Operation Àmòtékùn and the Foreign Policy Dimensions: The Push Genesis and the Pull Exegesis


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

            When the French people came up with a saying that ‘ordre et contre ordre égalent désordre,‘ that is, ‘order and counter order amount to disorder,’ they have many intrinsic issues in mind. The first is that there are, at least, two competing authorities, or two groups of people, one saying yes, and the other saying no. For an individual or groups of individuals to go for ‘yes’ and another individual and group of individuals holding on to ‘no’ is nothing more than an expression of psychology of human differences.

            The second intrinsic issue is the assumption that the proponents of an order will stick to their position, while the proponents of a counter-order will also not renege. This is consistent with a popular musical suggestion by a reggae maestro, Jimmy Cliff, that ‘let your “yeah/yes” be “yeah/yes,” and your “no” be “no” now.’ It is on this basis that any two competing stakeholders are expected to remain adamant and that it is believed that the ultimate end of such adamant position cannot but also result in disorder. This logic is quite tenable.

            However, the truth, and this brings us to a third intrinsic issue, is that an order and counter-order cannot result into a situation of disorder if there had not been an encounter. It is the nature of the encounter, the degradation from crisis to conflict, that largely and polemologically, explains the disorderly situation as a resultant. Put differently, order and counter order must first amount to an encounter before resulting into disorder. If there is an encounter, and it is not well managed, the outcome cannot but be a situation of disorder. If it is promptly and well managed, the outcome may not be disorderly. In polemology, a misunderstanding or a dispute necessarily begins with a crisis, which is often addressed with diplomatic methods. When diplomatic efforts fail, the crisis degenerates into conflict, and thus requiring the use of force. When the application of the use of force becomes a desideratum, then a disorderly situation cannot but be expected.

            Consequently, the third insinuation in the French saying assumes that there will not be an encounter, and if there is to be one, the likelihood of its being managed well is, at best, remote. It is within the framework of this reasoning, that there is inability to manage well a crisis, that an attempt is made in this column to explain Operation Àmòtékùn, not in the context of order and counter-order, but in terms of pull and push dynamics, and then seek to explicate the foreign policy implications. Emphasis is on the push factors. In other words, Operation Àmòtékùn, as a security mechanism, is a desideratum, prompted by fears of possible aggression and the need to contain the aggression in the spirit of legitimate self-defence, especially that it is believed that the Federal Government appears to be taking the issue of insecurity with kid gloves.

            Lasisi Olagunju, explains it better on January 13, 2020 thus: ‘two weeks ago, suspected Fulani herdsmen killed many in a village in Kogi State. The President issued a condolence statement, condemning the killings and the reprisal killings. Last week, unknown gunmen murdered many in Plateau State. The President issued a condolence statement, condemning the killings and the reprisal killings. Instead of having their arms in slings, the Yoruba, with Àmòtékùn, have decided to fold and carry them on their heads.’

            This is why we cannot discuss or present Operation Àmòtékùn as an expression of counter-order, because there was no Federal Government order to which the sponsors of Operation Àmòtékùn can be said to be responding. The sponsors were only responding to non-governmental threats, emanating largely from private Fulani herdsmen terrorists. Operation Àmòtékùn has to be presented differently and understood in its appropriate context.

            In this regard, what are the push factors that led to the establishment of the operation? Can there be push, without the pull, factors? In terms of foreign policy considerations, how are the British most likely to respond to this development, especially in light of the fact that some notable British colonialists are reported to have regretted their roles in the foundation-laying of Nigeria. Let us first discuss the push and pull factors before delving into the foreign policy dimensions.

Operation Àmòtékùn and Push Factors

            There are three categories of push factors: profound, lubricating and coincidental. In terms of profound factors, different arguments have been offered. A school of thought has it that every Nigerian has the right to move around the country as he or she may desire, and therefore, Operation Àmòtékùn is an anti-north or anti-Fulani mechanism, in light of their rejection in the South West by the Yoruba people. It is argued that the Fulani herdsmen can  settle down in any place of their choice in Nigeria, in consonance with the Constitution of the land.

            Another school of thought says it is a new strategy to kick-start the restructuring of Nigeria. The Yoruba people have been in the forefront of the advocates of restructuring of the polity. The Federal Government has not shown any willingness to understand, not to talk about accepting to have it examined. Restructuring agenda has been quite controversial. In the eyes of this school, Operation Àmòtékùn is a pretext for rekindling the agitation for restructuring in a different platform. The Government should therefore not take the operation lightly. Government should not allow the existence of the operation. The Government itself is against the operation.

            A third school still posits that it is a hidden agenda for the making of an Oduduwa Republic. Junaid Muhammad and Balarabe Musa, both of them Second Republic politicians, are some of the leaders of this school. Without doubt, many people have wrongly argued that the ultimate objective of the calls for restructuring is to enable the division of the country. They wrongly equate restructuring with re-partitioning of Nigeria, but the leading proponents of restructuring of Nigeria have argued to the contrary. They have noted that restructuring is aimed at reviewing issues on the exclusive list in the Constitution, and essentially, to give a true meaning to federalism, as well as create a basis for competitive good governance at the level of the constitutive States of Nigeria.

            Consequently, the calls for restructuring should be differentiated from calls for an independent Oduduwa Republic. It is on record that, before the Fulani herdsmen-farmers saga began, the Oodua People’s Congress has called for an Oduduwa Republic, if the Yoruba people of the South West would not be given fairness and justice in the political governance of Nigeria. In light of this, the interpretation of this school of thought is that Operation Àmòtékùn is nothing more than a concretisation of an agenda for Yoruba separation.

            Whatever the merits or demerits of the various arguments, they are, at best, secondary profound factors, because it cannot be rightly submitted that Operation Àmòtékùn is designed to be hostile to the north or specifically to the Fulani compatriots. The main truth and main profound factor is the fact that Fulani herdsmen, for various reasons known and unknown, want to forcefully settle down on titled lands in the South-West, the manifestations of which have led to killing of owners of titled land, raping of women, kidnapping of notable Yoruba leaders. The Yoruba people of the South West are simply and vehemently opposed to that manu militari agenda. This is the main source of the dispute.

            For instance, Chief Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was kidnapped in his farm in Akure and seriously brutalised. He had to pay a ransom to the tune of millions of naira, after many days of incarceration in order to secure his release. Another disturbing case is that of the daughter of another notable Yoruba man, the leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti. His daughter, Mrs. Olufunke Olakunrin was killed in Ore in July 2019. Perhaps more disturbingly, the outcome of investigations into the matter are yet to be made public. Why? According to Pa Fashoranti, on January 16, 2020, Government had stopped investigation into the gruesome murder of Mrs. Olakunrin. Why should the Government stop the investigation? The killing is one problem. The stoppage of investigation into the killing is another problem. What type of message is Government sending to the Yoruba people by stopping investigations into the crime?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

            And most disturbingly, apart from the frequent cases of kidnapping and armed banditry, there is the report that there are not less than 1,123 exclusively Fulani cells in various parts of the thick forests in the South-West. The cells were identified, thanks to intelligence findings and satellite monitoring. It is from these cells that attacks on innocent people are said to be prepared. This is why the victims have always been attacked in never-expected places and therefore, are always cut unawares. This is one of the main rationales for the making of Operation Àmòtékùn, which was designed to respond to the criminality of the herdsmen and not to the Fulani herdsmen in person. For anyone to interpret Operation Àmòtékùn, as anti-Fulani people, rather than as a security outfit to frontally combat the 1,123 Fulani cells, which constitute a direct provocation of war on the Yoruba people, is not only dealing with the matter out of context, but also begging the issue.

            Explained differently, this column strongly believes that no one is against any Fulani as a Nigerian or as a herdsman. The hostility against the Fulani is only in the context of their forceful acquisition of land for herding. Operation Àmòtékùn  is an act to prevent the effective illegal occupation of Yoruba titled land by the Fulani herdsmen. It is to protect the legitimate, titled owners of the land. Thus, Operation Àmòtékùn is nothing more than an expression of legitimate self-defence under public international law, and this brings us to the lubricating and coincidental factors, which further strengthen the rationales for Operation Àmòtékùn.

Lubricating and Coincidental Factors

            The lubricating factors are also the catalytic factors, especially following the launching of the operation on Thursday, January 9, 2020. The lubricating factors further strengthen the resolve to sustain the operation, and, in fact, with a new determination never to go back on the operation as a project. The first factor of lubrication is the attitudinal disposition of the Federal Government to complaints of insecurity in the region. Government easily responds with sympathy, but without showing any visible, concrete commitment in the fight against the crimes. What is particularly most unfortunate is questionably the mania of Government’s reactions to complaints of insecurity.

            For instance, The Government says ‘the setting up of the paramilitary organisation, called Àmòtékùn is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law…’ Agreed, but why is the Federal Government, with the same Constitution of the land not able to secure the country? The Constitution can only be relevant and applicable in normal and secure environment. It makes no sense to ask people to obey the law when they are under the fire attacks of bandits who do not even have any respect for whatever law, including the Constitution.

            The Northern Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN) says Operation Àmòtékùn is the ‘military wing of the Oodua Peoples Congress. In the words of the National President of the NYCN, Alhaji Isah Abubakar, ‘Àmòtékùn in the South-West is OPC military wing in disguise and in the same league with the proscribed IPOB. The President must not allow the unconstitutionality to prevail… Àmòtékùn is a threat to peace and national security and an attempt to jeopardise Nigeria’s sovereignty.’

            More questionably, the secretary to the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore herdsmen group, Alhaji Alhassan Saleh, noted during a Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily discussion programme that ‘unfortunately, with very strong apology to my South-West friends, despite the education of the Yoruba people, they still remain the most primitive in terms of politics. They are not tolerant to opposition and if you allow them to have an ethnic army, definitely there will be fear from Nigerians.’

            In the further thinking of Mr. Saleh, what happened during the last March 2019 elections, ‘the Igbo were denied voting and the Oba even threatened to throw them into the lagoon. So, if you have a Yoruba ethnic militia, what do you think will happen? Reactively in the strategic calculations of the Yoruba people, it is generally the perception of the Yoruba as ‘most primitive’ in whichever context it is considered, that is rankling and that is fuelling the need to respond to the perception of the South-West in the North, with Operation Àmòtékùn, that is to say ‘enough is enough’

            Another example is that of the presidency. When Christian leaders had a public walk to protest against the brutal killing of Christians in the North, and particularly against the barbaric beheading of a Christian pastor, Reverend Lawan Andimi, the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, in the Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, the response of the Federal Government was that Muslims are the worst hit in the North.

            In this regard, what does the Government want to communicate again with this type of explanation? Is Government trying to say that it was a retaliatory act, and therefore normal? Is it the Christians that are killing the Muslims in the North? Even if the Muslims are the worst hit, in which way is their killing normal? For objective observers, President Buhari is aiding and abetting such gruesome killings, and therefore, the President cannot but be seen as having an untold hidden agenda. But has he really any hidden agenda? Is his problem not really his unnecessary silence over burning issues? Should keeping silent always be limitedly interpreted to mean complicity?

            As regards factors of coincidence, interventions of some other stakeholders make matters worse. The leader of Miyeti Allah in Bauchi State, Alhaji Sadiq, said that Operation Àmòtékùn ‘will not last because it is indigenous, regionalised and lacks constitutional backing. The Constitution has a ready-made provision for regular security with the establishment of the Nigeria Police Force. A regional security outfit, like Operation Àmòtékùn is a breach of the Constitution that will only breed problems and conflicts.’

            This observation is noteworthy, but what have the factors of indigeneity, regionalisation and non-constitutionality got to do with death threats and actual killings, and particularly, in the context of the need for legitimate self-defence? What have the policemen been able to do to curtail kidnappings and killings in the country? It is against the backdrop that Operation Àmòtékùn is explicated in the context of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

The Foreign Policy Aspects

            From the foregoing, the main issue for foreign policy to address is fear, the fear of the known and unknown. The fear of the known includes the threat issued to the Federal Government not to condone Operation Àmòtékùn or accept to be faced with more insecurity. Alhassan Saleh of the Miyetti Allah, made it clear that his group would ‘fight back,’ that it has its ‘own defence mechanisms… to fight injustice anywhere, not only in Nigeria.’ The immediate implication of this type of threat is that, when the fighting back will take place, international stakeholders will be involved, meaning that the fight or war will have an international character. How will foreign policy respond to this?

            A second known fear is the acceptance of the bill on Operation Àmòtékùn and the readiness of the various Houses of Assembly to pass the bill into law. The aspect of illegality of the Operation Àmòtékùn will, sooner than later, become history, as not less than three of the six governments involved in the making of Operation Àmòtékùn have approved the draft bill. Their Houses of Assembly have even asked the executive arms of government to expedite action on the bill. How will foreign policy respond to a weakened or defeated Federal Government and a strengthened constitutive member states of Nigeria? Will foreign countries interested in the dismemberment of Nigeria not take advantage of the situation to develop an entente with regions seeking self-security? Will the regions not be given international assistance?

            Another known fear is the establishment of the equivalent of Operation Àmòtékùn in other regions of the country. The Coalition of Northern Groups came up with its own operation, Shege-Ka-Fasa on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. Shege-Ka-Fasa, an Hausa statement, literally means ‘bastards, I dare you.’ Who are the bastards referred to? According to Abdulazeez Suleiman, spokesman for the Coalition of Northern Groups, who reportedly gave a 30-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to implement its RUGA (Rural Grazing Area) settlement policy for the Fulani or face a non-defined insecurity unrest and who also spoke on the platform of AIT’s Democracy Today, on February 7, 2020, said ‘if you do not come to chase us out you are bastards.’

            The question again here is who are those expected to chase the Fulani out of Yoruba land? Again, who are the bastards being referred to? In my own view, the bastards referred to cannot but be the Yoruba for obvious reasons. The people being terrorised are the Yoruba farmers. The people being killed and kidnapped in the South-West are the Yoruba. The 1,123 Fulani cells in the South-West, which partly explains the need for Operation Àmòtékùn, are all in Yoruba land. Consequently, the word  ‘shege‘ or bastards, cannot refer to bandits as the spokesman of CNP would want to have the public believe, and unless we also admit that the Yoruba people who are the complainants are now the bandits. This will be a case of the complainant becoming the accused.

            Interrogatively put, is Shege-Ka-Fasa meant to fight the Yoruba or to support the Fulani herdsmen who are, indeed the criminals? The Shege-Ka-Fasa has lion in its own logo while Operation Àmòtékùn has a leopard in its logo. This means that a fight between a lion and a leopard is in the making. How will the fight be at the domestic level and at the international level? What will be the foreign policy attitude to eventual international responses to the fight of the titans? In fact, what are the likely scenarios of foreign countries’ attitude towards the mother of all ethnic conflicts in Nigeria?

            The Ohanaeze, the apex pan-Igbo cultural group, has opted for ‘Operation Ogbunigwe,’ which recalls the Igbo scientific creativity during the Biafran War of 1967-1970. The option is in addition to the acceptance of community policing agreed to during the South-East Security Summit on ‘Strategic Partnership for Effective Community Policing in the South East Geo-political Zone, held in Enugu.

            Apart from the challenge of security mechanisms, there is also the fear that the National Assembly risks possible attacks. In late 2019, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Mohammed Sani-Omolori, set  up a security committee to address the fears of terrorist attacks on the National Assembly. The committee, in its report, has recommended the establishment of an arms-bearing elite force, because of the strange faces coming to the National Assembly and who are claiming to be constituents of some lawmakers.

            As told by some lawmakers, ‘we are not joking with it. several steps are being taken, but many stakeholders are not cooperating. The manner suspicious people throng the National Assembly is worrisome. The situation has overstretched the security architecture in recent times (and) is worrisome. Many of them, if confronted at the gates, are quick to claim being constituents of one lawmaker or another.’ How will the international community perceive political governance in Nigeria, if the National Assembly is now scared of terrorists?

            Above all is the fear of the unknown, which is the fear of fears. The Northern elite does not want any other region of the country to be united against it. The unity of the Yoruba on Operation Àmòtékùn is therefore a threat, because it introduces unknown variables in Nigeria’s political equations. How should the Northern elite respond to the new Yoruba solidarity? More fearfully, what is the future of the Northern elite in light of archival revelations by some British colonialists that election and census figures were rigged in favour of the North in 1952-1953 and 1959. Besides, why the relations at this time of Nigeria’s history? Will the revelations not strengthen inter-ethnic animosity, while the problem remains? If the population of the North was never what it was said to be and Government does not appear to show interest in signing the electoral bill into law, possibly because of the fear that it might enable the unveiling of the truth about the demographic cover up, as it was the case in 1993 election, the results of which were annulled, can there be peace and security on the foundation of falsehood? There is a very serious foreign policy challenge, especially in how Nigeria’s Foreign Service Officers will be required to defend the untruth in the near future.