- Don’t backtrack, Soyinka tells states
- SANs knock Malami
Nseobong Okon-Ekong in Lagos, Alex Enumah in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure
The Chairman of South-west Governors Forum and Ondo State Governor, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, Thursday ruled out scrapping the South-west security network, Amotekun, on account of federal government’s opposition to its establishment.
Speaking against the backdrop of Tuesday’s declaration of the regional security network as illegal by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, Akeredolu told reporters yesterday in Akure that Amotekun was legal and the governors were ready to defend the continued existence of the security network that was launched last Thursday in Ibadan.
Soyinka also urged the governors to ignore Malami and not waiver in their commitment to protect lives and property in the geo-political zone.
While Akeredolu spoke at the Ondo State Cenotaph, Akure, during the grand finale of the 2020 Armed Forces Remembrance Day, Soyinka bared his mind on the matter at a news conference in Lagos.
Malami’s position on Amotekun, however, received knocks from lawyers, particularly Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), who said the governors broke no law in establishing the regional security outfit to protect the lives and property of their people.
Some of the SANs who spoke in favour of the governors include: Chief Solomon Asemota, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Dr. Kayode Olatoke, Mr. Ahmed Raji and Mr. Dayo Akinlaja.
Akeredolu, who was obviously not pleased with the federal government’s declaration of the outfit as illegal, stated that the governors were prepared to pursue Amotekun to a logical conclusion.
“Amotekun is not a paramilitary outfit, but a full-fledged security outfit ready to complement the operations of both the police, armed forces and other security agencies in confronting security issues in the region.
“We have a duty to ensure security of our people and that was why you elected us. Amotekun was launched to confront challenges of kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry in Ondo State and in the South-west.
“There is nothing illegal about Amotekun and like I said, we shall pursue it to a logical conclusion in the interest of our people,” Akeredolu said.
He urged chairmen of local governments in the state to erect befitting cenotaphs at their respective areas for the annual celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
He said the facelift being given to the Akure Cenotaph would continue until the desired standard was attained.
According to the governor, the nation remains grateful for the selfless service of the armed forces through their contributions and sacrifice.
The governor described the annual Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration as a unique opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made in the past years by the Nigerian Armed Forces to ensure global and internal peace and security of lives and property.
However, speaking on the federal government’s declaration of Amotekun as unconstitutional, Soyinka warned President Muhammadu Buhari to be careful not to go down in history as the president who led the country to the point of irreversible division.
He urged the governors to defy Malami and go ahead with the operation of Amotekun.
Soyinka said: “Whether they like it or not, Amotekun has come to stay because it is a creation of the people and you cannot deny a people their fundamental rights to protect themselves since government has failed to provide such protection.
“This has been a result of collective consciousness by people of this region. These governors met and they came up with this solution, Amotekun. Now, some people who have been sleeping all this time, taking belated actions in many directions, who watched the citizens of this nation decimated, villages wiped out, and farmers chased off their land. They are now coming out to tell us that this initiative is illegal, unconstitutional. I think they should go back to sleep.
“I prefer to believe that the government itself has not spoken. I refuse to believe that any serious government will raise any objection to this kind of initiative. Amotekun has come to stay.
“Amotekun is only a part of the story. It should not be the only solution to insecurity. We should move from Amotekun to Awosikun. In other words, we should start thinking in terms of how to feed our own people.”
Tracing the history of the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC), which he was the pioneer chairman, Soyinka said having been tired of watching his students and colleagues at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) die of road accidents, he wrote a proposal to the governor of a state, adding that there were similar suggestions already.
According to him, this led to the establishment of the FRSC.
“I have always believed passionately in self-policing. If it were possible to eliminate any kind of formal policing, I am for it. My preference is always, as much as possible, for community policing.
“This is to show how effective a determined community force can be. Policing the road is not the same thing as going into the forest to confront kidnappers, herdsmen and terrorists, but the policy remains identical,” Soyinka added.
SANs Back Governors on Security Outfit
The governors also received support from senior lawyers and others as they faulted the federal government’s claim that Amotekun is illegal.
Reacting to the opposition to Amotekun, Asemota advised the attorneys general of the six states in the South-west to take the matter to court.
He said: “This country is sitting on a keg of gun powder implanted by inequality in the administration of justice. If President Buhari takes a wrong action on this matter, he will wake up to find that he is the force that tore the country apart. He should stop making excuses.”
Asemota, who was a policeman at the time of independence of Nigeria in 1960, but now a silk, added that the problem is that Nigeria is operating both the common law and the Sharia law.
He said: “The attorney general is Sharia-compliant. I wrote a 19-page letter to him, which I also made available to the vice president, highlighting some of these things. But he never acknowledged it. I was hoping members of the National Assembly would ask the questions when he appeared before them, but they confirmed his appointment. There is a conflict in Nigeria between those who believe in democracy and those who decide to use the tenets of their religion to achieve their aim. Nigeria is one country with two systems. But I am of the view that the Western states are in order. Either party in this dispute can go do court. Can anyone say the banks do not have a right to hire security guards or that you can’t hire a night watchman to protect your home?”
Agbakoba, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), told THISDAY that the governors have done nothing wrong, insisting that the court should be allowed to decide on such issues.
When asked whether the governors broke any law by establishing the outfit, Agbakoba said: “No, but they should test it in court to confirm who is right – they or federal government.”
Olatoke said the governors did nothing wrong as the issue of local security or vigilante has always existed from time immemorial.
“They all have contact; security in each village from time immemorial and up till date. If those ones are not illegal, how can the one that is going to be for a group of communities or a local government be an illegal thing?” Olatoke said.
While recalling that the purpose of government is for the security of lives and property, Olatoke queried the AGF for saying that governors who are the chief security officers of their states lacked powers to provide security.
He added: “When the constitution says a governor is the chief security officer of the state and the head of the security architecture of the state so he has no power to secure his environment?”
He said the AGF did not fully consider provisions of chapter two of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) before declaring that the action of the governors was illegal.
“It is not the court that said the outfit is illegal. The Attorney General of the Federation cannot declare anything illegal; it is only the court that can declare any act illegal.
“The AGF is not a court and cannot declare the action of the governors illegal.
“Each town has their own security outfits, each unit has their own security outfits, so the AGF has no power to say what the governors have done is illegal. If that is his view, let him go to court and challenge their act rather than constitute himself into a court”, he added.
Akinlaja told THISDAY that both from the legal and moral perspectives, the governors have done no wrong.
He said: “It is obvious enough that we have extremely disturbing security challenges all across the length and breadth of this country and the existing security apparatuses are overstretched.
“The constitution says in Section 14(2) (b) that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Noteworthy, the government here is not limited to the federal government. That suggests to me that all levels of government in the country must hold the issue of security and welfare of the people dear and accord them the highest premium.
“Against the backdrop of this scenario, the South-west governors could be seen to have only been living up to the responsibilities of the government by coming up with an outfit to work with statutory security agencies to better the lots of the people in the area of improved security,” he said.
While noting that the issue of police and other government security services established by law is on the exclusive list, Akinlaja said it did not preclude states from embarking on measures to secure lives and property.
According to him, “A state governor is the chief executive in his state and by reason of that status, he is foremost charged with the duty of securing lives and property within the confines of the state and nothing stops him from networking with neighbouring state or states to further the discharge of that responsibility.
“The constitution that says that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government could not have meant to incapacitate the government in whatever way once the objective is to enhance the security and welfare of the people.
“In my humble view, there is nothing unlawful in the steps taken by the governors and it is a worthy initiative that should be replicated in all the geopolitical zones to stem the worsening tide of insecurity everywhere.
“The National Assembly may only wish to come up with a law to regulate the activities of such security outfits if it is thought that there is no extant law to streamline their activities. In the interim, the Amotekun security outfit is a child of necessity and the doctrine of necessity has in a way become an integral part of our jurisprudence.”
Raji, who shared the opinion that security of lives and property cannot be the exclusive preserve of the federal government, urged the federal government to tread with caution.
He said: “Most unfortunately the federal government has not referred us to any law broken by the South-west states. The federal government merely sought refuge under the exclusive legislative list which vests defence in the federal government.
“Going by the interpretation urged by the federal government, nobody is even allowed to hire a common mai guard to protect his property or his life. And neither can any community or compound employ private guards for their defence! Is that the intendment of those who gave us the constitution? Is the ludicrous interpretation of general application to all parts of the country? Softly.”
He, however, advised the governors to prepare a well-articulated and informed position ahead of any step to challenge the outfit by whoever feels aggrieved.
“The AGF is not a court of law and neither is he a lawmaker. He has to approach the appropriate forum to ventilate his grievances on behalf of the government that he serves,” he said.
Just like the SANs, an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Steve Ekeh, said the 1999 Constitution (as amended) did not forbid governors from setting up local security outfits to help secure lives and property of its citizens, so long as the security outfit did not operate as a police.
He, however, said such security outfit should work with and be supervised by the police.
“The reason advanced by the federal government for declaring Amotekun illegal is laughable. To say the constitution empowers the federal government to provide defence and therefore Amotekun is illegal is to equate Amotekun with the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force, which is not the case,” he explained.