By Gozie Irogboli
When the opinion of one of the respected top politicians of the old era was sought concerning the overthrow of the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari by the military in 1983, he replied succinctly that it was “unfortunate but necessary.” And when I learnt of the recent establishment of regional security force, the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) code-named Operation Amotekun, by the six states of the South-West Nigeria, my honest reaction was like that of the aforementioned renowned politician. It is not a position of aloofness but that of reality. The formation of regional security is unfortunate because, it might snowball into something that will be of grave consequence to the nation in the long run. It is unfortunate because it portends great danger in future if not properly regulated and controlled. But, while it is considered unfortunate, it is also necessary and expedient because of daunting security challenges facing the nation at present. Yes it is necessary because it would among other things entail curtailing the menace of herdsmen and armed banditry that has turned Nigeria a terrorist nation and a pariah state.
I am not a lawyer. I do not know the constitutionality of what they have done. But in the face of the current precarious security situation the country has been plunged into, I think it is expedient and pragmatic and indeed commendable. Security is a necessity and no responsible leader would fold his arms and watch his people terrorised in the way and manner it is done in the country at present.
Put mildly, the security situation in Nigeria currently is deplorable. The level of insecurity and anxiety in Nigeria is worse than that of the far-flung era of slavery and slave trade. The government of the day has shown apparent like of capacity or rather unwillingness to tackle the security challenges facing the nation despite the billions of tax payers’ funds that are appropriated annually for that purpose.
From all fronts, Nigerians live in perpetual fear of attack. Human life is worth nothing in Nigeria. The land is polluted with blood of the innocent. Boko Haram appeared to be more rejuvenated. There have been claims and counter claims of the defeat of Boko-haram which the administration had promised to vanquish within six months of coming to power but it appears that the insurgency group is stronger than they were five years earlier. They have killed more than they did previously. Members of the insurgent group are arrested, released or enlisted into the state army. Instead of facing Boko Haram the government would prefer to send soldiers into the street to harass and intimidate hapless civilians under diversionary and farcical codenamed operations. The South East is like an occupied territory where at every one kilometer you have a road block and a combine team of security operatives intimidating, harassing and molesting hapless citizens.
Again, the present regime has failed woefully to address the menace of herdsmen in Nigeria, fueling speculations in many quarters that they are government sponsored. Under this administration, the Fulani herdsmen have been lionized into a killer squad. At the last count, they have massacred over fifty thousand Nigerians in cold blood in the last five years. Communities have been sacked, farm lands ravaged, people kidnapped, women raped… Worse still, nobody has been arrested or tried for this ugly state of affairs. Miyeti-Allah is still talking tough, the service chief are still keeping their jobs. All we hear is half-hearted promise of bringing the culprits to book.
Our highways have been turned into a death trap. Abuja/Kaduna Highway, Lagos/Benin Highway, Abuja/Benin Highway and other major highways are no-go areas. Armed banditry is the order of the day. Every day we are inundated with gory tales of how savage, barbaric dare-devil bandits would emerge from their den in the bush and with relish and without provocation spray innocent travellers with bullets. Travelling on our highways is now like embarking on a suicide mission. People observe special fasting and prayer sessions and night vigils before traveling and do special thanksgiving upon successful return.
Thus, it is in the light of this that the public reaction to the issue tilted heavily in favour of the action of the South West leaders in the formation of Amotekun. In the South, it is hailed unanimously as a step in the right direction. To many, the regional security is long overdue. Accordingly, many concerned Nigerians have commended the initiative of the South West governors and enjoined the leaders of the other regions to emulate their South West counterparts. Admittedly, even though I praise them for taking the initiative I would also add that that they are not pro-active enough having waited for five long years before reacting. Of course it is expected that they took the initiative. South West is about the only region in the South that has thick forests that has provided a safe haven for these savage herdsmen and bandits. Unconfirmed security report has it that they have over 3000 camps within the forest of the South West.
Nevertheless, while we commend the initiative of establishing regional security outfit, we must not lose sight of the possible unsavory consequences. On the positive side, they may complement the effort of our constitutional security agencies but on the other hand, they may turn out to be an instrument of extortion, harassment of non-indigenes and harassment of political opponents. We should expect jungle justice; there will be extra-judicial killings, people would use them to settle personal scores and there would be arms proliferation. We cannot forget in a hurry the menace of OPC when OBJ was in power, wherein they held their own court sessions and pass death sentences and burn people alive. Of course, the horrific activities of Bakassi, Egbesu and other splinter groups of that era are still fresh in our minds. Moreover, contrary to the assertion of the governors, we cannot rule out the infiltration of the outfit by miscreants and other criminal elements that might use the outfit to foment trouble. Furthermore, as other regions join as they are meant to following recommendations from different quarters, they might metamorphose into regional armies with obvious dour centrifugal consequences.
No doubt, the establishment of regional security outfit is clearly a vote of no confidence on our security agencies and by extension, on the government of the day. In other words, it is an indication of failure of governance. The current regime has failed woefully to deliver on its campaign promises. This is advertized in many areas—misplaced priority, corruption, nepotism, paying lip service to entrenched national problems, failure to learn from the past, inter alia. There is failure of leadership when the government fails to cater for the interest of those it is meant to. In the first place, the primary essence of leadership or governance is the people—their security and welfare. And when the people, the subject of your mandate are made vulnerable by your actions or default, it indicates failure of leadership, failure of governance. Leadership at national level is about constructive engagement, interest aggregation and goal congruence not parochial interest.
Why would government react quickly to suppressing IPOB agitations and pamper murderous herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorist? Why should government be more interested in tackling free speech while glossing over more poignant issues bothering on national security? That is misplaced priority.
Again, the present regime has shown unusual unwillingness to learn from the past. When the issue of resource control came up following OBJ’s initial refusal to pay the statutory 13% to oil producing states, instead of addressing the issues raised in the Resource Control agitation, he thought he could suppress it with the sleight of arm. He clamped down on the agitators, destroyed Odi, forcing the agitators to go underground and resurfaced in a more sinister dimension. Later they began to kidnap expatriate oil workers. That is the origin of the scourge of commercialized kidnapping that is ravaging the nation, Nigeria today. This is what happens when you apply wrong antidote to a fundamental issue.
Those who refuse to learn from the past will always totter and grope blindly and aimlessly. Failure to learn from the past is to start and stand on a shaky foundation. When you don’t learn from the past, tackling present challenges and planning for the future would always be on hotchpotch basis.
In conclusion, I would advise the present regime to change from its myopic swingeing policies and frontally and sincerely face core national issues and accommodate disparate interests. That is the only way to avert the emergence of regional armies, schismatic disturbances and separatist agitations.
Gozie Irogboli can be reached on email@example.com