Regional integration: Southwest on the March with operation Amotekun
Southwest Nigeria is on the march again. Like in the days of the defunct Western Region when they scored many firsts under the visionary leadership of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, last Thursday’s inauguration of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) code-named Operation Amotekun clearly projects the zone as one that is never bereft of initiatives to tackle existing challenges and lay a solid foundation for a prosperous future.During Awolowo’s reign, between 1954 and 1959, the Western region established the first television station in Africa – the Western Nigeria Television (WNT); first stadium – Liberty Stadium, Ibadan; and Cocoa House, one of the tallest buildings in the African continent then.
The region’s introduction of free primary education in 1955 was also the first in the country; and as it turned, it became the catalyst that revolutionalised education in the region. Other parts of the country soon followed suit by either copying the region verbatim or coming up with their own suiting models.
Although the region has been split into six states, now grouped into the Southwest zone, its present leaders have not lost sight of the need to retain its sublime and torch-bearing status. Thus, in response to the problems of insecurity that ravaged the region lately, the governors of the six states that make up the zone, comprising Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State; Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State; Seyi Makinde of Oyo State; Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, came up with Operation Amotekun.
The outfit will be funded by all the six states. For a start, each of the states contributed 20 patrol vehicles, with Oyo State donating extra 13, all fitted with communication gadgets to cover the region under a central command. The personnel would be drawn from local hunters, vigilantes and designated members of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). The outfit is expected to work in close collaboration with the police and other security agencies to drastically curb incidences of kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry and other crimes in the zone.
“Our primary responsibility to provide security and welfare of the citizenry led to this. Though criminal activities were all over the country then, our people in the Southwest, a relatively peaceful zone, became agitated over the increasing insecurity. I am pleased that Amotekun, whose idea has come, has been endorsed by the police in the country. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) has announced its endorsement.
“Amotekun is nothing but a community policing response to the yearning of our people. It will fill the void pending the time the community policing structure being planned by the police will be ready. It is a confidence-building strategy for our people in the Southwest. When elements that will work in a joint taskforce are ready, they will do it with the knowledge of the language and culture and terrain of the places where they will work,” explained Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.
Already, there are indications that other zones in the country might toe the Southwest track. This was evident in the reactions that trailed the inauguration of the outfit, which took place in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in its reaction through the Deputy Publicity Secretary, Chief Chuks Ibegbu, urged Southeast governors to take a cue from their Southwest counterparts by also coming up with a similar structure. Ibegbu challenged the governors to give force to the anti-grazing bills they enacted and mobilise resources for the forest guard initiative they agreed upon last year.
“What the southwest governors have done is what you have where the Federal Government has failed in its responsibilities. When you ethnicise and nepotise the security architecture in the country, and instead of going for those with capacity and capability, you are looking at other variables, then this is the kind of thing you are inviting.
“People are now resorting to self-help. It is a big indictment of the Federal Government. I commend the governors for coming together to do this. It is an anomaly because it is an invitation to self-help. It is the duty of the Federal Government to protect the life and property of every Nigerian,” he said.
Also, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, who is the Chairman of the Northwest Governors’ Forum, was reported to have said the Northwest would consider copying the model to secure their zone. The zone is also seriously contending with crimes such as kidnapping, cattle rustling, banditry and other crimes.
“We have a lot to learn from the Southwest. I will call a meeting of the states affected by insecurity to see what they are doing and how we can borrow from them,” he said.
It is very likely that leaders from other zones might consider the Southwest model and possibly push for its adoption in the weeks and months ahead. To succeed, however, they may have to adopt a methodical approach like the Southwest. The Southwest integration project effectively took off fully in 2013, when the six governors of the region put partisan politics and other considerations aside and established the Development Agenda for West Nigeria (DAWN). Popularly known as DAWN Commission, it is saddled with the responsibility of “enacting a focused development paradigm for mobilising the collective strengths, assets and capabilities lying within the states of Southwest Nigeria, towards achieving sustainable socio-economic growth and development that would result in high standard of living and improved well-being for the people of the region.”
Headed by a Director-General surrounded by professionals in many fields as members of staff, the vision of the Commission is “for the Southwest region of Nigeria to become the preferred place for people to visit, live, work and invest” while its mission is “to engender regional co-operation and integration as a catalyst for development and facilitate sustainable working relationship among different governance stakeholders.”
Towards the realisation of its vision and mission, DAWN has developed a roadmap and organises meetings and workshops for the governors periodically where serious integration issues are discussed. It was in one of such meetings at Ibadan in July last year that the idea of Operation Amotekun cropped up. To perfect it, the governors mandated DAWN Commission to do the technical works that culminated in last Thursday’s launch of the outfit.
Presently, no other zone in the country has a commission in the mould of DAWN and where there is a semblance of such like the South East Region Economic Corporation (SEREC), the political will to enable it function properly is lacking. SEREC has organised the yearly South East Economic Summit (SEES) since 2016 and come up with far reaching resolutions on infrastructure, security, health and agriculture, among others, that are gathering dust in the archives while the governors and other political leaders of the zone look the other way.
So, in spite of the misgivings in some quarters about Southwest’s Operation Amotekun, leaders of the zone and the faculties at DAWN deserve a pat on the back. What remains to be seen, however, is what they would make of it, whether they would turn the fears of the antagonists into reality or establish that the country has come of age to create the much-touted state police.
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