Monday, 2nd October 2023

Operation Amotekun: Metaphor for FG’s indecisiveness on insecurity

By Olawunmi Ojo
18 January 2020   |   4:27 am
For some time now, incidences threatening the security of the nation had been on the upswing. But the Southwest region became worse hit last year with widespread insecurity...

For some time now, incidences threatening the security of the nation had been on the upswing. But the Southwest region became worse hit last year with widespread insecurity, banditry, rapes, kidnapping and wanton destruction of lives and property by assailants. Almost everywhere from city centres to the roads became unsafe for residents, businessmen and travelers.

With the prerogative of securing the lives and properties of their people at mind and in apparent response to the embarrassing security challenge, the governors of the six Southwest states agreed to set up a security network to assist the security agencies in beefing-up obvious gaps and with intelligence gathering. Hence, the birth of Operation Amotekun as a regional security network.

Amotekun, which has its headquarters in Ibadan, Oyo State, and operational base in Gbongan, Osun State, will be funded by the six states. The size of the operatives of Amotekun is to be determined by the capacity of each of the six states and based on the level of security threat in the region.

Since its launch in Ibadan, however, there have been enormous reactions in favour and against the initiative. While praises have come for the governors from almost every quarter in the region, there has been good measure of condemnations and, indeed, rejection of the idea entirely, especially from persons and groups of northern Nigeria stock.

After the launch, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, while declaring the outfit as illegal, alluded that the Southwest governors breached the 1999 Constitution by establishing the security network.

Almost all regions of the country have had their share of insecurity and tried to devise measures to confront the challenge. In response to similar security threats, not a few state governors had set up security and vigilante groups to assist the Police in their operations.

In fact, the vigilante system has been invaluable in the north-east as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) have been acknowledged to have contributed immensely to the successes recorded by the army in the fight against terrorism in that region.

This, perhaps, explain why it is believed by some legal experts that the AGF’s purported proscription of Amotekun is hypocritical and discriminatory.

It is on record that the Civilian JTF currently operates in Yobe and Borno states just as the governments of Kano and Zamfara states have the Hisbar Corps.

In fact, it is claimed that 23 states across the nation currently have similar local security outfits though not on a regional basis like the Southwest’s. In Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Rivers, Osun, Benue, Katsina, Cross River, Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Ebonyi, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Bauchi and Abia, there is a similar group.

For instance, in Kaduna State, the state government in 2018 established a security outfit known as the “Kaduna State Vigilance Service” to assist security agencies to tackle criminality. Its function was to complement the work of the police and other security agencies in intelligence gathering and crime prevention. The Sokoto State Government also established a local security outfit called “Yan Banga,” which operates in almost all the villages in the state. Yan Banga tracks criminals and hands them over to security agencies for prosecution.  Also in the State, the previous administration had established Sokoto Corps Marshal, which was retained by Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s administration with offices in the 23 local government areas of the state. The marshals are posted to the state tertiary institutions and traffic joints in the state capital to complement the internal security of the areas. Unlike the corps marshal, which does not bear arms, the vigilantes are allowed to carry small arms such as single-barrel and pump action, which are registered by the police.

In Zamfara State, former governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, had established the arm-bearing ‘Yan kansai’ Local Vigilantes but the current governor, Alhaji Bello Mutawalle, scrapped it and empowered the local vigilantes to carry out its security functions without bearing arms.

Vigilante committees were also set up in each of the 44 local governments in Kano State. A local chief called Mai Unguwa or any other prominent personality resident in the area, it was learnt, chairs each committee. These committees employ youths, who provide security to such quarters where they are formed and they are paid allowances. In some cases, they also get assistance from the government. Their jobs include, checking movement of people at night, arresting thieves, and checking the activities of thugs and other criminals within the community they serve. They carry locally made guns and fire shots in the air while on patrol at night to register their presence in an area.

In addition, Kano State has Hisbah Corps, a religious police set up in 2003 to enforce the Sharia law. The Hisbah Corps operates under the jurisdiction of a Hisbah Board comprising government officials, secular police officers, and religious leaders. Committees composed of officials and citizens in the communities in which they operate supervise each local unit.

The Hisbah Corps does not have authority to execute arrests and officers are armed only with non-lethal weapons for self-defense, such as batons.  Hisbah officers who observe violations of Sharia are expected to alert the Nigeria Police Force.

In Borno State, many outfits were created by the state government and saddled with security duties, especially in the wake of Boko Haram insurgency. The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), created under the last administration, was called BOYES (Borno Youth Volunteers). They work in collaboration with the military to fight Boko Haram. Also working for the security of the state are local hunters and vigilante groups, which have been around even before insurgency.

Recently, the state Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, employed the services of hunters from across the north and neighbouring countries to boost the efforts at fighting insurgency and criminality. These groups carry light arms, like locally made guns and pomp action guns.

The Rivers State Government also established the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency but had to suspend its activities due to the high cost of maintaining it.

Ebonyi State Government also established Neighborhood Watch Group with membership drawn from the 13 local government areas of the state to complement the efforts of security agencies to control crimes and other security challenges in the state. The group is armed with handcuffs only to arrest criminals.

Before Amotekun was established, Osun State had organised local hunters. They usually assist other security agencies to curtail criminal activities in the state.

In Enugu State, the upsurge in the rate of criminality informed the decision of the state government to approve the engagement of 1,700 men in 2019 to serve as Forest Guards, a model of local vigilante. The recruitment of personnel into the militia was professionally handled and spread across the various wards of the 17 local government areas of the state and was consistent with the community-based approach to securing lives of citizens adopted by the governor.

In Taraba State, the Taraba Marshalls is a local security outfit set up by the state government in 2018 to tackle insecurity and other violent crimes. While a few of them carry local guns, others are armed with cutlasses and horsewhip.

In Adamawa State, the Vigilante Group and Nigeria Hunters Association had existed before the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency. These two groups were conscripted and recognised by the Adamawa State Government during the era of Governor Bala Ngilari who had to mobilise them to fight Boko Haram insurgency who were bent on seizing more territories after taking control of seven LGAs of the state from the Nigerian military. Some members of the local security outfits were given weapons and ammunition, while some members were permitted by state government to use their local weapons to fight the insurgents.

In Anambra State, the Anambra Vigilant Services (AVS) operates in all the 189 communities in the state. The state government coordinates the activities of the AVS through an appointed coordinator.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s declaration of the initiative as illegal has continued to draw reactions from the affected governors and other stakeholders in the region, with parallels being drawn between Amotekun, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in the north-east and the Hisbah Commission operating in several states of the north.

While some have encouraged the governors to ignore the Justice Minister and enact enabling laws in their states to back up Operation Amotekun, others have counseled them to approach the Judiciary for interpretation of the quoted section of the Constitution prohibiting states from establishing and operating regional vigilante.

According to legal practitioner, Femi Falana, Malami’s purported proscription of Amotekun is hypocritical and discriminatory on the grounds that the Civilian JTF operating in Yobe and Borno states is constituted by 26,000 well-armed volunteers, who have been assisting the armed forces to combat terrorism in the Northeast region.

Falana said: “The governments of Kano and Zamfara states have established the Hisbah Commission. It is common knowledge that the Hisbah operatives in Zamfara State recently arrested a policeman alleged to have been caught in company with three women. The Lagos State Government has equally established the Neighbourhood Watch to assist the Police and other security agencies in protecting the life and property of every person living in Lagos.

“No doubt, section 214 of the constitution stipulates that there shall be only one police force in Nigeria. But the federal government has breached the constitution by setting up other police forces. For instance, the Nigerian Security and Defence Corps is another police force established by law. The State Security Service is also a police force established by law. Its operatives are well armed. They wear masks even in broad daylight.”

Falana stressed that the federal government had also authorised officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Offences Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Correctional Service and other paramilitary agencies to bear arms, and that to that extent, the federal government cannot stop any state from setting a security outfit.

“In fact, having lost control of the monopoly of violence to armed gangs in the various parts of the country, the federal government lacks the legal, political and moral right to challenge security outfits set up by state governments and individuals to protect the lives and property of the people of Nigeria. It is pertinent to point out that as chief security officers in the respective states, governors have the power to adopt measures deemed fit within the ambit of the law to ensure the maintenance of law and order,” he said.

While urging governors of the southwest states to approach the court on the matter, he also said that if the AGF was convinced that law backed his position, he should approach the Supreme Court to test the constitutional validity of Amotekun.