7 February 2013

Nigeria: The Offa, Erinle Communal Clash


Violence broke out penultimate week between Offa and Erinle communities of Kwara state. The pandemonium that resulted brought social and economic activities to a virtual standstill and disrupted free movement of vehicles to and from neighbouring states of Osun and Oyo states.

Relationship between the two towns has been frosty for many years now on account of a boundary dispute. This frequently caused periodic breakdown of law and order as the two sides engage in internecine war.

Details of what sparked off the latest clash have not been established, but one account attributed the immediate cause of the latest hostilities to a minor argument over a car incident. This deteriorated and snowballed into a free-for-all, causing several deaths and scores of property destroyed. In a bid to contain the civil disturbance, the Kwara State government imposed curfew on both towns. The government said it would deal firmly with those who would want to continue to perpetrate mayhem and anarchy. An immediate fall-out of the crisis was the closure of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, because the authorities feared the students, a sizeable number of whom are from the two communities, might take sides in the conflict and plunge the college in its own crisis. The order was later reversed.

Any meaningful resolution of the bitter feud between Offa and Erinle must begin with building trust and confidence between the two communities. Over the years, a minor border dispute has taken a turn for the worse with both sides seeing themselves as sworn enemies. The bitterness has now become so deep-seated that every little argument is capable of blowing up into a raging inferno with all the attendant social and economic repercussions. It is necessary that the Kwara State government urgently commences the process of making the two communities eschew the bitterness and animosity that have eaten deep into their psyche which now affect and influence their relationship in a negative way.

Building confidence shouldn't be difficult to achieve because inter-marriages between the two communities have helped in forging integration. For instance, no day passes without a family coming over from Erinle to Offa or vice versa to participate in a wedding or a naming ceremony. It is possible therefore to proceed from these informal relationships to work towards making the communities imbibe patience and tolerance among themselves. Prominent individuals from the communities have a role to play through leading in the effort at reconciliation. It is only when peace exists that development and progress can be brought to that part of the state.

On the other hand, the fact that the border issue still lingers and constitutes a flashpoint in the southern part of the state is a failure of the state boundary committee and the National Boundary Commission (NBC) to ensure that the matter is resolved. The Offa/Erinle land dispute certainly cannot be more intractable than the dispute between Ife/Modakeke communities in neighbouring Osun state over which many lives were lost; but thankfully even that has been resolved. The federal and state boundary organs would have to redouble their efforts to resolve the conflict. The sudden and unexpected outburst of violence indicates that these agencies cannot afford to go to sleep when there remain lingering boundary matters, such the Offa /Erinle one, to solve. They need to be perpetually on the lookout for potential flashpoints among the many boundary tussles in the country in order to ensure they do not erupt in violence.

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