In 2023, it’ll be natural order for power to come down South – Oshun
Wale Oshun is the national chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG). He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on the new security outfit codenamed ‘Operation Amotekun’ put in place by Southwest governors to address rising insurgencies in the region and the controversies trailing it.
• Buhari Should See Amotekun As Complementary To Police
Has Federal Government the constitutional right to declare Operation Amotekun illegal?
I have already spoken about Nigeria and the Nigerian Constitution. It is meant to be a federal constitution, and our founding fathers were very clear, when they wrote the original Constitution. In all the constitutional conferences held by our founding fathers, it was clear that they desired a federal constitution for a country that was amalgamated and that was the word: “a country that was joined together just barely a century ago. A country that comprises various nationalities that had developed their own nation, background and values over time.”
These are nationalities that had established empires of their own, who were set in their own mode of administration. In the west, we had the Yoruba kingdoms. The Hausa kingdoms and the Bornu empires were all set in their various ways. For instance, the Oyo Empire had its own administrative norms. But all these were brought together by fiat. In that case, the only mode of government that can survive without crisis is a true federal constitution, where the people voluntarily give up certain powers, while retaining some other powers.
So, even when you talk of devolution, you are degrading the whole system. That is the kind of setting we had. And the military, which set out to unify us, knew very well it was not going to work. And this is why it was only Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s regime that recorded some success, because it was a little pragmatic, as politicians had some roles to play under him. The civil service was strong under him. Any other military government after Gowon was entirely unitary and had no respect for who we were. What we are having under the incumbent government is a carryover from that.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking today about a central government saying a federating unit is carrying out an illegal function. By the way, what is illegal in providing security for your people? We are talking of security that the Federal Government has failed to provide. The death of Pa Reuben Fasoranti’s daughter, Mrs. Titi Olakunrin, brought that fact to the limelight. They say when beggars die; there are no comments. Prior to that time, many Yoruba people had lost their lives in security related breaches.
As a Yoruba man, and even as a Nigerian, I would have been surprised that the governors we elected could not provide security in my domain. Forget about what the central security would provide. We have been subjected to one central police since the 1966 military coup, but evidences are there that this is not enough. Till today, many murder cases remain unresolved. For instance, Harry Marshal, Funsho Williams, Bola Ige and Alfred Rewane, among others, were all murdered and nothing has happened. These are not ordinary personalities.
Elsewhere, you will find an effective system solving murder cases, crimes and robberies. Yes, we must give kudos to our security personnel for what they have been able to do. We cannot say they have done nothing, considering the limited funding, training and political exposure. To that extent, we can say they are doing their best, but that is not just enough for all the parts of the country. Certainly, their best is not enough for the Western Region and the Yoruba-speaking nation.
Amotekun coming on board is a deliberate thing. It is to supplement whatever the Police is doing and not to compete with any federal security force. I am sure the governors who conceived Amotekun are desirous of ensuring there is security in their domains, and it must have been because their people had been on their necks. I would like to see a governor that goes about protected by the police and then have members of his family slain unceremoniously, simply because he cannot provide protection. Amotekun came in at the right time to supplement and to complement whatever security apparatus there is in the country.
Don’t you think the governors were too much in haste to launch Amotekun without putting necessary legal backings in place?
They were not in a hurry. We are talking about crimes and insecurity here. I say this in all honesty that for three to four months in 2019, if you wanted to travel from Lagos to Ibadan, your family or friends would be asking if you checked the time and in whose company you were going, because nobody was sure of the security situation.
We were to travel to Ekiti sometime last year. We got to Ibadan around 3pm, and somebody called us from Ekiti asking if it was not too late to start the journey to Ekiti. The person was even warning us not to go through Iwalaja. He advised that we should go through Ife. No economy will grow under that type of tension, and the people cannot have a good or decent life under such situation. So, the governors needed not wait for anybody. In fact, Amotekun had been too late in coming.
Sharia was introduced during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. During his first term, Hisbah police or corps enforcement was established immediately and nobody, not even Obasanjo told them they had no power to do so, simply because they know they are in a federation. They also understood that if they would implement Sharia, that kind of corps was needed. Now, we are in a situation, where people are being killed and kidnapped on the roads and in their homes. It would be an irresponsible governor that would keep quiet and not attempt to do something.
But former military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida said Amotekun might not be viable, due to funding, as the governors behind it are finding it difficult to pay workers’ salary…
As we speak, I know that many states are spending huge amount of resources to fund the Police. This is verifiable. For instance, Lagos State is spending huge amount yearly to equip the Nigeria Police, and I know that there are other states in the Southwest that are doing so. They are equipping the police with operational materials. There was a time Lagos State handed over more than 200 vehicles to the Police. So, they might as well concentrate on equipping a small security system.
When you talk of policing, it is not just carrying guns everywhere. Yes, that is important, but the real thing is information management. All over the world, you see a policeman maybe with just handcuffs attached to his trouser and no more. But the fact that they are on the road means a lot to crime management. I’m not sure Babangida is in the position to advise. We don’t need his advice at this moment, because part of the problems we are battling today is caused by military governments, of which he ruled this country for about nine years.
We’ve had a total of 30 years of military rule and 30 years of civilian rule, and Babangida led this country for eight years without leaving any legacy on security or whatever.
Some have said the FG declaring Amotekun illegal is tantamount to declaring the governors themselves illegal, going by the Constitution…
If the Federal Government is not okay with Amotekun, it should go to court. It should not be our governors that go to court. Constitutionally, let the Supreme Court define what Federal Government is meant to be. It is meant to be one in which the federating units deliberately choose what power to give to the Federal Government. So, we can then choose. Before now, other regions were choosing what to do. When the Northeast had problem with insurgency, it chose to establish the Joint Task Force (JTF) and we have seen the JTF personnel carrying guns, but nobody has even provided Amotekun officers with guns.
The Police, SSS and the Nigerian military are in JTF, in spite of the prolonged war. There is a kind of stability in that region because of JTF’s serious intervention. Nobody condemned JTF, but it doesn’t have two heads, just like Hisbah Corps. These institutions were established for specific needs. In the Southwest, we also have the need to protect our people and the governors should be able to come out and explain this in a federation.
The governors don’t have to wait because they are acting within their rights, and if anybody is aggrieved, such a parson should go to the Supreme Court and then define to the apex court what a federation is meant to be. We are not living under force of arms. Our forefathers spoke about a federation, when they came together, and that is what we want to see.
Many people have suggested that the governors should immediately sponsor a bill to their various Houses of Assembly to be passed into law on Amotekun…
The important thing in all of this is that we are talking of security breaches and lapses, and the governors have the responsibilities for security in their areas. If for instance, the Commissioners of police were directly responsible to the governors, perhaps the management would have been different, but they are not. You say you are the governor in a state and you are responsible for security, but all the people in charge of security report to another centre, another institution outside your control. What our governors have done is within their administrative competence.
Is Amotekun an alternative to the state police that Nigerians have been agitating for?
Nobody has called it a state police. What we have said is that we are having a security outfit designed to ensure effective security in our area and which will supplement whatever security efforts the central government is making. You will find this type of arrangement all over the world. We have the FBI, the state police and community policing. Even U.K that is operating a unitary government has various layers of police, controlled by the various political institutions. It is not just one national police.
One of the fears of the Federal Government is that other regions may emulate Southwest by creating separate security outfits, which might later threaten the country’s unity…
But if Nigeria’s unity is not threatened by creating JTF, which has in fact strengthened security in the Northeast, and Nigeria can be more at peace because of JTF’s activities, what is wrong in creating a regional outfit? What has that got to do with threatening Nigeria’s unity?
The important thing is to have good governance, which is the only thing that can ensure unity. Unity is not something you can enforce. I would want to see a Nigeria that remains united because of the size of the market, which puts us in very good place in the world. Our diversity can become strength. But that can only happen, if at each centre, there is security, peace and adequate food for all. That is all we expect the governors to do— to provide security for the people and good governance. And now we are having our own in the Southwest and somebody is saying it is illegal. Is it because the Southwest is coming together to look at the issue of security as a zone? It will be cheaper if we come together. What are they telling us?
Shouldn’t all socio-cultural bodies in the Southwest rally round the governors, in case Federal Government decides to witch-hunt or threaten them?
I may not even limit my response to socio-cultural organisations but to all resident in Yoruba land, including non-Yoruba people. I said this because you cannot provide security for one and leave the other. All Nigerians and foreigners living in the region would benefit from Amotekun. It is not just about Yoruba alone. The people should be the ones to give support to the governors, to say ‘you are on the right path with Amotekun.’ In any case, the governors know this is what their people want, and if for any reason, they jettison it; it would definitely have political implications for them. If a governor back-pedals now, he knows it will have significant political implications for him in future.
But some governors developed cold feet and were absent when Amotekun was launched…
I would not say that, because we have a situation in which day-to-day burden of governance is heavy, but once all the paraphernalia required were there it is okay. In one state, a deputy governor represented his boss and in others, some officials stood in for their governors with all the vehicles that have been bought for the purpose. If they were not interested, they wouldn’t have participated and also sent people to represent them. You can see that all the six governors were together and they know that, irrespective of their political leanings, Amotekun is what the Southwest people want.
I doubt if the Federal Government would tamper with Amotekun, unless you are saying the FG is happy that our people are being killed. I don’t think anybody will want that. The President is for everybody, but if your actions or body language is perceived to be creating a kind of dereliction, particularly in security matters, then you are sending another message across. Let’s leave that at the realm of speculations.
When we were suffering on account of insecurity, we were making so much noise. Amotekun took a lot of convincing and consultations in all the local governments areas and villages and all that before it was established. A lot of security breaches have been stopped, simply because even the traditional institutions have started showing greater interest in the security of their areas. All that came to pass through the governors’ efforts. So, if anybody now wakes up to say you cannot do this by force, then that institution is predisposing Yoruba people to real danger.
What does Operation Amotekun mean to the integrity and image of Buhari’s administration?
I was actually thinking government would take Amotekun as something complementary to the central security efforts, because it is when there is peace in all parts of the country that the government can look forward to growth and economic prosperity. That is what I think President Muhammadu Buhari would want to address in his second term. We want to see him as the person that enables our economy to grow and diversify, so that there will be employment. But that can only happen when there is peace in every part of the country. It is only when we have peace that economic programmes can be implemented.
Many things need to be done to move the country forward. And these are the things Buhari should focus on and not confronting state governors that want to provide security for their people. He should tell his aides who want him to confront the governors to be quiet, because his own success would be determined by how much the governors can achieve in their respective areas.
Less than nine months into Buhari’s second term, activities towards 2023 presidential election seem to have started right within the ruling party…
That is absurd. I am speaking as an individual. A four-year term has just started, and people are already doing all that. From past experience, it is clear we have spent a lot of time playing politics, rather than governing and steering the country along the right path. It is too early to start talking of 2023. Governance is a serious business, where policies are made on almost daily basis. Economic, infrastructural growth and others should be the things occupying the minds of everybody.
Who is sure of being alive in December 2020, talk less of 2023?
Anybody talking of 2023 now needs to have his/her head examined, because you are not even sure you will make it till 2023. So, why play politics now, when we should all focus on good governance. Amotekun is part of good governance.
Are you saying it is too early to start looking for a good successor to Buhari?
People usually have different views on certain matters, but it may be difficult to judge a government midway. I would rather wait till say 2022 ending before I can properly assess this government’s performance. The important thing is that a lot can still be done between now and then. We need to look at many parameters, such as the economic indices, employment rate and security and whether the average Nigerian has enough to eat, among others. What is the poverty index rate? Those are the issues we should be looking at now.
But there is issue of mistrust, that the North may not want a Southerner to succeed Buhari, which is already creating much tension…
But even that is still speculation, because it is too early. The fact that I am speaking now does not mean I am talking for the entire Yoruba race. For instance, whenever the likes of Ango Abdullahi or Tanko Yakassai speak, I take it that they are talking for themselves and not for the entire North. We’ve interacted with them, and their views may not be more than personal opinion. And even if Northerners want to retain power forever, at some point, they will have a rethink since we are all Nigerians, and we all have shares and roles to play in it.
But if per adventure the North decides to retain power in 2023, what will the South, especially the Yoruba do?
It is not just the question of Yoruba people. All along, the situation had been, even if it is unwritten in our Constitution, that there is an understanding that rulership will go round. The moment the Constitution talks of federal character with respect to appointments, even if it is silent in respect of political office, you can see that as much as possible, people tend to look at it and say let it go round.
When Obasanjo was thinking of a third term, Nigerians, including Yoruba people, opposed the bid. He was reminded that power has to return to the North and he obliged. But for the passing away of Yar’Adua, the North would probably have had a straight tenure of eight years. But then, that gave the minority the opportunity to have their share of power in the person of former President Jonathan. He spent six years and power returned to the North. And now that Buhari will complete his eight years in 2023, the pendulum will swing to the South. That is the natural order of doing things, as nobody is a slave in the country.
How then do you interpret the way this administration has been removing Southerners from key offices and replacing them with Northerners?
When Jonathan was in office, almost all the major economic players came from the Southeast. If we’ve had a President that is fair minded in terms of appointments and deployment, that is the only legacy Obasanjo can point at. Some of his economic technocrats were from the Southeast and the military technocrats were from the North. Even the Yoruba were short-changed under him, but we couldn’t complain. At least, he tried to create a balance on the issue of appointments.
Buhari is about military because Northerners understand power more than Southerners, and they know what to do to hold on to power more than the South. The incumbent President is laying emphasis on security appointments favouring the North, but we hope as the evolution goes on, we would have a President that will be able to distribute all appointments evenly.
Do you see the APC surviving beyond 2023?
APC will survive. I can see a situation where there would be a lot of consultations and coming together, which will even start this year, because once your survival is threatened, you have to look inwards, and I am sure we will do that. The party will be able to reinvigorate itself. I want to believe that at the onset, those who formed APC came together because they felt Nigeria was going into ruins. This is a trial period for us, and you may likely see people coming together again, if the ongoing crises are going to affect our chances.