Since the declaration of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) code-named Operation Amotekun as an illegal security outfit by the Federal Government in the penultimate week, the threats and counter-threats by proponents and antagonists of the initiative seem to have further cast more clouds of doubts over the fate of the new security initiative, which many have described as welcome development following the rising security challenges in the zone.
But top security experts and legal practitioners in the country believe that all hope is not lost as they identified the booby trap responsible for the suspension of the newly launched security outfit, and the possible way out of the debacle.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had declared Operation Amotekun illegal, maintaining that his office was not consulted by its promoters before it was launched in penultimate Thursday.
Governors from the Southwest had launched the security outfit on January 9, in an effort to provide additional security in the zone following rising cases of criminal activities in the region and the country at large.
A statement issued by the spokesperson of the AGF, Umar Gwandu, had read: “The setting up of a paramilitary organization,Operation Amotekun, is illegal, and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has established the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Police and other numerous paramilitary organizations for the purpose of defense of Nigeria.”
Speaking on the development, President of Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr Ona Ekhomu, said that the governors in Southwest deserve commendation for coming up with the initiative.
He, however, said that the declaration of the regional security outfit as an illegal organization might have been caused by an oversight.
According to Ekhomu, “I don’t think the governors did anything wrong in setting up Operation Amotekun other than the fact that you cannot bring any security agency into existence without legislation. Since it is meant to be a regional arrangement one would have thought that there would be an instrumentality where the five state governments would either simultaneously come up with a law setting up the security outfit.”
Ekhomu noted that the basis for the Federal Government’s declaration of the outfit as illegal was the argument that it was not backed by any legislation.
“The criticism the Attorney General is hanging on is that there is no law that brings it into existence. You cannot just gather people together and claim you have set up a security outfit. Certainly, self-help option is available to everyone, including the state governments. But in a situation where you have multiple bodies coming together – vigilance group, neighbourhood watch, OPC, Agbekoya – the problem with an arrangement such as this is that there is a possibility to spark some crises in time to come. So, there is need for caution. The only thing I can see is just like an oversight. What they failed to do is that they didn’t find an instrumentality through which they could have given joint enactment. If they did that it is possible that this problem wouldn’t have arisen.”
As a solution to the debacle, Dr Ekhomu urged the governors to seek a way of giving legal teeth to the formation and operations of security outfit.
“In about seven states in the country now we have all kinds of vigilance groups owned by the governments. Such arrangements are not strange to the Nigerian environment at all. One of the problems with security in this country is the ungoverned spaces. So, the role of Amotekun and all other vigilance groups is to provide additional security because we don’t have enough public security agents in the country. The only problem I see with Amotekun right now is that there is no joint enactment bringing it into existence, otherwise this challenge from the Attorney General would not have been an issue,” he said.
Speaking, Frank Odita, a retired Commissioner of Police and former spokesman of the force, aligned with Ekhomu’s position, noting that as laudable as the zonal joint security initiative was, its promoters erred by failing to get clearance from the Federal Government before taking off.
“I want to believe that even though the Southwest has the right to self-defense, the setting up of security outfit on their own without clearance from the Federal Government maybe tantamount to taking laws into their own hands. Much as I compliment them for their effort in beefing up security in their zone, I want to believe that if the Southwest governors, knowing very well that most Southwest governors are in the ruling party, they should have taken it to the National Council of State or discuss it extensively with the president and get his documented approval for the initiative or passing it to the National Assembly so that they will give them the teeth to bite.
“It is very important that members of this security outfit will be armed and so where would they derive the power to arm members of the Amotekun? That power is domiciled with the Federal Government. The truth is that they didn’t do their homework very well even though their intentions are okay. They could have taken advantage of the fact that they are members of the ruling party and then take it to the caucus of their party hierarchy, the National Working Committee of the APC or take it to the National Council of State where governors meet with the president and table it before the president,” he said.
The former police spokesperson, however, maintained that all hope is not lost on the initiative as the governors still have the chance to make amends.
“All they need to do is to take the whole exercise to their party. The Federal Government is APC, so why would they be having issues within their party? They should channel it through their own party hierarchy. And, of course, discuss it with the president. Once he gives them his blessing, they can go ahead with it.
“I expected that when Amotekun was to be launched, the president should have been there to launch it or delegate someone to launch it. But we only saw the Southwest governors. The Inspector General of Police, who has the responsibility to provide internal security was not there. The Minister for Internal Affairs was not there; no security agency of the federal setting was there and it looked as it was an internal affair of the Southwest. They failed to carry the Federal Government along, that is why they have this issue,” he pointed out.
But a legal practitioner, Malachy Ugwumadu disagreed with the view that the formation of Operation Amotekun contravened Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which frowns at the establishment of any other police force for the federation or any part. He maintained that the Southwest security initiative was a creative initiative of the leadership in the zone to deal with the security challenges in their region and compliment the efforts of the Nigerian Police.
His words: “The position of the FG was communicated by the AGF whose view is largely anchored on the centrality of the Nigerian Police Force as stipulated in Section 214(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The law in the same section frowns at the establishment of any other police force for the federation or any part. Furthermore, by item 45 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the police and other government security services shall be the exclusive preserve of the Executive.
“The valid question therefore is: ‘did the governments in the South Western Region of Nigeria establish in Amotekun a police force other than the Nigerian Police Force? My direct answer is no. Thus, the AGF and the FG should raise the red flag when Amotekun gets to that threshold. At the moment it is an initiative creatively adopted by the political leadership in the South Western Nigerian to deal with the security challenges in their region.”
Ugwumadu insisted that the security challenges rocking the nation have made the need for state police as against centralized or regional police more imperative.
“At the moment, there is hardly any police command in a state of the federation that is not heavily funded, equipped and assisted by the state. In most states of the federation, there exist those parallel security outfits lauded and acknowledged by state actors, including established conventional security institutions. The tendency towards state policing as opposed to centralised and regional policing must be acknowledged and adhered to for a functioning policing system. The Federal Government can encourage, guide or insist on the guidelines and parameters for their operations or challenge its creation in court,” he stated.
Contributing, legal luminary, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) called on the state governors to seek political solution to the problem, which he believes requires a careful study.
However in a situation where an attempt to find a political solution to the problem fails to yield the desired result, he admonished the parties involved to explore legal option.
According to him, “it simply challenges our notion of federalism. On the one hand, the Southwest feels that they have the constitutional rights to set it up, on the other hand the Federal Government says no, that it is a matter only the Federal Government can legislate. And I like things like that because it gives the opportunity for the court and I do hope that both the Attorney-General and the governments of the Southwest should be ready to litigate it.
“So, I think the only way to resolve this, it’s a highly political thing and there is no one correct answer. If you are on the Federal Government side you would argue that the Amotekun thing is a matter that falls within the policy of policing and that the state governors have no power to do so, but the state governors are simply saying that all they are doing is a neighborhood watch to complement what the police are doing, and that all the information they get will be geared towards providing the intelligence to the police to better their work, so it also makes sense. But there is no correct answer unless it is something that has been given careful study and I pray that the governors either resolve it politically, failing which they should get answer from the court. Whether the Federal Government is right or wrong, whether the states are right or wrong, there is no correct answer, it is either you settle it politically or through litigation.”