The fact that only governors of western states that have floated the most elaborate do-it-yourself security outfit (Amotekun) and a predictable cheerleading chorus of ethnic champions are defending it suggests that the mountain of suspicion, hostility or even envy which they need to deal with is enormous. Perhaps it is wise that they kept it under wraps until it was ready to be rolled out. Imagine the barrage of threats, condemnation and criticisms they would have faced, most of it poorly-grounded in logic or an informed awareness of the current state of national security and the existence of patches of similar, if poorer cousins of Amotekun, all over the country.
Still, you do have to wonder if the western six can safely claim to have a done deal, given the frenetic and extensive damage control which is being undertaken to calm nerves and enlist wider support and sympathy, most of which will not succeed because the real issue is not about improving regional security. Predictably, President Buhari is maintaining traditional distance from contentious matters. The Minister of Justice says the position of the federal government will be made known after it studies the development in the context of its constitutionality. None of the heads of the military, police or civil defence have made encouraging remarks that suggest that they will be part of the outfit. There are conflicting positions from trouble-seeking Oodu’a Peoples Congress (OPC) and Agbekoya, the two organizations with mixed credentials in ‘protecting’ people in the six states.
The longer this issue about a regional outfit stays out there without a definitive position regarding its legality and clarifications on its operational guidelines and relations with security and public safety institutions, the more controversy it will generate. It is reasonable to assume that there have been or there are currently attempts to put pressure on President Buhari to give the nod to an attempt to float a structure dripping with politics. An outright condemnation of Amotekun as illegal will be a huge political setback for powerful politicians from the region who pride themselves in the manner they relate with President Buhari. Equally, there are likely to be murmurs from elites of other regions that their people are being caged again in a region they helped build.
Southwest politicians will argue that their excellent think tanks have thoroughly studied the legal basis of their initiative, and they will not be caught showing ignorance of the constitution, or of their rights to protect citizens in the region. They have made the case that many outfits exist all over the country that complement security and law-enforcement agencies, notably the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) which has been notable in complementing the state’s efforts to fight Boko Haram. To stop Amotekun, therefore, is to deny people of the southwest of their rights to additional protection and security, an inconsistency that will be intolerable from people that have suffered terrible outrage in the hands of old, but particularly relatively new threats roughly identified with specific groups of other Nigerians.
Perhaps the strategy is to confront President Buhari, the federal government and the nation with a fait accompli, hinting at the imminence of a major initiative that will sharpen the political boundaries of a region, then hitting the nation with it. There will be noises here and there, but who will shoot down an arrangement which may suffer some bruises if pushed vigorously through the law, but can be squeezed by reference to multiple, if varied predecessors, and, more significantly, the yawning gaps in security of the citizen and public safety? It will be difficult, due largely to political considerations, for the federal government to withhold legal recognition of the outfit. It may very well deny it the participation of its own personnel, as well as remind the governors that there are laws governing use of firearms and protection of the rights of citizens and the imperatives of submitting to the lawful powers of the police and the military. If it is concerned about offending sensitive allies, it could encourage others to challenge the legal basis of the outfit in court.
Reactions from Fulani/Herder associations and elderly northern busy bodies like the Arewa Consultative Council(ACF) have not made the case for dismantling Amotekun any better by being early risers in the throng of critics. Certainly, they have not helped President Buhari, in the event that he was stirring towards pulling the plug. These groups are the very people Buhari was accused of inspiring, or turning a blind eye when they allegedly turned the once peaceful and secure southwest into a sea of blood, herding their cattle into farms and neighbourhoods of VIPs. Most states in the country have some type of vigilante or the other, choking the nation with nebulous policing, while those with legitimate policing responsibility retreated under pressure, incompetence and loss of popular support. In short, there is nothing new in the existence of vigilate organizations of various types, sizes, proximity with the laws of the land, sophistication and loyalties to partisan interests and real value in terms of improving security and safety of the citizen. Community policing has become the wand waved at every failure of the state to protect citizens.
Two things are new, though. One is the depressing realization that all the vigilante outfits and the police and other security agencies put together are not making Nigerians more secure and safer. Two, Amotekun is unlikely to add one minute of sleep to Nigerians who are exposed to types and levels of insecurity they have never known until now. Since they will not admit it, let us admit it for them: Amotekum is a bold move to deepen the long-desired wish of many in the southwest to create greater political and economic distance between the region and Nigeria. This is not a crime, but it does subvert the state’s capacity to do its job better. Think about it: the billions that will eventually be pooled to recruit, kit, train, remunerate, purchase vehicles and equipment, procure intelligence, and induce police and the military to yield ground and ignore some breaches, could all go to the military and the police by way of assistance from governors who lament the inadequacies of existing security, law and order institutions. Kwara, Kogi and Edo states are not part of this arrangement, despite their physical and cultural proximity. No, this is entirely the old -fashioned Western Nigeria and Lagos, warts and all, raising barricades and painting warning signboards. There is also a strong smell of 2023 here.
Amotekun is an attempt to remind the nation of the existence of a solid political bloc that can think as one and chart a course to a future that is consistent with its interests. Nothing wrong with that here, even if it cannot hide its fictional elements. What will be wrong will be the use of a vigilante outfit to achieve political goals by leaning hard on other Nigerians. This, far from improving security of the nation and the region, will only make it worse, and the federal government should have nothing to do with it. What needs to be done is to acknowledge that this nation desperately needs a thorough review. We are sinking under the weight of self-denial and the absence of leaders who can see beyond their own interests. If there will be anything good in Amotekun, it is that it is the loudest call for a responsible and inclusive conversation about Nigeria..
Abubakar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org