Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
In the beginning, there was relative peace across the six states in the Southwest. People could travel from one part of the region to the other with ease of mind and peace. Some travellers who enjoy night journeys did not have any reason to be afraid, except for occasional armed robbery incidents on the highways.
But a time came when the relative peace was shattered. And fear gripped many people over travelling from one part of the region to the other. It started with incessant clashes between local farmers and herdsmen, and aggravated by kidnapping, armed robbery during the day, banditry and other forms of social vices.
By the middle of 2019, the menace had become unbearable for the Yoruba, which compelled the six governors in the Southwest to meet in Abuja and elected Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu as their chairman. After the meeting, they mandated the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission to convene a security summit, which was held by the middle of 2019. The summit was held at the Theophilus Ogunlesi Hall, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State and was attended by all the governors in the region, and other strategic stakeholders.
The security summit was followed by another security summit a few weeks later, which was convened by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, for Southwest geo-political zone. It was held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.
Pragmatic solutions were reached at the end of the separate security summits. The governors in the region continued to meet and concluded that a regional security outfit would be the panacea to the menace of insecurity and mandated the DAWN Commission to work out the possibility and workability of the security outfit. The commission was said to have worked assiduously with the support of the governors and came up with what is now known as Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamed ‘Operation Amotekun’. Amotekun is Yoruba name for leopard.
Operation Amotekun was formally launched by the governors of South Western states on Thursday, January 9, 2020, signaling the commencement of new era in the security architecture of the six states in the Southwest region and by extension Nigeria as a whole. The launching took place at the Car Park of Oyo State Governor’s Office, Agodi, Ibadan. Already, some of the other geo-political zones in Nigeria have signified intention to form joint security outfits like Amotekun to combat insecurity in their regions.
The security issues that culminated into Operation Amotekun bordered on the rampant kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery cases in many states in the Southwest, especially on Ibadan-Ilesha-Akure Road, Ondo-Ore Road, Ilesha-Ekiti Road, Akure-Ekiti Road that even angels fear to tread, most especially from 2018 to 2019. Lagos State also has its on share of the menace on Epe, Ikorodu and Badagry axis. Incessant clashes between local farmers and herdsmen also formed part of the causative factors.
Those that have been victims of kidnapping allegedly by herdsmen are former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, who was abducted in his farm in Ondo State; an Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr Musibau Adetunmbi, who was abducted at Iwaraja in Osun State along Ilesha-Akure Road in April 2019; Prof of Orthopaedic Surgery and Traumatology at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof Adeyinka Adegbehingbe, who was kidnapped between Asejire and Ikire towns while travelling from Lagos to Ile-Ife in May 2019; as well as Adedayo Adewole, son of former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole.
As alleged, various undisclosed amounts were paid as ransom before many of the victims were released. But some victims were unlucky, as they lost their lives in captivity. One of the prominent Nigerians that lost her life to the menace was Mrs Funke Olakunrun, daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation, which occurred between Ondo and Ore.
After the official launch, each of he governors and the deputy governors were given keys to drive one of the vans from other states, which they did to flag off the usage of the vehicles.
Each of the vehicles has been painted red and all of them branded with a logo that has a leopard on it. The vans, however, have been moved to the different states in the region for commencement of security operations.
But some people and groups have been very concerned about how the personnel of the WNSN would work with the police, modalities for recruitment, how to prevent excesses, sustainable funding for the outfit by the six states, if the personnel would have the power to arrest, if the security outfit is not meant to destabilise the country and prepare the Yoruba nation for secession from Nigeria, and so on.
But the questions were all answered at the official launch of the security initiative, which was attended by governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State; Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, who graced the ceremony in person, while Governors Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State were represented by their deputies, Gboyega Alabi and Noimot Salako-Oyedele, respectively. Cloudy weather was said to have prevented the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, from attending the ceremony.
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II; Alawe of Ilawe Ekiti and Chairman of Council of Traditional Rulers in Ekiti State, Oba Adebanji Alabi; a prominent Yoruba leader and astute historian, Prof Banji Akintoye; Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare; and Otunba Kayode Balogun, who represented the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, also graced the occasion.
All the governors, monarchs and Yoruba leaders that spoke at the event said Operation Amotekun was initiated to strengthen security architecture of Southwest against banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual killings and other social vices in the region.
They were all emphatic that Operation Amotekun was not initiated for Southwest to cause disunity in Nigeria or for Youba land to break away from the nation, and neither is the initiative an affront on the Nigerian Constitution as the security network would play complementary role for the armed forces in the country.
Governor Makinde, who hosted the ceremony, in his address said: “It is our priority to ensure that both indigenes and settlers, living within the boundaries of our various states can carry out their legitimate activities in a secure environment. The security of their lives and property should be of paramount importance.
“When we discuss the development potentials of our states and talk about investment opportunities and growing our internally generated revenue by exploring areas of comparative advantage, we remain keenly aware that we cannot achieve anything in a state of insecurity. And so, we are here.
“To those who are afraid, I say, when we assumed office, we all took the oath of office and promised to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to follow the dictates of the Constitution and protect the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have not forgotten our oath.
“Our regional integration, our coming together, should be seen in one light and one light alone: that we are coming together to fight a common enemy. That enemy is not Nigeria; the enemies are the elements among us and their affiliates who are determined to cause commotion within the borders of our states and threaten our peaceful coexistence.”
Akeredolu, who is the chairman of South Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum and convener of the launching ceremony, said the states in the zone agreed to contribute 20 vehicles each, and noted that each state had done so with the exception of Oyo State which donated 33 vehicles to the security outfit, adding that each of the states also provided hundreds of motorcycles to penetrate terrains that vehicles cannot get into, especially forest reserves.
He also dispelled the speculation that the presidency in Abuja summoned all the Southwest governors to Abuja 24 hours to the launch, adding that the Ekiti State governor, Fayemi, actually met the Inspector General of Police on behalf of all the governors in the region on the launch for discussion.
Akeredolu stated that all the personnel that would work in the security outfit would be registered and their biometrics would be captured so that each of them can be easily traced. He added that funding would not be a problem as the six states in the region “are committed to the success of the Operation Amotekun.”
Ekiti State governor, Fayemi, who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGE), said: “So, we do not want this to create any fears in the mind of anyone. And we have seen all manners of things in the social media, although we are not responsible for it, and we cannot explain it, but we see those things that have proliferated the social media as an attempt to sabotage what we are doing.
“We are not creating a regional police force, neither are we oblivious of the steps 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 the procedures that we need to undergo in order to get to that point. We know we need a constitutional amendment and we are not there yet.
“That will not stop us from continuing to campaign for a policing arrangement that is at a multi-level, but most importantly, that is close to our people in their various communities. Whether it is local police or state police or federal police or even campus police. As long as it is close to our people and the people can hold them accountable, that is what we are for.
“So, for us, we do not want anyone to misconstrue or misinterpret what is happening here. The conception of Amotekun is that we will operate on a state-by-state basis. Osun Amotekun operatives will not go and operate in Oyo Amotekun space. However, we share boundary and we are not islands. There may be situations that would warrant a handshake between one or the other of our Amotekun formations.
“Most importantly, this is not an agenda to undermine the integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, just as some of us are unapologetic Yoruba indigenes, we are also very proud Nigerians and we will 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 and we will continue to do all within our powers to push the frontiers of this collective security initiative.”
Fayemi, however, noted: “When we were daily assaulted by a spate of kidnappings, banditry, armed robbery, across the length and breath of Western Nigerian, we obviously sought succour in all the right places and the mainstream security is still doing their best to arrest the situation.
“It was in the context of these unfortunate developments that we lost the daughter of our leader in Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and that further put, and rightfully so, a lot of pressure on the political leadership to do something about the fear in our communities and constituencies where our people are not sleeping with their two eyes closed.
“And as elected leaders of the our various states, our primary responsibilities according to Section 14:2 of the 1999 Constitution as amended is the security and welfare of our citizens. And that is what informed the coming together of my colleagues and I to fashion a way we can utilise to complement the work of our mainstream security agencies, but which are quite overstretched in their efforts to arrest the menace that had afflicted not just on our zone, but the entire country at the time.”
Deputy Governor of Osun State, Alabi, stated: “The governors of the six states in the region are irresistibly committed to the success of Amotekun and we will collaborate with the five services to make the project a huge success.
“This joint security outfit is part of our responsibility and efficiency of the governors to our region. This traditional role is a parameter for measuring the responsibility and efficiency our state governments in swift manner. We, the state governors, have responded to the security challenges ravaging the region, which are offshoot of the nation’s ongoing security challenges. This is a proof that security and welfare of people are important to us. We, the governors of the region, brainstormed on the ways to safeguard and secure our people. We contacted the leadership of the military and other security outfits in the country.
“The leadership of the security agencies immediately deployed their men to the region and the rate of kidnapping, ritual killing, and robbery was averted. This collaboration later gave birth to our Amotekun which we are witnessing today, the joint security outfit of five services.”
The Yoruba leader, Prof Akintoye also said that the launching of Amotekun was not to break up the country, and commended the governors for the initiative, saying: “What is happening today is that Yoruba people under the leadership of their elected governors have stepped forward to provide higher level of protection to their people in their farms and their homes. Thank you so much and I want to assure you that you have our support. You have the support of the Yoruba people and you will continue to have our support. There might be some difficulties along the way, but be assured that we will stand by you to make it a beautiful success for our people.
“Some people are asking how the police are going to be relating with Amotekeun, but don’t forget that we are being led by highly educated people, they are going to fashion out their relationship properly so that Amotekun and the police will work without conflict. There won’t be conflict.
“To the young people that will be working with Amotekun, listen carefully to your trainers. Follow their instructions. Do not operate on your own inventions. Do what your trainers ask you to do. You are servants of a Yoruba nation. Stand firm and defend Yoruba nation.”
Alawe of Ilawe Ekiti, Oba Adebanji Alabi, also enjoined the governors to ensure that funding does not become a problem for the Western Nigeria Security Network, adding that multinational companies in the region could also support the initiative.
A former Commissioner of Police in Lagos and Benue states, Mr Fatai Owoseni, who is the current Special Adviser on Security to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, said it was worrisome that people had been corrupting the interpretation of what Operation Amotekun stands for.
His words: “What is Amotekun? It is neighobourhood watch for the Southwest. There is a neighbourhood watch in Lagos. The British Government through the DFID (Department for International Development) also has a template, which they introduced as voluntary policing sector, which in other words, is called the vigilante. The police have been working with the vigilante groups all along. So, practically what was done with the launch of Operation Amotekun is to formalise the support, the assistance that the non-state actors are giving to the conventional security people. There is nothing more than that.
“We have seen it work in Lagos State. I was the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State when the Neighbourhood Watch was created. Has Neighbourhood Watch taken over the job of the conventional security agencies in Lagos?
“When the IGP came for the Southwest Security Summit, he said the police would support the Southwest with special intervention force, which would be coordinated or headed by a Commissioner of Police. Some of the elements of that have been deployed. What the Southwest is doing is to support what the IGP has done. Those fellows that are being used as what I will call Neighbourhood Watch, which the Southwest has codenamed Amotekun, are familiar with the terrain. And that is the advantage we are having. Some of them know all the nooks and crannies. The facts that vehicles were displayed do not mean that it is only the vehicles they will use. Motorcycles were even purchased.”
Asked if the WNSN will have the power to arrest and prosecute, Owoseni explained that every citizen has the power of arrest and when “you arrest, take to the police station. The Amotekun will not operate detention facility. It should just be taken as non-state actors participating in securing the people. There is no one that said they would be armed. Even, in the locations we live, we have guards that carry dane-guns if it is necessary for them to use some of those things. The hunters carry their dane-guns with their dogs and those are their tools.”
He stated further that the headquarters of the DAWN Commission at Cocoa House, Ibadan, would be the headquarters of Amotekun because the operations would be coordinated by the commission.
Speaking on the recruitment of personnel, the Director General of DAWN Commission, Mr Seye Oyeleye, said that it would be done on state basis, and the number of personnel that Oyo State would engage might be higher than some other states in the region.
On remuneration, Oyeleye stated that no personnel of Amotekun would earn below N30,000 national minimum wage, adding that members of the public should discard the speculation that N13,500 has been proposed as monthly salary for the personnel of Operation Amotekun.