Communal conflict, communal peacemaking and governmental intervention in Nigeria

Lessons from the Ife-Modakeke crisis

Dr Kazeem Oyedele Lamidi is a Lecturer in the Department of Local Government Studies of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Public Administration of the same University. He has keen research interests in local governance, peacebuilding, community and policy studies as well as electoral analysis.


This article presents a contextual discourse on the communal conflict in Nigeria, using the Ife-Modakeke crisis as a case study. It conceptualises the key terms to understand the dynamics of communal conflict and its peacemaking processes vis-à-vis government as an institutional mediator. It reviews existing studies on communal conflict resolution and empirical underlying assumptions. It argues that peacemaking processes demand serious attention of government in a non-partisan mediation perspective. It x-rays the possible roles of government in peacemaking processes as well as its commitment problems. In concretising government efficacy, adaptable peacemaking principles are discussed for communal conflict resolution within the sociopolitical space of Nigeria and beyond. The paper concludes that governments can play a significant role in communal peacemaking, and recommends a few valuable principles


Nigeria is a multi-ethnic state experiencing problems caused by dominant ethnicity. Ethnic cleavages remain a critical problem to the nationhood formation, and conflict eruption is a common phenomenon within the multi-ethnic setting. Prominent conflicts have been those between the following opposed groups: Ife-Modakeke in Osun State (Toriola 2001); Yoruba-Hausa in Shagamu, Ogun State (Ojiji 2007); Eleme-Okrika in Rivers State (Agwu 2007); Zango-Kataf in Kaduna State (Agrawal 2008); Tiv-Jukun in Wukari, Taraba State (Aja 2007); Ogoni-Adoni in Rivers State (Ade-Ajayi and Buhari 2014); Chamba-Kuteb in Taraba State (Bagudu 2004); Itsekiri-Ijaw/Urhobo in Delta State (Aja-Apkuru 2011); Aguleri-Umuleri in Anambra State (Agwu 2007); Ijaw-Ilaje conflict in Ondo State (Albert 2007); Basa-Egbura in Nassarawa State (Babangida 2002); and Hausa/Fulani-Sawaya in Bauchi state (Agrawal 2008).

These conflicts have provided a pattern that makes scholars attribute their causes to greed, and power and wealth distribution (Oladoyin 2001; Toriola 2001; Asiyanbola 2007). The impacts of these crises have especially been the loss of lives, the displacement of people and the destruction of properties. Thus, the greatest challenge facing the process of conflict resolution in Nigeria is the issue of maintaining balance and peacemaking among the conflicting parties by a third party, and specifically the Nigerian Government. The peacemaking efficacy hinges on how the government as an institutional mediator can facilitate an unbiased balance on most of these conflictual issues. Government, to this end, should serve as an intervening variable to the peacemaking and communal conflict. The dispassionate balance, however, can only be met if the roots of each conflict are traced and treated fairly. Going by this analysis, the lessons from the Ife-Modakeke crisis make a good study because of its strategic importance in Yoruba history, and its prospect for conflict resolution in Nigeria and beyond.

Conflict resolution, as a process aimed at resolving conflict through constructive means, is multi-faceted in that it is applicable to many types of conflict. In most cases of ethnic conflict, panels or committees set up to investigate communal clashes identify the underlying causes of the conflict and address them through guiding the parties towards solutions that are mutually satisfactory, self-perpetuating, and sustaining (Raimi 2010:51). While it is true that not all conflicts readily lend themselves to conflict resolution techniques, the Ife-Modakeke crisis makes an exception, despite its chronology and longevity of crises. In the words of Asiyanbola (2010:63), ‘the Ife-Modakeke crisis remains the oldest intra-ethnic conflict in Nigeria amidst others;’ thereby making it an evident case study with detailed intricacies on communal conflict resolution.

The Ife-Modakeke crisis shares common features of escalation with other communal conflict across cultures in Nigeria. While the Ife-Modakeke crisis is the longest occurring of these conflicts and yet remains unresolved, it seems susceptible for the development of an adaptive conflict resolution model that would arrest conflictual situations before escalation. Using Ife-Modakeke as a case study, the paper presents a contextual discourse on the conflict, conceptualises the key terms that informed this study, reviews existing studies on communal resolution with empirical underlying assumptions, puts government in a non-partisan mediation perspective, x-rays government vis-à-vis its role in conflict resolution as well as its commitment problems, develops peacemaking principles for communal conflict resolution in Nigeria, and at last, showcases in concluding remarks the possible benefits of peacemaking within the Nigerian socio-political space.

Contextual discourse

The Ife and Modakeke are both Yoruba of Osun State in southwestern Nigeria. According to oral tradition, both are descendants of Oduduwa, the perceived progenitor of the Yoruba people. The socio-cultural and political systems of the two communities are essentially identical and their geographical distributions largely overlap. As related as Ife and Modakeke are, however, both have engaged in protracted conflict for over a century (Toriola 2001; Raimi 2010). The Modakeke people are generally considered strangers, tenants, and migrants in Ife, and the Ifes regard themselves as the ‘landlord’ over the people of Modakeke.

Historical accounts suggest that the people of Modakeke migrated and settled in Ile-Ife in the aftermath of the collapse of the Old Oyo empire in the nineteenth century, which caused a refugee movement to the south and resulted in the occupation of the contemporary location. Two distinct categories of people were thus created: the original Ife settlers, who later assumed the role of landlords, and the Modakeke migrants, tenants, farmhands, and a resettled group considered as refugees. These categorisations form the remote cause of the conflicts between the two groups (Oladoyin 2001:201; Toriola 2001:27; Asiyanbola 2007). Through all the historical periods, it apparently remained an underlying factor which provoked and preserved mindsets and aroused tensions and enmities in the one contextual situation after the other.

It is recognised, however, that the immediate causes of the conflicts between Ifes and Modakekes are many and varied. Historians generally trace the crisis to pre-colonial Nigeria, especially during the Yoruba internecine wars of the nineteenth century. Some of the identified major conflicts that broke out between the two groups include: the two bloody battles of 1849 (Johnson 1921); the communal war of December 1882 (Manning 1979:145); the conflict over the selection of an Imam by the Modakeke in 1934 (Ade-Ajayi and Smith 1971); the Ishakole (land rent) dispute of 1946–47 (Afolayan 1998); the confrontation over the reception of a British parliamentarian (Rev. Sorenson) in January 1949 (Afolayan 1998); the conflict over the establishment of the Modakeke High School (Akinjogbin 1992:11); the conflict over the establishment of the Olorunsogo Plank Market (Agbe 2001:17); the opposition to self-help development projects by a fund-raising activity of the Modakeke in 1980 (Albert 2001:39); and the request for a separate Local Government Council which began in the 1950s (Albert 2007:9) and resulted in a series of crises that continued till early 21st century.

It has to be stated that efforts of the Nigerian government at all levels to resolve this series of crises were not absent, and, at the respective periods, lent credence to the possibility of resolving the crises. Government, in this context, is indeed operationalised to connote constituted authorities at the local, state and federal levels who can synergise efforts towards peace enhancement. The action lines of government are basically to mediate the differences and cross-examine the disputant groups. The approach of government is cautiously guided by these actions, thereby facilitating its significant role in peacemaking. On these long-standing conflicts, therefore, the governmental actions and activities on mediation, negotiation, and peacemaking are worthy of exploration for other cultures to experiment with when similar conflicts upsurge within their environments.

Conceptual framework

The three concepts in the title of this article, namely communal conflict, communal peacemaking and government intervention, serve as key concepts in the argument and purpose of this study. The order in which they are interconnected, depicts a typical social sequence in peace and security provisions. Most conflicts in African communities are communal – either intra-communal or inter-communal – in nature (Olaleye 2016). The obvious starting point for dealing with such conflicts therefore lies within the community or communities concerned. However, Salim (1997:44) argued that despite the nature of their localisations, the conflicts often go further to challenge regional security and even pose a threat to global security.

In Nigeria it has indeed happened that communal conflicts have deteriorated to the level of distorting national or regional peace. Evidently, Nigeria is one of the worst hits in intra-ethnic or inter-religious militancy and other forms of communal crisis (Albert 2007:11). Local areas in Nigeria have come to be a hotbed of violent communal conflicts in which sophisticated weapons are used viciously. This has happened in Ife-Modakeke conflicts (Albert 2001:40) and in the Zango-Kataf conflict in Kaduna State (Akinteye, Wuye and Ashafa 2001:63). It has also happened in intractable wars elsewhere, such as those in Burundi and Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The persistence of such conflicts calls for a re-definition of a government’s role to include peacemaking as one of its social themes. Thus, government at any level could be discerned as an institutional authority with an indisputable accountability to intervene when communal conflict cannot be resolved at community level.

Definitions of conflict underline the essentiality of peacemaking. Social philosophers have studied the varied approaches of peacemaking, as is evident in the writings of Mahatma Gandhi and the Martin Luther Kings. The congruence of these authors is to focus on reconciling a dispute before its violent stage through non-use of violent means (Noll 2013). In contemporary discourse, peacemaking should follow when averting the start of any form of conflict has been unsuccessful (Dawson 2004). As defined by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, ‘Peacemaking is action to bring hostile parties to agreement, essentially through such peaceful means as those foreseen in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations’ (Boutros-Ghali 1992:par. 20). And: ‘Between the tasks of seeking to prevent conflict and keeping the peace lies the responsibility to try to bring hostile parties to agreement by peaceful means’ (Boutros-Ghali 1992:par. 34). In all cases of course, conflict is, at best, resolved before its escalation. The parties’ divergent views on the issue(s) concerned can cause the emphasis to shift from resolving the conflict to overwhelming the other party.

Existing studies on conflict and communal conflict resolution

Babbie (2009) argued that when conflict is perceived through the lens of cultural values, responses tend to be non-rational. In the context of the complicated understanding of conflict, Boulding (2002:53) had earlier identified such values as ‘inner core’ values, interrelated with unique epistemologies shaped by experiences of who we are, how we identify ourselves in the social universe and how others have responded to us. This present study argues that studies should focus more attention on discovering the cultural content adopted by groups when they are in a conflict situation and when they are involved in conflict management and resolution. The peculiarity and complexity of community conflict and its associated participants have posed a problem of expounding theory with a universal applicability (Svensson 2007:937). At any rate, however, universality and particularity usually have to be taken into account.

Murray’s (1993:188) work argued, for instance, that conflict resolution theorists and practitioners who operate within two independent cultures do not often accept theoretical moods without question, nor do they apply those theories without shaping them to fit specific conditions. On the one hand it is so, that since the conflict resolution field is multi-disciplinary, its theory is woven with the threads of many fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, international affairs, law, economics, business and organisational behaviour. On the other hand, however, conflict resolution theory has remained fundamental in its provision of specific skills and techniques to practitioners: the capacities to understand and intervene, to educate parties about other ways of seeing their own conflict, to motivate parties toward resolving their problems, and to establish standards to guide parties through the inevitable stormy water as the process evolves.

Although systematic comparative research on communal conflict resolution is scarce, numerous case studies have sought to explain and discuss the outcomes, and make recommendations. Otite and Albert (1999) analysed several conflicts in Nigeria and suggested that an integrated framework, where state and non-state actors coordinate their activities, provides the best chances for peace. However, the track record of state strategies is mixed. Cox (2016) found out that in cases where state actors have previously used indiscriminate force in reaction to a conflict, it is more difficult to achieve sustainable peace. Others showed how state interventions have often failed to resolve conflicts because the government lacked commitment and/or an understanding of the local context. For instance, while a local conflict is often fuelled by the easy availability of small arms in unstable regions, state-led disarmament processes have often backfired by upsetting local power balances and creating new grievances (Abbink 2000:535; Law et al. 2008; Mkutu 2008).

In the African context, there has been a resurgence of interest in different forms of customary conflict resolution, which usually feature mediation or deliberation by elders or other customary authorities (Buur and Kyed 2007). Many case studies investigated successful cases and sought to derive broader implications. For instance, several reports have documented successful local conflict resolution based on customary mechanisms in pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa (Chapman and Kagaha 2009; Frank 2002:209). Farah (1999) suggested that a voluntary, bottom-up approach is the explanation for successful peacebuilding in Somaliland.

Customary institutions may fulfil the task in cases where state institutions are weak or non-existent, as it has happened in part of Somalia (Boege 2006) and in remote regions of northern Kenya (Menkhaus 2008:12). Because customary institutions are led by local actors, they may not only be better able to design a process suited to the local context, but may also be able to respond much faster than state-led initiatives (Imobighe 2003:193). In the light of the need for grassroots-based conflict resolution, and the success of many cases, more research can be devoted to the scope and limitations of customary mediation.

In many countries, the number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in local peacebuilding has mushroomed in recent years. Such organisations are often perceived as neutral and trustworthy by local communities; and can be successful mediators, especially if they have a track record of providing valuable services to local communities and of being politically independent (Elfversson 2015:796). For example, a consortium of NGOs was able to use its independence and neutrality to help the warring parties reach a peace agreement following the extremely violent communal conflict in Kumasi in Ghana (Boege 2006; Babbie 2009; Peksen 2012:566).

However, NGOs often face many financial and practical constraints to the role they can play (Abdulrahman and Tar 2008:187). Eaton (2008:247) has criticised NGOs involved in what he calls the ‘business of peace’ ‘for failing to grasp the complex dynamics of communal conflicts, and as a result, failing to contribute to sustainable peace’. Mkutu (2008:13) similarly problematised the role of NGOs, noting ‘that many are doing good work but that others may have adverse effects, mainly because their organizational logic may not match local realities’. Locally anchored community-based organisations (CBOs) may also be more attuned to the grassroots situation, but they are often funded by larger organisations; and may be dependent on them or on political patrons connected to the conflict (Ikelegbe 2006:141; Kamat 2003:92).

Further, churches and faith-based organisations are often perceived as politically and financially independent. Morton (2008) showed how religious mediators were successfully able to promote dialogue between the Dinka and Nuer in Southern Sudan, and Albert (1999:19) suggested that religious organisations are often effective in addressing inter-ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, but added that their success may hinge on the groups in conflict sharing the same beliefs.

Among conflict-related aspects that have been sidelined within the literature, conflict trajectory is certainly a relevant and surprising absentee. Indeed, the timing of third-party interventions is crucial in the conflict management literature because each conflict phase requires targeted approaches and allows for limited objectives. In the literature on conflict management, it is usually emphasised that well-designed and successful mediation efforts can take place when conflicts are ripe for intervention (Collier and Sambanis 2002:8), but theories of ripeness do not always help to predict when ripe moments will occur. It is probably more useful to think about conflict phases and which interventions are more likely to succeed in each phase.

Summing up, previous research on communal conflict resolution has documented a range of different cases and generated a rich body of empirical evidence. In this section the focus has been on initiatives by local actors. In the subsequent section, this paper shall discuss the state as an actor, but also take note of non-state actors that may be relevant.

Government and non-state intervention

Irrespective of the institutional condition of government in any state, the governmental actions can be key to processes of peacemaking, especially in the consolidation of a peace agreement – whether it was facilitated by government or non-state actors. To explain the conditions for the successful resolution of communal conflict, this paper employed an actor-centred approach that considers the interactions between the government, the mediators, and the primary conflict parties. It could be argued that when the state is biased, this affects the prospects for successful resolution in two main ways: firstly, it constrains the role of the mediators and undermines their legitimacy; and secondly, it affects the conflict parties’ perceptions about the possibility and desirability of achieving a sustainable outcome at the negotiation table. Both of these conditions were evident in the government’s handling of the Ishakole (land rent) dispute of 1946–47 (Afolayan 1998).

The argument builds on the general assumption that local conflicts are often intricately connected to national power struggles and conflicts at higher levels (Albert 2001:38; Brosché 2014; Kalyvas 2003:57). Local and national political dynamics may cause the state to take sides (actively or passively) in a communal conflict. Based on their need to strengthen or protect their position of power, state actors have vested interests in some conflicts but not others. Bias may derive from their relationship to the conflict actors, or from local resources and the issues at stake in the conflict (Brosché 2014).

In terms of resources, the conflict may concern an issue, or take place in a geographic location that is of strategic or economic importance. For instance, Boone (2014) has shown that the economic importance of the area where conflict takes place may affect state strategies in relation to that conflict. In terms of relationships, the government’s position in relation to a local conflict may be different if local groups are important political supporters, threatening opponents, or politically irrelevant (Cederman, Wimmer and Min 2010:91; Wilkinson 2006:1771).

The emphasis on relationships is in line with Kalyvas’ elite interaction theory, which stresses how alliances between local and central elites may affect conflicts and power dynamics on different levels. Importantly, these relationships can go both ways. Just as central elites may manipulate local conflicts to suit their broader political purposes, local elites may exploit national-level conflicts or cleavages to secure support against their local adversaries (Kalyvas 2003). This is just as it was during the conflicts over the establishment of the Olorunsogo Plank Market (Agbe 2001:16) and the Modakeke fund-raising activity (Albert 2001:40).

In a context where electoral outcomes are closely connected to ethnic voting, such dynamics are likely to be particularly important. For instance, supporting a group involved in a communal conflict may be a way for the government of rewarding that group for political support (Allen 1999:65). This underlines a significant condition for non-state actors’ involvement in the peacemaking process. It is against this backdrop that the next section shall discuss the government’s role in peacemaking and lessons from the Ife-Modakeke experiences.

The empirical role of government in communal conflict peacemaking: Deductive analysis from the Ife-Modakeke crisis

The intervention of government has brought some noticeable changes, which deserve to be noted. According to Olayiwola and Okorie (2010:957), ‘government has always been used to proffer solutions to this recurring crisis’. Augsburger (1992), Albert (1999:13, 2001:37), Agbe (2001:15) and Asiyanbola (2007) have maintained that government has at various instances produced ‘usable’ solutions which have, to a large extent, enhanced peaceful co-existence till recent times. This ordinarily enjoys the administrative power of authority.

In the light of the above, Asiyanbola (2010:67) claimed that ‘the government role in the peacemaking process, at the initial stage, was geared towards investigation and clarification of the situation analysis of the communal conflict’. It was then observed that the relationship between the Ifes and the Oyo refugees (Modakeke) was, at first, very cordial to the extent that Ife Chiefs threw their doors open to more Oyo refugees because they are good allies in moments of warfare and in farm work (Babajimi 2003:47; Olayiwola and Okorie 2010:955). Specifically, they posited that the Oyo refugees provided military support to the Ifes during the Owu War of 1825 and various Ijesha invasions. Albert (2001:38) however noted that investigating the rationale behind the conflict revealed that when the Modakekes were accepted at Ile-Ife in a separate settlement by the then King Abeweila, the Ifes started regretting such action. This was because they lost political and economic dominance over Modakekes. This revelation served as a major hint for government to consider the historical antecedents, ancestry, dynasty and cultural affinity, and to embark on oneness of the Yoruba nation as against the political concept of a nation-state.

In furtherance, government also observed the rationale behind the first two attacks launched by the Ifes after the demise of Ooni (King) Abeweila. It was discovered that the attacks were orchestrated due to the displeasures of the Ifes about the alleged cooperation of the demised King with the Modakekes, and the purported killing of an Ife traditional figure in Ibadan. However, arguments were put forth in support of the Ifes’ attacks. According to Otite (1999:69) and Akinjogbin (1992:20), King Abeweila was poisoned around 1849 and denied royal burial by the Ife people as a result of his cooperation with Modakekes. And according to Albert (1999:15) and Oladoyin (2001:199), an Ife Chief, Okunade by name, who settled in Ibadan in the early 19th century, though a brave warrior, was an autocrat. He had so much influence in Ibadan politics that the Ifes started to see Ibadan as a colony. Okunade’s autocracy was challenged by some Oyo citizens in Ibadan. Later, he was allegedly killed and the Oyos took over the political leadership of Ibadan (Olayiwola and Okorie 2010:961). At this point, government grasped that, at first, the Ifes vented their angers on the Modakekes due to observed cooperation of the Ooni Abeweila; and that the second attack was a vengeance due to the alleged killing of Chief Okunade in Ibadan by Oyos. This situation generated a scenario of trans-ethnic enmity, which became noticeable during the Ibadans and Ekitiparapos war, when the Ifes aligned with the Ekitiparapos to fight the Ibadans, and the Modakekes, on the other hand, teamed up with the Ibadans to fight the Ekitiparapos. One can therefore understand the reasons for the alignments from the situational analysis of communal conflict between the two communities.

In the role of a historical analyst, the government brought up the unquantifiable damages done to each other by the two communities even though historical accounts have it that the Ifes and the Modakekes are sons and daughters of the same parents. This historical information brought the two warring parties on the same page; and they began to concentrate on the need for their peaceful co-existence. Asiyanbola (2010:74), in his analytical study on Ife-Modakeke crisis, emphasised that ‘ethnic attachment is a high index that any mediator must investigate and clarify as frontline of actions in peacemaking process on communal conflict or local crisis’. He revealed the extent to which government facilitated some moderate inter-relationships between the people of the two communities by embarking on a campaign against ethnic attachment and in favour of social integration. His study results, which were based on a correlational analysis, showed that the less emphasis there is on ethnic attachment, the more there is on inter-personal relationships. This finding is worthy to be induced by government in other conflict-ravaging environments.

In the case of the 1946‒49 crisis about royalties (Ishakole) for the harvesting of cocoa, government observed divided interests among the Ifes, Modakekes and their various socio-cultural groups. The significant role government then played in the peacemaking process could be conceptualised as institutional enforcement; which no other mediator, be it traditional institutions or local and international semi-formal groups, has the organisational strength to apply. The then government, under a military system, saw the need to override the divided interests of communities on lands and boundaries, especially the prolonged land disputes between Ife and Modakeke, by cancelling the causal factor of Ishakole, which had been more of a traditional arrangement with little or no institutional concrete rules and enforcements. Government technically processed the peacemaking architecture by overriding the Ishakole system with land leasing and rentage under the Decree in 1978. However, this Ishakole system was cancelled following the Land Use Decree of 1978 by the then Federal Military Government of Nigeria.

The political dimension of the Ife-Modakeke crisis came into full-blown force in the early 1980s. This started in December 1980 when a fund-raising ceremony organised by the Modakekes was disrupted by policemen. The Modakekes blamed this on the then Chief of Ife, and started agitating for their own separate local government council. Contrary to their expectations, when the new local government was announced in April 1981, it was placed under Ifes as usual. In a bid to woo the Modakekes, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a rival to the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) ruling in Oyo State, assured the Modakekes of a separate local government if elected in the next election in 1983. This therefore led to a political fracas between the Modakekes and a UPN campaign team in July 1983. The government’s peacemaking role in this politically driven crisis was a mere campaign statement by the national ruling party (NPN), but it had a highly significant effect to prevent a large-scale conquest of violence which could have possibly ensued from what was still a manageable crisis.

Another political problem arose with the creation of a new council (Ife East) in 1996. With regard to the location of the headquarters, the Modakekes were arguing that since they had been dominated as a minority, they deserved a new local government. The Ifes were of the view, however, that the Modakekes, being immigrants to Ife land, did not deserve to have the council headquarters. At the end, the government announced that the headquarters of the Ife East Local Government had been relocated from Modakeke to Oke-Ogbo in Ife (Olayiwola and Okorie 2010:958). This announcement was a great embarrassment to the community of Modakeke and they protested (Toriola 2001:28). This crisis, including secret killings, lasted till 1998, and brutal violence occurred in 2000.

Responding to these crises, the government adopted a holistic approach oriented towards reconciliation and peace. All concerned groups and associations were involved in this peacemaking process; yet, the government served as the coordinating agency for the conflict resolution exercise. It undertook the cardinal task of systematically identifying peacemaking stages with the support of local committees; such as the Chief Alex Akinyele-led committee, Honourable Justice Kayode Ibidapo Obe’s Judicial Commission of Enquiry, Commodore Olabode George’s committee, the peace initiative of the traditional rulers in Osun State, and a host of others who have come up with similar recommendations (Afolayan 1998; Agbe 2001:16; Toriola 2001:23; Aguda 2001 and Dixon and Rosenbaum 2004:262).

More remarkably, a major significant and landmark attempt to find a lasting solution to the age-long conflict between Ife and Modakeke was initiated by the government with the support of the United States Agency for International Development/Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) (Albert 2001:41): such as the formal inauguration of the Ife-Modakeke Inter-community Peace Advocacy Committee which took place at Oduduwa Hall, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria on 16th September 2000 (Agbe 2001:19, Toriola 2001:29, Babajimi 2003:58 and Asiyanbola 2007). There is no doubt that this government initiative took cognisance of the possibility of sustainable peace between the two communities and that it made a tremendous achievement in restoring peace between them. Members of both communities reciprocated by keeping to their promises of upholding peace.

The government helped the conflict parties (Ife-Modakeke) to move beyond positions and explore potential integrative outcomes, a process which necessitates significant trust (Nathan 1999:7; Ramsbotham, Woodhouse and Miall 2011; Svensson 2007:935). There have been cases in which bias and selective impunity destroyed trust among communal groups. In Darfur and Greater Upper Nile, for instance, such factors prevented conflict resolution. Obviously, if the government is biased in favour of a certain solution, the parties will have little or no faith in the sustainability of any agreement reached. In Eastern Sudan, by contrast, the absence of political bias enabled local actors to build trust and resolve their conflicts (Brosché 2014). An unbiased posture of government is one of the success factors for building trust – not only between the government and the parties, but also between the conflict parties. This argument underlines trust building as the first role of government in peacemaking processes. It is upon which all other mechanisms subsist. This was a notable role of government in the series of interventions in the Ife-Modakeke crisis. Trust building goes further to avert political bias and sentiments.

Peacemaking principles adoptable by government for communal conflict resolution: Lessons learnt from the Ife-Modakeke crisis

From the foregoing exploration, this paper strives to offer generalised principles that may be adopted by governments in peacemaking processes.

At first, the central theme of peacemaking is to balance the differences, wills, and capabilities of the disputing individuals, groups or communities. To achieve this central goal, the clearest possible insight into the perspectives of the parties in the conflict situation is needed, and especially a sound understanding of the quests of the warring parties (Burton 1997). This deserves to be regarded as the first principle because governmental actions are to be planned accordingly. These insights may help to know what panel or committee should be put in place, and what terms of reference they should be given with regard to balancing the differences.

The second principle is to conduct a situational analysis with a view to investigating and clarifying the root causes of communal conflicts. This would unravel the dynamic influences of historical antecedents and cultural affinity responsible for the escalation of the communal conflicts. In addition, the resolution mechanisms would thus become identifiable owing to the detailed understanding of the casual factors and cultural intricacies emanating from the conduct of the situational analysis.

To further strengthen the government’s capacity on peacemaking processes, the third principle emphasises the exploration of the possible role of local actors who may, in some situations, consider the applicability of a customary method which is most often useful in the conduct of a situational analysis. The local actors are at a vantage position to gather and provide useful and comprehensive intelligence for the understanding of the frameworks and trajectories of communal conflicts. Moreover, local actors are better instrumental to the design of the identification process of communal conflict causes. They can evidently play a significant role in peacemaking processes within the local context, and do it much faster than state-led initiatives.

The fourth principle tasks government, at any communal peacemaking exercise, to facilitate the establishment of an inter-community peace advocacy committee. This would give room for the conflict parties’ engagement. Through the committee, the government would be more connected with the conflict situations and people involved. Also, the committee would provide peacemaking architecture that encourages individuals, groups and communities concerned to reciprocate by keeping to their promises of upholding peace.

A fifth principle is that the interest of the government, as a coordinating mediator, should be free from partiality. There should be strict adherence to lines of actions which the parties regard as legitimate and to which they give consent. This depicts one of the cardinal guides of the Military Inquiry during the conflict over the establishment of the Modakeke High School (Akinjogbin 1992:19). It might take time for the concerned individuals or groups to fashion themselves into the approach of a mediation mission, but it may prove to be of great value in the long run.

A sixth and logical principle of peacemaking is to design an overriding interest with special emphasis on superseding preoccupation with ethnic attachment so as to incorporate or assimilate the separatist interests of the conflicting groups. This should be cautiously achieved by summing up all the conflicting interests in terms of a common goal. This has been argued to be feasible because, to every diversity, there is always a confluence point (Kalyvas 2003; Wilkinson 2006:1779; Boone 2014). The meeting point could then be interrogated for the possibility of quest unification and purpose visualising in spite of ‘indispensable’ objectives of the concerned groups. The underlying assumption is that the more essential the goal to the quest of the disputants, the higher the possibility of dampening the conflict momentum. To further consolidate the integrative approach, the perspectives must be clearly discerned by others. According to Brosché (2014:7), ‘this avoids unnecessary reactions; and strengthens the credibility of the resolution mechanisms’. It may lead to a display of commitment from all sides, and a moderation precluding excessive promises.

Concluding remarks

This paper elicited some major principles of peacemaking. Conflict ensues from what the parties want in a situation in which relevant expectations of change are disrupted. Situational perceptions, expectations, interests, capabilities, and will, are factors leading to conflict; and have to be taken into account in processes towards peacemaking. Material things – land, people, wealth, ports, borders – are merely the tools or objects of conflict across cultures. And material conditions, such as the topography of a country or a mountainous border between states, only frame and physically delimit conflict. The essence of conflict is an opposition of minds. The arena of conflict is the mental field. Thus, psychological guidance becomes relevant within the framework of conflict resolution. Government should provide a systematic way of identifying an appropriate peacemaking process for the conflict dynamics concerned.

This paper identified possible guiding principles of peacemaking that could be operationalised by governments in other conflict-ravaged nations. It stressed the need for situational analysis so as to understand and balance the differences between the conflicting parties. It accentuated the need for impartial interests of government and the formation of an overriding interest in the face of diverse community and stakeholders’ interests, in a bid to build trust and enjoy legitimacy in the balancing of disputants’ wills and capabilities. Government role in a peacemaking process on communal conflict may come out with an institutional leverage that will invite and inspire commitment and compliance from the conflicting parties for continuous peace sustenance.


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