By KENNETH DARENG
THE ‘leopard’ is an animal that is known not only as a a dangerous specie but also smart in the animal kingdom. Perhaps that informed the reason why the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) derived the code name ‘Amotekun’. Which means leopard in Yoruba Language?
However, the launch of the security outfit on January 9, to give cover to the zone was declared illegal by the Federal Government through the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) which was prompted by swift reactions from across the country. The pronouncement also drew criticisms particularly from Afenifere, a Yoruba Pan ethnic association, civil society organizations as well as some prominent legal practitioners who argued that the Attorney General, Malami does not have the powers under the Nigerian constitution to make such pronouncement.
The governors of the Western region of the country through the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) who is also the chairman of the Southwest Governors, Forum promptly reacted upon the declaration of the security as illegal. He reiterated the position of his colleagues stating that they would not “capitulate to blackmail either from within or outside the region but were were ready to pursue the Amotekun Security Scheme through all permissible political and legal means.
According to Akeredolu (SAN), Amotekun was initiated to compliment the efforts of conventional security agencies that appear to have been hampered by the absence of local intelligence gathering. Noting, “Amotekun will when fully operational, serve the purposes of local information and intelligence gathering for the police, Army and other conventional security agencies.
In a press statement issued through the Ondo State Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, it reads in part “The concerns expressed by individuals, agencies of government and other stakeholders are noted without bias. Where possible, the inexorable efforts of the South West governors will be deepened through relentless interface.
“As such interface and engagement continue, Governor Akeredolu finds it pertinent to say that the ongoing discourse on the issue of Amotekun must not be misguidedly used as a platform to ventilate personal or group views aimed at oiling primordial sentiments and grievances”. Ethnocentism is even unhelpful. There should be no reason for such, he stated.
“This is more so that the Amotekun scheme is not targeted at any non Southwest ethnic group or religious groups just as it benefits all.
“Under circumstances of the nature of Amotekun, the choices are numerous. They range from prevarication and pretense, partisanship and sycophancy as well as moderate and complimentary steps not inimical to the corporate existence of our nation Nigeria.
“The Southwest governors have chosen the latter, in unequivocal terms too, each of the choices has a consequence, if not consequences.
“Unfortunately, the steps of southwest governors have unwillingly had to contend with forces of conspirational silence and unpretentious moves of sabotage. Each has a right to choices but certainly no one individual can circumvent the consequences of whatever choice he or she makes in life”.
It added, “Fears and apprehensions have been expressed in many quarters that his (Akeredolu’s) role in the formation of Amotekun could mar his second term chances. This is far from the truth because Akeredolu is on the path of national cohesion through collaborative internal security.
“The decision taken in respect of Amotekun was in the interest of the entire nation. The political insinuations and blackmail are the required ingredients needed to make it credible. But such will not discourage the governors in any manner.”
The pronouncement by the AGF, THE SUNDAY STANDARD gathered is generating so much heat between the Hausa/Fulani nationalities who felt the Amotekun Scheme was mainly initiated to contain the Fulanis who have formed a migration corridor within the western axis with their cattle in search of grazing land. Some indigenes of the Southeast had often expressed their discomfort at the presence of the herdsmen whom they also point in most cases as responsible for the destruction of crops and are involved in banditry, kidnappings and other related criminal activities around the grazing areas.
Nigeria, according to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana who spoke on Channels Television programme ‘politics today’ noted that, “The Attoney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice does not have the power to declare Amotekun illegal. What then happens to the Hispah in the North West or in some states of the far North who operate similar operations and are even armed. What then happens to the private security firms who on a daily basis protect the lives and property of the citizens in various parts of the country? Do you also say those are illegal initiatives?
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afe Babalola condemned the attempt by the Federal Government to scuttle the initiative stating that, “It will fail because it is unconstitutional”. His position also tallied with other legal giants like Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
According to Afe Babalola in The Nation publication of January 20, 2020” It was unfortunate that Abubakar Malami, the AGF relied on saying sections 24, 40, 45 of the 1999 constitution impose clear responsibility on citizens to ensure security of their lives and property.
He said, “It was unfortunate that Malami also relied on Article 45 second schedule of the constitution (amended) that gives the Federal government the exclusive power to manage the police.”
Babalola defended the Southwest Governors, saying they only responded to the yearnings of the people of the geo-political zone for improved security since the central police system had failed to safeguard them and their property.
He pointed out that kidnapping, armed robbery, herdsmen/farmers clashes and other security challenges prompted the formation of Amotekun as a regional response to stem the developments.
The legal giant also urged further that the governors had the right to protect their people because it was the ultimate responsibility of responsive governments. He said Amotekun is a protective and supportive outfit established by the governors which has its roots in the 1999 constitution and other constitutions before it.
However Mallam Sani Abdullahi who spoke with the SUNDAY STANDARD differed on the arguement raised by Afe Babalola and Co, noting that “If for instance the South East decides to create its own security outfit on a regional level, how will Nigerians take it?. Lets be frank with ourselves, many people will think of seccession. What about if the Middle Belt does same, it means we are going back to those ugly days of civil war. I thought we as Nigerians should think of what will unite us not those things that would ignite ethic or religious sentiments as the case with Amotekun. I feel there is no basis for such initiative which is being done along ethnic consideration in the name of security.”
But Babalola (SAN) had cited section 24 of the constitution which provides that, “it shall be the duty of every citizen to make positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress and wellbeing of the community where he or she resides”. Wellbeing means security of life and property etc. How many Nigerians know that they have a duty to assist and to protect the interest of their community and themselves Babalola queried.
Meanwhile, former vice president Atiku Abubakar has thrown his weight behind the setting up of community, state and federal policing.
In a statement by his media aide, Paul Ibe published in The Nation of January 20, 2020, stated that it is the primary responsibility of governments at all levels to protect lives of the citizens as enshrined in the constitution.
“In carrying out this function, the state employs different layers of measures to ensure effective and efficient policing. It is without doubt that in the past decade particularly, the current policing administration in our dear country had been stretched to its limits and it is obvious that the reality of our domestic security upheavals will demand of us to recalibrate our police system.
“In the First Republic, before we gravitated too much to the centre, policing was done federally with each native authority and region having some mechanisms to deal with little upsets that were the security concerns of those times. In the present day Nigeria, there is hardly any state of the federation that does not contend with some type of security challenges. Because our security challenges are diverse in forms and impacts, it is thus incumbent that centrally controlled police architecture cannot exclusively deal with those challenges,” the statement added.
According to the former vice president, the time was ripe to seriously confront the reality of security in the country by addressing the urgency of introducing state police, zonal police and community policing to complement the efforts of the current federal police. “The issue is that, it is obvious that the current levels of insecurity in the country are giving rise to major initiatives such as Amotekun and the issue needs to be controversial in the first place”, he said .
Atiku argued that the police are likely to be more effective if they constantly operate in the same local community or local government because such closeness might create a bond with the local people, thereby enabling community cooperation and participation that would engender proactive outcomes in crime prevention. Adding that, “The issue of security should not be politicised and monopolized in the face of our current alarming security challenges characterized by fear of even travelling on our highways by citizens who might be intercepted by kidnappers and taken hostage for ransom.
“Local policing should not be mistaken for an effort to hijack the role of the federal government. As a matter of fact, it is refusing to adopt new ways of doing things that poses a threat to the unity of the country. It has never been this bad to the extent of threatening the unity of the country,” he added.
However, Binzak Azeez a public commentator in his opinion stated that the Nigeria Police Force is the principal security agency saddled with internal security in Nigeria but giving the current situation in the South West, the Amotekun initiative raises the prospects of a clash between section 14 and the provision of item 45 of the 1999 constitution as amended, which technical issues bothering on security were established.
“So whether Amotekun initiative survives the current controversy or not, it is not the most effective means to combat insecurity. The prevalent crime rate and anarchical equality, employment opportunities and good governance and a conducive environment is the most effective anti-crime operation.
Meanwhile, the SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that there was protest march across some major cities of the southwest in solidarity with the Amotekun initiative. The protest rallies were held in Oyo, Ondo, Lagos , Ogun and Ekiti states with placard carrying protesters whose organizers said they were out to express support to the southwest governors and to enlighten Nigerians that if Hisbah initiative is allowed in Kano, Katsina, Borno, Yobe and so on, why should Amotekun be outlawed?.
According to some of the protesters. “No Amotekun, no Hisbah”. Members of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANs) who joined the march in Akure called on the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to retract his statement declaring Amotekun illegal within two weeks. They said his failure to do so would lead to the closure of all higher institutions in the southwest. According to the NANS coordinator in the southwest, Kowe Odunayo, the declaration by Abubakar Malami was “very embarrassing”.
As the controversy over the Amotekun declaration rages on, activist-lawyer Femi Falana has advised the Southwest governors to enact laws to legitimize operation Amotekun.
SUNDAY STANDARD sources said Falana urged the governors to forward a bill to the respective southwest Houses of Assembly for the establishment of Amotekun.
He also said that, “In the absence of an enabling legal instrument for the establishment of the structure, functions, control, funding the operation of Amotekun must be clearly spelt out.
There are divergent views from various interest groups across the country on the formation of these security operatives such as Amotekun,Hisbah, civilian JTF and others bearing different code names which if not properly handled according to Micah Chindap, the current situation could snowball into the formation of ethic militias and may trigger a national security challenge.
Adding, “No country remains united with ethnic militias. Let us learn from the Rwandan experience or Bosnia, Burundi, DR Congo and so on”.