For a long time, security experts have advocated the need to decentralise the country’s security architecture, particularly the police, which is primarily responsible for internal security. Top public office holders like Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have also canvassed same.
This, according to them, would be a panacea for the growing insecurity in the country as government at all levels would be able to effectively combat the myriads of insecurity challenges confronting their respective regions.
Unlike any other time in recent history, the country has witnessed more cases of insecurity. These include Boko Haram terrorism in the North-East to banditry in the North-West, farmers-herders clashes mainly in the North-Central, South and other parts of the country, cattle rustling mainly in the North and kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of criminal acts in the South and indeed across the country.
These challenges have led to the loss of many lives; many people have for weeks and months been confined to hospital beds after sustaining varying degrees of injuries during such attacks, while some others have simply gone missing.
Thus, to effectively tackle the insecurity problem in their sub-region, governors in the South-West at a summit convened by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria in June 2019 agreed to set up the Western Nigeria Security Network, popularly known as Amotekun.
After its official launch in Ibadan, Oyo State, on January 9, 2020, Amotekun soon became a household name and many Nigerians, lawyers and security experts from different parts of the country commended the governors for the initiative. The prospect seemed so reassuring that the South-East Governors’ Forum also activated a similar plan to have a similar outfit in their sub-region, while the Middle Belt said they were considering a similar outfit.
But since the inauguration, it has not been a smooth ride for the initiative to fully take-off, given the hurdles the Federal Government has continued to throw up. According to some observers, everything appears like a ploy by the government at the central to frustrate the scheme.
Meanwhile, to ensure that the initiative is not seen as a competition to the police, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State said at the inauguration that it would work as a joint task force with the security agencies, especially as the personnel have a deep knowledge of the language, history, terrain and culture of the community they are serving.
But five days after the January 9 inauguration, the first cog in the wheel was the pronouncement by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, that Amotekun was illegal.
“The setting up of the paramilitary organisation called ‘Amotekun’ is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law,” he had said, citing some provisions in the constitution that security was the exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government.
But, in the view of a lawyer and former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, the security of a state lies clearly in the hands of the governor, being the chief security officer of the state and so the governor should be able to do everything within the ambit of the law to protect lives and property in the state.
“Now, there is a law validly passed by the states’ Houses of Assembly, giving legality to Amotekun, and no pronouncement has been made by any court to the contrary. So, to me, as long as the states are trying to protect their people, I don’t see anything that should create fear, unless there is another motive other than the security of lives and property.
The stalemate lasted for days and the governors had threatened to drag the Federal Government to court over its opposition to Amotekun.
But following the intervention of the Vice-President, they shelved the plan. Ondo State Governor and Chairman of South-West Governors Forum, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, said their agreement with the vice-president was that they would come up with a legal framework to back the initiative.
About a month after, the plan by the governors to make Amotekun a regional outfit for robust partnership and regional integration suffered a major setback, when the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, met with the governors on the issue.
At the end of their deliberations, the IG said, “Amotekun is not a regional security outfit. Every state has one form of security arrangement or the other, whether it is vigilante or neighbourhood watch, that are working with security agencies in the states to fight crime. Amotekun is not different from these initiatives.”
After the respective Houses of Assembly in the six south-western states passed the Amotekun Bill and the governors signed them into law, in addition to inaugurating the structure, the Amotekun corps ave since started operations in the states.
Already, some gains have been recorded.
For example, in Osun State, the corps, during different operations, have arrested several Chinese nationals and locals for illegal mining in the state. And about a week ago in Ondo State, three suspected kidnappers were arrested by the corps.
The latest hurdle came from the Presidency recently when it declared that Amotekun would be run in line with a structure defined by the IG of police.
In what seemed like a disparaging tone, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said on a Channels Television programme that “whatever name they go by, Amotekun or whatever, will be streamlined and they will be run in accordance with the structure as defined by the Inspector-General of Police. They will be localized, they will be owned by local communities, they will be managed by them.”
The governors, however, faulted the position of the Presidency.
Akeredolu, who is the chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, said, “A law set up Amotekun and Amotekun operates under its own law and it’s not going to be subsumed under any setup, no!. We will work together, it is a collaboration, but not that it will be subsumed; that is not the thinking and that is not going to be acceptable.”
Meanwhile, with the latest pronouncement from the Presidency, experts have said the Federal Government should be supporting Amotekun rather than mounting obstacles on its path to progress.
Ubani added, “What was the purpose of creating Amotekun? It’s because we have seen that the centralization or the bureaucracy of the current security architecture has not helped in effectively policing Nigeria and lives and property have been exposed because of that inefficiency. So, saying it should be under the same bureaucracy that has not effectively secured lives and property would be turning logic upside down and we would be going back to what we are running away from.
“I think the Nigerian Police Force and Amotekun should work together; they are not competing for anything. They are all working towards the protection of lives and property.”
To a professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Isaac Albert, it has been clearly established that Nigeria is too big for a central police and the police “have not shown they have the capacity to effectively police the country.”
“And to a very large extent, the current police system depends on state governors to buy vehicles and other financial support for them.”
Albert, who is also the pioneer Director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan, said, “Since Amotekun was pronounced, all those people kidnapping our people on their way to our hometown (in the South-West) are no longer there, which means Amotekun is achieving results already.
“I think what the governors are trying to do is to save what they give the federal police, in terms of vehicles and money, and use it to establish and fund their own policing system in their jurisdiction.
“I think if the Federal Government is truly interested in the safety of lives and property, it should be supporting the like of Amotekun. They should rather jump at the opportunity of states having their own policing system because all security problems are local, so if you don’t strengthen the local security system, you won’t achieve much.
“But I think the problem is that we have over-politicized security, so we don’t care what happens to people at the grass roots, so long our government is assured of protection.”
He added that in line with supporting local policing system, traditional institutions should also be empowered.
“People should deal with their local problem and if they are not able to deal with it at the local level, transfer it to the state level, if it cannot be dealt with at that level, then the federal level should take it up,” he said.
“If we don’t decentralise, all of them in Abuja would over time be wiped away, and by retaining this central police system, we are just planting the seed of destroying this country. If we don’t practice true federalism, this country may not hold together, we would just be wasting our time,” he warned
“I have a number of students who have done their PhD on community policing under me and it should be noted that community policing as a scientific construct requires first and foremost that there should be a relationship between the community and the police. That is what we need,” he noted.
Also, a security consultant, Mr John Eweliku, noted that Amotekun and such state security initiative were expected to operate autonomously and that the continued centralization of the security apparatus should not be encouraged.
He added, “Their meeting point should be that of cooperation, so that they can be effective. With the situation of things in the country, we have seen that the dependency on the federal police cannot work. The attack on the convoy of the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, would not have been that easy if there is such initiative because they would have local intelligence. So, the Federal Government should not panic, rather it should work with them.”
In the view of a security consultant and fellow, Institute of Security, Nigeria, Mr Chigozie Ubani, the Federal Government should support the initiative and see to the review of the revenue sharing formula so that states could add that to their internally generated revenue to make more funds available for the initiative for improved security at the local level.
“I keep saying that in our system, the cost of lawmaking far outweighs the cost of law enforcement and that is abnormal,” he added.
Ubani explained that if the government continued to antagonize states from running their respective policing system smoothly, owing to the fear of having strong independent states, it would be tantamount to playing politics with security.
He added, “If you say the governor is the CSO of his state, he must have some level of authority to enforce the law, gather intelligence and protect the people. If we want to be functional, the IG cannot manage community policing.
“In my view, what we need to do is go to the parliament and define the roles of each authority, federal, state and local, so that each would know the level of policing powers, the level of misdemeanour or crime they can pursue and at what point you call in the higher authority or level of government.
“The traditional ruler is the CSO of his domain and we have so many areas that are not policed. So, there is a need for a local policing system like Amotekun. Therefore, the Federal Government should relieve itself of this humongous burden of trying to fund policing across the country and support them. Let them solve their political problems and let security function effectively.”
As the latest disagreement between the Federal Government and the South-West governors over the structure of Amotekun continues, the coming months will determine which direction the pendulum will swing in terms which tier of government controls the security outfit.