• Fayemi allays concerns over the threat to national integrity
• Army, police boycott launch of Amotekun
• Outfit will mar the nation’s sovereignty, northern coalitions warn
After months of agitations over the spate of insecurity in the southwest, governors of the region yesterday launched the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamed Amotekun.
To the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, the initiative is a “policing arrangement close to our people in their various communities.”
But the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, yesterday described the launch of the scheme as an indictment of the Federal Government, saying it lends credence to the notion that the country’s security architecture has failed.
According to the south-east group, the development indirectly amounts to restructuring, a position it (Ohanaeze) has always advocated. It also warned that with the existing security architecture, Nigeria would continue to face serious challenges.
Ohanaeze’s Deputy Publicity Secretary Chief Chuks Ibegbu, told The Guardian in Enugu: “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 further: “Nowhere is safe. There is killing daily in Kogi, Adamawa, Abuja, Benue, Kaduna, Kano, Taraba and what have you. Travelling is not safe any longer. The north has become almost a no-go area. The Federal Government has abdicated its responsibility.”
He challenged southeast governors to follow suit, urging them to energise the anti-grazing bills they enacted and mobilise resources for the forest guard initiative, which they agreed upon last year.
It is unclear whether northwest states comprising Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano and Kaduna, may sooner or later replicate what the southwest governors have done, even as the region continues to groan under the weight of banditry, kidnapping, and other crimes.
Late last year, Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari had admitted that the military was becoming overstretched in its bid to maintain internal security. The governor, during a visit by Chief of Defence Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters, Abuja, Maj-Gen Leo Irabor, was quoted as saying: “We are overstretching the military. We are exposing the military too much. Too much contact with civilians certainly will negatively affect members of the armed forces one way or the other.”
He had however merely considered ways to “really equip and train the police or the mobile arm of the police to be in a position to respond to civil issues.” Urging the Federal Government to equip the police or revive the defunct National Guard, Masari said: “I believe if we do that, we may not necessarily need the military to come in, other than providing support in terms of training.”
Responding to The Guardian’s inquiry, Mike Udah, Media Director of the Southeast Governors’ Forum, said governors of the region remain committed to protecting their people, even as he disclosed a willingness to implement the forest guard scheme. He said Enugu State had already taken the lead and that the initiative would soon encompass other states.
Highlighting the need for funding, Udah maintained that circumstances in the states were varied. Nevertheless, he noted that security would remain a priority in the governors’ deliberations.
But the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) described the launch of the outfit as an affront to Nigeria’s security and a threat to national unity.
In a statement, the group’s president, Mallam Isah Abubakar, said: “Operation Amotekun is OPC’s military wing in disguise and much in the same league with the proscribed IPOB terrorist organisation. The president must not allow this unconstitutionality to prevail. Southwest governors must desist from backing nefarious groups such as this. Amotekun is a threat to peace and national security and any attempt to jeopardise Nigeria’s sovereignty.”
He added: “The group is not different from Boko Haram and the IPOB movement. We call on the Nigeria Police, DSS, and the military not to take this lightly with the governors. The National Security Adviser should promptly take steps that will avert this looming threat to our national security.”
However, backing the outfit, the Aare Onakankanfo of Yorubaland, Otunba Gani Adams, said: “The issue of Operation Amotekun is a welcome development. I can say authoritatively that Yoruba people are very happy with this initiative and anybody criticising it is either a sadist or that such a person does not value life.”
According to Adams, Amotekun differs from state police. He said: “We agitate for state police. But in the absence of that, something must be done. State police is a constitutional issue that would require amendment of the constitution. But a security outfit that will be controlled by governors is highly necessary now.”
He assured that three months into its inception, Operation Amotekun would end insecurity in Yorubaland. He also appealed to political leaders in the region not to mar the initiative with their selfish ambitions.
The secretary of the Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, Dr Isuwa Dogo, also praised the idea, saying: “State police is long overdue. I see no harm in Amotekun. There is no way it will conflict with the federally constituted security arrangement.”
A columnist, Chief Tola Adeniyi, dismissed concerns that politicians may hijack Amotekun. According to him, “The fear over the formation of Amotekun is baseless. We are talking of insecurity and it is in the interest of Yorubaland to look for a solution that will further guarantee the security of its people.”
According to a member of the 2014 National Conference, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd), Amotekun is an evolutionary way of addressing insecurity, a departure from the current situation where governors, though referred to as chief security officers, are limited in exercising the function due to constitutional restraints. He commended President Buhari and the Inspector General of Police for letting the governors float the initiative and cautioned security chiefs not to work against it.
But the president of Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, differed. According to him, as long as Amotekun lacks a constitutional framework, it portends danger for Nigeria’s corporate existence. Some people could turn it into another form of banditry, adding, “like OPC eventually turned during the 2015 general election when a particular party hijacked it for campaign.”
The Arewa Youths for Development and Progress (AYDP) received the news of the launch cautiously, saying: “This ordinary should be a welcome development. But with the nature of our politicians and the people in government today, who are known for the abuse of power and flagrant breach of the rule of law, one is against this initiative.”
The president of AYPD, Comrade Danjuma Sarki, told The Guardian: “At the initial stage, they will promise not to violate the rules or the objectives of setting it up. But give them some time; they will renege on their promise. By then, there is nothing you can do rather than lamentation. For this reason, we are not in support of its establishment.”
On whether the north might replicate the idea, Sarki said: “I don’t think it will be expedient for the north to have its own security outfit. As a matter of fact, if you want to see where governors or people in government abuse power and the rule of law flagrantly, then you should come to the north.
“If we have any security outfit in their control, it will certainly spell doom for our states and country. They will use it as a weapon for witch-hunting, settling scores, and oppression. Even the police, army and NSCDC that are not directly under them have not been completely insulated from their abuse and use in rigging elections and intimidating the people for political gains.”
On his part, the secretary-general of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Elder Anthony Sani, urged the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation to interpret the governors’ decision. “It is the place of the attorney general to guide and protect the observance of the constitution. I am sanguine that if the southwest goes against the constitution, there is a way to call them to order.”
He added: “All I can say is that the southwest has decided to come together and face their collective security challenges. There is no harm in coming together against collective challenges for common good.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army and Police were conspicuously absent from the launch of Amotekun, which came up at the Oyo State Secretariat, Agodi, Ibadan. However, paramilitary organisations like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) were in attendance.
The seeming boycott raised concerns about the disposition of the Federal Government and top security officers towards the initiative.
The Oyo State Police Command declined comments on its absence. When contacted via telephone, the Command Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Olugbenga Fadeyi said: “I cannot comment on that matter now. If I have any information, I will call
you.” 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 and promised to get back.
Governor Kayode Fayemi, while allaying fear that Amotekun might work against the corporate existence of the country, insisted: “This is not an agenda to undermine the integrity of the Federal Government of the 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.”
Also 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 advocates 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 amendment. We are not there yet. That won’t stop us from continuing to campaign for a policing arrangement that is most importantly 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.”
Some of the governors at the event included the Chairman of the South West Governors Forum and Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu; Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde; Osun State Deputy Governor Bendict Olugboyega; and Ogun State Deputy Governor Yetunde Onanuga. The helicopter conveying Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was said to have had challenges with landing as a result of the weather.
Also in attendance were the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; the leader of Yoruba World Congress, Prof. Banji Akintoye; Chief Muyiwa Ige; Chief Dayo Osinbogun and others.