Exactly a week after the carnage at Shasa Market (also called Sasa Market) in Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo State, calm is gradually returning to the community, but thousands of victims of the crisis remain displaced, counting their losses due to the destruction of their houses and shops after a minor disagreement between a Hausa man and a pregnant woman of Yoruba extraction.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the “minor disagreement”, however, feasted on the age-old struggle for the control of the market by the Yoruba and Hausa traders.
Apart from the many lives lost to the crisis, the ruins caused by the fight have been massive. Properties, including shops and houses worth billions of naira, were burnt while goods were looted in the market.
However, the irony is that both the Hausa and Yoruba people in Sasa and the environs are pointing accusing fingers at security operatives for allegedly taking side.
But a senior police officer in Ibadan, who does not want his name mentioned, said the blame game showed that security operatives intervened professionally.
“If the Yoruba people would accuse us of supporting the Hausa people and vice versa, it means we did our best. However, the bottom line is that some people simply want to cause ethnic violence and they found fertile ground at Sasa market,” he said.
When Daily Trust Saturday visited the market on Thursday, few Yoruba traders had just accessed the market to see if they could salvage anything in their shops but there was nothing to pick as hundreds of shops in the market were set ablaze while those not burnt were looted.
Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that the crisis started on Thursday when there was a “minor disagreement” between a cobbler, a pregnant lady and a male porter said to be Nigerien.
The cobbler was said to have intervened when the porter was allegedly maltreating the pregnant woman resulting in an altercation that snowballed into a big fight.
“It was just a little disagreement which we thought would be resolved like the previous ones and we closed the market that Thursday until the following morning (Friday) when information got to us that fight has started from the far end of the market because the cobbler who was hit with a charm had died,” said one of the market women, Mrs Rachael Ogedengbe, whose big fashion shop was torched.
But beyond the disagreement, Sasa Market which some would pronounce as Shasa has had to contend with conflicts over the control of the market between Yoruba and Hausa traders, which have led to tension in the market occasionally.
History of the market
Sasa is described as the biggest market in Ibadan. It is likened to Mile 12 Market in Lagos. It’s a depot for all kinds of foodstuffs and perishables.
Rice, beans, millet, tomato and several foodstuffs are sold in large quantities in the market.
Trucks with perishables food items come from the North to the market on daily basis. From there, other markets in Ibadan like Bodija, Oke-Ado and so on, get supply. It was gathered that no fewer than 80 trucks of perishable food items are offloaded in the market daily.
There are conflicting accounts of the history of the market. While some of the northern traders claimed the market was originally their market, where they settled in 1979, the Yoruba traders dismissed it.
Baale of Sasa, Chief Hamza Akinade Ajani, however, said the market is as old as Sasa Community itself dating back to over 60 years ago. The monarch, who is in his late 70s, recalled that the community known as Sasa occupied the land on which the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a 1000-hectare headquarters of the organisation, presently sits.
He narrated that when the Federal Government prevailed on them to relocate, they were adamant because they relocated from Eleyele to the present University of Ibadan site before they were relocated to Sasa.
According to him, there was an understanding between the community and the white men in charge of IITA to provide another settlement that falls within the present Sasa area.
He said before people would finally relocate to their new settlement, the foreign-based institute constructed a market with over 250 shops to assist their women to cope with the challenges of relocation from their ancestral land.
The Hausa traders have also laid claim to the market and occasionally, there have been issues of disagreement in the past threatening the continued existence of the market.
‘Destruction, losses massive’
Traders of both Yoruba and Hausa extraction said they have never witnessed such massive destruction as was witnessed last Friday.
When Daily Trust Saturday visited the market on Thursday – from the main junction along Oyo Road, spots of bonfires still littered the surrounding. And approaching the market, the destruction could be observed from afar.
Moving from shop to shop, the whole market seems nearly levelled. Hundreds of shops were set ablaze and those that were not burnt down due to concrete roofs were burgled and looted.
Such was the shop of a fashion designer, Mrs Ogedengbe, who was sobbing continuously, saying she never expected the destruction would be that massive.
She recalled that on September 27, 2019, she lost 12 shops to a mysterious fire in the market, but was able to bounce back through bank loans and several other interventions from cooperative societies only to lose everything in one day.
She said, “I did the concrete roofing to prevent this fire disaster. I never envisaged this crisis. My shop could not be burnt, but they broke into it and looted it dry. All the industrial machines which I have just bought have been carted away, another shop which I bought recently and rented out was also set on fire. I’ve nothing again to take care of my children because I am a single mother,” she said, saying the whole drama happened while the security agencies looked away.
While the Hausa traders claim over 30 of their people died as a result of the crisis, the Yoruba community also insists they lost many of their kinsmen and blamed the crisis on “those who have no stake in the market”.
Currently, thousands of Hausa people, including women and children, have been displaced as a result of the fracas with many of them taking shelters at the palace of Sarkin Sasa, Alhaji Haruna Maiyasin at Sabo area of Ibadan.
When Daily Trust Saturday visited the palace, many of the victims who just left the hospital were in his house while some were returning to the North. For instance, it was learnt that the Sokoto State government provided free buses to convey its indigenes willing to return home.
‘I lost two houses, 426 bags of grains’
Alhaji Garuba Adamu, one of the major traders in the market, narrated how he was attacked when he returned to the market after the five governors visited the market in the company of the state governor, Mr Seyi Makinde.
He said he has many trailers transporting goods from the South to the North, adding that he lost two houses and about 426 bags of rice, beans and corn to the fire.
He added that one of his brothers who had two wives and six children also died as a result of the crisis. He estimated all he lost to the crisis to the tune of N60m.
“Since I got to Sasa about 37 years ago, I have never experienced this kind of crisis before, even during the June 12 crisis, it wasn’t this much because there were no casualties then.
“I know those who burnt my shops. It was the man that sold the shop to me. He told me he didn’t have money to build on the land and I bought it from him. When the crisis started, he supervised the burning of my houses and shops,” Adamu, who was still recuperating and has relocated to Akinyele, another Hausa settlement, said.
Muhammad Auwal Salis, who narrowly escaped death, told Daily Trust Saturday that he was a truck driver and his place of work is not in the Sasa Market, but he got a call from his mother who told him to go to the Sasa area and pick his brother’s children from there.
“I went there on a bike which I collected from a friend and picked the three children. As I was coming out with them, some hoodlums attacked us with machete and sticks, and I fell from the bike.
“It was with the help of some Hausa youths who threw stones at those attacking me that I was able to escape death. When they ran away, the Hausa youths rushed me to the hospital and also rescued the children. One of the children got injured in the process and my attackers even went away with the bike,” he added.
‘’I’ve been turned to a widow’
Aisha Muhammed Abubakar, who lost her husband to the crisis, told Daily Trust Saturday that she’s now left with three kids, including a baby who is less than 40 days.
In the heat of the crisis, her husband had told her to remain indoors with the kids while he looks for a means to evacuate them.
“The next thing I saw was his picture online. He was macheted and burnt by the hoodlums and now I’m a widow taking care of our three children alone,” she said crying profusely.
The woman, who hails from Sokoto, said she now lives with her mother-in-law in Sabo, adding that all their belongings were gone.
Daily Trust Saturday also spoke with the mother of the deceased, Malama Murja Muhammed Abubakar, who disclosed that her son called her on phone shortly before he was killed, adding that he was his only hope.
‘We are not going back to Sasa’
Even as reconciliatory efforts are ongoing with plans to reopen the market, some of the Hausa traders say they don’t want to go back to the market because they have suffered a lot.
Umaru Ahmadu, an indigene of Sokoto, who said he lost over N2m worth of onions and tomatoes, said they were not ready to return to Sasa.
He stated that over the years, the northerners have suffered a series of attacks and deaths but he said he had never witnessed the kind that happened last Friday.
“If the government can give us another place like Iroko in Akinyele here, we would ply our trade there in peace,” he said in a chat with Daily Trust Saturday crew in Akinyele village where some of the Hausa victims have relocated to.
So far, the intervention of some northern governors, especially the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, has helped the displaced. When our correspondents visited Akinyele village, some displaced women were being given N5, 000 cash as relief items. Also, some of the traders from Kano State were supported with cash donations by the state government to the tune of N18m. But many of the traders both Yoruba and Hausa said they needed more to recover.
A Yoruba trader, Mrs Mariam Azeez, an indigene of Sasa, who said she is a widow, called for urgent government intervention to rebuild the market and assist the traders whom she said lost fortunes in the crisis.
The mother of three, who said she lost her husband in 2009, said she has been singlehandedly taking care of the children.
“I lost everything in this crisis. The goods in my shop are worth over N2m. This is unprecedented. We have been having issues before in this market and we have been settling them amicably but this one was just too much for us,” she said.
Also speaking, Mrs Elizabeth Funmilayo said she lost the house built with her life savings to the crisis.
“Everything I have laboured for; all my life savings, my children’s certificates were burnt. We escaped by the whiskers so we couldn’t salvage anything from the house,” she said as she wept uncontrollably.
‘Hausa has been chairman for the past 41 years
Babaloja of the market, Chief Rasheed Popoola, 79, reiterated that the market was built for the Sasa Community by IITA with the support of Ford Foundation and Rockefeller, said only the Hausa tribe has been the chairman of the market.
He said this has been the practice by the Baale and the Sarki for the past 41 years without any issue.
Popoola added, “We have a chairman, a Hausa man who has been occupying the position for the past nine years. So, some group of Yorubas met the Baale and the Sarkin Sasa and said it was time to have a new chairman who must be a Yoruba man and Hausa would be the vice-chairman.
“So, this crisis has been raging until the minor disagreement happened on Thursday. We were all caught unawares, we didn’t know that some people were planning evil in the market. I, for instance as the Babaloja, lost seven shops. What happened was just too minor.”
According to him, those who instigated the crisis were non-Nigerians who have no stake in the market.
‘We’ll not accept the relocation of market’
As part of the reconciliatory move, the Baale of Sasa said they would not accept relocation of the market, assuring the governor that both tribes have resolved to live peacefully together and end the war.
The Baale insisted that there was more to the crisis than what was being reported, saying some people were bent on destroying the market to develop others. To that effect, they staged a protest yesterday to inform the governor that they were ready to reopen the market.
The Baale said the problem was caused by greed on the part of both tribes, stressing that Hausa and Yoruba are not enemies.
He added, “When God created us, He didn’t identify anyone as Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. We are all one from the same parents. We have inter-marriages between the ethnic groups and we have children. Why can’t we live together in peace?
“The only difference among all the tribes is the language we speak but even with language differences, we have to be fair to each other. The government should help us to live in peace. The government can do it.
“This market has been in existence for more than 60 years; can somebody now say he wants to take it away from here? It is dangerous to take such a step. We cannot accept relocating the market because the issue has been resolved.”
Meanwhile, some stakeholders in Yorubaland are also making moves to douse the tension and reunite the two tribes.
A group known as the Yoruba Welfare Group met with leaderships of the Yoruba and Hausa communities in the state preaching peace and unity, saying both tribes need each other to survive.
National President of the Group, Comrade AbdulHakeem Adegoke Alawuje, in a chat with our correspondent, said the Hausa and Yoruba have become so intertwined.
“When you move out of the north, the only place you can see Hausa people settled and live comfortably is Yorubaland. And when you move out of Yorubaland, the only place you can see Yoruba people living comfortably in the north. We must not keep quiet when something like this is happening between the northerners and westerners. We must come in and look for peace.
“The Hausa people have been in the west for more than 200 years, likewise the Yoruba. This is why we are meeting with the communities to preach peace and love, so we can continue living in peace.”
Crisis not about ethnicity, Oyo Govt insists
Chief Press Secretary to Oyo State Governor, Mr Taiwo Adisa, said both tribes are now working together to resolve the crisis.
He said, “Just like the Governors’ Forum has said, the crisis is not an ethnic crisis but misunderstanding between two groups. If the Seriki Hausa and the Baale Yoruba could align on a particular issue in Shasa, then, it is not an ethnic crisis and we are finding a lasting solution to it.
“As we speak, the Yoruba and Hausa communities are working together to prove to the people that there was no ethnic clash between them.
“Just like the governor had said, for now, there is no market in Iroko but he will reopen the market when the two groups assure him that there won’t be a problem in the market again. We are lucky to have a governor who values life and property.”
Abdullateef Aliyu, Jeremiah Oke & Abbas Dalibi