‘How Abuja’s proclamation on Amotekun contradicts national consciousness’
Toyin Falola, a globally renowned scholar, is a Professor of History and the Sanger and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, the University of Texas at Austin, United States of America. In this interview with MUYIWA ADEYEMI, he spoke on the hullabaloo the inauguration of Amotekun has generated, the legality of the security outfit and why the fear in some quarters and proffers solution.
What is your reaction to the controversy that greeted launching of Operation Amotekun by the Southwest Governors?
The launching of Operation Amotekun by Southwest governors is a welcome development. It is an appropriate response to the challenges of insecurity witnessed in the region in the past several years, notably on kidnapping, harassment of innocent people, and considerable damage to crops and properties by the marauding herdsmen. Add to this the increased use of human beings for rituals, a barbaric practice based on ill-founded primordial beliefs in magic and the occult.
It is unfortunate that the security set up to protect people’s lives and properties is generating this kind of silly controversy. There should not have been any controversy at all. Instead, creative ways of making Amotekun work, like preventing the members of the force from collecting bribes from commercial vehicles, being used by politicians to rig elections, and those in power from persecuting their opponents as the local police did during the First Republic by planting hemps in the houses of their enemies, and sabotaging justice.
The controversy following the public launching of Amotekun is all political, and a macabre type at that. To be sure, the controversy has not been on the legality of the security outfit, as the interpretation of the Constitution does not make it illegal, but the right of the oppressed and the unsecured to secure themselves in the face of conscious apathy and failures by the supposed constituted federal authorities meant to protect them. In a society where might is right, right will always be defined to the extent of accumulated might, as the rule of law is left for the weak, manipulated to silence dissenting voices and a tool for destabilisation rather than the stability that it was created for.
To talk about the constitutionality of the operation of Amotekun in a country where, for instance, soldiers are used to do police jobs and murder citizens they are meant to protect in the process, is to consciously derail from the real issue here. Among other things that often bring about this issue of jurisdictional flop between the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Police is the shortage of personnel responsible for executing the constitutionally established duty of the latter. Revealingly, this is because more than half of the federal police in uniforms have been turned to bodyguards, waiters and waitresses and all sorts of positions not recommended for them by the constitution but designed for them in the elitist structure we have managed to build over the years.
The police guard the elites, while armed robbers and kidnappers attack the innocent citizens. The army serves the political interests of those who control the federal government, working in recent times in areas where people complain about the government itself. Compounding the problem further, the small forces that are left for the common men and women are mostly the extortioners, ill-trained and ill-equipped. These ones can hardly even keep themselves safe let alone the people they are meant to secure. The police on the roads spend more time collecting bribes than fishing out criminals.
The consequence of this mishmash is what is daily steering us in the face in different dimensions that boils down to insecurity. Then, people are elected in the Western Region to protect the lives and property of their people so as to be able to ensure their welfare and livelihood, bounded together, irrespective of their political differences, to address this issue and we are here talking about controversy surrounding the establishment of such an unprecedented outfit in the region, not because of the operational capacity, structure and other mechanisms that could make this outfit efficient, away from political machinations, but for the constitutionality of it. The proclamation by Abuja that Amotekun is illegal now sounds like a new low in our national consciousness.
There is a context to this politically-generated controversy. The events that led to the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 and 1979 continue to haunt us, the fear of ethnic marginalization is real, the perception in the South that the Hausa-Fulani are power hungry and wont yield control of the Center is held both in public and private, and the fear of an impending Islamization is a conversation in churches and Christian households. The controversy on Amotekun is definitely inspired by mutual distrust: the members of the political class in the North sees in Amotekun a red flag, thinking that it may be the first step in creating the Oduduwa Republic.
And the emergence of this distrust reveals loads of information about dirty politics that have overtaken the postcolonial Nigerian political climate. First, the attitude of negation over the evolution of such security architecture in the Southwest stems from a self-acclaimed conscientious ignorance to justify the obvious hostility against people’s genuine freedom, or safety. More than anything, the controversy over the emancipation of such a platform signals that Nigeria is still not sure of which direction to take in its bid for collective advancement. This is so because the attitude is a brainchild of sectional arrogance that seeks to neutralize important factors that aided the country’s unity in the first place. The unity of Nigeria is founded on mutual understanding of sectional autonomy, which should be statutorily respected for progress to be courted, otherwise the unity will founder, if not stumble. For goodness sake, if the country is generally understood as being under fearful security risk ravaging every section of the country for quite a while now, shouldn’t the creation of such a security platform be celebrated because of the glaring contributions it would make to curb insecurity? If your house is on fire and the firefighters whose services you engage their services appear to run out of ideas or firefighting instruments, does one reject the goodwill of bystanders to intervene in the turmoil?
In addition to this, I think the controversy around it sprouts from people’s interest to face save themselves from public criticisms because of their obvious inactiveness. It is very common that people who are saddled with the responsibility to ensure certain conditions automatically become weary when there are situations that reveal their inherent incompetence. Amotekun has revealed the failure and inadequacy of the federal government.
The fact that the most voiced condemnation of the program comes from security operatives in the highest cadre sums up my position on the issue. Yoruba philosophy is etched in a particular proverb that when one locks his room and his neighbors complain about the tightness of the lock, one should be careful after all, for those neighbors are not entirely far from being burglars. If the Amotekun as launched by the governors of the Southwest does not bother the federal government of the country with its running cost, and the nascent force is ready to conform to the established rules and regulations, going against them is nothing short of a mere expression of fear and the misinterpretations of genuine intentions.
The Attorney General of the federation on Tuesday declared the regional security outfit as illegal, what is your take on this?
You know in a country with good government, this Attorney General should have been fired from the ways and manner he handled the Sowore affair, a small-time journalist and rookie politician that he turned into a martyr. That the Attorney General declared the operation as illegal is wrong, rude to the state governors, insensitive to the ethnic composition of the country, and confirming the perception in the South that the North has only one agenda: to dominate Nigerian politics. I consider the decision of the AG a misstep by the Federal Government. Confronting states in the Southwest trying to secure their territory from herdsmen and other bandits is naive and not politically correct. It may backfire.
I think the declaration of the platform as illegal by the Attorney General of the federation is enshrined in the points I made above. His position is obviously politically motivated. Otherwise, as the grand head of the security alliance network in the country, what should become especially important to him should be how the country achieves longstanding peace in the face of these overwhelming security challenges that have enveloped the nation for quite a while now. The question of how peace is achieved would have been better asked if the atmosphere is rid of violence generally. If the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), an expert in law, discards the Attorney’s position as lacking in content, it tells you that there is no basis for interfering with how the chief security officers of states (the governors) decide on how to secure their people. Their primary mandate is to ensure that the security conditions of their people are not compromised, and this has been the basis for the popularity they enjoy among their people. How does one therefore question how they choose to address their security challenges so far it is not done at the expense of others?
I have read a lot of apt responses to the saber-rattling of the AGF from strategic quarters which rekindles my hope in the ability of our people to stand up in unison against mediocrity decked in whatever form, including the one in wig and gown. Let’s take it at this point that the AGF is only speaking for himself. You will recall that before the launching of the programme a few days ago, the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, was reported to have had a meeting with the Inspector General of Police in Abuja and the outcome was what we saw in the eventual launching of the security outfit on January 9. Also, Prof. Itse Sagay has made his position known on this issue, which is for the governors to ignore the AGF. I believe in the days to come, others in the administration would speak up and eventually the voice of the Federal Government will be heard.
Now I’m not shying away from the fact that the AGF represents the legal apparatus of the federal government and given the body language of the powers that be in Abuja, he could have made the unfortunate remarks to test the waters on their behalf. Whatever the case is, we need to express our serious displeasure, while we continually make our position known in constructive actions and utterances.
Let me add that, assuming without conceding that operation Amotekun is illegal, before the launching of the programme the country has been in a perpetual constitutional crisis purposely designed by the powers that be with the view of manipulating the system to their advantage and against the people. The question we should all be asking ourselves is: why did the AGF wait till the governors bought over a hundred operational vehicles for the operation, imported them through customs and officially launched the programme after other mechanisms have been put in place, before he made this declaration and without taking any constitutional action? Was he not aware? Was he not informed? Were there no gossips?
In a federal system of government what is the role of governors as chief security officers of their states in maintaining law and order?
Under our federalism, one of the governor’s primary mandates is to protect the lives and properties of his people in all ramifications. The security of his people therefore is meant to cover their medical well-being, economic growth, infrastructural demands, security architecture, among other things. If the governor is incapable of offering these services, there is no particular reason why he should enjoy prolonged loyalty and the goodwill of his people. Primary in all of these therefore is that he ensures that the people are guaranteed uncompromised safety. Without it, there would exist no such a thing as a proper mindset to pursue other goals. Since this is the major expectation of the people from their Chief Security Officers, law and order maintenance is therefore dependent on the level of provision of these basic things. The creation of such security platforms as Amotekun would therefore cement the people’s confidence in their leaders, and make them understand that their safety is under control. The needed cooperation from the citizens would be ensured and that is the basis for all-round development.
In a federal system, the governors have a constitutional obligation to provide adequate security of life and property to their people though the Nigerian federal system is lopsided in favour of the centre, an anomaly that needs to be corrected as quickly as possible. We are not practicing federalism fully according to the books, but mal-adjusting it to suit sectional interests.
The constitution we are talking about here is like the metaphoric pencil and the eraser. The same document that empowers the state governors as the chief security officers of their states, disempowered them by centralizing the security structure of the country that leaves them to the mercy of the Abuja forces. How do you reconcile that? Meanwhile, when we declare ourselves as a federal state, we are expressly agreeing to the notion that constituent units are meant to be autonomous enough to make decisions that are not detrimental to the entire union of the state. Top of this consideration is definitely the security of lives and property of the people in all these constituent units. In any case, in the Nigerian case, the governors are already getting paid for this responsibility without a clear account of how this is executed.
The Western Region called its security unit Amotekun, that is the leopard is as smart and knowledgeable as the lion. The AG converted himself to Ekun, the tiger, reminding the governors that the lion can swallow the leopard. Both part of the cat family, one cat is stronger than the other!
Do you think groups like the OPC, Agbekoya, etc. should be involved in the operation of the regional security outfit?
Yes, I do. Before the merging of the country by Lord Lugard in 1914, didn’t the people have a platform that addressed their security challenges? Again, informally, have the people in Agbekoya and OPC not been the ones who rose to the occasion when the security architecture of their people came under attack? If they have been doing it informally, what then makes it bad if they are promoted to get more dedication from them? There cannot be better recruits into the platform than those who already possess the knowledge of their environment, speak the same language with the people and have more emotional stake in their individual place of given assignments. In fact, what should be more important is how to arrange technocrats well-suited for training people to organise appropriate trainings for these people to make them understand how to handle security issues without jeopardizing the people’s security interests, compromising their security architecture and then not flouting the existing national security rules.
Of course, the locals must be involved. These guys have the experience and all it takes to survive the intricacies of securing parameters, but they should be properly trained to conform with the mood of operation of the program. To repeat, groups like Agbekoya and OPC should be involved in the operation as they are the ones that know the terrain and have the capacity to defend their people, but they have to be recruited and trained. The moral and ethical codes must be strong. We don’t want to see them at parties guarding Oga’s wives and collecting N200 by telling us: “your boys are loyal sir!”
Do you see the Nigerian government ready for state or community policing as being canvassed in some quarters?
No, I don’t think so. In fact, it is the continued reluctance of the Nigerian federal government to allow state policing that probably gives room for the creation of such security platform just as found in the Amotekun. Instinctively, what dominates the human psychology is survival, safety and security. Therefore, human beings will stop at nothing to ensure that their survival is not under threat. When the government, for example, shows no readiness to assent the need for state policing, the alternative route for escape is to create this Amotekun platform as deemed fit by the Southwest governors. There has been a history of incompetent handling of security issues in the country which demands the creation of state police to handle emerging security challenges. The denial of that leads to situations like the formation of the Amotekun group and it appears to be a good decision in the right direction.
The federal government is not ready for this for political reasons. It wants to keep collecting money from the Niger Delta. It wants to control the banks of all major rivers. It wants to collect other people’s land to rear cattle. This has become a matter of political campaign and since the federal government has denied many aspects of its campaign manifestos and promises, the community security issue is not expected to be different. This is more so when it stands to impede the alleged expansionist strategy of one ethnic group over another.
Many have argued that Hizbah set up by the Kano State Government was allowed to operate but the Amotekun is being frustrated by the FG. What do you think is responsible for this?
Contradiction! Haba!! That is the word that best describes the FG’s actions in the two cases. That it allowed Hizbah in Kano but opposes Amotekun in the Southwest is contradictory and an act of deliberate duplicity. It exposes the government to accusations of a lack of fairness and bias against the South. It confirms the conversations in private quarters that the North wants to dominate the South. This is dangerous. A group going by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has issued a statement condemning the position of the Attorney General on the Amotekun issue. It describes the AG’s action as an abuse of office to suppress the rights of the federating units to protect themselves. It advised the Southwest governors to ignore the AG and go to court. It is only logical that the matter would be tested in court but whatever the outcome, it is all a bad PR for the federal government.
I think we should stop pretending that we have a nation called Nigeria. The moment we start to face this unpleasant reality, we will be facing the truth and rethinking our future. Nigeria is not yet a nation and it doesn’t seem to be working consciously towards that. The optimist in us only believes in a miracle that will one day make this materialise. Why do you think the Boko Haram issue has persisted all these years in spite of the introduction of the sharia law and the Hizbah police in parts of the North? Some people, including the current CJN, believe that the secularity of the Nigerian constitution is Christianized and the only way to make it work for them is to Islamize it. In my opinion, Hizbah and sharia are a response to this and the oxygen that Boko-Haram breaths. Amotekun is not part of this structure; rather, it stands to obstruct it, so the frustration should be understood his grows from the attitude of arrogance, that pushes some sects of people think that the right to make certain decisions is exclusive to them only. Apart from this attitude being unhealthy for serious national development, it also is capable of dismantling the foundation of the country’s unity. Naturally, one is compelled to see the unmistakable ethnic arrogance laden in the idea of condemning Amotekun as an illegal security platform, yet remaining mute to other security architecture such as Hisbah from the northern part of the country. If the latter has been allowed to operate independently without incurring public controversy, whatever voices raised against the former is just a demonstration of insincerity on a very high scale. What could be responsible for the frustration of the group by the federal government is the unsubstantiated fear that such a forum is an indirect way of planting the seed of secession.
Bearing in mind the heated atmosphere that greeted the country when a certain Nnamdi Kalu from the southeastern part of the country declared that the region of the country has been declared politically autonomous, the government of the country is therefore weary of anything that could signal pursuance of such goal. However, this fear, if that is it, is misplaced because the Southwest people have since forever shown no signal of the disintegrating the country, either in their political attitudes or the accommodation they provide for other Nigerians to live and thrive in their space.
What is the best security architecture for a complex society with multiple ethnic groups like Nigeria?
Community policing or rather, a decentralised security structure with clear and keen synergy that aids intelligence sharing and all of that. With the FG open opposition to the regional Amotekun security outfit of the Southwest, it is obvious that they are not keen on allowing community policing in the country.
As I have implied from the above comments, nothing caters for effective security measures than the division of the security architecture into smaller controllable units. To be candid, security composure in the country does not appear to function in the line of a good democracy. For example, making the federal government the exclusive handlers of security architecture is a mockery on true democracy. This is so because of the power that such confers on the federal government of the country. We have seen occasions where the federal government deliberately manipulated the police to act in accordance to the interests of the occupier of that seat in Abuja, upholding obvious injustices and also promoting internal strives among different political groups. Upon an annoyance inspired by political infractions, the federal government of the country can decide to withdraw the police force from the sitting governor, without grave consequences. The federal police is part of the rigging mechanisms to attain political office. More than it appears, conferring such power on the federal government could engender a more chaotic and unsettled atmosphere, where the people are exposed to danger and there is no institution that will cater for them.
When the security of the country is generally devolved into smaller units where states or regions control their security architecture that will address their security challenges, there would arise a true sense of democracy because people would have a sense of pride and safety under the law. A governor would not be unduly disrespected because they pitch their tents against the president. The people, in addition, would trust the security outlets of the country to deliver better services since they would not be coerced to follow the directions of the president, even when these orders are driven by political vendettas.
How is it being done in a better clime?
In these societies, you have several security structures from the county level to the federal level. My university has its own, which is not just what you call “bouncers” or security guards carrying batons and electric tasers that give you electrical shock, but with full police powers carrying guns and power of arrest. Each structure has its own modus operandi that is defined by its jurisdiction. Because security is not a sole adventure or enterprise, they work together with the same level of patriotism that aids the security of the state. The best security architecture for a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria is a decentralised type with each state having full control over its security apparatus. A state may ask for help from the federal authorities in certain situations that cannot be handled by its own police.
In a country like the United States of America, there are various components of law enforcement agencies. Their state and federal police are endowed with their police roles in the country and guided by the constitution to maintain a certain aspect of jurisdiction, not easily tampered with by other groups or component. The American federal security agencies are limited by the US codes to function only within the explicitly highlighted matters within the premises of the federal government. Going beyond this jurisdiction will therefore attract reactions and demonstrations by the citizens. And we are witnesses to the fact that the US is doing relatively well in terms of its security and safety. Commit a crime and you are caught within hours.
In the United States, there is an intricate network of policing that keeps the entire national infrastructure – from the highest and lowest levels – intact. There are state patrol officers, city police departments, county sheriffs, and of course federal law agencies at the highest level. The Department of Justice is key to law enforcement federally. Within the Department of Justice is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), just to name a few. At the state level, there are state bureaus of investigation, but there are also police responsible for highways, college and university campuses, and the environment. City-level officers and campus police are expected to patrol significant areas (like highways, neighborhoods, or campus grounds). They are to respond immediately to distress calls or suspicious activities. Specifically, they respond to burglaries, robberies, kidnapping, health emergencies, or various assault allegations.
Are there any historical facts that support community or state policing in Nigeria?
Yes, there are historical facts supporting community or state policing. At independence and until the coup of 1966, Nigeria ran a federal system that supported local government police force. They had court police, called the Akoda. The three and later four regions in the country ran their affairs mostly independent of the centre, be it education, commerce, industry, infrastructure and security. Each region had its own police force distinct from the federal police. It was the regional police that provided security for the people of each region.
The fact is what we have earlier mentioned: Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society with the history of mutual suspicion and competition for space and influence, which, in spite of the long years of a bounded fate, have persisted unabated. In places where federalism is practiced, every state has its own police while the central government has its own, but there is a clear demarcation of powers and duties. Yes. The Hisbah police, for instance, have been saddled to protect the interests of the Northern people in their matters of security and religion. Established in 2003, the group was created chiefly to address or enforce what is religiously right among the people. This is what the law regards as precedence. The establishment of the security architecture of Hisbah to perform some duties within the northern states sets the precedence for the creation of similar outlet, such as the one we find in the Amotekun, and thus would address their given statutory assignment. State governors are truly the chief security officers for their states. They can call for help from the federal government when the need arises.
Can you proffer some solutions?
Justice! Make everyone feel secured by effectively promoting the rule of law. The solution I would prefer falls into two parts: the immediate and the long term. My suggestion for the immediate solution is for the federal government to retrace its steps and allow the Amotekun outfit to operate, possibly with the hierarchy of the Nigeria Police providing some form of supervision. The long- term solution is for a clinical repair of the constitution to make the system of government truly federal. This will devolve more powers to the states or regional blocks. It will give them more control over their resources and other parts of the economy.
In addition, that the federal government should think of how to work with this security platform to bring out best services from them so that the security of the people would not falter or be exposed to constant attacks by the bandits, intruders of any kind or some other external aggressors. The state government too should be aware that their intention behind the creation of such a security platform should not be compromised. To allow the smooth running of activities, the Amotekun group should be rid of political interests, otherwise they would see quick downtrend. They must be well-equipped with the needed apparatus to help them discharge their duties with vigor. They must be appropriately remunerated and constantly supervised so as not to derail from their statutory assignment. As it advances a collective security project, without corruption, without favor to politicians, without leaving the poor citizens to protect Oga’s madams, our Amotekun to become the real Ekun (the tigers) that will pounce and devour marauders, kidnappers, cultists and marauders who destroy other people’s farms and lands.