Ilorin — Tension remains in Offa and Erinle communities in Offa and Oyun Local Government Areas of Kwara State following the resurgence of an age-long rivalry between the two neighbouring towns. This is even as government relaxes the curfew imposed in the affected areas. Weekly Trust reports.
The Kwara State Police Command last Thursday acknowledged that there were casualties in the last communal clash between Offa/Erinle communities in the state after its initial statement to the contrary.
A statement signed by the Police Spokesman, DSP Fabode Olufemi puts the number of those who lost their lives in the crisis to three, while also disclosing that eight people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.
The statement said both towns in the crisis recorded losses. "Eight persons had been arrested with various calibre of fire arms and ammunition. Investigation is ongoing and those arrested will soon be charged to court," it said.
The statement urged residents of the warring communities to go about their normal business as the command is determined to ensure protection of lives and property in the areas. However, despite the assurance, the people of the two communities remained indoors for fear of further clash.
As at the time of filling this report, social and economic activities were at standstill in the area following the crisis while the police intensify patrol.
Weekly Trust reports that Offa/Erinle crisis is one notorious inter-communal strife among series of internecine clashes that have rocked Nigeria. For over two decades, the two communities in Kwara State, North-Central Nigeria have been at daggers-drawn over ownership of a parcel of land. The aged-long crisis has claimed many lives and property worth millions of naira.
In 2006, the last two towns were engulfed in bloody clash. The then administration of Bukola Saraki mediated between the two neighbouring communities resulting in relative peace. The administration was able to secure the commitment of the two communities to live and co-habit peacefully and harmoniously.
Given the proximity of the two towns, government, like many stakeholders, believes that the peaceful co-existence between the two communities is virtually inevitable. Though both communities belong to different local government areas in the state with the ancient town of Offa being the headquarters of Offa Local Government while Erinle is geographically under Oyun Local Government, there is no clear-cut boundary between the two communities. In fact, they are so near and intertwined that going to Erinle from Offa is just taking a footstep.
It was therefore surprising to many observers that a clash many thought has vanished forever and confined to history resurfaced during the week sparking tension in the towns and forcing the residents indoors for fear of attack.
Trouble started on Monday night when an Erinle man reportedly hit the car of an Offa indigene, leading to a heated argument which degenerated into violence between the two towns.
Similar argument over a hit-and-run accident on January 5 has caused similar panic in the two communities. Though the then clash was blamed on commercial transporters, their union vehemently denied involvement in the crisis. The state Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Isa Ore in a statement made available to Weekly Trust said members of the union are discipline and law-abiding, blaming the crisis on the age-long communal dispute between the two towns and urged the neighbouring communities to sheathe their swords.
Though there were conflicting figures on the actual number of casualty in the latest unrest, sources told Weekly Trust that scores of people were feared killed in the bloody confrontation where local charms, cutlasses, guns and other dangerous weapons were daringly deployed.
However, the tate police command said it had reinforced security in the warring communities to restore normalcy.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Femi Fabode told newsmen that the Commissioner of Police, based on the distress information received on the communal crisis, swiftly directed the deployment of two vehicles of 40 mobile policemen to the warring communities.
He said "report from Offa DPO informed the Commissioner of Police that there is tension building up in Offa. Based on this, the Commissioner of Police directed that enough policemen should be drafted to Offa which was done.
"Equally this morning, about two vehicles of 40 mobile policemen were drafted to Offa. What we have in Offa is little tension, no casualties. The DPO of Offa and Erin-Ile are working hand in hand. The Area Commander is also presently in the area because we have an intelligent report that there could be problem in the areas."
The PPRO who linked the fresh crisis to old communal disputes said the Olofa of Offa, Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi and Elerin of Erin-Ile, Oba Abdulganiyu Olusokun had called their people to order. The Command however appealed to the warring communities to allow peace to reign, stressing that both communities inter-marry and should see themselves as one.
Following the escalation of the crisis, meanwhile, authorities of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa announced a two-week break for the students and staffers of the institution. According to the spokesman of the polytechnic, Wole Alawode, "the measure is to prevent any untoward thing against members of the school community due to the outbreak of the internecine crises between Offa and Erin Ile communities."
The state government has imposed a 24-hour curfew on the area "to restore public order in both communities following recent disturbances", according to a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Isiaka Gold which was made available to Weekly Trust in Ilorin.
With the 24-hour curfew, the state government barred all human and vehicular movements within the two warring towns and warned that "the security agencies will deal decisively with anybody found contravening the curfew.
"Furthermore, the state government will bring the full weight of the law to bear on anyone who disrupts public order or otherwise incites violence in any part of the state under any guise.
"While assuring law-abiding citizens of its resolve to secure lives and property, the Kwara State government is determined to identify and prosecute those behind the recent crises in both communities".
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed in another statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Alhaji Wahab Oba directed the monarchs of the communities to maintain peaceful co-existence in their domains. He urged the people to embrace peace, noting that it is by sheer providence that they were created to live together. "Both communities must, therefore, show gratitude to God by living together in harmony. Efforts of the state government to bring development to the state may continue to be a mirage in an atmosphere of violence and destruction", the statement said in part.
Many stakeholders have, therefore, called on the warring communities to embrace peace in the interest of development and progress of the areas as according to them, no development can be achieved in a crisis-ridden setting.
The former governor who is currently a Senator representing Kwara Central in the Senate, Senator Bukola Sarki appealed for calm among the people in the warring communities, charging them to give peace a chance and live harmoniously among themselves.
In a statement made available to Weekly Trust, Saraki said "no community will attract government and private patronage, if there is no peace. People of both communities need to learn how to tolerate one another".
He urged the people to cooperate with the government in finding a lasting solution to the problem, while them to explore Legal Avenue in venting their grievances just as he called on the traditional rulers of the two communities to call their people to order in the interest of peace.
The monarchs of the communities in separate interviews called on their subjects to embrace one another and give peace a chance.
Many believe it is high time the warring communities sheathed their swords and forgot the past for genuine reconciliation to take place. This, it is argued, would permanently resolve the crisis.
Unless the mutual suspicions evaporate, minor arguments as currently witnessed would continue to snowball into bigger conflict which observers say may not augur well for the communities and the state in general.
Meanwhile, the Kwara State Government has relaxed the 24-hour curfew imposed on Offa and Erin-Ile communities in order to allow Muslims and Christians observe their religious obligations.
Making the announcement following an on the spot assessment of both communities by a high-powered government delegation, the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Isiaka Gold said movement would be allowed between 12pm and 6pm Friday and 7am and 2pm on Sunday.