, who he regarded as the aggressors, appeared to have prepared for the onslaught.
He stated that many members of the community had deserted their homes and fled to their relatives in other communities for fear of another round of attacks. He said the invaders had  resumed attacks, allegedly shooting sporadically and burning houses, a day after the mayhem when they thought calm had been restored.
Opeyemi explained that on Thursday, June 29,  members of the two communities prepared to go to the market for the commencement of the yam festival.
According to him, the two communities had been observing the celebration together.
He said, “They said they should do it together as they had been doing it together before. So on Thursday, one of the communities wanted to do it separately, when they got to the market, their king was raining curses on our land, which is Ilofa. That is where they started the violence. They shot one of our men, that person died instantly. That is why Ilofa people attacked back.
“So on that Thursday, they started burning houses from the market place to this place but they did not touch any of the nearby houses.
“It was on Friday that they surprisingly came again, shooting and later burnt all these houses within my neighbourhood. In Ilofa, we  identified two people that were killed. There was one old man here, fondly called Baba Gani; he tried to protect his son’s house and pleaded with them (mob) not to burn  the house. They shot at him. Even on Friday, they did not want us to bury him. They also came there but we managed to bury him.”
An indigene of Odo-Owa who pleaded anonymity as he was not authorised to speak for the community said they felt degraded and slighted when their Oba was not upgraded to a first class status. He claimed that their progenitors founded and settled in the area before other settlers.
According to him, this conferred seniority on them over other settlers such that during yam festivals, Odo-Owa king must be the first to perform the necessary rites. He added that they felt belittled when in 2016, the Alofa of Ilofa, Oba Niyi Dada, was elevated to a first class status by the Kwara State Government while their king, Oba Adeyemi Adimula, was not.
He stated that they felt subjugated and being made subservient to those who he claimed should not lead them.
He said, “How can the state government elevate the Alofa of Ilofa and leave our Oba? It appeared that the government did not take into consideration the historical, sociological and anthropological views of these two communities.
“Our forefathers founded this land and other settlers later joined them. They lived harmoniously because our forefathers were peaceful and the other settlers understood their bounds and did not lord it over and preside over functions that our forefathers had the right to do as the first settlers of the land.
“But see how it was changed when our king who had been presiding over communal rites as the eldest king was not elevated while the Alofa was elevated last year and so it appeared that Alofa will now lead during rites and festivals instead  of our king. Such of course was not acceptable to us as we continued to nurse the grievance. So we could not bear it any longer when it appeared that our tradition was being violated and our king undermined. That was why we prevented the Alofa from being the first to sell his yam.”
Another resident of Odo-Owa, who also pleaded anonymity, said there was destruction of properties also in  Odo-Owa community. He noted that some houses were either vandalised or burnt during the mayhem.
He also said that there was mutual mistrust among the members of the two communities, adding that it was doubtful if in a short time, children from Odo-Owa will go to school in Ilofa. He added that it was also doubtful if some residents of Ilofa would trade in the market in Odo-Owa where the conflict originated from.
He stated that the rusty-looking old market, which looked like a market in the medieval period,  was currently the only market  for the two communities.
Sources  confirmed that the conflict, which was sparked off from the market  had its remote cause on a latent animosity, grievance and misgiving over the upgrade of Alofa of Ilofa from second class  to first class traditional ruler by the Kwara State Government while leaving the Olota of Odo-Owa, to remain as a second class traditional ruler.
They alleged that Alofa had sent his aides to sell his yam first before any other person in the market while on hearing of it, the Olota allegedly stormed the market with some of his loyalists to prevent what was regarded as a desecration of tradition and the community.
They added that altercations ensued which degenerated to the mayhem.
The Commissioner of Police, Kwara State Command, Mr. Lawal Ado and some other top officers and men of the  Kwara State Police Command who had accompanied the Secretary to the Kwara State Government, Alhaji Isiaka Gold and other top government functionaries, confirmed that the crisis erupted over superiority contest during a new yam festival.
Ado said, “The cause of the problem is about the yam festival. Unfortunately they are overlapping communities, in fact they are kith and kin, they are brothers. But one of the monarchs said he should be the first to present his yam or sell his yam in the market. So as a result, there was misunderstanding and this led this kind of problem. It is very unfortunate.
“In fact, we are advising all Kwara residents to desist from all kind of tribal problem because we will not hesitate to deal with anybody found wanting. We will write our report and recommend to the state government for action to be taken against them.”
The CP stated that with the high presence of police officers and joint patrol of security operatives, normalcy had been restored in the warring communities.
While saying that the command had commenced investigation into the mayhem and that all the culprits would be apprehended and prosecuted, he urged  all the residents  to remain peaceful  and go back to their normal business. He also assured residents of adequate security of their lives and property.
Ado said, “I want to inform all of them in the two communities that they should desist from any form of festival until this issue is resolved or else anybody who flouts this order will be held accountable and we will deal with him accordingly.”
He also said that to find the remote and immediate cause of the clashes, the two monarchs were quizzed while other people who had been accused of either causing, fueling or participating in the orgy of violence would be interrogated while culprits would be prosecuted.
Ado said, “We have got the names of some of the culprits and we will go after them. As soon as we get them, they will be prosecuted.
“In fact, we invited them (two monarchs) as at (last) Friday. While we were having interface with them, we learnt that there was a problem on ground, so we quickly released them to go back in order to pacify their subjects. But we gave them time to come and meet us in Ilorin on Monday and they came.”
In an apparent attempt to prevent reprisals and further hostilities between the two communities, the state government imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. It also ordered the suspension of all activities related to Yam festival in the LGA.
Gold said the curfew which involved a ban on all human and vehicular traffic in the affected communities  was designed to assist security agencies to contain and prevent  escalation of the conflict as well as restore peace in the warring communities.
He reiterated government’s resolve to bring the full weight of the law to bear on any individual or group found to have initiated, participated or otherwise contributed to the recent violent conflict between the neighbouring communities under any guise.
Gold described as tragic and unfortunate the violent clash between the two neighbouring communities and explained that the state government would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone found to have been remotely or directly connected to the crisis no matter how highly-placed.
The State governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, inaugurated the commission which comprised  the Chief Judge, Kwara State,  Justice Sulyman  Kawu, (Chairman); Permanent Secretary, Political, Cabinet & Special Services, Governor’s Office, Mr. David A. Adesina,(Secretary); Emir of Shonga, Dr. Ndanusa Yahaya, (member); Solicitor-General/Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Funsho Lawal,      (member); Professional Arbitrator, Bayo Ojo & Co., Mr. Taiye Oniyide, (member); representative of Commissioner of Police (member); and representative of Director, Department of State Service, (member).
Ahmed during the inauguration charged the commission to    investigate and ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the violent communal clashes between Ilofa  and Odo-Owa; ascertain the extent of loss and damage to lives and properties following the eruption of the communal clashes; and      determine the conduct of any person(s), group of persons or associations that in any way contributed to the violent clashes.
He added that the commission will also investigate and identify persons or group of persons other than security personnel who possessed and employed the use of firearms during the civil disturbances with recommendation of appropriate sanctions for such destructive actions; and identify any external/extraneous factors/involvement on the two sides during the violent clashes.
According to him, it will also determine the level of involvement or roles of traditional rulers of both communities in the violent communal clashes; make appropriate recommendations, including sanctions if need be, to prevent the recurrence of incident of this nature and any other issues or recommendations that will ensure lasting and peaceful co-existence between the two communities.
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