Amotekun: Malami must realise that S/West is not a conquered territory —Olajide, YCE chief

Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, speaks with Deputy Editor, Abiodun Awolaja, on the controversy over the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun and sundry issues.

THE Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, drew the ire of eminent lawyers and people across the country when he declared Amotekun illegal. As an elder statesman, what do you think has been missing in the entire argument?

Well, I’m not a lawyer, but common sense tells me that human life is sacred. It is given by God, and God does not take permission from anybody before He gives life. You don’t need anybody’s permission to protect your life, as an individual. And collectively too, people can arrange how to protect their lives in their streets, in their localities or their local governments. They don’t need permission from anybody. State governors are elected constitutionally to protect the people. And we are told in Section 14 (b) of the 1999 Constitution that the primary purpose of government is the security of lives and welfare of the people.

So, for me, we don’t need anybody’s permission to protect ourselves in the South-West states.


Many people took exception to Malami’s utterances, saying they were arrogant, but he has followed up with a directive to state governors over local councils…

I’m more concerned with Amotekun. I think we must remind the Attorney-General that the South-West is not a conquered territory. We are not a conquered people. We are not slaves who don’t have rights; our right of existence is sacred to us. Self-preservation is the first law of nature. So, we are not a conquered people, we are not slaves; we are not a colony of the Federal Government. As such, he should be very mindful of the statements he utters.


How did things work out in the First Republic? How was the country policed?

That was the golden era of Nigeria. We had the central Nigerian police system. We had local government police (Akoda). Yes, as with all human institutions, some people abused the local government police, just as they are abusing the Federal Government-controlled police now.

So, I can tell you that the Nigeria of the 20th century was quite different from the Nigeria of the 21st century. I mean the world is a global village now; so there should be no fear at all. The Federal Government should know that we are not a colony. Well, I’m told that the governors reached an agreement with the Federal Government yesterday (Thursday), but I’m waiting to see the details of the agreement. Amotekun must not be subservient to the community police, because the community police that we are hearing about will be part of the Nigerian police and will be controlled from Abuja. Amotekun is our own outfit in this region and the headquarters must be in Ibadan or Gbongan. It can work together with the community police and the Nigeria Police; they can collaborate. But we reject in totality, the idea of the community police claiming superiority over Amotekun.


Many people have said that the South-West people have not spoken with one voice in a long time, like they have on Amotekun. What do you think was responsible for that?

That must be a mistake. We’ve been speaking with one voice. We may have different groups and so on, but talk to any Yoruba group or socio-cultural organisation; they would tell you that their first priority is restructuring.

In the First Republic, we were leading the entire country. I was part of it. In the field of education, we were far ahead of many parts of the country. We had our first lawyer in the 19th century; we also had our own newspaper then. And then we were happy in the First Republic when Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the Leader of Government Business in 1954. Then, you could see people-centred leadership, unlike what we have now.


How would you react to the fears expressed by people like the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) that Amotekun might be targeted at them?

Amotekun is to protect every Nigerian or every human being who lives in the South-West, be they Miyetti Allah, expatriates, Fulani, Ijaw or whoever. Critics of Amotekun must have sinister intentions: They must be criminals, or have criminal aspirations. Otherwise, everybody should be happy that they are free to move around without any fear of being kidnapped or harassed on the highways.  So, whoever has any fears has sinister intentions.


Fifty years after the end of the civil war, the fault lines are still there…

They are not merely there; they are in fact wider than they were before the civil war, which is a shame.


Is that because of the military?

Let us first thank God that we are still one united country. But we haven’t built a nation out of Nigeria yet; we are still a country. It is because two evils bedeviled Nigeria: the military intervention that truncated our democratic experiment and the oil boom, which I refer to as oil doom. The oil doom served, as far as I am concerned, as an intoxicant to our military leadership, to the extent that General Yakubu Gowon said that money was not our problem but how to spend it. And at a time, we were even paying the salaries of workers in one of the West African countries.


Why did we do that?

Because we had much more money than sense. Now, the military men traditionally are trained to kill and destroy. They were never trained to govern. But they interrupted our democratic march. And when they did and the oil boom came, we did not have enough sense to invest the huge resources from oil in infrastructure, education, human capacity development. Unfortunately for us, when we had democracy in 1979, it was only a brief spell until 1983, but that democracy was on a very wrong footing and that was why it collapsed in 1983, anyway.

Then, the military came back and gave us the 1999 Constitution, which lied against itself from the very beginning by saying: “We the people of Nigeria.” We were never part of it; it was a handful of people picked by the military junta that wrote what in content and reality is a military constitution. It centralised power in Abuja and made the states, the federating units, mere puppets.


So, how can we become one people; how do we build a nation out of Nigeria?

You know where we missed it? It was when General Gowon said that Nigeria was not yet ready for democracy and Chief Obafemi Awolowo resigned from his cabinet. Unfortunately for us, since 1999, we have been in one form of military government or the other. This is a pseudo democracy. The first president was a retired military General who had been military Head of State before. He handed over to Umaru Yar’Adua who probably would have given us good governance because he was very realistic and truthful, but health did not permit him. Even during the Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan administration, we had David Mark as Senate President: That’s another retired military General.

Now, who do we have? General Muhammadu Buhari. So, if we are serious about building a nation out of what Chief Awolowo called mere geographical expression, we have to have a people’s constitution before 2023. That is imperative.


How do we do that?

It depends very much on the sincerity of President Buhari. I would be surprised if he is not worried at all by the spate of insecurity even in the North, including Malami’s home state. The way we can get out of this is to have a people’s constitution. Buhari’s three campaign promises were to curb insecurity, revamp the economy and fight corruption. None of these can succeed without a people’s constitution. Instead of the governors going to Abuja every month with begging bowls, each federating unit should be allowed to explore and exploit its mineral resources, and deploy such resources according to the priorities of the people.


Let’s talk about corruption. In the latest ranking by Transparency International, Nigeria has been ranked as the most corrupt country in Africa. But President Buhari says he has been fighting corruption and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been making arrests…

No saint anywhere in the world can fight corruption successfully with the constitution we are operating, with the political system, with the leadership recruitment process; and I will tell you why. To be president of this country today, you have to campaign all over the country. You need to spend not less than a N100 billion. So, you have to compromise in the process. People would lend you their jets free of charge; they would donate heavy money to you. These are businessmen who want to exploit the national purse. So, when you get there, you are compromised already.

To be a senator too, you would be spending over a billion naira, and when you get there, you want to make your money back. This constitution makes politics business. And politics should not be business; it is a service industry. The perquisites and the benefits of political office must be drastically reduced. They must be made to conform to the civil service grade levels. So, it would only be service-minded people that will go into politics, not businessmen.