Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Mr Seye Oyeleye, the director general, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, is an administrator and a strategic management expert that has for more than 25 years worked in a middle level and senior management positions, in the public and private sector in Europe and Nigeria. He was appointed as the substantive DG of the commission by the Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum (WNGF) in March 2018.
The headquarters of DAWN Commission, saddled with the responsibility of coordinating regional integration for the geo-political zone, is at Cocoa House, Ibadan, Oyo State capital. The commission’s headquarters is also serving as administrative headquarters of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamedOperation Amotekun, initiated by the six governors of the Southwest of the country to combat insecurity in the geographical space and at the same time complement the efforts of the conventional security agencies.
In this interview, Oyeleye fielded questions on benefits of the agreement reached by the Federal Government and governors of the Southwest on Operation Amotekun, modalities for recruitment into the network, modus operandi, allegation that Amotekun is a Christian agenda to probably Christianise the Yoruba land, remuneration for Amotekun personnel and other sundry issues.
How would you appraise the agreement, which was reached on Thursday January 24, 2020 between the Federal Government and Southwest governors on drawing up legal frameworks for Operation Amotekun at a meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja?
It is a good thing. We said it all along that it is in the interest of everybody to understand what Amotekun was all about. So, said to ourselves that there was no point in us politicising the issue of security. So, when our governors said they have launched Amotekun and would re-engage the Federal Government in further talks to ensure that there is a clear understanding of what the outfit is all about. At the inception of the meetings to start this Amotekun, we carried along some vital, and critical Federal Government agencies. But we are where we are and suddenly they tried to politicise it. We are glad that our governors went back to Abuja and sat with the Federal Government. Don’t forget, and I say this all the time that we operate a federal system in Nigeria, where the state and Federal Government are equal partners. It is not that the Federal Government is the boss and the state government is the junior partner. No. They are partners. So, sitting together and coming up with an agreement on Thursday is a good thing and we believe now that, at least, to disabuse the minds of mischief makers, who decide to read many things into what indeed was just a genuine effort being made by six governors to safeguard lives and property in Western Nigeria.
Some people have been arguing that you put the cart before the horse, that the legal framework for Amotekun should have been drawn up among the Southwest states before the launch of Amotekun on January 9, 2020 in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. What is your position on this?
It is another misconception. Governors have executive powers, which they exercised in setting up Amotekun. The legal framework that the Federal Government was demanding is already embedded in the constitution. What the government set up was not illegal. What they are only doing now is going back to their legislatures and saying the Amotekun should be backed up with laws within their respective states. Do not forget that they cannot do regional law. There is no regional law. What is going to happen is that each state will pass a law to support the Amotekun initiative. So, the argument that we are putting the cart before the horse is not true. We live in a society, particularly in Nigeria, where good intentions are quickly misinterpreted as bad intentions. Even, if there are all the laws of the world from the onset, some would have still misinterpreted it. But it was set up as an executive orders of the governors. What they are only doing now is to put the laws in their states, behind the individual states because there is no regional law. With where we are now, I can assure you that within a short time, you would find all the states in the Southwest have the laws backing the Amotekun initiative in their respective states. Of course, Amotekun is a security outfit for the six states in the Southwest.
What will be the modalities for recruitment into WNSN?
The criteria that we have set up 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 from. So, 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 vigilante group or Oodua People’s Congress (OPC). It is totally up to them 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. So, 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 will be repeating the same mistake 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, their parents and know what they have been up to; and that is what is called local policing.
But there has been an allegation by a Muslim community that the coordinators of Amotekun have been asking those seeking to join WNSN to bring their birth certificates from churches. What is your reaction on this allegation?
I told you earlier that 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, the governor of the State of Osun, His Excellency, Gboyega Oyetola, quickly issued a statement, rebuking and rebutting Prof Ishaq Akintola, saying that is not true. This is Yoruba land. 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 is 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 Yoruba land; nobody does that. And we must not tread that dangerous route.
On remuneration, it is already in the public domain that some groups have been saying each of the personnel of WNSN would be paid N13,500 every month as salaries and it is also being said each would be paid N30,000. What is true position on the remuneration?
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. Let me even tell you further that 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. So, 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. So, N13,500 is not true.
What will be the modus operandi of Operation Amotekun?
Amotekun is going to be state based. But the fact that it is a regional thing, they have the power to cut across and operate within each other state. There is going to be handshakes across the borders. So, they will be operating across the boundaries of the state. That is all I can put out at the moment on the mode of operation. Yes, they will not be carrying arms. Why? It is because they are just community police. Now that our governors have gone over to Abuja to re-engage with the Federal Government, we are hopeful that each of our vehicles will also have conventional security men with the Amotekun officers. You will find out that the conventional security officers will be the ones carrying ammunition. So, that is how it is going to work. But make no mistake about it, all the vehicles are equipped with the state-of-the-art communication gadget, so that from any point, they can easily speak with each other.
How would you respond to the allegation that Operation Amotekun was set up primarily to work against Fulani herdsmen?
Amotekun was not set up to face any ethnic group. Western Nigeria Security Network, known as Amotekun, was set up to protect lives and property for anyone living within this geographical space, called Western Nigeria. So, I say it all the time that no matter what tribe you belong to, as long as you live within this space, the government must protect you. Don’t forget that Amotekun cannot go and operate in Edo State, or Kwara, or Kogi, they can’t. Their limit is just the six states. As long as you are within the six states, we will provide security of lives and property. But mischief-makers, who have their own agenda, were the ones that went to town and said it is a Yoruba Army. I say it all the time that when someone is being kidnapped, I am not sure the kidnappers will ask whether you are Yoruba, Efik or Ibibio. What they do is to kidnap. So, Amotekun will be covering everybody living within this geographical space. So, it is not against the Fulani, it is not against the Igbo, it is not against the Ijaw, and it is not against anyone, except the criminals. Their primary duty is community policing, protecting lives and property of everyone that lives in this geographical space. So, whoever that says that, has his own ulterior motive for saying that. They are just trying to latch on to Amotekun. It is not true. I am sure by the time you see them around, and on the road, you will understand, that this is genuinely an effort. Make no mistake, and we have to understand that Nigeria is facing serious security challenges; look at Northeast, loom at North-central, look at Northwest. So, the police are overstretched. So, when you have governors, coming together to put in that little effort to complement the efforts of the police, and the army, we should please commend them. People that have their own agenda, should take their own agenda elsewhere. We know what we are doing and we are clear in our mind. By the grace of God, it is going to succeed.