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By Ayodele AKINKUOTU
NEVER in recent times has breaking news been more confusing. That was what happened in the evening of Thursday, January 23. As the six Southwest governors rose from their meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, announcing that the discord on Operation Amotekun had been resolved, a statement from the office of Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, reiterated his earlier position that the outfit remains illegal and unconstitutional.
For a nation perpetually on edge on matters of insecurity in the last several years, it is curious that an attempt by governors of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states to put an end to rampant kidnappings and banditry in the region can be declared as illegal and unconstitutional by the Federal Government.
That declaration on Operation Amotekun by Malami clearly makes President Muhammadu Buhari’s security agenda for the nation suspect. Is it that the only briefing the President routinely gets from his top security aides is on the insurgency in the Northeast, where Boko Haram remains a perpetual pain in the neck? Something tells me though that Buhari gets a fuller brief than that. As Commander-in-Chief, he is the one who surely gives the nod for the numerous nationwide periodic sweeps of criminals out of their dens by the Army and allied security agencies. Some of those nine operations, Mesa, Python Dance, Crocodile Tears had been conducted in the South.
Only the army and allied security agencies would know to what extent they had ridden the nation of criminals through these exercises. Surely, the Southwest must have gained some benefits.
For a nation that is not officially at war, perhaps President Buhari needs to secretly send an undercover emissary to travel to the South to get a real taste of the palpable fear that reigns supreme not only on Nigerian roads, but the entire landscape. His emissary should for a sampler travel the Shagamu to Benin Expressway.
On a 120-kilometre stretch of that road, between Shagamu in Ogun State and Ore in Ondo State, there are about 20 police and military checkpoints. Those are aside the numerous Customs and Federal Road Safety Corp, FRSC, stops.
Those checkpoints, a microcosm of security operations all over the country, provide a window on how unsafe from criminals Nigerians have become, and the government’s desperate measures to rid the nation of them. In spite of these efforts, kidnapping, banditry and other blood-chilling crimes are still ravaging the Southwest and the entire nation.
Just as the controversy on Operation Amotekun was starting, some hoodlums stormed a Plateau State village at night and killed several people. About the same time too, another village in Kaduna lost several of their people to criminals who have seemingly laid a siege to a particular part of the State. And Zamfara State, where government entered into a truce with bandits last year, was again recently ravaged by the devil incarnates. In the Southwest, kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative enterprise.
Last July, in what many believe was a kidnapping attempt gone awry, Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere, was killed around Kajola in Ondo State. This was around the time the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN, was about hosting an Investment Forum to highlight the investment potential of the region.
Against that tragic backdrop, it dawned on DAWN that no reasonable investor would willingly invest in a region where in broad daylight hoodlums could simply storm a very busy highway and shoot at travellers at will without any provocation.
Thus, rather than an investment forum, DAWN convinced the six Southwest governors that there was need to take the issue of security of life and property more seriously in the region. And that is how Operation Amotekun, which has the pay off, ‘Zero Tolerance to Crime’ was conceived.
At the launching in Ibadan on January 9, three out of the six governors, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo left no one in doubt as to why Operation Amotekun had become a necessity. Perhaps, being sensitive to how the issue of state police rankles many Nigerians, they clearly stated what the role of the men of the security outfit would be. They would strictly gather intelligence on kidnappings and allied banditry. These operatives would not carry arms, and would complement the police and other security agencies in their day to day activities. Above all, whenever they make any arrest, the suspect would be handed over to the police for further investigation.
No sooner was the outfit launched, than vitriolic attacks came on its heels. The first salvo came from Bello Abdullahi Bodejo, President-general of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore. He declared that Amotekun was designed to drive herdsmen out of Yoruba land. (So be it, if indeed they are the ones causing the mayhem). Thus, he called on the Federal Government to ban it.
Perhaps, emboldened by Bodejo’s missile, a press release from Malami followed, clearly stating that it was only the armed forces, the police and other paramilitary organizations that have been charged with the responsibility of security in Nigeria.
“As a consequence of this,” the attorney general argues further, “no state government, whether singly or in a group, has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts.”
Balarabe Musa, former governor of the old Kaduna State, who is highly esteemed among politicians of the progressive hue, said Amotekun was an agenda to carve an Oduduwa Republic out of Nigeria.
General Yakubu Rimdan (rtd.), former Commander of the First and Fourth Battalions Lagos, likened the security outfit as creating a ‘force in a force’, which will lead to chaos.
Here is Governor Fayemi’s perfect retort for these salvoes: “So, if people in my area of jurisdiction say we don’t know what you are doing. Should something not be done? We are funding police, we are buying vehicles, we are buying security gadgets, we are paying allowances, yet we don’t get enough security.”
That statement captures the bewildering security situation in the Southwest and a poignant vote of no confidence in President Buhari’s security agenda. As to whether the Federal Government was aware of the planning of Operation Amotekun, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife, who was at the launching, declared that President Buhari and Mohammed Adamu, Inspector General of Police gave their nod. That statement is yet to be countered by both the presidency and the police.
While Muhammadu Bello Dingyadi, Minister of Police Affairs, is of the view that the setting up of the outfit is not in line with the Constitution, he says it should be regarded as the contribution of the Southwest to national security. After all, security is the business of all. Given the groundswell of support for the security initiative in several parts of the country, the opposition of the Federal Government and others who are uncomfortable with the idea is going to be resisted.
A group, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum, has asked Attorney General Malami to tread softly. According to the group, “We consider his action as an abuse of office to suppress the rights of federating units to secure themselves and in furtherance of the widely held suspicion that sections of the country are deliberately being rendered vulnerable for herdsmen and other criminals by the Federal Government”.
Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate, describes Amotekun as a pleasant New Year gift from the governors. He points out that no serious government will object to such serious initiative.
Soyinka, who is amazed at Balarabe Musa’s position on the security outfit, declares, “Amotekun is as a result of meetings to curb the menace in the region. And some people who have been sleeping all this time, taking belated actions in many directions, watched the citizens being decimated, villages being wiped out, farmers being chased off their lands not merely in the North, but West and down South to the East in Enugu. They are now coming to tell us that this initiative is illegal, unconstitutional…I think they should go back to sleep”.
The depth of outrage in the Southwest on the Buhari government’s position cuts across party lines. Five of the six governors who initiated Amotekun are members of the All Progressive Congress, APC. That is a loud statement to show that the APC as the party controlling the Centre has failed the nation on matters of security. Some former Southwest governors of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Gbenga Daniel, Adebayo Alao-Akala and Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party have advised the incumbents to stay the course, and refuse to be intimidated.
Other prominent Nigerians like Segun Oni, former governor of Ekiti under the PDP, who is now an APC member have wondered at the so-called exclusive power of the Federal Government on matters of security when for several decades individuals, people and communities have engaged private security concerns to protect themselves.
And in fact, many police commands nationwide endorse such initiatives. This is because the police, which have a personnel of around 370,000 in a country of 200 million people have been largely overwhelmed. Buhari’s recent no-visa invitation for visitors to Nigeria, announced at the Aswan Forum in Egypt, is going to compound the security situation. Though the Senate has rejected the policy because of the likely security implications, Muhammed Babandede, the Comptroller-General of Immigration confirms his men have started implementing it.
This is at a time Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province are waxing stronger in the countries bordering Nigeria to the North. (A University of Maiduguri student and a prominent member of the Christian Association in Adamawa State were beheaded recently).
Before this latest faux pas, so grave is the challenge facing the police, that the Army, Navy and Air Force are engaged in internal security duties in practically all the 36 states of the federation.
To remedy the grave situation, last December, President Buhari gave the nod to the police to recruit 10000 men annually. Nigerians have heard that before. That police recruitment plan has become a nasty recurring decimal. Since 1999, all Buhari’s predecessors have made similar promises.
With the birth of Amotekun, the seed of community policing has been planted in Nigeria. Many Yoruba believe even though Olakunrin’s killing was the wake up call heralding this initiative, the alarm first sounded in September 2015 when Olu Falae, former presidential candidate, was kidnapped on his farm in Ondo State by six Fulani young men. He was their captive for four days before his release after a ransom had been paid. Five of the kidnappers were later sentenced to life jail.
The penalty meted to the kidnappers did not deter other criminals who kept rampaging with impunity. Against that backdrop and given the resolve of the Southwest people, as displayed in rallies in several Yoruba cities last week, and the agreement reached between the six governors and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Operation Amotekun, the dawn of community policing is here. And the other geopolitical zones may already be heading for the drawing board.
To ensure no further hiccups, and like Revd. James Akinola of the Church of Nigeria advised, which was one of the resolutions at the meeting held between the Vice President and the governors, the initiative should be backed up by law.
Thus, they should forward bills to their respective Houses of Assembly to pass a law on the security outfit. That was what happened in 2006, when Kano State launched Hisbah, also known as the Sharia police. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government kicked against it. The issue was eventually resolved in court, and today, 13 years later, several other states in the North have the Hisbah police.
The wonder among Nigerians supporting the idea of Amotekun can be captured in a Yoruba saying, ‘a person who is heavy-laden will not reject assistance by saying I am nearly home’.
Such a person who rejects that kind of assistance is nothing but a fool. For he may collapse before reaching his destination.
So, must the Yoruba and by extension other Nigerians wait for the modernisation of the Nigeria police to ensure adequate security? Methinks no. Revd. Akinola’s advice will suffice here. “Anyone who loves life and hates the shedding of innocent blood would not only support Amotekun and those that came up with the lofty idea but also promote same”.