‘Life of Nigerians should be considered too precious to be politicised’
Principal Counsel of the Lagos-based law firm, Jiti Ogunye Chambers, Olajinbiti Ogunye, in this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, interrogates the statement of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami declaring Operation Amotekun illegal.
In talking about the critical issue of protection of life and property, sobriety, responsibility and circumspection are required. My worry is that too often, issues that deal with life and death of citizenry in this country are treated with levity or politicised in such a manner that we do not pay attention to the need to protect life and property. What led to Operation Amotekun? What led to people saying that they are tired of being kidnapped? What led to rash anti-kidnapping laws made by the states all over the country, prescribing death penalty when they are not even carrying out execution? People were being kidnapped left, right and centre including senior policemen up to the rank of Commissioner of Police, clerics including Bishops; university professors, some were killed; judges and their spouses, lately, a Justice of the Appeal Court, traditional rulers and their spouses. Nobody is safe anymore in the country. Our elites have responded to these in number of ways. Some of them don’t travel on the road anymore; they just travel to where they can take a flight and return to their base quickly. Life in this country is increasingly becoming nasty and brutish. So, when the Southwest region of the country then came forward with Operation Amotekun, I didn’t expect any serious minded official of state to react to that initiative without being constructive because the objective or essence of the initiative is to save life and property.
Unfortunately, what I have thus far is that there is no required sensitivity on the part of Federal Government to this subject exemplified by what the honourable Attorney General of the Federation has said. The issue is not about the legality or illegality of it. If he says it is illegal, what next? People are still being kidnapped and when they are kidnapped policemen will tell them please go and pay the ransome, we do not have the capacity to retrieve your loved ones. And this is happening everyday! I have not seen the kind of statesmanship that this occasion requires. It is not about South, North and all sorts of people are now responding to the issue, Miyetti Allah, whereas the crucial issue is what would make us safe not only in the Southwest but in Nigeria generally. It is a shame that we have not seen that kind of constructive and responsive approach to these issues. That said, the honourable Attorney General of the Federation issued his statement through a proxy, a media aide. This is very unfortunate to say the least. The office of the Attorney General of the Federation is an important office. It is only ministerial office that is created by the constitution specifically, and it is referenced in section 150 of the constitution and empowered under section 174. So, the office is an important office. A matter as important as the legality or illegality of Operation Amotekun is ought not to have been addressed through a proxy. I had expected the AGF to have in person called a press conference, read out a statement and addressed the issue, stating that this is the opinion of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation on the subject if that is what he wanted to do. The form of communication, to my mind, is pedestrian. You cannot be reacting to a course being supported by six states in the Southwest region of the country through one sidekick of yours issuing a statement. It doesn’t bring seriousness to the issue. As a citizen of this country, what I expected the AGF to do was to respond to the issue in person. We see how it is done elsewhere. In the United States, Eric Himpton Holder Jr. who served as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States from 2009 to 2015 under President Barack Obama, and other Attorney Generals before him and after would call the media when there is a serious matter such as we have in our country today and address the issue, and say this is our position in a very solemn and professional manner.
It is appalling that we don’t take our institutions in this country serious. This form of communication is as important as the essence that you can’t be addressing such issue and then be directing a media aide to issue a statement on your behalf, and then to say that it is the position of Federal Government of Nigeria, is worse. Governance has its style, its form; sometimes, the style and the form are as important as the purpose and essence. Reason we have procedures and government business cannot be transacted in an informal manner. It has to be formal with all solemnity. I didn’t see the kind of solemnity that I would have wished to see in that kind of dismissive issuance of that statement.
My response on that day when the news broke is that Operation Amotekun was not paramilitary force in the first instance. Secondly, it was not even a force set up to defend ‘Nigeria’. The military, which has been constitutionally empowered to do so is there. The governors promoting Operation Amotekun did not say they want to defend Nigeria. What they wanted to do and created was clear to them and to the people they govern. What they wanted to do, which the people abhor is that life and property are not safe. People are not safe at home, they are not safe on the road, farms and this territory is under-policed; we need more hands to save the situation. The governors, all of them through the security trust fund like that of Lagos have been supporting the federal police and nobody is saying that it is illegal; taking the money of the states to fund a delinquent federal police. They have been buying weapons for them — Armoured Personnel Carriers, patrol vehicles and bikes, guns and other kits, even augment their allowances for them to do patrol, and nobody has said it is illegal. If we look at the United Nations recommended ratio for policing, you will see that what we have in Nigeria is a nightmare. So, there is a disconnect between what the governors of the Southwest wanted to do and what the honourable Attorney General of the Federation is condemning for attempting to do.
They did set up Amotekun to defend Nigeria or a part of the territory of Nigeria. It is not about defending land or territory. I have seen some ethnic irredentists and those who call themselves ethnic nationalist saying we are going to riven up the rhetoric and defend the Southwest; defend the Southwest against who? For me, that is not the issue, the issue is that people cannot travel to their towns and villages any more. I know people who could not travel during the last Christmas because they don’t have money for escort. Elites travel now with escort; that is new lucrative business in the country. It is called self-protection. That is what the promoters of Operation Amotekun said they want to do.
The allegation therefore that what they wanted to do is illegal is off the mark. It didn’t meet the clear objective of setting up Amotekun.
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