The gathering storm over Amotekun

The creation of the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named Amotekun by the governments of the South-west states almost two weeks ago has remained a subject of controversy and generating heated debates across the land. The arguments for and against its formation, operation and motive have taken another dimension. TOPE SUNDAY writes.

In Nigeria today, one of the issues that is dominating discourse is Amotekun, a security outfit set up by the governments of the South-west states to protect their domains against security threats and also to protect the lives and property of their subjects and residents.

But the operation Amotekun has generated more controversies and Nigerians seem to be divided over it along ethnic lines. With the trending arguments over it, some southerners and northerners have started engaging one another on media war.   

Insecurity in South-west

The South-west is experiencing a resurgence of insecurity. In April 2019, suspected herdsmen killed natives in Iyemero Ekiti in Ikole local government area of Ekiti state when they allegedly invaded the deceased’s’ farmlands.

Also, in July of the same year, the daughter of the chairman of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, M.s Funke Olakunrin, was killed by suspected herdsmen. Late Olakunrin, aged 58, was said to be heading to Ore Junction from Akure, Ondo state, when she was attacked and shot dead by her killers.

Two officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were also abducted by suspected kidnappers on Osun state road in May, 2019. The kidnapped officers were taken hostage on Akure-Ilesa expressway in Erin Ijesa.

On May 6, of the same year, the spate of violent crimes and kidnappings on Ilesa-Ife-Ibadan expressway reached a new height, when a Professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital was abducted by gunmen.

Professor Olayinka Adegbehingbe, an orthopaedic surgeon at the OAUTHC, who was released a day later after the alleged payment of N5 million ransom, was kidnapped while travelling through that route.

Operation Amotekun

Disturbed by the high rate of crimes in the South-west, the governors from the zone on January 9, 2020, flagged off the operations of the Western Nigeria Security Network, code-named Amotekun.

At its launch in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is also the governor of Ekiti state, said Operation Amotekun is not a duplication or replacement for the Nigerian Police, rather, it is a complement that will give confidence that people are looking for.

“Amotekun is a complement that will give our people confidence that they are being looked after by those they elected into office. So, we do not want this to create fear in the mind of anybody as we are not creating a regional police force and are fully aware of the steps we must take to have state police. We do not want anybody to misconstrue the concept of Amotekun,” he had said.

FG’s disapproval

On January 14, barely five days after it was launched, the federal government came out to declare that its formation was illegal.

The Attorney- General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Gwandu, said the issues of defence and security are under the exclusive list and not with the states.

 He had said, “The setting up of the paramilitary organisation called Amotekun is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has established the Army, Navy and Air Force, including the Police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the defence of Nigeria.

“As a consequence of this, 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.

“This is sanctioned by the provision of Item 45 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) authorizing the Police and other federal security services established by law to maintain law and order.

 “Finally, it is important to put on record that the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice was not consulted on the matter. If it had, proper information and guidance would have been offered to ensure that Nigeria’s defence and corporate entity are preserved at all times.”

Dissenting voices

Malami’s comment and description of Operation Amotekun stirred up controversies as people expressed divided opinions on the legality or otherwise of his statement.

Leading in defence of the security outfit, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, in a statement criticised the federal government’s pronouncement, arguing that Amotekun “is constitutional and legal.”

 “The issue of Amotekun is an issue of public safety and protection of property. There is no law in Nigeria, which prevents citizens from being able to secure their life and property. The Nigeria Police does not enjoy exclusive jurisdiction when it comes to the protection of life and property. As a matter of fact, in many parts of Nigeria, various outfits such as Civilian JTF, Hisbah Police and vigilantes have been performing the duty of protecting life and property,” he said.

On his part, the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, also condemned the federal government position, insisting that “any serious government who cares for its citizens would not object to such initiative.”

He said, “The initiative is quite legal and constitutional and in any case, the federal government should go to court. I have always believed passionately in self-policing. If it is possible to eliminate any kind of formal policing, I will be forward. But there is a need for an organised security.”

Also, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), told South-west governors to ignore Malami’s directive on the legality or otherwise of Operation Amotekun.

 “The governors have no duty to consult him (Malami). He is Attorney- General of the Federation, not Attorney-General of South West states. The governors have their own attorneys-general who are equally as qualified as Malami is.

“So, if this is part of the conspiracy that anything that smacks of regional arrangements or organisation offends some people who believe there has to be direct federal rule in every nook and cranny of the country, that is own misery. But it has nothing to do with the law.”

But while the Yoruba elite are defending the constitutionality of Amotekun, the national secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan, declared that his organisation is afraid that if the Amotekun security outfit is allowed to operate, it could turn out to be a disaster for Nigeria.

Alhassan likened the initiative to the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), which he said has the history of heinous crimes and killings, and described it as “a threat to democracy.”

“For us, Amotekun, the Yoruba tribal militia is one of the greatest threats to democracy we now have in place. You cannot empower an ethnic militia that has violent crime as a force. We are afraid because if they don’t tame this monster at an early stage, it is going to be a serious disaster for the country.

“Essentially, what you have as Amotekun is OPC that has a history of ethnic crimes and killings. And the proponents of Amotekun have not hidden who their targets are. They have consistently said their target is to displace the herders from the South-west,” he said.

In what appears a swift opposition to Operation Amotekun, an elder statesman, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, who is also a former governor of old Kaduna state, alleged that the South-west governors established the new security outfit – Operation Amotekun Initiative, in the region as a precursor for the creation Oduduwa Republic.

 “First of all, taking into account what happened in the history of Nigeria, this Amotekun will lead to a declaration of Oduduwa Republic. Look at the composition of those who constitute the organisation in addition to the six states governors. There is also the OPC, Afenifere, and others. So, the fear is quite obvious. And this is in spite of the fact that this government is incompetent.”

The new dimension

Aside from the constitutional credibility battle, the Operation Amotekun has also been subjected to religion and the struggle for the 2023 presidency.

The director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Ishaq Akintola, alleged that the South-west governors were only recruiting Christians into Amotekun, the regional security outfit.

In a statement, Akintola said, “Let us make our stand on Amotekun clear from the beginning. MURIC is not allergic to any state or region taking steps aimed at rubber-cushioning the effect of the security challenges currently facing Nigeria. But the approach must be transparent, assuring and all-embracing.

“We have no objection to Amotekun. But ‘good intention’ appears lacking in the preparations for it as a security unit that will complement the work of the conventional security agencies. It appears shrouded in secrecy while attempts are being made to marginalize Muslims in the recruitment exercise.”

While the issues raised by the MURIC director are yet to be addressed, Muslims in Osun state also declared that Operation Amotekun contravened the spirit of the Nigerian Constitution.

The concerned Muslims under the auspices of Osun state Muslim Community (OSMC) in a communiqué jointly signed by its President, Alhaji Mustafa Olawuyi and Secretary, Alhaji Hashim Olapade, frowned upon the circumstances surrounding its establishment, adding that it “is one sided security outfit” and that it “shall not be disposed to support any organisation on tribal sentiments.”

“The composition and establishment of Amotekun in the South West of Nigeria is unacceptable by the OSMC as highlighted in its nomenclature. Osun state Muslim community is in full support of the existing security outfit for protection of life and property of Nigerians as provided by the Nigerian Constitution and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The Amotekun charter titled: ‘Amotekun Golden Rule,’ contravenes the spirit of Nigeria’s Constitution, confrontational and sectional. OSMC shall not be disposed to support any organisation on tribal sentiments,” the group said.

 Amidst the allegation of religious sentiment in the set-up of Operation Amotekun, some political leaders in the South-west have also introduced politics into the matter, and attempt to use its controversy to settle their scores.

The man at the centre of attacks is the former governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), over his silence on Amotekun.

The 91-year-old Afenifere chieftain, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, in a recent interview tackled Tinubu for forming an alliance with the North.

“It was the likes of Tinubu that told us that the South-west would enjoy many privileges but what has the South-west benefitted from the alliance? He shouldn’t have forged an alliance with them in the first place,” he said.

Adebanjo further said, Tinubu will never become the president of the country. He added that the APC leader has been keeping mum over Amotekun because he is being deceived with a presidential ticket.

“He asked the Yoruba people to vote for him (Buhari) and that things would be better. Now that they are being slaughtered and they don’t want us to have our security, you are keeping quiet all because you are being deceived that you will become the President which you will never be.

“I have continued to tell him that they are just deceiving him and he is deceiving himself. Which promise has Buhari made and fulfilled? In 2015, he said he would be a born again democrat but does he even obey court orders?

Another Afenifere chieftain, Senator, Femi Okurounmu said: “Tinubu doesn’t need to be prompted before speaking. We have all been speaking on the matter. Their silence is ominous. This thing was launched by the governors, not Afenifere. And such initiatives should be supported by all Yoruba people.

“Yoruba people are not idiots, we are not fools. If he doesn’t talk now, then we will know how to describe him. Nobody needs to tell us what he is. Nobody needs to call him anything. Even the illiterate man knows what he is.

“If the ordinary man on the street is in support of Amotekun, if all Yoruba people say this is what they want and he is refusing to talk, then his silence has exposed him for what he is. His silence speaks loudly.”

But in his response, Tinubu who was speaking for the first time on the matter, called for dialogue between governors of South-west states and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice over Amotekun, and chided those who criticised him over his ‘studied silence.

In a statement titled: “Public Discourse on Amotekun” in Lagos, Tinubu said he did not believe the Western Nigeria Security Network was intended to put the country at risk, adding that what could undo the country is the negative commentaries and “the dangerous rhetoric of those who should know better.”

He said, “Until now, I have deliberately maintained a studied silence regarding Amotekun. Many have tried to goad my swift public reaction. Those who have taken this road did so not because they care about Amotekun or even the people it intends to help protect. They did so knowing this had become a delicate and emotional issue for many. These cynics did so with the adversarial hope that, in haste, I might misspeak or misstep in a manner they could twist to their political advantage.

“This matter cannot be resolved on the pages of newspapers or by attributing negative motives to either side. The best way to resolve this is still for the two sides to enter private discussions. Either the governors should seek an official but private meeting with the Attorney-General, or the Attorney-General can initiate the contact. Since Amotekun is their initiative, the governors bear the greater onus in seeking the meeting.

“The meeting will initiate further discussion on how to resolve what appears to be a misunderstanding caused by an unfortunate lack of communication. Remedy the gap in communication and the misunderstanding will begin to disappear.”

But despite Tinubu’s intervention, will the debate and controversies trailing Operation Amotekun simmer? Only time will tell!

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