By Abdussamad Umar Jibia
On Thursday January 9, 2020, state Governments in the South west geopolitical zone comprising of Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Lagos converged in Ibadan to launch a joint security network which they codenamed ‘Amotekun’, the Yoruba word for leopard. The launch was attended by the host Governor Seyi Makinde, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and the Chairman, Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Mr. Rotimi Akerelodu of Ondo State. The Governors of Osun and Ogun were represented by their deputies while Lagos state Governor did not send any representation.
Although Akerelodu stated at the occasion that the “Nigeria Police will oversee and moderate the activities of Amotekun”, neither the Police IG nor the host Police commissioner was present or represented. Among those absent were the Director, DSS and GOC 2nd Division. They were not represented as well. In short, the formal security establishment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was not represented at the event.
As if trying to preempt the reactions that trailed the launch, Governor Akerelodu did not mince words in affirming his Forum’s commitment to one Nigeria. He said, “The South West states of the Federation believe in the unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its indissoluble sovereignty. We are committed, in all ramifications, to the ideals that will make the country stronger and more united.”
Although the structure of the security outfit was not unfolded at the event, Akerelodu assured his audience that, “Nobody with questionable character will participate in the programme” and that “The conventional security agencies will participate, actively, in profiling the recruits”. As for the aim of launching the security network, Governor Makinde of Oyo said it is “to ensure that both indigenes and settlers living within the boundaries of our various states can carry out their legitimate activities in a secure environment. The security of their lives and properties should be of paramount importance”.
The Amotekun initiative was followed by different reactions from different quarters. Surprisingly, even the Yoruba were not united in their support for Amotekun. Prof Wole Soyinka did not waste any time in telling President Buhari that he was the one that brought about Amotekun by failing to do his job of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. Femi Falana defended the idea of Amotekun but advised each of the state governors to submit a supporting bill to his state house of assembly to provide an enabling law. However, Prof Ishaq Akintola criticized Amotekun as a Christian agenda aimed at Muslims in the former western region. He accused the Governors of turning Amotekun into a ‘Christian militia’ as recruitment into the security outfit has mandated applicants to submit birth certificates registered only in churches. This view was echoed by the Muslim community of Osun state.
Among those who supported the Amotekun initiative is the Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) South West zone, Alhaji Mohammed Labaran. According to him, “it is a welcome development, we don’t oppose it”. Alhaji Labaran however lamented that despite living amicably with their host communities they were not involved in the idea of Amotekun. In a swift reaction, the Publicity secretary of the Yoruba summit group Mr. Gboyega Adejumo stated that Amotekun is about Yoruba, “it is not about you”. He added, “Are you going to ask a thief to support a security initiative? Are you going to ask someone who willfully damages your property to support a security initiative? ”
It is perhaps reactions like that of Adejumo that made the mother body of MACBAN to take a very harsh stance of Amotekun. It described Amotekun as an agenda to displace herders from the southwest and a threat to democracy. It later added that the Southwest stands to lose the Presidency in 2023 if it does not drop the idea.
If MACBAN threatens the South west with losing presidency, it is only exploiting the psychology of the average Northern Muslim. Most Northerners, including those who are victims of excesses of Fulani herders and bandits, feel insulted when Fulani are criticized. That is why when the Amotekun debate started many Northerners suddenly became lawyers who continued to condemn Amotekun as an illegality in Social media, local radio programmes and group discussions.
The fear generally expressed in such discussions is that Amotekun may end up becoming like OPC, a body that attacked and killed Non-Yoruba residents of the Southwest during it’s period of strength. The same people have forgotten that the attacks we continue to experience in the North today is worse than what OPC gave us in the late ninetees.
Yes, the OPC killed tens of Northerners and I wrote to remind Nigerians about it when it’s founder Fredrick Faseun died. However, the record of OPC attacks do not indicate mass raping and kidnapping like we experience in the North West today. Again, OPC did not attack their own, but the bandits operating in the North west attack everyone including Fulani and Hausa. Another difference is that OPC had a leadership that we can talk to, but the criminals we have in the North today are broken into small gangs operating from different remote bases.
So, why should the Northerner leave the danger confronting him and start discussing a lesser evil that is only perceived?
But now the issue of Amotekun is almost settled. After a series of twists between Federal Government and south western states governments, the Federal Government has now agreed that it is lawful to set up a security outfit like Amotekun if an enabling law is provided.
But who needs Amotekun more? Is it the South West or the North West?
For those who have been following events in the devastated areas of Katsina and Zamfara for example, it is well known that either our military is not capable of handling this security challenge or it is not willing to. Even those security detachments that have shown willingness to fight bandits only intercept them before they attack, but in most cases after the attacks have already taken place. Even though in many cases the camps locations of these criminals are known, it is clear to see that the military is not ready to take the risk of taking the battle to the homes of these bandits. That is why whenever the military is withdrawn the attacks continue.
But what is responsible for this? Is it because our military personnel have nothing to lose when the attacks take place? Most soldiers and policemen operating in some of the worst hit communities do not belong there, do not know the culture of the people and would not lose anything in terms of property or relations when the local communities are attacked.
Is this attitude due to corruption? Many have expressed fears that some of the military commanders may be compromised. I am still looking for evidence. I have seen none.
Dear reader, you will agree with me that when the local volunteers (‘yan sa kai) and vigilantes were operating in the North West, the security situation was much better. These groups were made up of locals who know the terrain and who can identify local criminals with utmost accuracy. All of a sudden, Governors of the North west met some time last year to ban the vigilante groups. In their place they offered amnesty to the criminals which had proven to be a failure several times before.
Where would a Governor who is struggling to pay minimum wage to his hardworking civil servants find enough money to continuously pay a criminal with an insatiable hunger for wealth? That is why even those criminals who accept to stop crime would stop it when the money is coming and resume when Government money stops. Certainly, this is not an approach that would provide a final solution to the problem of banditry and kidnapping in the North.
Moving forward, why won’t our Governors try Amotekun? It is now lawful.
Professor Abdussamad Umar Jibia is a Public Affairs Analyst.