Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Operation Amotekun has dominated Nigeria’s space in recent times. Controversies have continued to trail the launch of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) in Ibadan, Oyo State, since it took off on Thursday, January 9, 2020.
Amotekun is a security outfit initiated by the six South-West governors to protect citizens from criminals ravaging their land and causing sorrws. However, the music is not the same in some parts of the country, particularly in the North. Opinion leaders from the region spoke against the initiative. But leaders of the South-South and South-East, as well as some leaders in some sections of the North declared support for the security initiative.
Former civilian governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) condemned Amotekun as nothing but a ploy to declare Oduduwa Republic, which means the South-West wants to tactically secede from Nigeria. Others contended that the governors could misuse the outfit to witch-hunt their perceived political enemies, especially during elections.
Some northerners even insisted that, if power must shift from the North to the South-West in 2023, the region must forget Amotekun. They alleged the outfit was set up to combat Fulani herdsmen.
Meanwhile, notable Yoruba leaders, including Afenifere chieftains, Pa Ayo Adebanjo and Mr. Yinka Odumakin, as well as Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, rose stoutly in defence of the security initiative. They asked: “Where was (Balarabe) Musa when criminals unleashed reign of terror on Yorubaland?”
As the controversies raged, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), declared Amotekun illegal. The declaration sparked outrage from those that unapologetically believe in the cause. Legal luminaries, including Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) and other opinion leaders, said there was nothing illegal about the initiative, challenging the Federal Government to go to court if it was dissatisfied. They cited relevant sections of the 1979 and 1999 Constitution (as amended) that empower the governors to protect life and property in their states. They argued that the office of the AGF cannot make law for the country but can only advise the President on legal matters.
The fear that the Federal Government might go ahead and proscribe Amotekun was so high that the Yoruba said they would not take it. They were ready to battle the Federal Government. The turn of events made Yoruba World Congress, under the leadership of a frontline historian, Prof. Banji Akintoye, to organise a peaceful rally in all the six states of the South-West. The rally was successful in Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states. It was, however, aborted in Lagos State by the police with an explanation that some hoodlums might hijack the rally.
Investigation revealed that there was a delicate peace in Yorubaland over the stance of the Federal Government on WNSN. The unity of the South-West on Amotekun was unprecedented and, if the Federal Government does not handle the matter with care, the South-West, which has been described as a string that binds he nation together, might break.
The Yoruba stood their ground that they could not be treated as pushovers, saying the Yoruba were a nation that is complete in everything such as access to the sea, sharingof direct borders with neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic and Togo, with strong traditional and religious institutions.
The Igbo, according to a writer, Obinna Ezugwu, are largely fed up with Nigeria. The Middle Belt is also upset about the killings in the region. It was the opinion of some leaders of thoughts that, if the Federal Government had not reached a compromise with the South-West governors on Amotekun and peradventure, “the military or police unleash their guns on the Amotekun men and women when they eventually file out, the consequences could be far-reaching. Will the entire country turn against the Yoruba as they did with the Igbo during the Biafra war?
“But the Federal Government was proactive and did not allow the situation to degenerate to what could become drums of war. A delegation of the Federal Government, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, brokered peace with the South-West governors and they have reached a compromise to draw legal frameworks within which the personnel of WNSN would operate. To the Yoruba and those that believe in the cause, the compromise was a good development that would help to strengthen the security architecture of the country.
Before Amotekun was launched, the governors were supporting conventional security agencies in their respective states. In Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde distributed 100 well-equipped cars to security agencies to strengthen the security architecture of the Pacesetter State.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State also distributed vehicles to conventional security agencies three times. The latest was the presentation of 15 new pickup trucks to security agencies in the state. In March 2018, he presented 10 speedboats to the Naval Operational Base in Igbokoda, Ilaje Local Government Area. On November 9, 2018, his administration donated five patrol vans to the police.
In November 2019, Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State announced the acquisition of 20 patrol vehicles and communication gadgets for security operatives. He added that the new vehicles would be supported with 20 armoured personnel carriers to improve security in the state.
In September 2019, Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State donated 100 patrol cars and 200 patrol motorcycles to various security formations to secure the Gateway State
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, about five months ago, donated 120 patrol vehicles and 35 motorcycles to the state police command. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State also gave vehicles to security agencies, including two Toyota Hilux pick-ups to the 19th Battalion, Nigerian Army, Okitipupa, Ondo State. The battalion oversees Ondo and Ekiti states.
On the remuneration for personnel of Amotekun, director-general of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, the body coordinating Amotekun, Mr Seye Oyeleye, put the records straight: “The states are going to pay them and there is no state that will pay N13,500.
“The N13,500 was a creation of the social media. There is no state, I can tell you authoritatively, that said it would pay N13,500 to Amotekun. All I know is that the states are the ones recruiting and there is no state that will pay below the minimum wage.
“Those that will be engaged will also be insured by the states. There will be life insurance for each of them. So, life insurance is one of the benefits. Also, there will be medical insurance. Those are some of the things that personnel of Amotekun will enjoy once they are recruited.
“This N13,500 was just a creation of the social media. It is just like the logo you have been seeing all around in some media houses of Amotekun of two men, wearing hunters’ coats and with dane guns. That is not the logo of Amotekun. It is just a creation of someone on social media.
“All these things, we have tried as much as possible to put out the correct narrative from DAWN Commission. And we tell everybody out there that, if they need any information on Amotekun, our phone numbers are there. We put them out all the time. If you have anything to verify, call us, we will give you the right information. You can also call Special Advisers on Security in the six states.”
A Muslim community in Oyo State also alleged that the coordinators of Amotekun have been asking those seeking to join WNSN to bring their birth certificates from churches, and that it was a Christian agenda to Christianise Yorubaland, adding that, out of the six governors in the South West, only one of them was a Muslim.
Oyeleye responded: “Mischief-makers are many in town. One, there was no any order from any state that those to be recruited must present birth certificates issued by churches.
“Thankfully, Governor Oyetola of Osun State quickly issued a statement, rebuking and rebutting Prof. Ishaq Akintola, saying that is not true. This is Yorubaland. We don’t play religious politics. Every household has traditional worshippers, Christians and Muslims. I know of twins from the same parents, one is a Muslim and one is a Christian.
“We too read the news on the birth certificates and we quickly put out a disclaimer that it was not true. For want of a better word, that is a blatant lie. No one has said go and bring birth certificate from churches. States are the ones recruiting and they have not issued anything like that.
“Prof. Akintola knows that we really need to make sure that we don’t heat up the polity unnecessarily all in the name of trying to be relevant. When we read that, we said that is not just fair. We don’t do that here. We won’t play religious politics in Yorubaland; nobody does that. And we must not tread that dangerous route.
“The criteria we set up for recruitment are that you must be literate, you must reside in the state where you will be recruited. If you will be recruited for Amotekun initiative in Ekiti State, you must reside in Ekiti.
“The states have been given the liberty to interface with stakeholders in their own states and decide where and from who they want to recruit. A state can decide that it wants to take some members from the hunters’ association, and some may decide they want to take from the vigilance group or Oodua People’s Congress (OPC). It is totally up to that states to decide from which pool they will be populating their own Amotekun. At least, I think Lagos State has already told us that they might be taking from its neighbourhood police into Amotekun.
“States have the liberty to recruit because there is no point for us sitting in Ibadan at our headquarters in Oyo State and be recruiting for other states. If we do so, we would be repeating the same mistakes of the federal police. The fact that it is local policing, those that will be recruited must be locals. Local people will know them, their families, parents and know what they have been up to. That is what is called local policing.”