Police, Oduduwa nation activists and weapons stockpiling
Allegations by the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba a few days ago (February 14, 2023) that Oduduwa nation agitators were amassing or planning to amass weapons with a view to disrupting the elections are very serious and should not be taken lightly. Coming from such high authority, the allegations are surprising, given that the group had always canvassed peaceful means to achieve their objective of restructuring the country or having a nation separate from Nigeria, on the ground that the Yorubas are not treated fairly by some other co-nationalities in the country.
Sadly, the police and some other law enforcement agencies in the country do not have a wholesome record of treating agitators for nationalities fairly, going by their records against groups such as Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Igboho, who led a group seeking separation from Nigeria.
While addressing Commissioners of Police (CPs) and Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs) regarding the 2023 elections, Baba reportedly said: “Other major crimes are the growing activities of the Oduduwa Nation agitators, who from intelligence sources, have been attempting to amass weapons and mobilise other resources towards disrupting the peace, security and electoral process in the Southwest.’’
These are weighty allegations coming from high quarters in the intelligence and operational echelons of Nigeria’s security architecture and hence cannot be glossed over. But given the penchant of security agencies in the recent past to come down heavily on peaceful agitators for a separate nation, compared with a benign treatment of terrorists and kidnappers through rehabilitation and reintegration, the IGP’s statement needs to be substantiated, so that it does not become, again, a case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
The first impression created by the IGP is to the effect that government is seeking ways to clamp down on these agitators. This impression is supported by recent experiences including the night raid on the residence of Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Ighoho, in 2021. The raid was violently carried out by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) after which they accused the group of arms stock piling, a claim vehemently denied by Igboho through his lawyers. In that ugly incident, at least, two people were killed and property worth millions destroyed. Practically every person arrested at Igboho’s residence and subsequently detained in Abuja were later released. It is not on record that any of them is being prosecuted for any illegality, thus casting doubt on the veracity of DSS’ allegations.
The raid was condemned by many, including legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola, who described it as a breach of the fundamental rights of Adeyemo to gather peacefully. Babalola said: “Undoubtedly, the manner with which the joint security operatives carried out the raids on Sunday Igboho’s residence calls to question its legality. Without prejudice to the fact that I do not endorse agitation for the breakup of Nigeria, the fact remains that Sunday Igboho is a citizen of Nigeria and therefore enjoys certain fundamental human rights enshrined in our constitution.”
Similar raids were carried out earlier on the residence of Nnamdi Kanu, an agitator for Biafran Nation. It is curious that these agitators who carry out their activities through rallies, letters to institutions and who openly canvass their perspectives are treated worse than killer herdsmen, kidnappers and insurgents by this administration.
These killer herdsmen and hardened terrorists are most times not prosecuted but rather ‘rehabilitated’ and released to their community after committing heinous crimes, including murder, rape, abductions and attempts to forcefully take over Nigeria’s territory. Indeed, bandits reportedly controlled or are controlling some portions of the north and collecting taxes without government clamping down hard on them. It is from the above antecedents that doubts can arise as to the real reasons behind the police alarm.
While we acknowledge the preparation by the police to ensure hitch-free elections and while the public does not have the intelligence machinery of the police, the alarm by the IGP is worrying given that the Yoruba Nation campaigners have in the past year or two been going about their campaigns peacefully and openly. They issue public statements and write open letters to relevant international agencies intimating them of their desire. Their major actors and leaders are well known. It is therefore, alarming that this same group is now being accused of military adventurism.
What the police ought to do, if indeed there is any substance to their claim, is to use the intelligence at their disposal to trace and arrest persons amassing weapons to disrupt elections; and to seize the weapons and further charge them to court for appropriate offences. It is no use calling a dog a bad name for the purpose of hanging it.
It is equally important that all agitators go about their quest peacefully and within the boundaries of law and order. They should rein in extremists and overzealous followers within their ranks to avoid being given negative label. Heightened vigilance is also needed to avoid infiltration from opposition forces bent on discrediting their legitimate agitations. The right to freedom of expression and self-determination is guaranteed by international law and convention but those rights must be exercised with caution and without abridging the rights of others to disagree. Leaders of Oduduwa nation activists should publicly state their position on the allegation by the IGP. Most importantly, constituted authorities should be respected while exercising the right to disagree with policies.
For the authorities, media trials must be eschewed. Government agencies should do thorough investigations and come to the public with facts after apprehending offenders. The public only wants to see the outcome of their intelligence operations that will guarantee the peace, safety and security they crave for. They must not do their duties in a way that can be perceived as red herring.