THE sad irony about the rampant spate of ethnoreligious clashes that occur among Nigerians from different backgrounds, especially in our major urban areas, is that it consumes the poor, struggling masses toiling to make a daily living. The leaders who sow the seeds of division for their political aggrandisement hardly ever go toe-to-toe against one another. Long after they have resolved their selfish differences the poor who have nothing against one another continue to pay the price in loss of lives, limbs and property.
The ethnic flare-up between some elements of the Yoruba and Hausa communities in Ilepo Market, Agbado/Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area, Lagos State over the past weekend later spilled over to the nearby Katangowa second-hand clothes market on Monday. A mystery early morning fire gutted a section of the market and many shops were burnt. A minor disagreement between a porter and an Area Boy degenerated into a fight which was joined by belligerents from the opposite ethnic groups. As usual with such events, matters rapidly deteriorated leading to loss of millions of naira worth of goods, especially foodstuff. Luckily, no lives were reportedly lost though many were injured. People who live and trade peacefully together every day suddenly become enemies ready to fight to the death at the slightest misunderstanding. Nigeria can never succeed in building a united, prosperous country in this atmosphere of mutual hatred, suspicion, belligerence and intolerance.
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It is unfortunate that though Nigerians live peacefully together and thrive through economic, social and even political interactions, we have failed to evolve a workable conflict resolution mechanism to foster peaceful cohabitation. The situation in our markets is not helped by the fact that instead of having unified market unions the various ethnic groups build their little Berlin Walls away from other groups, sometimes with their own “warriors” and cache of arms. It is the responsibility of government to maintain law and order. Apart from setting up intelligence units in markets to deal with brewing crises before they explode, state governments should set up inter-ethnic conflict resolution groups in each market to liaise with the Police and other law enforcement agents to ensure that troublemakers are not allowed to operate. The idea of allowing miscreants to harass and extort traders in the markets should be discouraged. This is one of the greatest sources of crisis flare-ups. Government-accredited agents should administer any revenue collection that is due to it with the backing of law-enforcement agents. In return, there should be visible improvement in the living conditions of the markets to encourage people to pay their obligations. These crises are totally needless, wasteful and can be stopped only if government takes up its responsibility with fairness to all.