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FEMI MAKINDE examines the issues surrounding the establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Operation Amotekun by the South-West governors and the declaration of the outfit illegal by the Federal Government

Pa Reuben Fasoranti, a nonagenarian, must have counted Funke Olakunri, his beloved daughter among those that would outlive and bury him. That was the wish of every reasonable parent.  But the killer-Fulani herdsmen had another evil plan for him and his lovely daughter.  Thus, on July 12, 2019, Olakunri was shot and killed. That action threw the entire South-West region into mourning. Tears were shed; the aged wailed. Members of the family of the victim and her venerable father were thrown into mourning. The accompanied grief made the security agents to vow that the killers would not only be apprehended, but made to face justice.

Sadly, more than six months after the miserable incident, the police have yet to arrest the killers of Olakunri.

Before then, one of the leaders of the Yoruba, Chief Olu Falae, who is a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, had been abducted on his farm in Akure, Ondo State and the farm destroyed.

Hundreds of farmers have equally lost their harvests to the rampaging herdsmen who wickedly set their farms on fire at will.

Their wives and daughters were also alleged to have been raped by the criminals who were said to have used livestock as a decoy. Some of those who survived the attacks were also said to have lost their limbs to the mindless killers.

An orthopaedic surgeon at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof Olayinka Adegbehingbe, had a fair share of the activities of the criminals when he was abducted along the Ife-Ibadan Expressway on May 5, 2019. He was released after the payment of N5.45m ransom.

At some point, farmers in the region could no longer access their farms. Travellers were also scared of plying the roads as some of them were kidnapped at will. Security agents were believed to either be unwilling to act or overwhelmed by the activities of the herdsmen.

The police, whose job is to protect the people, were alleged to have encouraged families of kidnapped victims to pay ransom to abductors in order to stay alive.

That was the level of the despondency of the people as the marauders terrorised them, unchallenged.

The insecurity was also widespread in some other regions of the country. The herdsmen constantly turned scores of women into widows in states like Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Plateau. Properties worth billions were likewise destroyed at will.

Sadly, those trained in the act of fighting insecurity were at times victims. For example, a former Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, was felled by the bullets of bandits, while senior police officers were randomly killed by the brigands.

Following the spate of insecurity in the South-West, governors in the six states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti held a security summit in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to find a lasting solution to the region’s security challenges.

It was agreed that a security outfit made up of locals should be set up to complement the work of government security agencies.

The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, which is jointly run by the six states, was asked to midwife the outfit and it was named Western Nigeria Security Network.

It was set up to protect the lives and property of the people and the security outfit which was codenamed Operation Amotekun was inaugurated on January 9.

Two days to the inauguration day, however, facts started emerging that the Federal Government which has been mouthing community policing was not comfortable with the idea of establishing the WNSN.

As a result, the absence of Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, his counterparts in Ogun and Lagos states, Dapo Abiodun and Babajide Sanwo-Olu, raised concerns in some quarters. Questions were asked whether the governors were chickening out due to unseen pressure from higher authorities.  Such interrogations were nonetheless waved aside since they sent representatives.

Notwithstanding, there were reports that some of the governors were not fully committed to the initiative because of their political future and the fact that they belong to the same party with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)

However, despite the seeming half-hearted preparations of the governors for the take-off of Amotekun, the initiative started receiving applause from many notable Nigerians.

The Nobel Laureate, Pro Wole Soyinka, while describing Amotekun as a desirable New Year gift, said he had lost hope that the governors would do it. Soyinka said, “To thank a number of public-spirited, humanity-considering governors in this nation, who finally responded to the demands and yearnings of the citizens and produced one organisation called Amotekun.

“It counts as one of the most unexpected because I had given up on them; it is an unexpected but at the same time a most desirable New Year present. So, I think this country has a few amotekun (leopards). Those who disagree are free to disagree. The point is: the yearning of the people has been fulfilled.”

The President, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, and many other socio-cultural organisations lauded the initiative saying it would reinforce the concept of community policing in the region and the entire country.

Amid the outpouring of accolades trailing the initiative across the country, the Federal Government on Tuesday declared that the outfit was illegal.  The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, (SAN), who announced the central government’s opposition to the initiative, said security was meant to be solely handled by the Federal Government.

The AGF in a statement said, “The setting up of the paramilitary organisation called Amotekun is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law.

“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has established the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the defence of Nigeria.

“As a consequence of this, 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. 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.”

The position of the AGF was, however, greeted with outrage and some of the governors have said there is no going back on Amotekun with the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, (SAN) describing Malami’s position as an expression of his own opinion.

Akeredolu said laws were not made in Malami’s office and, as such he could not declare the outfit illegal. The governor said he and his colleagues would meet and react appropriately. The Ogun State governor also said there was no going back on Amotekun.

In a swift response, Soyinka said it was too late to stop Amotekun. He said those who were sleeping when the people were being killed should go back to sleep and leave Amotekun to operate.

Reacting to the current development, the Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH said he was surprised that the presidency had not come out to counter Malami’s position, saying declaring Amotekun illegal might have the tacit approval of the President.

The YCE leader said, “He (Malami) might be voicing the position of the Federal Government and that, to me, is an aberration. We must recall that the President and governors of the federating units are coordinate in any federation. The President was elected to execute matters under the exclusive legislative list while the governors are elected to execute matters on the residual and concurrent legislative list. So , they are coordinate, it is not a headmaster-schoolboy relationship.

“I think the attorney general is yet to outgrow the military mentality in a dictatorship. My advice to the South-West governors is to remain steadfast in what they have done. What they have done is consistent with Section 14 b of the Nigerian Constitution which says the primary focus of any government is the security of the people as well as their welfare. Therefore, they must not be moved because they are doing the right thing. If Malami believes they are wrong, he should challenge them in court.”

Olajide urged the South-West governors to go ahead and get legislative backing for the outfit in their respective states and make sure that they supervise officers of the outfit very well to prevent misuse of power when they eventually start the operation.

He urged the people of the region to stand firmly behind their governors, saying security was very important and should not be left to police alone.

The leader of Afenifere Ilosiwaju Yoruba, Pa Ayo Fasanmi, also said the governors should get the appropriate law to back the activities of Amotekun if it was necessary.

He said he believed Buhari was not consulted before Malami issued the statement that declared the security outfit illegal.

Fasanmi, a Second Republic senator, also urged the governors to go ahead with the security outfit.

He said, “If any state or a group of states decides to do anything to ensure the security of lives and properties of their people, I don’t see anything wrong in this. I am shocked by this. Beyond politics, security is very essential. I don’t think President Buhari’s approval was sought before Malami issued that statement, I’m not sure Buhari would approve that if he saw it.

“The governors should go ahead. They are very much on course. If the governors decide to set up an outfit that will protect their people, there is nothing wrong with that.”

The Group Managing Director, Oodua Group Investment Company Limited, Mr Adewale Raji, said Operation Amotekun was deeply rooted in community policing and should be institutionalised.

Raji said since the concept of community policing was an effective way to involve the people in ensuring the security of their areas, Amotekun should be accepted and institutionalised.

He said, “Amotekun has become the latest news item being treated in the usual Nigerian manner- immersion in emotions. As a nation, we like self-denial and full of being not pragmatic. What else can we add to this conversation other than we should be pragmatic to deliver solutions to problems starring at us that existing security apparatus has failed to resolve?

Amotekun is rooted in community policing and that is why the Nigerian state needs to work out modalities for it to complement the Nigeria Police and get it institutionalised.”

The Leader of Yoruba World Congress, Prof Banji Akintoye, said the region would challenge Malami’s position in court.

Akintoye said, “Amotekun is no longer the affairs of the governors alone, it has become a property of the Yoruba people.

“We Yoruba people will respond to this. The position of scores of lawyers I have spoken to about this is that the action of the Federal Government itself is illegal.

“All the lawyers said the action of the Federal Government was illegal and that the Yoruba people should pursue it in court. We will wait for our lawyers to advise us on how to pursue it legally.”

Some of the youth who reacted angrily to Malami’s declaration accused Buhari of using Malami to test the waters. They said if Buhari was not in support of what the AGF said, the presidency would have dissociated the President from that position.

They argued that it was a double standard to declare Amotekun illegal while accommodating Hisbah, the enforcement arm of sharia.

Some of the youth said rather than support the South-West governors for the proper takeoff of Amotekun, the government, whose security agencies had failed to protect the people, was still the one opposing the initiative meant to tackle insecurity.

The South-West governors have said they will meet Buhari over the matter. There are indications that they may go to court if all entreaties fail.

Some groups including Miyetti Allah Cattle Breaders Association have said Amotekun may deny the South-West the opportunity to produce the president in 2023 as the North may be uncomfortable to relinquish power to the region.

This is because the move is seen as a prelude to restructuring the country amid other plans.

The coming weeks will, however, tell if the governors will be cowed due to party affiliation or allow the safety of their people to override their political ambition. For now, they seem to agree with the electorate that Amotekun has come to stay. But time will tell if the governors will continue to stay strong and together in their determination to save their people from the marauders.

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