Colonialism and Intercommunity Relations: The Ifon-Ilobu Example

By Adesoji, Abimbola O. | History In Africa, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Colonialism and Intercommunity Relations: The Ifon-Ilobu Example

Adesoji, Abimbola O., History In Africa


One major consequence of the different waves of migrations in Yorubaland up to the nineteenth century was the emergence of settlements in different places and at different times. Some of these settlements were naturally located close to one another, and, as they expanded, they had to struggle among themselves or with their host communities for the control of land and other resources, as well as seek to retain their separate identity. The desire for the control of land, exercise of dominance, as well as for separate identity, with its attendant benefits resulted in mutual distrust and antagonism and, in extreme cases, degenerated into open conflict. The cases of Ife and Modakeke, Oyo and Akinmorin, and Ogbomoso and Orile-Igbon are relevant examples.1

The case of Ifon and Ilobu communities is especially peculiar. Different groups migrated into the same region at different times and settled there because of an availability of arable land for agricultural practice, availability of streams and rivers, relatively secured location, and perhaps the discovery of mineral resources like rock salt. Despite the close location of these two communities and the similarity in their customs and language, their relationship has not been cordial. The closeness of these two communities, perhaps a factor in their growth and expansion, resulted in the struggle for the ownership, control, and usage of land. It also resulted in a desire to seek or exercise dominance and separate community identities, with each having recourse to superior historical tradition. These developments have produced mutual distrust and antagonism, resulting in the desire of the communities to seek ways of asserting itself from the grip of domination.

Colonialism affected different aspects of life in Nigeria. The process of pacification and the establishment of colonial administration, while being aimed at maintaining order such that colonial policies and programs could be implemented, had profound implications on existing intergroup structures. Thus one effect of colonialism was the reordering of intercommunity relations, which created a demand for their management. One of the major preoccupations of the colonial government in Nigeria was the management of intercommunity relations. In some cases the management only brought temporary solution, as the communities soon afterwards resumed hostility or antagonism at the slightest provocation. This was the case with Ifon and Ilobu communities. Looking at this case can help to explain why the problems that characterized the relations between the two communities outlived colonial rule.


There is a continuing debate on the nature and impacts of colonialism on intercommunity relations in Africa. One dimension of the discourse has been to view colonialism as a destabilizing factor in otherwise peacefully coexisting traditional communities. In this sense, the territorial reconfigurations, modernization, and cultural denigration, which were direct consequences of colonial conquests and pacification, produced a revision of the existing social, economic, and political status quo. The culture of violence and divide-and-rule, important means of colonial control, can account for the volatile nature of contemporary intercommunity relations in many parts of Africa. The challenge of the post-colonial state has been to manage the various dislocations of the colonial legacy and to resolve the crises arising therefrom.

On the other hand, the argument of a "merrie" traditional state is hardly sustainable.2 Many of the modern conflicts have origins that antedate colonization. The growth of population and evolving modernization or westernization were already producing adjustments or maladjustments in so-called traditional societies. Be that as it may, modern conflicts have a multitude of causes. The purpose of intercommunity relations discourse is to identify those causes and their interplay.

One feature of precolonial Yorubaland was the complex hierarchy of states and communities, with princely and primogenital communities being accorded more reverence than other communities, including commercial ones. …

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