By Femi Akintunde Johnson
I doubt if there is anyone living in the South West of Nigeria who completely frowns on the need and importance of activating some sort of home-grown security apparatus in concert with the traditional security forces to combat what has exploded into near anarchy on our highways and inter-town roads and forests. Apart from Lagos, most cities, towns and villages in the South West were known to be canopies of peaceful, languid, easy-weazy, sleepy communality that had been codified in several lines of internationally recognized poems and prose.
To the hassle-loving cosmopolites of Lagos, going to the hinterlands of the South West was idyllic, a moment to unwind, and surrender to the soporific calmness and coolness of our tradition-conscious roots and crannies. Not anymore!
The children of Beelzebub have exploded our reverie…our dream-like picturesque of rustic majesty had been snatched violently by fierce journeymen kidnappers and merciless merchants of human torment.
Now, going back to ancestral homesteads in Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti states is a terrifying contemplation. The roads, where they are barely motorable, have become booby-traps for AK-47 wielding and firing maniacs without a care who or what they hit, kill or abduct.
While the roads are peppering hot with blistering bullets and clattering cartridges, the inner-city roads are waylaid by flesh-loving lunatics whose craze for quick money, long-life or reversal of misfortunes that their sick collaborators have weaved into their demented mindsets could be assuaged by human sacrifices. They abort careers, ambitions and hopes of the innocents; snuffing their lives wickedly in conspiratorial ambushes, even within familiar communities. Worse than beasts!
For some of us who had spent good time and burnt miles traversing the glorious peace and pastures of the South West, what has been going on in the past few years would make one heave a hopeful sigh at the launch, on Thursday, January 9, 2020, of the Western Region Security initiative flamboyantly dubbed “Amotekun” (Yoruba word for leopard).
When the six westernly states unveiled the security initiative, the initial worries were natural, based on our past painful experiences in the socio-political dynamics of the region: First, what is the operating manual of engagement (especially as local, vested cadres would be interacting with the regular armed forces)? There have been flash-points in recent history where the zeal of the civilian security arm had been misinterpreted by the constitutionally backed elite forces as encroachment and interference. Several flare-ups were observed at the formative period of the Civilian JTF in the North East while the menace of Boko Haram was threatening and suffocating local communities.
Another worry is the fear that a thorough people-oriented force for goodness and preservation of lives may later flounder into self-serving waters where desperate governors in search of second term, or the imperative of installing a successor, would turn the leopards, then muscular and razor-sharp from chasing out “foreign” marauders, upon their opponents, and their supporters. We wanted to know what insulating mechanism would be established that will cede organisational control and chain of command away from the direct control of the chief promoters of this security apparatus.
There is also the issue about capacity to bear arms, and the different levels of arguments for and against this delicate subject. The governors insist that the civilian components of Amotekun that would be sourced locally from groups such as the Oodua People’s Congress, other Oodua collectives, the Agbekoyas, hunters, vigilantes and such neighbourhood watchdogs, would not carry arms, but be more involved in information and intelligence gathering, to enhance the efficiency and impact of the weaponised Amotekun. The police commands have shouted themselves hoarse, warning that any one caught with unauthorized weapons, with specific emphasis on AK-47, pump-action guns and any weapon designed to carry cartridges. Apparently, dane guns (or shakabula, as we snigger), cutlasses, machetes, arrows, favoured by local hunters may be considered if properly documented.
The high command of the civilian “Amotekun” (called South-West Stakeholders Group, SSG) led by a former street warrior whose fearsome group was once proscribed by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, and, fortuitously, now bestowed with the highest traditional military title in Yorubaland, the Aare Ona Kakanfo, had a different view. Gani Adams rightly posited that merely gathering information and intelligence would not be sufficient to protect his members and other civilian collaborators from attacks and reprisals by criminal elements that would be threatened by the activities of Amotekun. He railed back at the barking police commands that his men must be armed and well-motivated to achieve the dream of the governors to rid the region of disreputable parasites wreaking havoc all around us.
Well, less than five days after the euphoria of the launch of Amotekun which received much more kudos than knocks, the Federal Government through her number one lawyer threw a huge spanner into the works. Amotekun, as well as he can understand the Constitution, has no peg to stand, and is thus an illegality. Though, a newspaper reported a rumoured meeting a day before the Thursday launch called by President Muhammadu Buhari, for the six South West governors to convince him about the reality and process of the security initiative, it is clear that the Federal Government do not find the Amotekun razzmatazz a laughing matter.
The January 13, 2020 statement ascribed to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Gwandu. It reads: “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….”
Early reactions showed several blocs, interests and groups within the region, and few beyond, snapping at the FG’s stand. Even the different factions of Afenifere are unanimous in support of the governors. Many luminaries in law have also upbraided Malami, encouraging the governors to keep their advancing steps in lock, and not back down or break ranks, on account of the muscle-flexing of the FG. The consensus seems thus: let the accuser shun his toga of interpreter, judge and jury, and approach the courts for unambiguous interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution… a position I subscribe to heartily. Jurisprudence!
And the governors appear to have heeded the advice of their people. Well, at least, as at the middle of the week. The leader of the SW Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, chose a symbolic platform to respond to his silk-mate, Malami’s broadside. At the January 15, 2020 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration in Akure, Ondo State, he basically challenged the tenets of federalism vis-a-vis security imperatives: “We the six south west governors are fully prepared to ensure that operation Amotekun succeeds… Amotekun is not a para-military outfit, the introduction of the security outfit is to compliment the efforts of other security agencies…We want to assure you that the activities of the personnel working for the outfit will be monitored and streamlined along their mandate of securing lives and property of people of Ondo State and entire Western Nigeria(,) and it will not be used for political purposes…”.
So, the gauntlet is thrown, the positions have been chiseled out… we look forward to the Judiciary to act as the Lioness of Justice who shall discern and dissect the finer details of this contention, and enrich our understanding and politics by adjudicating between the Leopards of the South West and Eagles (I resist the urge to use Hawks) of Abuja.