Amotekun and the Politics of Security

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email:

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email:

Therefore, a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out…Jeremiah 5: 6

The introduction of the ‘Amotekun’ security outfit by South-West Governors has added a new dimension to how Nigerians make humour out of every situation. Aside Biblical inferences, I will not be surprised if we begin to see in the market creative leopard skin fashion collections, complete with make-believe talismans! But beyond the social media memes, there is a knotty problem that speaks both to the politics of the moment and our delicate fault lines; though before I go into the kernel of the controversy, it is important to provide both context and background for how we arrived at ‘Amotekun’.

The idea of a collaborative security outfit among the six states in the South-West (Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti) came out of the summit held in Ibadan on 25th June last year, following a spate of kidnappings, banditry and armed robbery in the region. With the security situation almost out of hand, and fingers being pointed at roving herdsmen, the murder of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, put considerable pressure on the South-West governors at a time many farmers were being forced to abandon their only means of livelihood and villagers were deserting their homes due to incessant attacks.

Held in Ibadan under the auspices of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, the Director General, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, had assured before the meeting that the outcome would provide concrete ideas on how to secure the region. Invited to present papers were Mr Leye Oyebade, the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) in charge of Oyo, Osun and Ondo states as well as Prof. Femi Odekunle and Prof. Olutayo Adesina, who chaired the technical committee that eventually distilled the outcome of the meeting and came up with both ‘Amotekun’ and ‘Western Nigeria Security Network’.

Working under the umbrella of a ‘Network’ is because the governors had made it clear that whatever security arrangement the committee came up with would be state-based but feature a network that would share intelligence in relation to cross boundary crimes. They would jointly procure electronic gadgets, including phone trackers and drones and the outfit would also be under the same command for coordination and effectiveness. But in the operational guidelines, ‘Amotekun’ was envisioned to function complementarily to, and not separately from, the existing conventional national security agencies. In fact, the Ibadan meeting was also attended by representatives of all security institutions in the country. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Mohammed Adamu was represented by DIG Taiwo Lakanu who retired a few months later.

The Governors then met twice after receiving the report of the Adesina committee and eventually ratified the idea of ‘Amotekun’ as a security outfit for the South-West. It was also agreed that each of the states would enact laws to back it up as state-based security initiatives. This would precede the operational takeoff which, notwithstanding all the current hullaballoo, has not commenced. Pending the time this process would be concluded, the governors decided to purchase vehicles and motorcycles while fine-tuning grey areas like mode of recruitment, command and control, code of conduct, etc. However, with Abuja following developments, a sense of unease began to creep in the moment an operational template that banded together all states in the South-West was adopted.

To allay fears of the federal government, Ekiti Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who also doubles as Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum and is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (ACP), met with IGP Adamu on behalf of his colleagues prior to the launch. Adamu, I learnt, expressed his concerns that the option of ‘Amotekun’ could create a domino effect in the South-East and South-South with dire implication for national unity. Fayemi, I gathered, dispelled any such notion while also reaffirming that their responsibility as governors was not what others would do but rather to find a solution to a problem that had become rather worrisome to the people of South-West. This, I learnt, was also the position of his colleagues when the IGP met them separately.

With a weak and largely ineffectual police force—whose men prefer to stay on street corners, scrolling through the mobile phones of passers-by for extortion or arrest young men on the basis of their hairstyle—sundry cartels of criminals seem to have overpowered the capacity of the state to restore law and order. More worrisome was that rural areas were practically being taken over by these criminals while those tasked with providing security looked helpless. The governors felt they had a responsibility to find a solution to this growing menace. Since five of these six governors belong to the ruling APC, they were in constant dialogue with the police leadership on the options being considered to tackle the security challenge within their zone.

Intent on finding an amicable solution to what had become a perplexing problem, IGP Adamu led his team to Ibadan on 1st September 2019 to meet with the governors and other stakeholders, including the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) led by the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Ganiyu Adams. Tagged ‘South-West Geopolitical Zone Security Summit’, Adamu appealed that the police be allowed to handle the security challenge while pledging that a special operation was underway across South-West to specifically address the threat of kidnapping and armed robbery on the highways and other locations. Adamu told the gathering that the meeting was convened within the context of community policing vision which emphasises citizen engagement in the process of identifying “and prioritising threats to communal values. The strength of this partnership and the commitment of all actors within the process will undoubtedly, influence the extent of success we can record against the criminals.”

Host Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo state, who read the communique at the end of the session said the IGP approved the deployment of special forces to be commanded by a Commissioner of Police who would lead a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) team on their crime-fighting efforts. “It’s agreed that a committee, consisting of policemen, other security agencies, the OPC led by Chief Gani Adams, Miyetti Allah and the citizenry should be set up in each state,” Makinde said as part of the decisions arrived at. Unfortunately, while IGP Adamu was exploring quiet diplomacy to see how he could defuse the problem without creating a bigger one, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami added fuel to the fire by issuing a statement on behalf of the federal government, banning ‘Amotekun’. That statement, more than anything, rallied all the critical stakeholders in the South-West behind the idea!

For me, the controversy has highlighted several issues. I do not know of any federal structure that has a single police because it is simply not practical. In the same token, there is no way the South-West governors can secure their states individually without the kind of collaborative efforts envisioned by ‘Amotekun’ given how interlinked the forests are. The same reason informs the endorsement by Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State and chairman of Northwest Governors’ Forum who said they had “a lot to learn from them (the Southwest). I will call a meeting of the states affected by insecurity to see what they are doing and how we can borrow from them.” Masari is well aware that there is no way Katsina or any other state within the region can on its own successfully fight banditry when the expansive Dajin Rugu forest straddles four states and criminals can move from one location to another, as they have been doing for years. So, what is the way forward in the South-West?

The Governors have decided to meet President Buhari, not to back down on ‘Amotekun’ but to explain that this is not a political but a practical security idea regardless of attempts by religious and ethnic bigots to hijack it on both sides of the divide. A draft law on ‘Amotekun’ is also quietly going through the Houses of Assembly in the six states. Whatever may therefore be the misgivings about ‘Amotekun’, the genie is already out of the bottle and we will be making a grievous error to think it can be forced back in.

Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution states that “There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.” But we all know that in Nigeria today, there are quasi police forces such as Hisbah, which in several northern states enforces Sharia rules and the Civilian Joint Task Force that has been helping to combat insurgency in the North-east. Besides, many governors (whether in the north or south) endorse the idea of state police because they spend considerable money on the federal police over which they have no control and without much result.

Meanwhile, the idea that we can run a command and control system from Abuja is already unravelling before us and it is not only in the security sector. Just two days ago, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Chairman, Professor James Momoh, said the current centralised national grid system is hampering the delivery of electricity to Nigerians. You can say the same of several aspects of our national life. But on the immediate challenge of ‘Amotekun’ in the South-West, the problem is with the supporters who can be categorized into three. One, those who genuinely believe that the federal police have failed to provide security for the people and are now awakened to a collective sense of self-preservation. Two, those who see in the ‘Amotekun’ controversy a golden opportunity to further push the idea of restructuring the country for our collective good. Three, those for whom ‘Amotekun’ is another ‘anti-Fulani agenda’ against President Buhari and his government, especially with Miyetti Allah and other groups also making noise in the North. The moment Malami issued his reckless statement, he antagonized the first group, provoked the second and emboldened the third. Now, all three are united on Amotekun!

What worries is that if, by an act of omission or commission, we frame our national security challenge around identity politics (as some politicians in the South-West do) or a “We” versus “Them” paradigm (as some politicians in the North now also reason), we are not likely to get an enduring solution. In fact, we are only going to exacerbate the situation. The connecting thread for the variants of violence that we witness across the country today, as I have argued several times on this page, is that the Nigerian state has lost what Max Weber described as the monopoly of “the legitimate use of physical force” to sundry criminal cartels. And that is why the South-West governors should be constructively engaged over ‘Amotekun’ before the process is hijacked by the mob. But to bark order from Abuja as Malami did is counter-productive, especially when he also appears to be speaking not for Nigeria but rather for some special interest groups, in a manner that fatally threatens the unity of the country as an inclusive polity founded on diversity.

Interestingly, I had just completed this piece when my attention was drawn to the statement by the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has in recent days been goaded to make his position on ‘Amotekun’ public. Where I disagree with him is the attempt to exonerate Malami from the “dangerous rhetoric of those who should know better.” But Tinubu has expressed a greater clarity on what the real issues are. “Those claiming that this limited, inoffensive addition to security threatens the Republic have taken themselves upon a madcap excursion. Those claiming that the Federal Government seeks to terribly suppress the Southwest have also lost their compass. Those who occupy these two extremes have sunken into the dark recesses of fear and political paranoia that can undo a nation if such sentiments are allowed to gestate,” he said.

Most of the commentators on ‘Amotekun’, according to Tinubu, “have but the vaguest notion about it. They know few details yet vigorously attribute to its opponents the most negative intentions. Ask those who oppose Amotekun. They are equally ignorant of its provisions. They oppose the initiative not on its merits but merely because it was proposed by their political opponents…Too much energy has been spent distorting this issue instead of seeking a resolution that supports local enhancement of security while keeping the constitution intact.”

On the whole, the political unease about ‘Amotekun’, especially in the North is an unspoken one, and I understand why. One, its location: South-West. The history of resistance in this part of the country indicates that threats from the centre never work whenever the people are united on a common cause as they seem to do now. Two, ‘Operation Amotekun’ in Yoruba is ‘Operation Damisa’ in Hausa (since both connotes leopard), and students of Nigeria’s tragic history have something to remember on that, even when it is just coincidental.

At the end, what we should not overlook is that this crisis also comes with a huge opportunity for institutionalising the idea of community policing and perfecting our federal structure so it can work for the greater majority of our people. But on ‘Amotekun’, we must also take the heat out of the needless tension being generated by mischief makers on all sides. President Buhari and the South-West Governors need to play a crucial leadership role and the only way to do that is not to surrender the initiative to extremists, while working for a political solution that is anchored on securing lives and livelihoods, not only within one zone but across the entire country.


Obiora’s CBN Nomination

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari sent the name of Dr Kingsley Obiora to the Senate for confirmation as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It’s a pick that has been widely applauded. Humble and self-effacing, Obioha, currently an Alternate Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters in Washington DC., brings to the job (when confirmed) not only his expertise, experience and exposure but also a passion for the development of the country. In the present dire straits that our economy is in, we need people with the intellect and temperament of Obiora at the apex bank and it helps that it is a terrain to which he is already very much familiar. I wish Obiora success in his new assignment.

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