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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Ray Ekpu: As South West’s Amotekun Faces Its First Battle [MUST READ]

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]motekun in Yoruba means a leopard. It is a fierce-looking, spotted animal that is largely found in Africa and Asia. I suspect that the reason the six governors of the South West region chose Amotekun for its security outfit was to drive fear into the hearts of those criminals who have been driving fear into the hearts of people who live in or pass through the South West Region.

These fellows, bandits, kidnappers, insurgents, armed robbers etc. have made life intolerable for Nigerians in various parts of the country. No day passes that people are not robbed, killed or kidnapped by these fellows who carry intimidating implements of horror.

They have, in the last few years, had an upper hand in the battle for the soul of Nigeria; despite the gallantry of the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Police who are obviously overstretched.

Amotekun, Chinua Achebe
Amotekun: Members of the South West Nigeria’s vigilante group standing in front of patrol vehicles for the force.

Before now, several State Governors had bemoaned their fate and their helplessness in a situation; where they are the Chief Security Officers of their States but lack the operational wherewithal to protect their citizens.

All the State Governors, as a matter of routine, support the security agencies especially the Police; in their states with funds and equipment. Still, there exists a lacuna that had to be filled; if we wanted to substantially stem the growing tide of terrorism by whatever name you may call it. This is what has given rise to meetings held by various zones to cooperate among themselves for a more effective and better coordinated security arrangement.

The South West Zone is the first to have come out with a regional plan; one designed for the joint protection of its citizens.

South West Governors had briefed President, IGP before Amotekun was inaugurated

Available information indicates that the Governors of the zone had taken President Muhammadu Buhari; as well as the Inspector General of Police into confidence on this matter.

However, when Operation Amotekun was inaugurated in Ibadan a few days ago; the Police and the Armed Forces personnel were conspicuously absent. That seemed to be an indication that some people were unhappy with the decision of the South West Governors; to establish a joint security outfit to protect their people from the bullets that regularly spit out everywhere; from the guns of these criminals.

Then came the bombshell from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami. He declared magisterially: “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.”

Amotekun, Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN, Fayemi
Amotekun: Governors of the South West at the launch of the Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN in Ibadan, Oyo State on Thursday, January 8, 2019

He then threatened menacingly: “The law will take its natural course in relation to excesses associated with organisation; administration and participation in Amotekun or continuous association with it as an association.”

Well, I am not a lawyer but my layman’s understanding of defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts; as stated by the attorney general would refer to either external aggression or internal insurrection. I don’t think that Operation Amotekun is intended to cover such areas. Or is self-protection by individuals and groups now forbidden?

All over the country, people have been forced by current realities to set up structures for their self-protection; from the assortment of criminals harassing people in their residences, roads, restaurants, banks, offices, churches, weddings and funerals. People who live in estates contribute money yearly for the protection of their residents.

Essence of initiative equally stressed by Governors at launch

Some state governments such as Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara and Lagos, to mention but a few; have also set up security outfits. Some call them vigilante groups, Neighbourhood Watch or Hisbah or Sharia Police.

The names may differ but the goal is the same; namely to contribute to improving the security of the people under their watch. The South West governors may have felt a sense of isolation by the appropriate security forces with whom they would want to work for the overall safety of their own part of the country. This was reflected in their speeches at the inauguration.

The Ondo State governor and chairman of the South West Governors’ Forum, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu said; “It is our sincere hope that our security efforts will serve as a complement to the security architecture put in place by the Federal Government. It is not our intention to erect any antagonistic structure whose operation is at cross-purposes with the existing template of events.”

Also, the governor of Ekiti State and chairman of the Governors’ Forum spoke in the same vein. He said: “We are not erecting a regional police force. Neither are we oblivious of steps to take in order to have State Police.”

These assurances did not seem to convince the Federal Attorney General that there is no ulterior motive; no hidden agenda, in setting up the South West Security Network. But his comment has generated a lot of remarks from people of all walks of life; as well as from various parts of the country. The reason for the groundswell of hostile remarks is that; Mr. Malami appears not to recognize the dark state of the nation’s security and the failure of existing structure to nip it in the bud.

The logo of Amotekun, the South West Nigeria’s vigilante group

Malami courted public opprobrium with his abrupt intervention

We all live in a paroxysm of fear. And when the residence of former President Goodluck Jonathan was attacked recently; most ordinary people wondered whether they can ever be safe if a former President cannot sleep with both eyes closed.

Mr. Malami may not know it. His words have generated a fire of anger based on the fact that people expect those who work for the federal government to help the President to find ways; orthodox and unorthodox, of solving the security problem. People do not expect Malami to be a roadblock to efforts being made to solve the problem. How will his remarks help to solve a problem which has driven the entire country into a state of panic?

That panic rises by the day. In fact, we are very close to that natural state which Thomas Hobbes described in his Leviathan as a state; “where every man is enemy to every man and man’s life is therefore solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Mr. Malami says if the southwest governors had consulted him he would have given them guidance. Did they have any obligation to consult him since they had consulted the president; with whom they jointly handle the security of the country? The governors are known as the chief executive officers of their states; a designation that comes to them by the larger position of being state governors.

But by some inexplicable arrangement, they have not been empowered to discharge the security function as current realities demand. I thought that it is the responsibility of such people in government as Malami to interpret the law in a realistically contemporary manner that can help the President to succeed.

If I may ask; what proposals has Mr. Malami made to the President on how to solve the security problem and save the man from dishing out regular condolence messages when criminals strike?

Is his role simply to pour cold water on the efforts made by other people to solve the problem?

The security issue is one of the major issues by which the Buhari presidency will be assessed. It is obvious that in the next three years as he tackles each of the existing problems; he will be worrying about the verdict of history as he hinted recently. How will Mr. Malami’s obstructionist approach to legal interpretation help the President to solve the problem and stay on the right side of history?

Malami wants to shoot down Amotekun before the leopard swallows those trouble makers who lick the blood of our citizens. That is not fair. Law should be an instrument for solving societal problems not for compounding them.

Ray Ekpu is a veteran journalist who was one of the founders of Newswatch, the iconic weekly news magazine. This article first appeared in The Guardian.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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