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February 28, 2021

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How Yoruba shielded Hausa and Hausa protected Yoruba during Sasha violence

11 min read

Aliyu Adamu’s house was one of the many properties burnt in the Sasha Market riot in Ibadan. Three days later, he mustered the courage to check what remained of the duplex.

Accompanied by a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Mr Adamu suddenly stopped at the gate, his lips quivering. Then he took two steps back and fainted.

“Water! Water!! Water!!!” neighbours screamed in commotion. After receiving first aid treatment, Mr Adamu was helped to a nearby hospital.

Mr Adamu, a foodstuff dealer, is Hausa and had lived in Sasha for about 20 years until the deadly riot at the market on Friday, February 12.

“All my life investment is gone,” was all he would say later when our correspondent visited him in hospital.

Some burnt shops at Sasha

The Sasha Crisis

What quickly turned into a full-scale violence began as a mere misunderstanding between a cart pusher and a woman stall owner at the Sasha market on Thursday, February 11.

A cobbler, Sakirudeen Adeola, who had his shed nearby, intervened on the side of the woman. What followed remains unclear. An account said the cart pusher stabbed Mr Adeola with a knife but another said it was a blow with his fist.

Whatever it was, Mr Adeola landed in hospital and was reported dead the following day. The news of his death ignited the violence that pitted some Yorubas against some Hausas in the area.

The rioters slaughtered or maimed passers-by and torched houses, shops, vehicles and other valuables estimated at hundreds of millions of naira in an orgy of lawlessness. By Friday evening, nowhere was safe in Sasha and its environs.

From unity to disunity

Traders and residents of the two ethnic groups in the area told PREMIUM TIMES in a series of interviews that the cart pusher whose altercation with the shop owner started the crisis was not a resident or a known face in the community.

“The Yorubas and Hausas have been living together without crisis for years,” Idrisu Muhammadu, a Hausa trader whose tomato shop was burnt in the riot, said. “The man at the centre of the incident came from another place to work here.”

Isaac Fijabi, a Yoruba who operated pepper grinding machines at the market, said people interacted peacefully in the market because traders just want to do good businesses.

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“Most of the people who caused the chaos are not even the Hausas in this market and the Yorubas who attacked the Hausas too were youth from outside,” Mr Fijabi said.

Burnt vehicle during Sasha Crisis

Long-term Sasha neighbours and senseless killings

The violence continued into the next day, Saturday, as thugs capitalised on the situation, blocking highways and attacking people they identified as Hausas.

A witness shared pictorial evidence with PREMIUM TIMES of hoodlums dragging men out of vehicles. Sources said at least 20 people died in the disturbance and hundreds of persons were displaced.

PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify the casualty claims and the police did not provide official figures. The police spokesperson in the state, Olugbenga Fadeyi, did not respond to calls and text messages from our reporter.

The police also did not speak on arrests in connection with the riot. Mr Fadeyi only said in a statement that “normalcy has been returned in the area.”

Governor Seyi Makinde on Saturday declared a dusk-to-dawn-curfew
in the market and its environs, warning perpetrators of violence that they would be made to face the wrath of the law.

Bitter Tales

When Omonike Odejobi noticed our correspondent approaching her, she started hurrying away.

“I was scared because I don’t know you. I thought you were an Hausa man,” the elderly woman said eventually.

Mrs Odejobi, a Yoruba, was a witness and victim of the riot.

“It happened all of a sudden. My house and shops have been destroyed. We are currently squatting with friends and family members outside Sasha. I don’t know where to start from.”

Her son, Solomon, who deals in foodstuff, also had a shop at the market.

“When the incident started, we did not think it would lead to a disaster like this,” he said. “It started around 7 a.m. on Friday when some Yoruba and Hausas thugs were throwing stones and bottles at themselves. It was when they started burning houses and shops that we realised it was war.

“My family house was destroyed after all of us ran for our lives. Two of my friends and two of my customers were killed in the crisis.”

A youth leader in the community, Akeem Lakotan, said he has lived in Sasha all his life but has now been rendered homeless by the crisis.

“I ran for my life while my house and shops were razed. It was a real war. Some people were burnt to ashes with their shops. No one can give you the exact figure of the casualties. It was terrible,” Mr Lakotan, a Yoruba, said.

Isa Abdullahi, an Hausa who traded in onions in the market, said two of his shops were burnt in the crisis.

“I lost over a million naira. I have sent my wife back to the north. One of my children is in Bodija (another area of Ibadan) but I have not set my eyes on him since the day of the incident,” Mr Abdullahi told PREMIUM TIMES.

This newspaper also gathered that some traders died as a result of shock over their losses.

“Two of my friends died as a result of shock. One of them, Iya Mariam, owned three shops filled with bags of rice. All were burnt. It was the shock that killed her,” a woman, Azeezat Showunmi, said.

She said another friend, who traded in food seasoning in the market, also died of shock.

“She borrowed Lapo money from five different places to stock her stores. She slept and did not wake up the following day,” she said, pointing to the remains of the shop of the said deceased trader.

Heroism and humanity

The violence, however, also produced remarkable stories of heroism and humanity, with some people of Yoruba descent shielding their Hausa neighbours from attacks and vice-versa.

Mr Adamu said it was his Yoruba neighbours who protected him from being killed by Yoruba hoodlums during the crisis. It was also his Yoruba neighbours who took him to a hospital after he fainted on Wednesday.

One of his neighbours said: “Alhaji is a good man. He is nice to all the children in the neighbourhood. We made sure he was safe during the crisis.”

Another Yoruba resident of the area, Ronke Aremu, also said her Hausa neighbours saved her from lynching on Friday.

“I have three grinding machines for corn, pepper and cassava flour. That has been my business in the market for the past 10 years and my shop is in the midst of Hausas,” Mrs Aremu told PREMIUM TIMES.

“When the crisis started, people were running helter-skelter. One of my Hausa neighbours dragged me into one of their shops and locked me there.

“I was was the only Yoruba with them and they were like 10. Around 5 p.m., the Hausa man who rescued me told us he wanted to check if the situation was calm so we could all run for our lives, but he was shot in the head when he stepped out.

“We later heard voices from outside that the shop we were hiding inside was about to be burnt. We forced the door open and fled. While running, I saw a man being macheted but I could not help. Now my shops and all my grinding machines are gone.”

A Looting Spree

As the shops and homes went up in flames, thugs embarked on a looting spree in the deserted community.

“There was no one to challenge them,” Mr Lakotan said.

Moses Akinbode said although he managed to lock his house before running for safety, his properties were still looted.

“I remember locking all the doors in my house on Friday morning before
leaving Sasha. But they looted our homes including those of others who are yet to return.”

Authorities intervene

During a visit to the community, some state governors pleaded with Nigerians to live in harmony despite their ethnic differences

Representing the Southwest governors, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State on Sunday urged residents to embrace peaceful coexistence.

“Concerning the issue on ground, we have come to beg you. We have been living together for a very long time and this is not the time to start fighting ourselves. So, let us consider that. There are some things that could be making us angry but don’t let us look at that because things cannot be like this forever. I have come here on behalf of my colleagues in Ekiti, Lagos, Osun and Ogun.

“All of them have sent messages. Ogun has its own crisis it is battling with, so does Lagos. But as the chairman, I decided to come around to appeal to us. Though we are here in our fatherland, our own sons and daughters are in another person’s fatherland.

“So, let us think about this and continue to live in peace with one another. We don’t need to fight ourselves. We have security agencies that you can call their attention to any issue that could cause crisis. Let us not take the law into our hands. I have a brother in Abuja and others living in Hausaland.”

Governors Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, Abubakar Bello of Niger and Bello Matawalle of Zamfara states also made an on-the-spot assessment of the damages on Tuesday on behalf of the NGF.

Speaking on behalf of the governors, Mr Badugu said: “We saw the destruction, but more than the destruction was the regrettable loss of lives that were caused by an unfortunate and condemnable spontaneous response to emotions.

“First, there had been contention over the leadership at Market. Both the Seriki and Baale of are in agreement about the leadership tussle, but other interested groups were not, hence, there was an undercurrent for trouble to brew.

“What was the trigger? There was somebody pushing a wheelbarrow with tomatoes and the items fell in front of a shop. Ordinarily, that is normal in markets. But when emotions rose and social media posts instigating crisis became strident, we had the situation we had.

“We are also glad that the Seriki and Baale of Shasha are firm that everyone is free to stay and conduct his or her lawful activities.”

We are not against Hausas – Baale of Sasha

The Yoruba traditional head (Baale) of Sasha, Akinade Ajani, told PREMIUM TIMES that he was not interested in the eviction of any ethnic group, but wants some “bad eggs” flushed out of the community.

“The matter has come and gone and we don’t pray to witness such again. We have appealed to the government to reconstruct the market and also ensure that the bad elements are flushed out of the community.

“The governor agreed to lock the market and that he will rebuild it. He saw how our homes were destroyed by the bad ones. We are not against Hausa or Igbo. We are not against any tribe. We just want the bad eggs among them out of our community and the governors agreed to with us. There are just about eight people causing crisis in the community.”

Asked who the eight persons are, he said: “I already disclosed them to the governor. When the eight individuals leave, there will be peace because those people are only pursuing their personal interests.”

Seriki Hausa Palace in Sasha

Troublemakers not residents of Sasha – Seriki Hausa

PREMIUM TIMES also visited the Seriki Hausa in Sasha, Haruna Maiyesin, at his palace. He said those who triggered Friday’s crisis were not residents of the community.

“Anybody creating problem should be tackled by the government. Those that burnt and killed people are not from here. Both the Hausas and Yorubas who caused the mayhem are not faces we know. On Saturday and Sunday, I had over 5,000 people, including Yoruba and Hausas, in my palace who ran for their lives.

Staffs of Seriki Hausa in Sasha

“We have settled our differences and we have decided to live in peace. We should join hands together to tackle the bad eggs. We have sat down together and we have answers to how to live peacefully.”

On Nigeria’s dire security situation, Mr Maiyesin said, “when the governors came, the first thing I did was to tell them about insecurity in Nigeria and I sent them to the president. If not for lack of security, there wouldn’t have been destruction. I just pray that God will keep us. We are not secured generally in Nigeria.”

Govt needs to be proactive

Speaking on the riot, Timothy Avele, a security expert with Elint Armourcop Humint Intelligence, blamed it on failure of “security intelligence.”

“The Oyo incident is a result of anger but it still boils down to a failure of security intelligence which authorities have failed to respond to.”

A public affairs analyst, Rotimi Majaro, said politics had magnified the differences between the Yoruba and Hausa.

“There is weaponisation of the crisis by some political elites whose interest is 2023. People have lost their humanity to the extent that when two people are fighting, we are quick to take sides. Many people support their own in every dispute without even listening to who is right or wrong.

“If that continues, then our brothers in the northern part and in the east are not safe. We allow thugs to shine in Nigeria and a mere disagreement was hijacked because the society is encouraging thuggery.

“This last incident was not the first in Sasha but they often resolved their issues amicably. But there is a mutual mistrust this time which government must quickly address,” Mr Majaro said.

In her comments, Ler Jonathan, a member of the Nigeria Mourns Coalition, a non-governmental organisation that tracks violent incidents from newspaper reports and family sources, said the government has failed in its responsibilities to citizens.

“The simple truth is that government has failed to secure lives and properties,” he said. “We have a biased government who look away when things are going wrong. The government looks partial and people are now fighting for themselves because the government fails to do its job. This is the real challenge and it is more than any ethnic crisis.”

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