The Ife-Modakeke conflict, having re-occurred over and again across three centuries of 19th, 20th and 21st, is the oldest intra-ethnic conflict in Nigeria. The people of Ife and Modakeke belong to the same ethnic nationality, hence, they share a number of socio-cultural and socio-political similarities yet, the nature of the attachments of these two groups to their distinct natural experiences are primordial in nature.
However, the Ife-Modakeke conflict which is resource based in nature can be said to have raged on as a result of the instrumentation of their identities for security concerns, competition, inequality and greed. This ethnic problems has largely contributed to the widespread underdevelopment plaguing Ife, given some of the toll of death and losses in material properties that have been recorded in the course of the protracted and seemingly intractable conflict.
Historically, Ile-Ife is widely acclaimed to be the cradle of the Yoruba group. Owing to its central role in the socio-cultural and socio-political world of the Yoruba, Ile-Ife has earned a number of epithets such as ‘ibi ojumo ti’n mo wa’ (the place from where it dawns), ‘olori aye gbogbo’ (the head of the world), ‘Oodaye’, (where creation of the world took place), ‘ilu alade’ (the city of crown) and finally, ‘Ilu Orun’ (the city of heaven).
Higgins a Commissioner sent by the Lagos government to mediate among d belligerent Yoruba groups recorded that the Alaafin of Oyo at that time did not want Ile-Ife left deserted and wanted the people of Ife to return to their homes because they were the father of all and all people came from Ife.
Ogunsigun, the Balogun of Ijebu army, noted in April 1886 that the Ijebu king felt it was his duty to re-instate the people of Ile-Ife back in their town because Ile-Ife is regarded by all Yoruba towns as the sacred spot from where they originated.
Also, during the Yoruba internecine wars of the 19th century still, the renowned Basorun Ogunmola of Ibadan, also known as the ‘kiniun onibudo’ (lion of the camp master) was recorded to have sent messengers to negotiate terms of peace. In order that the cradle of the race may not be in perpetual desolation and for the ancestral gods to be worshiped.
The early history of Ile-Ife enjoyed a great deal of attention from researchers since the last century, yet the seeming mystery of the origins of the town is still very open to continuous research to this day. From extant literature on the early history of Ile-Ife prior to the Oduduwa era, it is believed that Ile-Ife was originally not a unified town under a single monarch. Rather, the town was composed of several independent communities with localized political systems.
These pre-Ife communities have been identified to be 13 in total number and they include Iddo, headed by Ompetu; Iloromu, headed by Obaluru; Ideta, headed by Obalesun or Obalade; Odin, headed by Lokore; lloran, headed by Obaloran; Oke Oja, headed by Obajio; lmojubi, headed by Apata; lraaye, headed by Obalaaye; ljugbe, headed by Obalejugbe; Oke Awo, headed by Fegun; lwinrin, headed by Obawinrin; Parakin, headed by Obalufe, Omologun, by Obadio.
The emergence of Oduduwa on the political stage of Ile-Ife effected several changes in the socio-political and socio-cultural systems. The 13 communities were collapsed into one, forming what is now known as Ile-Ife and was further divided into 6 quarters of Ilare, Ilode, Moore, Iremo, Okerewe & Iraye These communities which are still in existent & d quarters under which they fall are regarded as places from where founders of a number of Yoruba towns emigrated such as Orimolusi of Ijebu Igbo.
And Adimula of Ifewara of Okerewe Quarters; Igbajo and Omupo towns founders were both from Ilare Qaurters; Oke-Igbo and Ido Ajinare founders were both from Moore Quarters to mention but a few.
However, these quarters are known to be occupied by migrants from different parts of Yorubaland and Nigeria such as the Hausa settlement at Sabo in Ilare quarters and Oyo emigrant settlement in Modakeke within Iraye Quarters. Ile-Ife for several centuries enjoyed the position of the capital city of the Yoruba until the emergence of Oyo.
Oyo-Ile was a town generally agreed to have been founded by the legendary Ife prince known as Oranmiyan which grew to become an empire.
As a result of its institutionalized military structure and state sanctioned periodic campaigns. The military campaigns and activities of Oyo army helped it to expand so much that it covered a very large part of the present day Yorubaland, Borgu, Nupe, parts of Republic of Benin and Togo. During its apogee, Oyo Empire co-existed with the less militarily powerful kingdoms of Ife, Ilesa, Ijebu, Egba, Ekiti and this politico-military relation among these Yoruba states saw Oyo providing military stability across Yoruba.
By 18th century, Oyo was marred by internal problems that affected the military strength and activities it was known for. This was such that it became helpless in the face of the raids and eventual dispersal. It was subjected to by the Ilorin army comprising of Yoruba, Fulani and Hausa soldiers whose military expeditions evolved from creating a state independent of Oyo, into a jihad styled conquest seeking to expand its sphere of political and religious influence.
Although a narrative about the migration of Oyo people to Ile-Ife stating that the Alaafin sent brave warriors from all over Oyo Empire to go back to defend Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba people, has recently emerged.
However, it is generally agreed that refugees from the Ilorin problem at the time began to migrate South with Ife receiving trickles of these migrants at first and with the worsening of the situation in the Oyo areas, they thronged to Ifeland in floods.
The first set of refugees were said to have migrated to and settled in Ile-Ife from 1770 and they were said to have been from different towns which were within the greater Oyo and they include Ejigbo, Offa, Ede, Ikoyi, Ogbaagba, Oje, Ola, Oko, Irawo origins. These refugees settled at Ife towns of Moro, Ipetumodu, Eduabon, Yakoyo, Ifalende, Waro, Oogi, Sepe, Ikire and Apomu.
The threat of Ilorin army coming to ravage the above mentioned towns of their refuge as a result of the invitation extended to them by a Muslim man in the town of Iwo resulted in the eventual migration of these refugees into Ile-Ife proper. Ile-Ife became their choice of refuge because of its position as the cradle of their race on the one hand and also because Ile-Ife which is heavily forested was almost impregnable to the Ilorin army which relied on cavalry. These refugees were well received and protected by the Ooni of the period, Akinmoyero (Odunle bi ojo). The people of Ife allowed the refugees to settle among them and there was an attempt at integration by the people of Ife who took the refugees into their family compounds. And quarters as a part of them. Available literature have it recorded that, from the feeling of appreciation to their benefactors, the refugees gave one of their daughters as a wife to Akinmoyero, the Ooni.
It was further recorded and widely circulated that the union between Ooni Akinmoyero and the Oyo woman produced Adegunle who would later become an Ooni. However, the records from the history compiled by the Abewela Royal Compound reveals that Ooni Adejinle whose son, Ooni Adebanle Sojuolu (Ogbonsegbonde) had a union with a woman of Owu origins, known as Adunwoloju, which produced Ooni Adegunle Abewela whose ancestry is linked to Ooni Owodo, the 13th Ooni of Ife. And further research revealed that Ooni Akinmoyero was from Otutu royal compound. Hence a descendant of Lafogido.
Some notable instances of the integration attempt between the people of Ife and the refugees are Ajombadi of Ijaye, settled at Oke-Esho; Wingbolu of Oko, settled at Iyekere; Ojo-Bada from Aragberi, settled in Ijugbe Ogungbe of Ojo, settled at Oke Owu; and Adefajo, settled at Lagere. These refugees were absorbed into the different parts of the town so much that those who had relations already living in Ile-Ife were encouraged to follow their kinsmen to settle on the lands
Ife people leased to them as farms. Also many of the refugees who would migrate to Ile-Ife later were given farmlands to cultivate and made to pay annual rents. The relation between the people of Ife and the refugees was very cordial that they were encouraged not only to settle but to ply their trade of choice.
For instance, Wingbolu was a blacksmith by trade and was given a land in Iyekere to settle in order that he could dig and smelt iron-ore from a place near Iwinrin. In the recognition of his trade and the feeling of integration, he was conferred with the title of Ogunsua, this cognomen originally belonged to the Ojugbede family of Ife who were known blacksmiths. Wingbolu would later become the refugees’ first leader and played a profound role in the founding of a town for the refugees later in the course of their history in Ile Ife. The refugees adopted the Ogunsua cognomen as the official title of the leader of the refugee town.
The refugees and their host enjoyed military cooperation. For instance the people of Ife incorporated the refugees into their army which was successful in repelling the encroachment of the marauding Ijesa who were making inroads into Ife territory. In addition, the corporation between Ife army and the refugees recorded successes in destroying Owu and the Egba towns within their reach. They also succeeded in establishing themselves in Ibadan which was originally an Egba town which they founded as a new town.
The people of Ife and the refugees had amicable relations until the people of Ife who had occupied the town as a new settlement lost the leadership positions they had hitherto enjoyed. The people of Ife who occupied Ibadan enjoyed preferential status and rights under Maye Okunade the Ibadan leader of Ife origins. This created ill-feelings among their refugee allies and a violent conflict soon erupted which led to the expulsion of Okunade Maye and Ife people from Ibadan in 1830. An attempt by Maye and the Ife people to re-instate their status in Ibadan was made futile by the collaborative effort between the refugee army and Kurunmi of Ijaye, both of Oyo origins.
The death of Maye Okunola in Ibadan in the hands of the refugee army precipitated the Ife’s loss of political and military control of Ibadan and the rise of nationalistic feelings within the ranks of the people of Ife in Ile-Ife who had continued to receive a high refugee population that continued to swell. This general stand of the Ife people on the situation in Ibadan created a sense of oneness among them and consequently, however, the antipathy of Ife towards the refugees settled in the different compounds and wards in Ile-Ife created a sense of identity for the refugees who began to differentiate and separate themselves from the people of Ife.
By the close of 1830s, the refuges in Ile-Ife started to see themselves as brothers, spoke Oyo-Yoruba as a symbol of their brotherhood, regarded themselves as Oyo and developed anti-Ife feelings. These feelings and stand of antagonism held by both parties towards each other would lead to the break out of violent conflicts in the latter stages of the Ife-Modakeke history.
This Oyo nationalistic identity which the refugees rallied under as a unifying umbrella was deeply entrenched despite having no plans to return to their original homes like other strangers in Ile-Ife, the people of Modakeke maintained a separate identity in Ife’.
This build-up of palpable acrimony between Ife and the refugees who lived within several quarters and compounds with the Ife people led to the eventual murder of a number of Ife kings, namely, Akinmoyero, Gbanlare, Gbegbaaje and Wunmonije who did not share their subjects’ stand of animosity towards the refugees; whose services they employed and who they also protected from being sold into slavery by the people of Ife. Upon the ascension of Ooni Adegunle a.k.a Abewela Gberengede, the bitterness between the refugees and their Ife host had become very heated that the Ife people demanded that the refugees be sent out of Ile-Ife. The Ooni ordered their relocation to a temporary settlement from where they would evacuate to their several places of origin.
Thus, the Ooni requested that the refugees be allowed to settle at Iraye, under Obalaaye; Iwinrin, under Obawinrin; Ijugbe, under Obalejugbe and Oke-Awo, under Owa-Fegun. These towns were part of the 13 autonomous communities which Oduduwa’s emergence unified into one with the introduction of his monarchy as recorded in d early history of Ile-Ife.
Given d fact that they were refugees from different Oyo-Yoruba towns, d refugees did not have a single nomenclature they were known by before and after their temporary re-settlement on a new expanse of land.
However, oral tradition records that the communities where the refugees were settled were rife with eiye ako (stork bird) which cried ‘mo da ke ke’ from which the people of Ife derived Modakeke as a term with which they referred to their former refugees. This term was later adopted by the refugees who began to regard themselves as Modakeke. The etymology of toponym has a variant which states that the migrant Oyo people consulted an oracle which directed them to go to Ebu Alako near Oke-Owu where they met a swarm of Ako (Stork) birds and the name was derived from the cry of the storks in a large tree Mo-da-ke-ke-ke-ke, and where ‘Ako ri aaye duro si’ (where stork bird have space to settle).
The location at which the Modakeke were settled was contiguous to the Apesan market, a place where the Ondo-Ijebu trade route entered Ile-Ife. This put the market under the command of Modakeke people which resulted not only in their economic prosperity but their monopolization of arms and ammunition trade which put the control of the flow of weapon into Ile-Ife under their command. These factors and a number of others culminated in the eventual murder of Ooni Abewela by the Ife people whom they also refused a royal with the removal of the Ooni from the scene, the people of Ife turned their attention towards the nascent Modakeke town in 1849, the Modakeke did not only show true courage but kindness. During this siege laid on Modakeke by Ife, the Modakeke routed the Ife people and captured twelve thousand and seventy (12, 070) of Ife which they, out of reverence which every Yoruba had for Ife and out of gratitude, released all of their captives unconditionally. Not assuaged by the magnanimity of the Modakeke people, the Ife people proceeded to raising another siege against Modakeke within the space of a month but they were routed, their city razed to the ground, their artefacts looted and a large number of them were captured and sold into slavery.
As a result, Ile-Ife was abandoned by its people who relocated to Isoya, Okegbo and other Ife towns where they remained till 1858. The Ife people did not return to their city until Ibadan, under Ogunmola negotiated peace and brought them back. For this, they lost their independence and became a vassal state to Ibadan for the next 30 years, a position which deeply irritated the people of Ife whose reaction to being a vassal state reached its peak when Ibadan imposed an Ooni on them, an occurrence to which the people of Ife greatly took offense with and waited for the opportunity to throw off Ibadan yoke.
The Ekitiparapo war provided the Ife with the right opportunity to throw off the Ibadan yoke and crush the Modakeke people all at once. With the Ibadan fighting on 5 different fronts which included Ijebu and Egba, 2 Yoruba towns which controlled the flow of trade from the coastal areas into the hinterlands. They blockaded Ibadan from getting to Lagos and this posed a problem to the military fortunes of the Ibadan army which could not procure Sneider rifles similar to those in the possession of Ekiti army in large quantities with which they did a lot of damages to the Ibadan army. The only route through which Ibadan could acquire weapons in order to have its military fortunes turned around was the Oke-Igbo route which was an Ife town ruled by Derin Ologbenla, an Ooni-elect of the period. This development placed Ile-Ife in a pivotal position in the outcome of the war, a development which all parties involved in the war recognized and desperately sought to possess to their advantage. The kidnappings, skirmishes & eventual murder of Obalaaye, an Ife chief precipitated a break out of a very violent war in 1882. Again, the Modakeke were victorious but not without losing their commander in chief who died shortly from his war wounds.
What followed was the total destruction and desertion of Ile-Ife which was described to have been completely razed to the ground and that grass had overgrown the place which made it impossible to discover the traces of a single house and it remained so till 1894. The introduction of Christianity, Islam, and colonial economic and political developments changed the course of the conflict between the people of both towns. While other Yoruba towns where traditional system gave way rapidly to Christianity and Islam, the people of Ife proved impervious to the penetrative measures taken by these religions and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that both religions began to gather slow and small footing in the town. The first mosque in Ile-Ife was built in 1903 and the people of Modakeke congregated with the people of Ife to worship at the first major mosque located close to the palace in 1928.
By 1934, the conflict between the Ife and Modakeke people resurfaced again but under the garb of religion. The people of Modakeke wrote a petition to the District Officer to make complaints about religious servitude to the Ife people. They sought the approval of the D. O. to conduct their Friday prayers in Modakeke instead of the mosque in Ile-Ife. This conflict which was couched in religion was largely regarded as Modakeke’s attempt at getting autonomy in order to conduct its own affairs within Ile-Ife. This was seriously contested by the people of Ife but it did not degenerate into an open violent conflict.
In 1946 there was cocoa boom in Nigeria, particularly in the western part of the country. Prior to this period, the Ife who were the land owners had a business arrangement to lease lands to the people of Modakeke who worked the farms and paid royalties in form of farm produce, regarded as Isakole, to the families that owned all the lands in Ile-Ife. With the sudden boom in cocoa farming, the people of Ife who owned the land and the people of Modakeke who leased these lands were at loggerheads over the choice of payment of royalty in cash.
The Modakeke people began this conflict by refusing to pay their respective landlords royalties claiming since the king of Ife owned all lands and was not receiving royalties; they were in no way bound to pay royalties to family heads who leased lands to them. This was followed by the anti-isakole agitations in the press, sponsored by the literate Modakeke people abroad, particularly, Lagos.
Despite the intervention of the Ooni, the D O and the courts, the Modakeke were resolute in their position not to pay Isakole and rather took a stand that if any Ife came to their farms to demand Isakole, they would knock his head off and deliver the remains to the Ooni. This was taken further by the Modakeke people who thronged to farms in different organised bodies to harvest crops from the farmlands they leased. This illegal harvesting was recorded to have been perpetrated by Modakeke in the Ife villages of Famia, Fagbenro, Oniwinrin, Sango, Amugba, Gorogoro and Jiboye. Consequently, violence was recorded to have broken out between the police and Modakeke who prevented the former from arresting one of the perpetrators of illegal harvests and this crisis led to some of the police being injured and hospitalized. In 1978, the Land Use Act influenced the Modakeke to assume freedom from all obligations of paying any royalties as a result of the declaration stating all lands belonged to the government. And the interpretation of the Land Use Act by the Ife people who owned the land to have meant nothing has changed and the status quo remained contributed to the ill feelings both parties had towards each other and a charged environment which led to d crisis in 1981 between both parties.
With the decolonization process in full gear in Nigeria in the mid-20th century, political parties were formed and locals began to vie for public offices and participated in elections. The new local government law became operative in 1955 and this saw to the differences in the choice of political parties between Ife and Modakeke. While the Ife people subscribed to Action Group (A.G.), the Modakeke people went with the opposition which was the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.). Through N.C.N.C they sought to entrench their separatist agenda by political means when they began the agitation for a separate council. This was carried over into the second republic of 1979 when the Ife people endorsed Unity Party of Nigeria (U.P.N.) and the Modakeke people supported the opposite party, National Party of Nigeria. The struggle between UPN and NPN compounded the conflict between Ife and Modakeke so much that Ile-Ife became somewhat of a battle ground and in 1981, the people of Modakeke launched an unwarranted attack on the people of Ife residing at Akarabata, Oke-Eso and Ojoyin where they burnt, looted properties as well as maimed and killed a lot of people.
The 1983 gubernatorial elections which saw N.P.N emerging victorious had Modakeke people who were largely N.P.N supporters in a celebratory mood. The ambiance of their celebrations were very charged that they launched attacks on Ife people again and murdered four prominent Ife sons alongside a Modakeke politician who was their representative at the State House of Assembly but of U.P.N. membership. Finally, during the Mbanefo panel for the reform of local government and boundary adjustment in 1996, the people of Modakeke tendered a memorandum requesting an Ife North East local government comprising of six federally recognised wards in Modakeke and its adjoining villages with Modakeke as its headquarters. And during the same panel, the people of Ife submitted a memorandum requesting the creation of Ife East local government comprising of some parts of Ife-North and Ife Central. By the recommendations of this panel only the Ife East Local Government with headquarters at Enuwa was created.
A development which the Modakeke recorded favoured their demands but was allegedly manipulated by the late Ooni Okunade Sijuade. This perceived loss by the people of Modakeke led to a breakdown of law and order when the Modakeke people resorted to violence and attacked the people of Ife and their properties culminating into a major intra-tribal war that lasted for a couple years.
Let us all embrace #Peace