Before the launch of Operation Amotekun by South-west governors, 23 states in the country were operating local security outfits to complement the efforts of the police, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
The operation unveiled last week by the governors to help enhance the safety of the region against kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery and related crimes, has attracted controversy as some northern youth groups have criticised the initiative.
Following the controversy generated by the launch of the regional security network, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had in a text message to THISDAY on Saturday hinted that the federal government was yet to take a position on the matter.
But the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ado Ekiti chapter faulted the claim that the South-west governors breached the 1999 Constitution by establishing the security network, saying there was nothing illegal about the regional security outfit.
Also, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and its Niger Delta counterpart, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have canvassed for the decentralisation of the nation’s security apparatus to give sub-national entities more room to protect lives and property in their domains.
Amotekun, which will have its headquarters at Ibadan, Oyo State, and operational base in Gbongan, Osun State, will be funded by the six states in the region.
The size of the operatives of Amotekun would be determined by the capacity of each of the six states and based on the level of security threat in the region.
THISDAY, however, gathered that the controversy generated by the security outfit was needless as 23 states nationwide have similar local security outfits but not on a regional basis like the South-west’s initiative.
The states that operate one form of local security outfit or the other are Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Rivers, Osun, Benue, Katsina, Cross River State, Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Ebonyi, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Bauchi and Abia.
For instance, in Kaduna State, the state government had in April 2018 established a security outfit known as the “Kaduna State Vigilance Service” to assist security agencies to tackle criminality.
Its function is to complement the work of the police and other security agencies in intelligence gathering and crime prevention.
Upon establishing the security outfit, the state government banned all private vigilante groups operating in various communities across the state.
The Sokoto State Government also established a local security outfit called “Yan Banga,” which operates in almost all the villages in the state.
The function of Yan Banga is to track criminals and hand them over to security agencies for prosecution.
Also in Sokoto State, the previous administration had established Sokoto Corps Marshal, which was retained by Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s administration with offices in the 23 local government areas of the state.
The marshals are posted to the state tertiary institutions and traffic joints in the state capital to complement the internal security of the areas.
Unlike the corps marshal, which does not bear arms, the vigilantes are allowed to carry small arms such as single-barrel and pump action, which are registered by the police.
In Zamfara State, former governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, had established the arm-bearing ‘Yan kansai’ Local Vigilantes but the current governor, Alhaji Bello Mutawalle, scrapped it and empowered the local vigilantes to carry out its security functions without bearing arms.
Vigilante committees were also set up in each of the 44 local governments in Kano State.
Each committee, it was learnt, is chaired by a local chief called Mai Unguwa or any other prominent personality resident in the area.
These committees employ youths who provide security to such quarters where they are formed and they are paid allowances.
In some cases, they also get assistance from the government.
Their jobs include, checking movement of people at night, arresting thieves, and checking the activities of thugs and other criminals within the community they serve.
They carry locally made guns and fire shots in the air while on patrol at night to register their presence in an area.
In addition, Kano State has Hisbah Corps, a religious police set up in 2003 to enforce the Sharia law.
The Hisbah Corps operates under the jurisdiction of a Hisbah Board comprising government officials, secular police officers, and religious leaders. Each local unit is supervised by committees composed of officials and citizens in the communities in which they operate.
The Hisbah Corps does not have authority to execute arrests and officers are armed only with non-lethal weapons for self-defense, such as batons. Hisbah officers who observe violations of Sharia are expected to alert the Nigeria Police Force.
In Borno State, many outfits were created by the state government and saddled with security duties, especially in the wake of Boko Haram insurgency.
The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) created under the last administration is called BOYES (Borno Youth Volunteers). They work in collaboration with the military to fight Boko Haram.
Also working for the security of the state are local hunters and vigilante groups, which have been around even before insurgency.
Recently, the state Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, employed the services of hunters from across the north and neighbouring countries to boost the efforts at fighting insurgency and criminality.
All these groups carry light arms, like locally made guns and pomp action guns.
In Yobe State, local hunters are empowered to carry out security duties.
The Rivers State Government also established the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency but had to suspend its activities due to the high cost of maintaining the security outfit.
Ebonyi State Government also established Neighborhood Watch Group with membership drawn from the 13 local government areas of the state to complement the efforts of security agencies to control crimes and other security challenges in the state.
The group is armed with hand-cuffs only to arrest criminals.
Before Amotekun was established, Osun State had organised local hunters, which in Yoruba, means “OLODE” and they usually assist other security agencies to curtail criminal activities in the state.
Since they are local hunters, they usually carry local guns called “Ibon” in Yoruba language.
Benue State in the past had a vigilante security team that primarily provided neighbourhood security to residents of the state.
The vigilantes usually are seen with local guns, cutlasses and small arms.
However, in 2017 due to attacks by herdsmen on farmers and resident of the state, the state government set up the Livestock Guards.
The guards were empowered to arrest people who flout the state’s anti-open grazing law.
The immediate past administration in Katsina State also set up local security outfit a known as ‘Yan-sakai.’
However, after a peace summit of North-west governors convened by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, in Katsina in 2019, the state Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, disbanded the outfit, alleging that they were involved in extortion and other forms of criminality.
Before its modernisation, the Vigilante Group or what is known today as “Neighbourhood Watch” in Edo State was created by the administration of Governor Lucky Igbinedion as an organised group made up of hunters devoted to crime prevention within an area.
In modern times, these groups of individuals have taken up the role of guiding the communities in collaboration with law enforcement agents like the police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
As hunters, who bear their local guns, they are allowed to keep their weapons in order to keep playing their dual role of hunting and safeguarding the neighborhood.
They make arrest and hand over suspected criminals to the police for prosecution.
However, the set of Neighborhood Watch within the city centres are not allowed to carry weapons to avoid accidental discharge or using the weapon for political reasons.
In Cross River State, there is an outfit known as the “Green Sheriff,” originally conceived as the state’s version of state police by the administration of Governor Ben Ayade.
However, due to criticisms that the state government would use it to oppress political opponents, the original intention of making the Green Police a conventional security outfit was moderated.
The Green Sheriff now serves as an outfit that enforces rules and regulations designed to ensure that the environment across the state is kept clean.
In Enugu State, the upsurge in the rate of criminality informed the decision of the state government to approve the engagement of 1,700 men in 2019 to serve as Forest Guards, a model of local vigilante.
The recruitment of personnel into the militia was professionally handled and spread across the various wards of the 17 local government areas of the state and was consistent with the community-based approach to securing lives of citizens adopted by the governor.
In Taraba State, the Taraba Marshalls is a local security outfit set up by the state government in 2018 to tackle insecurity and other violent crimes.
While a few of them carry local guns, others are armed with cutlasses and horse whip.
In Adamawa State, the Vigilante Group and Nigeria Hunters Association had existed before the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency.
These two groups were conscripted and recognised properly by the Adamawa State Government during the era of Governor Bala Ngilari who had to mobilise them to fight Boko Haram insurgency who were bent on seizing more territories after taking control of seven LGAs of the state from the Nigerian military.
Some members of the local security outfits were given weapons and ammunition, while some members were permitted by state government to use their local weapons to fight the insurgents.
In Anambra State, the Anambra Vigilant Services (AVS) operates in all the 189 communities in the state.
The state government coordinates the activities of the AVS through an appointed coordinator.
In Ondo State, members of Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) have been working in many localities in the state. The VGN members carry arms like local guns and cutlasses.
South-west’s Amotekun Not Breach of Law, Says Ekiti NBA
However, as controversy rages over the establishment of ‘Operation Amotekun,’ the NBA, Ado Ekiti chapter, has said the South-west governors have not breached any section of the 1999 Constitution for establishing the security network.
The association added that the governors only exercised their rights under the law, since the basis of the existence of any government, is to guarantee security of lives and property.
The NBA Chairman, Ado-Ekiti chapter, Mr. Samuel Falade, told THISDAY that though Sections 214 and 215 of the 1999 Constitution mandated the police as the agency responsible for the protection of lives and property to provide security, this could not stop the governors from taking further measures to reinforce protection for the citizens.
“However, Chapter 2, Section 14 (2b) gives mandate and rights to president and governors to provide security across the country and in their respective states; that the primary duty of government is to protect lives and property.
“Also, Section 20 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act allows a private citizen to arrest any criminal and handover to the police for investigation and prosecution. Under this context, operatives of Operation Amotekun can arrest and hand over to the police for proper action,” he stated.
PANDEF, Afenifere Call for Decentralisation of Security System
Meanwhile, Afenifere and PANDEF have canvassed for the decentralisation of the nation’s security apparatus.
The two groups in separate reactions to last Thursday’s launch of Amotekun, told THISDAY at the weekend that it was high time Nigeria’s security network was decentralised to tackle the rising wave of security challenges facing the nation.
They stressed the need for governors to emphasise the urgent need for the establishment of state police based on security challenges that have overwhelmed the central police system currently being practiced in the country.
According to the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, the launch of Operation Amotekun cannot be equated to having a state police in place but an interim security arrangement by the South-west states.
He added that the only way to end criminal activities in the country is through proper deregulation of the security architecture so that the federating states can manage their internal activities.
On his part, PANDEF National Chairman, Air Commodore Ndongesit Nkanga (rtd), told THISDAY that much as his group supported the launch of Operation Amotekun and would want other zones to emulate the good move, much still needed to be done as regards tackling nation’s security problems.
Justifying the move by the South-west states to launch the security outfit, the former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, said no responsible state government would allow itself to be overwhelmed by attacks on its citizenry by armed bandits.