For several decades, the people of Erin-Ile and Offa, two neigbhouring communities in Kwara state, have tackled each other over the ownership of a piece of land situated between both towns. In this interview with The Cable, president of the Erin-Ile Progressive Union, (EPU), Samuel Alabi speaks about the current situation of things.
What exactly is the state of things concerning the boundary matter between Erin-Ile and Offa. I understand there was a supreme court judgment?
Alabi: You will recall I addressed the press on 26th, December 2018, bringing this December 14th, 2018 judgment of the supreme court to the attention of the world, and promising to see to its enforcement. As a peaceful and law-abiding community, we have taken several steps towards this end, beginning with serving copies of the judgment on the government of Kwara state and other stakeholders including the security apparatus, and follow-up requests for the implementation. Particularly, we have caused letters of 4th, January 2019; 8th, January 2019; 16th, August 2019; and 12th, December 2019 to be served on His Excellency, the governor of Kwara state to put apparatus in place for the implementation. We have also through the press sensitised the public and all stakeholders on the judgment and its implementation. Such include my press conference of 26th, December 2018 which you referred to, and newspaper publications of 4th, May 2021; and 7th, May 2021, among others.
What is the historical background of the conflict leading to this judgment?
Alabi: Erin-Ile’s claim to the land which remains unassailable, dates back to the 13th century when the town was founded by Princes Mosa Apaayan and Alawode Arebiope who left Ile-Ife to found their own settlement due to chieftaincy tussle in Ile-Ife.
They founded many other settlements on their way as dictated by constant consultations with Ifa oracle which finally asked them to terminate their journey at Igbota on the outskirts of today’s Erin-Ile. Igbota is where all previous Elerins were buried until the reign of Oba Sunmonu Aroyehun. Erin-Ile’s only neighbour in that vicinity is Ipee, as attested by archival documents, and their common boundary was the Abata stream bisecting today’s Offa. Captain H. R. Oke, the British assistant district officer of Ilorin province in 1925, reported in his Offa town and district reassessment report that Ipee and Erin-Ile, in that order of seniority, were the first to settle in the area, asserting that “Erin town was founded about the same time as Ipee and the farm boundary between these two towns (Ipee and Erin) was before the days of Offa town”.
Meanwhile, Offa people were ever fleeing from a Nupe warrior named Majiya who for unfathomable reasons never allowed them rest. Their flight terminated when Erin-Ile and Ipee offered refuge between themselves and Majiya relented in his pursuit. Offa’s pang for more land has led to incessant conflicts with her benefactors and other neighbours to date. This fact is not lost on Offa people, and it has been well-acknowledged in several fora in the past including an interview in The Nation on August 12, 2007, where Professor (Prince) Jimoh Mosobalaje Oyawoye, the Sobalaje of Offa, in answer to a question on the land dispute, remarked: “We agitated to be moved to our brothers in the South West and because of that what the Ilorin government did as punishment was to remove some towns from under us and each of those towns immediately began to lay claim to their lands such that now the Olofa had little or no land.”
That briefly is proof of Erin-Ile’s claim to the land, and this, including empirical evidence dating as late as the early 60s, was the basis of all judgments in favour of Erin-Ile.
Offa also claims to own the land as your community does. There was a newspaper report that claimed that the Alaafin of Oyo once said that Erin-Ile got its land from Offa?
Alabi: That news report came from proceedings before the Dr. Funsho Adaramola boundary settlement commission established to determine the boundary between the two communities. With the highest regard to His Majesty, the Alaafin of Oyo and His Highness the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Zulkarnaini Gambari (of blessed memory), who both testified for Offa before the commission, their testimonies were painstakingly appraised and roundly rejected as farfetched by the boundary commissioner.
Every attempt by Offa people to rubbish that finding has been rejected by the courts. It is therefore astonishing that they still brandish that report today. That commission of inquiry came about because of cases filed by Offa to challenge the establishment of Erin-Ile Secondary School, claiming that it was being built on their land. Offa Grammar School happened to be the only one in that vicinity in those days, and Erin-Ile people were being denied admission, leading to Erin-Ile’s resolve to establish her own secondary school. The commission’s findings were challenged before the high court and Offa lost up to the supreme court in a decision on 10th December 1973.
There have been many challenges in court, all of which they lost, including the supreme court judgment of 14th, December 2018 which I referred to earlier. The supreme court emphatically affirmed its earlier decision in ADEMOLA OGUNNIYI & ANOR V. DR. FUNSHO ADARAMOLA & ANOR and specifically upheld the Dr. Funsho Adaramola commission of inquiry’s report which found the boundary to be within today’s Offa, and a plan was drawn to that effect, which the supreme court in both appeals also upheld. The N500, 000 award is a natural consequence of dismissal of their appeal for being an abuse of court process in bringing a long-decided case to court again.
When you mentioned requests made to the Governor of Kwara state to implement the judgment, the natural question one is inclined to ask is whether the courts are incapable of implementing their own judgments, or whether they have no apparatus for the enforcement of judgments. Must you wait for the government to enforce the judgment?
Alabi: Thank you for this question. The 1999 constitution in section 287 mandates all lower courts to enforce decisions of the supreme court, and the high court of Kwara state from where the case arose has an apparatus for enforcement of court judgments. But the judgment we are talking about is a peculiar one, having to do with the boundaries between two local government areas, not just Erin-Ile and Offa. The acrimony between the neighbouring communities over the boundary agitation also raises fears of likely resistance to the implementation, especially in the face of open threats of violence by the Offa community. In that circumstance, the law provides that the state government should be involved in the implementation. That is the stage we are now, as the deputy sheriff of the high court of Kwara state has since August last year endorsed our application for a writ of possession entitling us to enforce the judgment.
Let me quickly emphasise that everything we have done has been in line with the law. When the same supreme court on the same 14th December 2018 delivered a judgment relocating the headquarters of Ilejemeje local government council of Ekiti state from Iye-Ekiti to Eda Oniyo, the Ekiti state government acknowledged the judgment and set up an implementation committee headed by the deputy governor to oversee its actualisation. This has been done, and that is what we are expecting from the Kwara state government.
Could the threat of violence be the reason the state government is hesitant?
Alabi: I don’t believe any force on earth should be able to intimidate a government from carrying out court decisions. Although we have witnessed pockets of violence before and after the judgment, that does not and cannot stop the government from doing its job. Many elections in Nigeria and worldwide have witnessed violence but that has not stopped elections from being held. At least, the government has not told us that anyone is above the law, and that threat or use of violence is the reason why they have not implemented the judgment.
If you doubt my claim of their threats of violence, I’d just refer you to their statement of claim before the high court in the case decided by the supreme court in December 2018 where they alleged in paragraph 16 that Erin-Ile is only 10 percent of their population and that they can overrun us within one hour.
Then there was this interview published by Distinguished Nigerian in its Vol. 21 No. 6 Edition, ISSN 2006-2012-2013, where, without mincing words, Hon. (Alh.) Hassan Oyeleke (then of the Kwara state house of assembly) boasted of Offa’s military prowess, that Offa has the three things you need in going to war which he enumerated as resources, population and intelligence. He claimed that wars are not fought once and for all, but usually a continuum. And of course, there was this meeting hosted by the deputy chief registrar (litigations), high court of justice, Ilorin, in the person of chief magistrate, now Justice Nureni Kuranga on 10th May 2019 to chart modalities for a peaceful execution of the 2018 judgment of the supreme court, during which B. F. Lawal from Offa openly threatened bloodshed if any attempt was made to implement the judgment. He even banged the table several times to drive home his point. If these are no threats, I don’t know what else a threat means.
A couple of weeks back, there were reports of an armed conflict between the people of Erin- Ile and Offa. What were the remote and immediate causes of this event where lives were said to have been lost?
Alabi: What you referred to as an armed conflict was actually a one-sided attack by Offa community on Erin-Ile, and that was on 4th, March 2021, and six Erin-Ile lives were lost. This is a manifestation of their threat to overrun Erin-Ile, and that war is a continuum. The fact is not lost on us that the attack was aimed at aborting our attempt to get the supreme court judgment implemented, following our strident call on governmental agencies for its implementation. For instance, by a letter of 28th February 2021, we called on the National Population Commission to complete their demarcation exercise for Oyun local government by capturing the land in dispute for Erin-Ile in line with the judgment.
That was when the Oloffa of Offa placed calls to the Elerin of Erin-Ile and some prominent indigenes of Erin-Ile that he wanted to establish a separate park for the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Offa Branch, on the ground that they were having frequent frictions with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). The Oloffa made it clear that it had nothing to do with Erin-Ile, and that the Elerin had nothing to worry about. As it were, the proposed site is within Erin-Ile land as adjudged by the courts, and the Oloffa rebuffed all entreaties to come off it.
The plank sellers at the sawmill on that land had evacuated their wares, plants and machinery and while Erin-Ile believed. they were doing so in anticipation of the boundary demarcation, we didn’t know that there were plans to attack Erin-Ile. That is why none of the offa native disputants at the park was reported injured but Erin-Ile people lost 6 lives and several properties located over a kilometer away from the scene of their dispute because no one expected it. I believe that accounts for the remote and immediate causes of the attack. The supposed dispute between the transport unions was a mere façade to mask the attack, as the supposed rivals keep operating in the same garage to date.
What was the idea behind a recent publication where you asked people on that land to come to terms with you and validate their occupation of the land?
Alabi: Thank you. Permit me to first digress by making reference to the judgment of the supreme court which recently awarded a large chunk of Agidingbi, Ogba and environs comprising of about 398 acres of land and over 2000 buildings in the commercial hub of Ikeja to the Akinole-Oshiun Family. The people adjudged trespassers have been given a time-frame within which to deliver possession of their houses to the victorious Akinole-Oshiun family, and it will come to pass if they do not come to terms with the judgment creditor who have been adjudged the true owners. That is the law in action, and if we tow the same path, our case will present no peculiarity in any respect.
However, we are not interested in taking over or appropriating anybody’s property. Our call in those publications is in tandem with the assurance we gave to the deputy sheriff of the high court that we are not interested in demolishing or taking over anybody’s house. Once they are ready to come to terms with us, we will gladly permit them to remain on our land. And I am pleased to let you know that some people have keyed in and taken benefit of that gesture. But the full force of the law will be brought to bear on those who are recalcitrant, and we will take no blame for anybody’s loss of his property.
What is the way forward to achieving lasting peace between the two communities?
Alabi: Erin-Ile has always towed the path of peace, right from the days of Dr. Adaramola’s determination of the boundary. His Highness Oba Sunmonu Aroyehun, in extension of an olive branch and demonstration of his implicit good faith, inserted a public notice in some newspapers including The Nigerian Observer of Saturday, 20th of May 1972, proclaiming Erin-Ile’s magnanimity in victory and inviting Offa to make offers for a negotiated settlement, but which offers have always been rejected by Offa community. That same gesture is what we have extended to them now. Our stance is dictated by the need to live in peace with all neighbours and the long history of intermarriage between us, which makes violence an unattractive option. In fact, violence should be no option at all and we will not ply that route. Offa people are advised to also embrace peace and stop their threats and actual use of violence to settle disputes, especially after court decisions against them. It is gratifying though, that some have seen reason and are coming forward to validate their occupation. This is the much we can do as a peace-loving community. The Kwara state government should lend its weight to this by taking up its responsibility and borrowing a leaf from the Ekiti state government to demarcate the boundary as adjudged.