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Running round in circles over operation Amotekun

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Southwest governors at the launch of Amotekun


The absence of the Nigerian Army and The Nigeria Police at the official launch of Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) also known as Operation Amotekun had almost confirmed the rumours that the cabal at the presidency was not favourably disposed to the setting up of the regional security outfit. But allowing the take-off in an elaborate ceremony where the six Southwest governors dispelled the insinuations of setting up a regional army to disunite the country gave a temporary respite, but it wasn’t yet uhuru.

Efforts to make some government officials to respond to The Guardian’s inquires on why the army and the police boycotted the event were rebuffed and similar enquires from concerned security operatives did not produce any result. Oyo State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Olugbenga Fadeyi, who spoke to The Guardian over the telephone said, “I cannot comment on that matter now. If I have any information, I will call you”.When asked if the organisers did not invite the command, he replied, “Please I cannot say anything on this matter now and that is the truth”.

The spokesperson of the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army, Ibadan, Col. Hassan Mohammed, said he was on transit when he was called and promised to get back. But he never did.The Southwest Governors, namely Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Engr Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Prince Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Chief Adegboyega Oyetola (Osun) and Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu (Lagos) in June last year met in Ibadan and decided to put aside their political differences to curb rising insecurity in the region.

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That the governors went though difficult moments in order to convince some powerful elements in the presidency about the intention of the security outfit was not in doubt. In fact, less than 24 hours to its inauguration, it was rumoured that the event had been cancelled. Perhaps, this was what prevented Lagos and Ogun States’ contingents from arriving in Ibadan on Wednesday like their counterparts from other states. Indeed, the governors of both states could not physically make the event. While Ogun State’s Deputy Governor, Mrs. Noimot Salako Oyedele, arrived shortly after the event, Lagos State Government was not physically represented at the launch.

The last minute meeting between the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and Chairman of the Governors Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Fayemi, paved way for the launch of the security outfit.Although details of what the police boss and Fayemi discussed were not made public, but the atmosphere at the launch which ought to start by 9.00am but could not commence until 12noon was another indication that the last had not been heard about the acceptance of Operation Amotekun by the presidency. However, a few hours after the inauguration, the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) set agenda for what was to come from the presidency by describing Amotekun as “illegal” outfit.

NYSN president, Isa Abubakar, said, “Amotekun in the Southwest is the Odua Peoples Congress’s (OPC) military wing in disguise in much the same league with the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) terrorist organisation. The Southwest governors must desist from backing nefarious groups such as this one.

“Amotekun is a threat to peace and national security and an attempt to jeopardise Nigeria’s sovereignty. The Amotekun group is not different from Boko Haram and the IPOB movements.”He then called on The Nigeria Police, Department of State Security and the military not to take this lightly with the governors of Southwest. According to Abubakar, the national security adviser should promptly take steps that would avert the looming threat to Nigeria’s national security that is about to be created by governors of Southwest, OPC, and others.

Although the Middle Belt Forum and various Southeast and South-South groups did not only drum support for Operation Amotekun, but disagreed with the northern youths’ call for scrapping of the new security outfit. While the controversy rages on, the IG warned the operatives of the Amotekun against carrying illegal arms, which the Director of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), Mr. Seye Oluleye, quickly responded by saying that the governors who put the security outfit together know what to do for a security outfit meant for intelligence gathering.

But the mindset of the presidency toward the outfit was to come from the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, which reads: “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, including the Police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the defence of Nigeria.

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“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. This is sanctioned by the provision of Item 45 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) authorising the police and other Federal Government’s security services established by law to maintain law and order.

“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.“Matters relating to the peace, order and good government of the federation and in particular, the defence of the country, are enshrined in the Exclusive Legislative List. The Second Schedule in Item 17 deals with defence. This is a matter that is within the exclusive operational competence of the Federal Government of Nigeria. No other authority at the state level, whether the executive or legislature, has the legal authority over defence.”

It added that had the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice been “consulted on the matter”, it would have “offered proper information and guidance” to “ensure that Nigeria’s defence and corporate entity are preserved at all times.”But while reacting to this position that is reflective of government’s mind, Aare Afe Babalola faulted Malami’s pronouncement, saying the setting up of the security outfit “is absolutely constitutional and legal.

The Bamofin of Yoruba land in a statement titled: “No law prohibits the establishment of Amotekun,” noting that it is only the court that could invalidate the regional security outfit, not a pronouncement by Malami.The founder of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Ado Ekiti, continued, “The issue of Amotekun is an issue of Public Safety and Protection of property. There is no law in Nigeria, which prevents citizens from being able to secure their lives and properties. Indeed, without protecting the right to life and property, no other right can be exercised as one has to be alive to enforce other rights as guaranteed in the constitution.

“The Nigeria Police does not enjoy exclusive jurisdiction when it comes to the protection of lives and property. As a matter of fact, in many parts of Nigeria, various outfits such as Civilian JTF, Hisbah Police, Vigilantes have been performing the duty of protecting lives and properties. There is nowhere in the Police Act where a citizen is prohibited from being vigilant to protect his life or property either personally or together with other citizens.”

Reminding Malami the daily roles Nigerians play in providing for their safety, Afe Babalola said, “Citizens of Nigeria have always enjoyed a right to effect what is known as a citizens arrest where any person is found to have committed an offence before handover to the police for prosecution. In addition, private citizens also may, in certain circumstances, prosecute persons who have committed crimes.

“Thus in Part V of the Criminal Code Act S.275 which provides as follow: ‘it is lawful for any person who witnesses a breach of the peace to interfere to prevent the continuance or renewal of it, and to use such force as is reasonably necessary for such prevention and is reasonably proportioned to the danger to be apprehended from such continuance or renewal, and to detain any person who is committing or who is about to join in or to renew the breach of the peace for such time as may be reasonably necessary in order to give him into the custody of a peace officer or police officer…’

“A communal reading of sections S.272/273 Criminal Code will reveal that: a person may arrest a person who has committed an offence and prevent his escape. Neither the constitution in Sections 214-216 nor the Police Act in Section 10 gives the Police an exclusive duty to secure lives and properties.

“All the above support the establishment of the Amotekun, which has been established to give an official teeth to the provision of the Criminal Code which allows private citizens to arrest and detain offenders and bandits and to hand them over to the police.“Given the provisions of the Criminal Code in Sections 272-275, the right of citizens to arrest any person for committing an offence is legal and may be exercised individually or communally.

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“In any event, the regional community security outfit known as Amotekun cannot be set aside by oral pronouncement by the attorneygeneral or any other body. Only the court of law can declare the establishment illegal.”Also speaking in the same vein, another legal luminary, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde said Malami does not have the powers of the court to declare illegal the inauguration of Operation Amotekun. He advised the AGF to go to court if he felt strongly about the security outfit.

Ayorinde told The Guardian, “I see controversy about this matter. Do I need court pronouncement to engage private security guards, provide them with vehicles and uniforms? There is nothing strange in what the Southwest governors did. But they can see Malami’s comment as his opinion and not the position of the law, which only the court can interprets”.Former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Ekiti State, Mr. Owoseni Ajayi, said it was difficult to believe that the Southwest governors could launch security outfit without seeking necessary clearance to do so.

In his words: “I want to assume that the six Southwest governors would not embark on the launch without doing the needful by seeking clearance from the relevant authorities.“Don’t forget that the six Southwest states all have attorney-generals, who should know the position of the law regarding this issue. In fact, the attorney-general of Lagos State and the governor of Ondo State are Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

“I have to do my research about it. The Southwest cannot just launch a security outfit without at least registering it with the Corporate Affairs Commission. The fact that the governors are chief security officers of their states is too narrow for them to establish such an outfit.

“Remember that even the Vigilante of Nigeria, the Federal Road Safety Commission that do not carry guns are products of the Act of the National Assembly.”An Ibadan-based legal practitioner, Mr. Yomi Ogunlola, said: “There are similar things that have been done. Who is afraid? Somebody is afraid. This is a federation. Do they want to leave us porous and vulnerable?  Operation Amotekun is not breaching any law but enhancing the law. It is most unfortunate and unacceptable. We have to provide security for ourselves and protect our territory”.

Another lawyer in Ibadan, Fatai Akinsanya, said: “The Federal Government in principles has approved community policing which is a good step to formalize it. With this development, it will be difficult for the government to be talking about community policing. There is unnecessary suspicion which should not be”.A security scholar at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, said the action of the Federal Government is premature, noting, “The Federal Government should not have declared it illegal in a hurry. It needs to study it critically before taking any step. Is JTF illegal? Is MACBAN illegal?”

Also reacting, a human rights group, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice, called on the Federal Government to reverse its decision and allow Operation Amotekun to fly. Chairman of the group, Comrade Sulaiman Adeniyi, claimed that the North has security outfits, which have been in operation for some tome now without hindrance. He said the Yoruba people could not afford to fold their hands and allow insecurity to fester.

Adeniyi said it was obvious the insecurity situation in the country was beyond the police and other security agencies and there was a need for people to set up security outfits at state and local levels.National Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elder (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide. said there was nothing illegal about Amotekun, urging Malami to approach the court if he felt strongly about the security outfit. Olajide said whereas Malami is an appointee of the president, the governors are elected by the people and he has no supervisory roles over an elected governor.

“It just happens that it was the attorney-general, who made the declaration, otherwise I would have considered it as somebody who is exercising his fundamental human right on freedom of speech. To me, Malami has just expressed his personal opinion irrespective of the position he holds. “He is the chief law officer of the state advising Mr. President. He does not have supervisory roles on the duties of an elected governor. He is an appointed officer but the governors are elected by the people. 

“According to section 14 (2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), the purpose of government is the security of the life and property of the people. So the governors are the chief security officers of their states. In the last couple of years, it has become obvious that this centralized police system cannot provide security in all parts of this country. “You have security failures in the north and everywhere. In fact, it has been a bitter experience for us in the Southwest. Our people have been kidnapped, raped, and murdered. In fact, the daughter of the leader of Afenifere was murdered and not a word has been heard. 

“This goes to show that the police is inadequate. It may not be their fault because they are understaffed and underfunded. But they cannot provide the needed security. Do you expect the governors to fold their arms and watch the people who voted them into office to be slaughtered? They took the right initiatives by establishing this Amotekun thing. It is by no means illegal. A few days ago, Prof. Itse Sagay declared Amotekun as legal. 

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“You can’t stop me from providing security in my house or community. So, for me the attorney-general has just expressed his opinion. If he believes that we have violated any law, it behooves on him to take us to court, but as far as we are concerned we see it as aberrant expression of opinion. “I think we are on the right path. I thank the governors for this collaboration. They must extend it to other sectors such as health, agric, and infrastructure. This is good for Nigeria and it should be encouraged by well-meaning patriots.”

THE coming together of the governors, shelving their political differences to work together on security was a reaction to the public outcry to the rising insecurity in the region that made its forests and towns vulnerable to kidnappers, killer herdsmen and armed robbers.Indeed, many will not forget in a hurry how the daughter of the national leader of pan-Yoruba Social-political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Rueben Fasonranti, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, was brutally murdered at Kajola, along Ore-Shagamu Expressway.

Also, many travelers were kidnapped by suspected killer herdsmen on Akure-Ilesa Expressway, Otan-Ile and Imesi in Obokun, Osun State. It took the efforts of local hunters, vigilantes and O’odua People’s Congress (OPC) members and later the police and State Security Service to secure freedom of less than half of the passengers.On the same expressway, dare-devil bandits attacked the convoy of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, in June last year. The bandits bared their fangs in May when they abducted a professor of medicine at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Olayinka Adegbehingbe, on the Ibadan-Ife Expressway. The surgeon said he paid ransom of over N5 million to regain his freedom. 

Similarly, three people traveling between Lagos and Ibadan suffered the same fate in July last year. It took days for them to regain their freedom. In Ondo and Ogun States, high profile kidnapping incidents, particularly on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway, made the headlines. Mr. Alalade, the Manager of one of the BOVAS Petroleum and Gas Limited Filling stations in Ekiti State and his wife were kidnapped at Efon Alaaye in Efon Local Government Area in January 2019. The kidnappers later demanded the sum of N20 million ransom to secure their release. 

A former Commissioner for Lands, Mr. Remi Olorunleke and the Director of Administration, Gbonyin Local Council Area in Ekiti State, Mr. David Jejelowo, were kidnapped along Ado-Ijan road. The incident occurred barely a week after an accountant with Emure local council, Mr. Abayomi Ajayi, was killed by kidnappers along Ikere-Ise road while two other staff from the council were abducted. The list is endless!

Curiously, residents of the region had begun to heave a sigh of relief as soon as the governors announced plans to launch Operation Amotekun, which will include O’odua Peoples Congress, Agbekoya, local hunters and other community security groups in the zone. The preparations of the groups perhaps might have sent signals to the marauders which make Southwest towns and forests unsafe. In fact, the perennial clash between farmers and herders also fizzled when news about the proposed launch filtered out.

The collaboration of the Lagos State Police Command and OPC to flush our the dreaded Badoo cult group in Ikorodu and efforts of the local hunters to make Abeokuta/Ayetoro/Imeko road free of constant attacks by killer herdsmen were reference points of the significance of local initiatives in fighting crimes.

At the launch of Operation Amotekun, Fayemi while allaying fears that Amotekun would work against the corporate existence of the country said, “Most importantly, this is not an agenda to undermine the integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Just like some of us are unapologetic indigenes, we are also very proud Nigerians. And we would do everything to protect the integrity of our country. So, there is no conflict. Our primary interest is the security and safety of our people. We would continue to do all within our power to push the frontiers of this collective security initiative.”

He noted that security in the region had been so bad that the governors had no choice but to respond by starting the regional security outfit. He recalled how the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Rueben Fasoranti was killed by kidnappers and what many travelers suffered in the hands of bandits on Southwest roads and declared that Amotekun was a reaction to stop the menace.He said, “I am extremely delighted to be here on the launch of the security network. It is in the context of this development that we lost the daughter of our leader in Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. That incident, rightfully so put a lot of pressure on the leadership in the Southwest to do something.

“And as elected leaders of our various states, our primary responsibility, according to the Section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, is the security and welfare of our citizens. And that is what informed the coming together of my colleagues and I to fashion a way that we can utilize to complement the work of our mainstream security agencies that are quite overstressed in their efforts to arrest the menace that afflicted not just our zone but the entire country at a time having been a relatively peaceful zone that started witnessing this problem. Our people became extremely agitated.“I am pleased that this idea whose time has come has been embraced by the leadership of our security agencies because the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu Idris has since gone ahead to announce the force’s commitment to community policing strategy.

“And Western Nigeria Security Network, Amotekun is nothing but a Community Policing response to a problem that our people will like to see the back pending the time that Community Policing Strategy being put together by Nigeria Police Force comes to fruition. It is clearly important that we give our people a confidence-boosting strategy.”Fayemi continued, “Amotekun is a confidence-building strategy for our people in the six states in the Western zone. When those elements that go to work in the joint taskforce with the mainstream security agencies undertake this assignment, they are going to do so with the knowledge of the terrain, language, culture and history of the community where they are going to work. And that is what sets it apart from other systems that may have been in place.

“So, we don’t want this to create any fear in the minds of anyone. And we’ve seen all manner of things in the social media. Although we are not responsible for it and we can’t explain it. We see those things that have proliferated the social media as an attempt to sabotage what we are doing.” 

Dismissing insinuations that the region has created State Police, Fayemi said, “We are not creating a regional police force. Neither are we oblivious of the step we must take in order to have state police. Yes, some of us are unapologetic inveterate advocate of state police. But we are also law-abiding citizens of Nigeria. We know the process and procedure we need to undergo in order to get to that point. 

“We know we need a constitutional amendments. We are not there yet. That won’t stop us from continuing to campaign for a policing arrangement that is at multi-level, most importantly, that is close to our people in their various communities. As far it is close to the people and people can hold them accountable that is what we are for.”

Speaking on how the security outfit would operate, Fayemi said, “So for us, we don’t want anyone to misconstrue or misinterpret what is happening here. The conception of Amotekun is that we will operate on a state-by-state basis. Osun Amotekun is not going to operate at Oyo Amotekun’s space. However, we share boundaries and we are not an island. There may be situation that would warrant a handshake among our Amotekun formation.”

For the Chairman of the South West Governors Forum and Ondo State Governor, Akeredolu, who was the convener of the programme, said the essence of Amotekun was to protect people of the region from “banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, herdsmen/farmers’ conflicts, ritual killings and cyber crimes”.

While acknowledging the efforts of the Federal Government and its agencies in stemming the dangerous tide of insecurity in the polity, Akeredolu said Amoteku is the region’s contribution to “complement the security architecture that may be put in place by the Federal Government in the future.“It is not our intention to erect any antagonistic structure whose operation will be at cross purposes to the existing template. That’s not what we are here for. We want us to work together.”Oyo State Governor, Makinde, who expressed joy that the launch was successful, described the initiative as a bold step to fight insecurity in the region.

He said, “Sometimes, people throw out revolutionary ideas because people either do not understand them or are not willing to understand them. But, as an African proverb says, “the brave man is not he who doesn’t feel afraid, but he that conquers that fear.“Six months ago, we met, right here in Oyo State and decided to set up a regional collaborative security agency. And I am happy that we followed through. As governors of these states, it is our priority to ensure that both indigenes and settlers living within the boundaries of our various states can carry out their legitimate activities in a secure environment. The security of their lives and properties should be of paramount importance.

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“When we discuss the development potential of our states and talk about investment opportunities and growing our internally generated revenue by exploring areas of comparative advantage, we remain keenly aware that we cannot achieve anything in a state of insecurity. 
“To those who are afraid, I say, when we assumed office, we all took an oath and promised to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to follow the dictates of the constitution and protect the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have not forgotten our oath.

“Our regional integration, our coming together, should be seen in one light and one light alone: That we are coming together to fight a common enemy. That enemy is not Nigeria; the enemies are the elements among us and their affiliates who are determined to cause commotion within the borders of our states and threaten our peaceful coexistence.

“As this launch proceeds today, we will find that this architecture we have put together is in harmony with the constitution that we swore to protect. We will also learn that everything we have outlined to do with Amotekun is in line with the existing security architecture in Nigeria. All we are doing is creating an appendage of local vigilantes that will feed the current state apparatus.” Although Malami’s pronouncement has opened another chapter in the controversy that trailed the inauguration of Amotekun, the Southwest governors are said to be preparing for a legal battle that will determine the legality or otherwise of the security outfit.

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