Operation Amotekun, the regional security initiative put together by the six governors of the southwest states, under the auspices of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), has been eliciting debates right from its inception. This report by ‘Dare Odufowokan and Oziegbe Okoeki, examines efforts by stakeholders to smoothen rough edges even as suspicion continues to trail its formations in some quarters.
THE meeting and agreement between the Federal Government and the six governors of the South West over the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named “Amotekun” has brought some calm and relief across the country, especially in the South West. The Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), a security intervention project initiated by the Seye Oyeleye-led Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN Commission), an offshoot of Odu’a Investment Company Limited, is aimed at checkmating and tackling the myriad of insecurity challenges bedeviling the people of the region, particularly from the activities of banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, ritual killing, armed robbery, herdsmen and farmers’ conflicts, cybercrime and other crimes, threatening the lives and property in the region.
The inauguration of the joint security outfit popularly known as “Amotekun” on 9 January 2020 had sparked off reactions across the country as some sections of the country expressed concerns over its establishment. And the Federal Government through the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, (SAN) described the formation of the security outfit as illegal and unconstitutional given that there was no legal backing for the regional security outfit, others saw it as a political decision capable of undermining the unity of the nation. Yet a host of Nigerians, who also ethnicised and politicised the project, said the idea was aimed at restructuring the nation through a back door approach.
The Attorney General of the Federation, insisted, in a statement, that the Western Nigeria Security Network is unlawful, quoting Article 45 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which gives the Federal Government exclusive powers over the police. Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is also Chief Law Officer of the Federation and Legal Adviser, called for the suspension of the project, but the six southwest governors and other legal luminaries like Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba and Chief Afe Babalola and a senior legal scholar, Professor Itse Sagay explained to the Attorney General the legality of the security outfit quoting the same 1999 Constitution.
The issue continued to generate reactions and counter-reactions from different personalities across the country, especially from the South West region in addition to massive protests in support of Amotekun in the six South West states, namely: Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Lagos but it was not until Vice President Yemi Osinbajo brokered peace between the governors and AGF Malami that a common ground was reached. At the meeting held behind closed doors for several hours, which was also attended by the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, Prof. Osinbajo was able to resolve the highly sensitive issue amicably while the warrying parties came to a logical conclusion and agreement on the matter.
It was learnt that the meeting was at the instance of the governors who had asked to meet President Muhammadu Buhari over the controversy. But due to the President’s foreign engagement in the United Kingdom, he asked the Vice President to host the meeting. In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media, Mr Laolu Akande, the meeting was described as very fruitful as it lay to rest all the issues generating controversy between the parties.
According to him, “The meeting was very fruitful and unanimous resolutions were made on the way forward. Having regard to the need for all hands to be on deck in addressing security concerns across the country, it was agreed that the structure of Amotekun should also align with the Community Policing strategy of the Federal Government. It was also agreed that necessary legal instruments will be put in place by each of the states to give legal backing to the initiative and address all issues concerning the regulation of the security structure
Also speaking on the outcome of the meeting, the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, who is also the Chairman of South-West Governors’ Forum, said the meeting gave all parties ample opportunity to explain their positions and to agree on the way forward for security in the country. Akeredolu said: “We have rubbed minds and all of us have agreed on the way forward. The most important one is that we are going to have legal framework to back this Amotekun. This legal framework is going to be one which we all are going to look at and will be sure to go without any hindrances.”
On whether Amotekun had been placed on hold pending the formulation and passage of the legal framework, the governor said: “No! What I believe is our resolution is that Amotekun is there. You know the Federal Government is about to start community policing. In essence really, it’s about the community. So, we are going to work together to see the community policing and Amotekun work in a way.” Meanwhile, Nigerians have continued to react to peaceful resolution of the Amotekun, commending President Muhammadu Buhari for yet entrusting Prof. Osinbajo with the power to resolve the highly sensitive issue, saying that the Amotekun issue, if not handled intelligently, could lead to needless conflict and disunity.
They also commended the Professor for being a symbol of unity, maturity and stability in the country, saying that the Vice President has always proven to be a dependable ally to the President. Among prominent Nigerians who have commended President Buhari for entrusting VP Osinbajo with the task of resolving the issue amicably is prominent US based Nigerian and former ACN leader, Dr. Baba Adams, who said that President Buhari deserves commendation for allowing his Vice to intervene and resolve the volatile issue.
The respected politician said Professor Osinbajo has done an outstanding job again by saving the nation from falling into unnecessary conflict and calamity of disunity, urging the president to entrust him with more sensitive responsibilities. Dr Adam said:” Thank you for bestowing trust in the Vice President, Pastor Prof. Osinbajo, (SAN) to provide the leadership on resolving the highly sensitive Amotekun issue… As in all other assignments – Mr. VP has done an outstanding job again and saved the nation from falling into unnecessary conflict and calamity of dis-unity!”
He added: “This is the first salvo and we highly recommend you further empower or delegate the VP to resolve this issue – as not only in the South West but the rest of the nation – as APC states such as Nasarawa have already expressed interest in implementing Community Policing, LGA and State Policing. It is also on record that prior to the establishment of Amotekun, Vice President Osinbajo had been an advocate of community policing to strengthen the existing security apparatus in the state.
According to Osinbajo, the security challenges of the country were complex and nuanced that securing Nigeria’s over 900,000 square kilometers and 180 million people required far more men and materials than the nation has at the moment. Hence, he said that adoption of state police was the way to go in meeting security needs of the country. The VP, who said this at the 2018 National Summit, said that every Nigerian was entitled to adequate security by the government and that the security failures of the government were not deliberate.
“We cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. As a people any killing undermines the security of the state,” he stated as he mentioned several killings that had taken place in different parts of the country in recent times. He said the government had worked on some policy objectives, some of which needed legislative approval and cooperation of the judiciary. “It requires a continual reengineering of our security architecture and strategies; this has to be a dynamic process,” he said.
Yet some doubts
In spite of the progress being made in the smoothening of rough edges by the parties involved in the discourse over the initiative, some persons and groups are still expressing pessimism over Amotekun. Such groups, including the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, want the federal government to be cautious in approving the initiative. The group claimed that Amotekun was a subtle plot by Christians to dominate the Southwest region.
Addressing journalists in Osogbo, Osun State recently, the Vice President, Sheikh Abdurrasheed Hadiyatullah, warned that Amotekun is a sinister motive which is at variance with true, genuine and real yearning of the public for a more secure environment. “The Amotekun program is viewed as a subtle method of further Christianization of the Southwest by its promoters in their usual manner of having political and power dominance over the Muslims in the region.
“It is another elusive way of establishing a ‘Christian-dominated State Police Force whose affairs would be designed and determined from the Church at the expense of the Muslims majority in the region. Issues of security of the peoples ought not to be premised on the altar of politics and personal interests as doing such would amount to building an empire on mere propaganda and the figment of the imagination of the gullible. It stands to collapse shortly after its creation.
“Any form of the Christian agenda camouflaged as a Security Outfit, such as the Amotekun, where the Muslims population from the Southwest and in the country at large is viewed as a target is an act of injustice, unfairness, inequality, barbarism, savagery and wickedness taken too far and therefore outright unacceptable and thereby condemned in its entirety,” Hadiyatullah, who want the federal government to re-examine the motives behind the initiative, said.
Also, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) wants the name of the new regional security outfit to be changed “because it is anti-Islam.” MURIC’s boss, Professor Ishaq Akintola, said the outfit’s codename and the process of recruiting its personnel are skewed against Muslims. This was just as he tried to correct the impression that the organisation is opposed to the establishment of the regional security unit.
“You cannot blame Muslims for crying out when you ask them to bring birth certificates from churches before joining Amotekun. Neither can you expect them to stand akimbo when you tell them to bring letters of recommendation from churches. Muslims in the Yoruba enclave are not opposing Amotekun per se. What they oppose is a situation where an ostensibly anti-Islam security outfit comes into operation in Yorubaland.
“Apart from the reference to birth certificates from churches and letters of reference from pastors, the choice of nomenclature is another controversial issue because it has a strong Christian identity. Why ‘Amotekun’ as a name for crying out loud? Research has revealed the biblical origin of this name and it makes Muslims suspicious. Why Amotekun of all brands? Jeremiah 5:6 says, ‘A leopard shall guard over their city.” Amotekun is mentioned in this verse with particular reference to guarding a city.
“Now, we have a sub-region where Muslims have been under persecution for ages coming up with a security outfit under the name of the same leopard mentioned in the bible as a guard over the city. This is not a coincidence. The handlers of Amotekun picked the name deliberately from the bible in order to score a spiritual point. It is very critical. It calls for serious concern. So why give a security unit a religious name? The name should be changed,” Akintola urged.
More converts too
Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, has thrown its full weight behind the establishment of the South-West Regional Security Outfit, codenamed “Operation Amotekun” by the states in the zone. The group, which stated this yesterday at its General Assembly held at the Akure residence of its National Leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, rejected community policing, saying the scheme will not be as effective as Operation Amotekun in tackling insecurity in south western states.
The spokesperson of the group, Yinka Odumakin had last month, in the wake of debates over the security initiative, disagreed with those rejoicing that Operation Amotekun can rid South West of security challenges, insisting that true federalism, and nothing else, will be acceptable to the region. But while speaking during the week, Odumakin recanted and affirmed that the six states in the South-west region had done very well in establishing the security outfit.
“Amotekun should be independent in carrying out the task of providing security for residents of the South West with defined operational cooperation with the police, but not its subordinate. Amotekun has now come to stay and there must be no let or hindrance in the pursuit of a federal Nigeria so we can revert to the multi-level policing status of Nigeria of the past,” he said. Only carpenters posing as lawyers would ever say that security is on any exclusive list as there is no law that stops individuals from securing their premises, talk less of state actors.
“Yoruba are a homogenous group, once under a region which Nigeria broke into states. The meeting affirmed that Yoruba would find it hard to oppose Amotekun in any other part of Nigeria as Hisbah, Boko Haram and Miyetti Allah are tormenting the country.” According to him, Afenifere as a group of Yoruba leaders is very pleased with the South-west governors for standing firm on Yoruba consensus on Amotekun without fear or favour.
Similarly, Osun Muslim Community, a group that earleir opposed the formation of Amotekun, is now supporting the security initiative. Last week, the group had in a statement signed by its President and Secretary, Alhaji Mustafa Olawuyi and Hashim Olapade respectively, said it would never support a “one-sided security outfit, claiming that it was at variance with the constitution.” But in a new statement signed by its President, Alhaji Mustafa Olawuyi, the OSMC said after discussions between the authority of Amotekun outfit and Muslim Community in the state, there was a “proper understanding of the issue among all the stakeholders.”
“We want to allay the fears of the teeming population of the Muslims that the outfit has no plan to marginalize or shortchange the interest of Islam and Muslims. No one would be put in darkness whenever the operational structure and guidelines are out before implementation. Everyone agrees that the security situation is bad and needs to be addressed collectively and urgently. It was also agreed that proper planning is highly essential to avoid hijacking the process for other strange purposes,” the new statement said.
For Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, representing Taraba South Senatorial District and Senate Deputy Minority Leader, there is no alternative to endorsing ‘Operation Amotekun’. He advised other zones to borrow a leaf from the South-West by coming up with their various security networks for a more secured Nigeria. Bwacha gave the advice in Jalingo on the sideline of a thanksgiving service in honour of Bishop Dan Kashibo of the Holiness Revival Movement.
According to him, operation ‘Amotekun’ is timely as it will help in checking the incessant kidnappings and other forms of criminal activities in the region. He advised the South-South, South-East, North-Central, North-East and North-West zones to also come up with their own internal security networks for a more secured nation.
In the same vein, the apex body of the Urhobo Nation, Urhobo Progress Union, (UPU), has expressed its support for the initiative. According to the President General of UPU, Olorogun Moses Taiga, “Amotekun is a response to the current security challenges in the South West. Amotekun is meant to help the federal government combat insecurity in the land. The baby should not be thrown away with the bath water because Amotekun is needed. Amotekun’s target are criminals, not a religious or ethnic groups. Criminality knows no ethnicity.”
UPU urged the South West to “continue to dialogue with the federal government to smoothen the rough edges. The Urhobo Progress Union fully aligns with the ideals of Amotekun.” The union therefore, called on the South South, especially the government of Delta State, to study what the south west has done and the ongoing dialogue with the federal government so that the region, especially Delta State, could set up a similar security outfit to support the police to combat insecurity.”
In his own declaration of support for the initiative, Bayelsa State Governor Seraike Dickson, said that the Southwest security initiative reflected in clears terms the inevitability of restructuring. The governor described Amotekun as a component of the restructuring. He said that every state in the Southsouth had some form of internal security mechanism to collaborate with the law enforcement agencies. According to him, Bayelsa under his leadership has the Bayelsa Volunteers, the State Vigilante, the Community Safety Corps, the Water Water Security, all backed by law.