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Amotekun: Chipping away at the granite of unreason

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Logistics for the security outfit


It would have been a huge surprise if the launch of the South-West security outfit, Amotekun, had failed to generate a swirling dust of blinding controversy. The attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), threw his weight against it and heightened the controversy by magisterially declaring it illegal and unconstitutional.

His statement pitted him against Gani Adams, the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba, whose response to the minister amounts to tutoring the senior lawyer on the law. He pointed out that Malami lacks the power to declare Amotekun illegal and unconstitutional because that pronouncement is in the province of the courts to which the minister ought to take his case. I cannot find many people who would disagree with that. This is a delicate matter that cannot be handled in a manner of peremptory dictatorship from the federal authorities.

I am sure that senior lawyers and laymen alike are poised on both sides of the argument between the two extremes canvassed by the two men. We should expect some serious verbal pyrotechnics in the days and weeks ahead. After all, the first month of the new year is a dull month with news being a scarce commodity. I am sure the news media would welcome the verbal jousting to enliven the drab new year – news wise.

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In the minister’s statement issued by his media adviser, Umar Jibrila Gwandu, he said that the federal government is solely responsible for “matters relating to the peace, order and good government of the federation and in particular, the defence of the country.” That responsibility is enshrined in the exclusive legislative list in the constitution. It therefore follows, according to the AGF, that “no other authority at the state level, whether the executive or the legislature has the legal authority over defence.”

Malami appears to be worried that the South-West governors intend to usurp the constitutional right of the federal government to exclusively do what the constitution has exclusively empowered it to do. I have read the statements relating to the creation of the outfit before and since its launch and found nothing in them to indicate that the idea is for the South-West state governors to contest that right. I thought this was not about defence in the context in which the word is used in the constitution. I thought it was about the constitutional duty of the three tiers of government to make us safe and secure wherever we are in the country. I thought it was about the governors owning the security of their states and the people living therein – as part of their constitutional duty.

Security of lives and property is the number one constitutional duty imposed on the federal, state and local governments. The constitution does not spell out the level of responsibility to be exercised in this regard by each tier of government. Whatever each level does in making us safe and secure complements what the other levels do. The issue here, really, is the wisdom or lack thereof, of continuing to trust the security of the country entirely to the federal government and its single federal police force. Security is a local matter. And that is why state police makes the case for itself.

This has been a burning issue in the land for quite some time now. Attempts to close that case have always failed because however much we may choose to pretend to the contrary, it is clear, and abundantly so, that the military idea that a single federal police force was enough to police the country and keep us safe is fiction. It is no longer sustainable, given the depth to which security has sunk in the land. Still, we refuse to initiate a national discourse on what should be done and how it should be done to make our country a well-policed state. If the single police force served our needs in the past, it no longer does.

The right of the South-West governors not to rely entirely on the single federal police force any more to do what the constitution has obliged them to do is thus being exercised in Amotekun. The state of insecurity is getting progressively worse throughout the land. No one can deny this without making a fool of himself. The state governors are constitutionally recognised as the chief security officers of their various states. Should they fold their arms in the face of this worsening situation? I do not think so.

Amotekun is part of the self-help to which some of the state governments have resorted since our return to civil rule. In the early years of the third republic, we had OPC in the South-West, the Bakassi Boys in Abia, Anambra and other parts of the South-East and the various militant groups in the South-South. Lagos State has had the Lagos State Neighbourhood Security Corps for a few years now. The South-East states call their own security outfit forest guards. Their duty is not to guard forests but to complement the single federal police force to make us secure in our land, the only land we have to which we are committed to salvaging.

Amotekun has taken such self-help outfits inevitably to the next and higher level. It is a fact hidden in plain sight that if the police were able to cope with the security situation, we would not have the military out everywhere doing what the civil force is to supposed to do.

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I admit that the resort to these self-help measures by the states could become unwieldy and probably defeat their own purpose. But it is an option forced on them. The challenge is to manage them properly such that they achieve the primary objectives of the founding fathers. It should be possible for the AGF to explore ways and means of co-operating with the states to ensure that their security outfits do not work at cross purposes with the federal authorities.

I welcome this initiative by the South-West state governors. It has two major attractions for me. One, it confronts the unworkability of the current security set up in the country and should force the federal and state governments to the table to collectively tackle the security challenges and give us back our country. Two, the states can properly own their security within the larger context of national security and without prejudice to the responsibilities imposed on the federal government in the exclusive legislative list. It is right and proper to task the state governors with their internal security. A state governor should be the chief security officer of his state in law and in fact.

The self-help state security outfits may be a small step but they are vital in the necessary process of limiting the exclusive legislative list. Since the advent of military rule, the federal government has grabbed more and more powers and effectively disempowered the states. Our centralised federalism or what my good friend, Professor Isawa Elaigwu, aptly described as military federalism, is anathema to the letter and the spirit of federalism. I have said this times without number but it bears repeating. It fosters total dependence of the states on the federal government. It makes the federal more powerful and overbearing than it ought to be in a federal system. It is time we dismantled it to free out federal system from the military command structure imposed on it by the military.

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