By Bola A. Akinterinwa
The establishment of a Western Nigerian Security Network (WNSN) outfit, codenamed Operation Àmòtékùn, on Thursday, January 9, 2020 by the six State Governors of the region, is a resultant of force majeure: unprovoked, criminal assaults against the law-abiding citizens of the South-West, essentially by Fulani herdsmen, and for that matter, with impunity; kidnappings unlimited; reckless armed banditry and serial killings on the roads; increasing herdsmen versus farmers’ conflicts, and gradual development of anti-government sentiments among the people.
This situation of insecurity is not limited to the South-West region. The problem is critical elsewhere to the extent that Operation Nkpochaku was put in place in Anambra State, Operation Forest Guard in Enugu State, and Operation Iron-gate in Imo State. These operations are not as holistic, in focus and design, as they are in the South West and the reason for this cannot be far-fetched: situation of insecurity is not at the same level, it is not as terrible as it is in the South-West
It is in an attempt to respond to the challenges and criticality of insecurity in the Yoruba States, as well as the need to nip in the bud the emerging anti-government phobia, particularly at the South-West regional level, that the six governors in the region (Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State) discussed, at a regional security summit held in June 2019 in Ibadan, the criticality of insecurity and the way forward. The outcome of their efforts led to the establishment of a Western Nigerian Security Network (WNSN), ‘Operation Àmòtékùn.’ Àmòtékùn’ is the Yoruba word for leopard, which is meant to suggest the non-preparedness of the commanders of the Operation to accept any nonsense, any threat to the lives and property of the people in the South West. Operation Àmòtékùn’ is designed to be a self-defence mechanism in the face of politicisation of national security.
The Operation is led by Chief Gani Adams, the Aare Ona Kankafo of Yoruba land. The Aare Ona Kankafo, in the Yoruba setting, is the military leader, the generalissimo, during wars in the old Yoruba or Oyo Empire, which comprised today’s Benin and Western Nigeria. The Operation is made up of different security stakeholders: the South West Agbekoya Group, Agbekoya Farmers Society Group, the Community Security Awareness Initiative Corps of Nigeria, the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, the South-West Hunters Association, and the Oodua Peoples’ Congress.
The Àmòtékùn’ operation is, however, now a subject of controversy, and possibly, a subject of court litigation in the very future, with the Federal Government’s declaration of the Operation Àmòtékùn’ as illegal and unacceptable. With this development, what really is the problem? What are the issues involved? What is the way forward in addressing the challenge of national insecurity?
The main immediate problem is the declaration by the Federal Government of Operation Àmòtékùn’ as illegal. The profound problem is the perception of the Federal Government as aiding and abetting a Fulanisation agenda, by acquiescence of the excesses of the Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani herdsmen act recklessly with visible impunity. A second profound problem is Islamisation agenda. Fear of Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda is what is compelling various ethnic groups to want to tighten their loins in readiness for President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB)’s perceived hidden agenda, so to say. In this regard, Operation Àmòtékùn’ is a direct response to PMB’s 2-point agenda of Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria.
Operation Àmòtékùn’ raises many issues, ranging from crisis of legitimacy, deepening insecurity and political chicanery to crisis of administration, recklessness and remissness, as well as crisis of ‘We the People of Nigeria,’ put at the preamble of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. As regards crisis of legitimacy, the controversy always surrounding general elections, largely due to election rigging in all its ramifications, cannot enable any government, both at the state and federal levels, to lay claim to legitimacy. This is in spite of the ruling or judgment of the court following litigations. Election results do not truly reflect the will of the electorate in Nigeria. The perception of non-legitimacy often raises political suspicion, even when the Federal Government appears to have good intentions.
Deepening insecurity in the country is a truism. What is always painful is the often brutal killing of law enforcement agents that are assigned to protect the ‘bloody civilians.’ If the protector is brutally neutralised, what then becomes of the unarmed civilians? As at the time of writing this column, press reports have it that Zamfara bandits kill 31 in fresh attacks (vide The Punch, Friday, January 17, 2020, p.2 and Daily Sun, January 17, 2020, p. 9). There were also press reports on the killing of Nigerian soldiers by the Boko Haram insurgents. In the southern parts of the country, it is the stories of kidnappings, armed banditry and killings. With this type of situation, is the solution that of quoting constitutional provisions on legality or illegality of an action? Is it not the need to take an action, even if it is illegal and then seek to reconcile the factor of illegality with the Constitution?
And perhaps more importantly, insecurity in the country is recklessly politicised. Some Northern leaders even have the effrontery of giving an ultimatum to the proponents of Operation Àmòtékùn’ to discontinue with their operation or face retorsion or reprisal action. In fact, before Operation Àmòtékùn,’ there was the case of RUGA (Rural Grazing Areas). The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNGs) gave a strong warning to governors who were opposed to Government’s policy of RUGA settlement programmes to revisit their opposition stand within thirty days or face the consequences.
As issued by the CNGs, ‘while we warn all State governments that stand against the implementation of the RUGA initiative to desist and give peace a chance, we place President Buhari and the Federal Government on notice ‘that they must completely stop this raging madness within 30 days, beginning from today, Wednesday (July 3rd, 2019).’ For the avoidance of doubt, the CNGs said, it advised ‘the federal authorities and the southern leaders to heed the 30-day notice, failing which we must definitely be left with no option than to consider resorting into our decisive line of action.’ Put differently, ‘we remind the nation that so long as the Fulani will not be allowed to enjoy their citizens’ rights of living and flourishing in any parts of this country, including the South, no one should expect us to allow any Southerner to enjoy the same in Northern Nigeria’ (vide The Guardian of Thursday, July 4, 2019).
This warning is most unfortunate because it completely missed the salient issue of concern. Besides, it sent the signal of a bigger-than-thou message to the southerners. This has always been the pattern of political relationship with their compatriots in the South and which has always also created unnecessary irritants in the relationship.
For instance, the issue is not that Northerners are disallowed from living in the South. The issue is the manner and pattern of living in the South. Fulani herdsmen engage in open grazing and in the process, destroy farm products. When the Southern farmers complain, they are killed, maimed, raped under the threats and use of AK-47 rifles. In this regard, questions are raised as to how herdsmen are in possession of such rifles. How do they procure them? Where do they get the funding to procure one, since the cost of an AK-47 runs into millions of naira? The cost of the totality of the cows being herded is not up to the cost of one rifle. It is on the basis of these considerations that there is opposition to open grazing and forceful acquisition of land for Fulani. And also more importantly, many observers consider that the business of herding has a private character. It is not governmental in nature, and therefore, it should not be the business of Government to use tax payers’ money to promote sectional and private business interests. And since there is the suspicion that PMB has a Fulanisation agenda, the RUGA is also believed to be one of its instruments.
Another unfortunate point of observation in the warning is the inability of the CNGs to recognise its own limitation of status. What constitutional legality does it have in its kitty to deny or accept a citizen of Nigeria, not of a Northern origin? Giving such a warning is in itself illegal. The CNGs comprises non-elected members, and therefore, does not necessarily, as a non-elected entity, represent the political will of the people. The governors to which the warning is issued are carriers of the political will of their people. They speak authoritatively for their people. And more interestingly, PMB to whom advice was given to stop the madness of the Southerners is not the President of Northerners, but the President of Nigeria. He was elected on the basis of universal suffrage. It is the national constituency that PMB derives his mandate from. No sectional group can therefore insultingly command PMB the way the CNGs had done. Most unfortunately, however, PMB never talks on any burning national questions. The use of ‘madness’ to describe the position of the opponents of RUGA speaks volumes.
The essence of all these observations is that the Yoruba leaders believe that they should not be subjected to a fresh colonial mainmise, be it former or new. Fulanisation, in whatever form it takes, must not be given any root in any Yoruba State. This is one major rationale behind Operation Àmòtékùn.’ The non-punishment of killers of people in the South West, the discontinuation of investigations into the killing of the daughter of a leading Yoruba politician along the Ore road, the recidivist character of the killings, all strengthened the six governors in the region to resolve to take the security bull by the horn, by putting in place Operation Àmòtékùn’.
Other Issues at Stake: ‘kose, kose k’odolue se
The establishment of Operation Àmòtékùn,’ without scintilla of doubts, also raises other thought-provoking questions: is man made for the law or law is made for the man? Who really are the ‘We the People of Nigeria’ who wrote and agreed to the country’s 1999 Constitution, generally referred to as the foundation of Nigeria’s constitutional and presidential democracy? This question is particularly relevant in the final determination of the application of the rule of legitimate self-defence and survival. Which law should be applicable in the case of self-defence, when one is faced one-on-one with armed bandits? Which law applies when national insecurity is politicised, and for that matter, very recklessly?
These questions are raised because the situation of the deepening insecurity in Nigeria cannot be rightly traced to governmental incapacity alone, but largely to politicisation by the Government and to which the direct victims of insecurity opted for self-defence. Consequently, for Government to come up with constitutional arguments of illegality of the
Operation Àmòtékùn,’ is not only begging the issue, but is also unnecessarily taking the bad end of the stick.
Law is not simply meant for peace and orderliness in inter-personal and institutional relationship, but also particularly for human safety and survival. If Fulani herdsmen attack, maim, abuse and rape people, it will be useful to ask under which law of the Federation are they legally operating? Why is the Federal Government unable to shape public perception that PMB is actually aiding and abetting the Miyetti Allah, who are generally believed to be the main sponsors of the herdsmen? How do we explain the acquiescence of Government whenever the atrocities of the aggressive herdsmen are raised? Before explication of the rationales for Operation Àmòtékùn’ and the dynamics of consideration of its illegality, it is useful to address the problems of misrepresentation of, and learn lessons from, the principle of self-determination, on the one hand, and national unity and territorial integrity, on the other, particularly as it obtains in international relations.
Grosso modo, no country wants de-territorialisation of its state. Every country of the world wants national unity, political and territorial cohesiveness, in the strong belief that unity is strength. This is why, in most cases, it has been quest for national unity by force. The case of Hong Kong is noteworthy in this case. The British bequeathed the island to China after the expiration of the 99-year old agreement on the island. Majority of the Hong Kongers do not accept Beijing’s policy of ‘One China, Two Systems.’ They want a complete autonomy that leads to political sovereignty, but to which the Beijing’s authorities are vehemently opposed. For almost a year now, public protests have been on in the island. Government has little or no time for business of government, except for management of insecurity of the state.
The case of the Catalonians in Spain versus the Government of Spain is another interesting one to learn from. It raises the question of self-determination again. The Catalans also want complete autonomy, which the Spanish government does not want. What is particularly noteworthy in this case is that, for about 300 years now, the struggle for autonomy has been on. Violence has characterised the demand for independence. Government itself has been very repressive, and yet, the desire, the quest for self-determination has not been successfully suppressed. The implication of the recidivist struggle for self-determination is unending violence and insecurity. This is the point to which the emerging new situation of insecurity in Nigeria should be likened to. It therefore calls for a more cautious attention.
If the implementation of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy cannot guarantee public safety in terms of lives and property, then it must remain legitimate for the victims of aggression to respond to government’s incapacity or irresponsibility to protect by whatever means available to the victims. Federal Government’s declaration of Operation Àmòtékùn,’ as illegal is nothing more than a concrete expression of one Yoruba proverb, according to which, ‘kose, kose k’odolue se,’ meaning, ‘someone cannot do, but is preventing who can do from doing what should be done.’ In this regard, PMB is not able and cannot secure the South West, and yet, he is trying to criminalise those who are making efforts to throw insecurity into the garbage of history by putting in place Operation Àmòtékùn.
Another issue is the environmental politics of Operation Àmòtékùn, The opponents of the Operation see it as a possible instrument of the restructuring struggle. Some consider its contrariness to the country’s 1999 Constitution. Another school of thought talks about it as the military wing of the Oodua People’s Congress, which the Congress has immediately denied. The Attorney-General of the Federation even mentioned that he was not consulted on the matter. If he had been consulted, he would have advised against it. In fact, the existing security agencies do not want rivalry. They claim that members of Operation Àmòtékùn are not well trained.
Whatever is the case, the matter is generating heated debate and interest. Popular opinion nationwide is in its favour. In fact, the people appreciate the pillars on which Operation Àmòtékùn is reportedly predicated: kidnapping, Killing and destruction of lives and property in Yoruba land is no longer acceptable. In other words, kidnapping a single Yoruba or killing a single Yoruba or killing a non-Yoruba on Yoruba soil is not tolerable anymore. Kidnapping a non-Yoruba on Yoruba soil is unacceptable. And more importantly, destruction of farmland products in Yoruba land, and open grazing on Yoruba land are not accepted by the Yoruba any longer. RUGA is not wanted on Yoruba soil. So is forceful acquisition of any waterway in Yoruba land.
Thus, without jot of doubt, as PMB is more used to military, than democratic, strategies in political governance, it cannot but be expected that he will be quickly delighted in making war with the Yoruba, a war that will enable him not only to justify his stay beyond 2023, but also to further strengthen his Fulanisation, if it is really true that he has such an agenda. The truth of the matter is that, as at today, the Federal Government is waxing stronger in incompetence in containing insecurity, but showing competence in seeking to proscribe the instrument of anti-societal crimes, which Operation Àmòtékùn is all about. The operation, as deductively presented, is fighting both Fulanisation-driven and Islamisation-driven insecurity. The Governors, as Chief Security Officers of their states are right to make efforts to secure their people. The obvious choice left for Government is between reconciling Operation Àmòtékùn with the Constitution or further condoning sustained insecurity by the criminals or insecurity arising from war with the proponents of Operation Àmòtékùn.