Amotekun: Some lessons in history

Patrick Oliver Sawyer was a difficult patient from Liberia with a deadly contagious disease. He knew he had Ebola in Liberia but willfully flew it into Nigeria on July 20, 2014, becoming the index case in the country. He arrived Nigeria terribly ill, was taken to a hospital, resisted being quarantined, was very aggressive and was “more intent on leaving the hospital than anything else.” Doctors said “he was screaming. He pulled his intravenous tubes and spilt blood everywhere.” He subsequently caused panic, anguish and death across the country. This is the sad case I always remember each time I read northern leaders speak forcefully against western Nigeria’s efforts at insulating itself from the sicknesses of the North.

The North is a very difficult patient with multiple deadly contagious diseases. It won’t submit itself to capable doctors to treat and won’t allow its neighbours wear protective gears. It is intent on keeping its privileges at all costs, even if in the process its Ebola wipes out the entire country. Like the deadly index case from Liberia, this diseased spouse is ‘aggressive’, ‘screaming’, ‘spilling blood’ and reading divorce motives into every sanitary design of its partners. The North’s leaders have been speaking angrily against what may guarantee their people a future of security and peace. Junaid Mohammed spoke about the Yoruba’s Amotekun as a ploy to secede from Nigeria. Balarabe Musa said there were plans to create Oduduwa Republic. Tanko Yakasai said Amotekun is too cryptic a code not to suggest secession. “Amotekun can be an ordinary word in Yoruba but it can have so many meanings. Why can’t they adopt a term that can be understood by everybody?” Yakasai asked in an interview with the Sun newspaper last week. Amotekun, he added, “is a private army in the making” which would promote South-West, South-East and South-South secession plans. He said everybody is in fear. Everybody? And why should ‘everybody’ be in fear of a powerless people seeking to protect themselves from itinerant bandits? The six South-West governors would be shocked – and amused – at the wrong reading of their security project by a jittery, panicky, sick North. The governors know, and their people know too, that in the bowels of Amotekun, there are no secession entrails.

The Yoruba governors did well. They are the clear heroes of the ongoing Amotekun movement. But I fear for them too – they have seen the street acceptance and popularity of this project. It may destroy them if it is programmed to fail, is abandoned or sold to politics. They invested money, mind and materials into this project that has outgrown their experimental greenhouse. They have given back to their people their long lost oneness and to ‘the other side’ a reason to treat their bad breath. They are not unfed or ill-fed youngsters who won’t know that opposition to the spirit and letter of Amotekun is fundamentally historical. They know that Amotekun ‘war’ is not about political parties and their politics. That was why the AGF Malami’s statement was blind to the preponderance of APC governors in the South-West. The same reason the people of the region felt insulted, forgot partisanship and massed behind the leopard. It is not personal either. It is about survival; about life and death. That reason informed the wildfire that greeted Hadji Bola Tinubu’s so-long-a-note on Amotekun – especially its arbitral tone girded with expedient aloofness. The people feel that no one ought to reduce their existential struggle to a kindergarten feud on which a neutral magisterial elder sits and apportions blames left and right.

In western Nigeria, there is a scramble for life amidst a rash of insecurity – imported and homegrown. Amotekun is one of the last straws the people are grasping at. In the North, despite the rawness of their wounds, the scramble is for privilege – even if tenuous, fragile and parasitical. Read Junaid Mohammed’s take on this matter. Read his words, his lips and the unseen body language of the tendency he represents. Junaid, in an interview with The Guardian last week spoke characteristically very eloquently. He said the North fears the wealthy South-West using Amotekun as getaway vehicle out of the Nigerian wasteland, abandoning the North to its poverty. He said the regional security arrangement “is nothing new but a rediscovery of an old agenda, which is tied up with the idea of seceding” from Nigeria. He added that because the Yoruba “have gotten everything they wanted from Nigeria,” and “control the economy…somehow, they (Yoruba) believe that they can get away with it, retain what is their own, (and) let the rest of us (the North) all go and wallow in poverty.”

He spoke the language of a terrified parasite, fearful of being weaned off the neck of a burdened host.

From Junaid we can see that the North has had a red line drawn which the South must not cross. It is protecting its vital interest in Nigeria which anything regional and cooperative from the South threatens. There is a reason slave owners won’t ever permit their slaves to form a society of friends. Some husbands do it too. They feel so insecure in their impotence and inadequacy that their wives are in seen and unseen chains. They are utterly lame and impotent in all matters of care and responsibility, yet insist the union is for-better-for-worse, till-death-do-us-part. There are others who abuse the other party, violate all rules of engagement and proceed to insist none can query the subsistence of their union.

There have been so many of such funny stuffs from the Federal Government lately. It is rushing recruitment into something called ‘community police’ which a friend described as the North’s antidote to the Amotekun ‘poison’. Even now, our federal government is insisting that “regional security is not in the constitution.” But can we ask Attorney-General Malami,  “the Chief Law Enforcer” (apology to Tinubu) if regional insecurity is a provision of our laws?

There will be more of these mind-and-mouth fetters going forward. Northern Nigeria may be sick and poverty-stricken, but it is well endowed with bold leaders who do not pretend about their northernness. When their vital interests are threatened, they call up their forces, officers and men who won’t fight wearing ambiguous boots and vague gloves. They forget party politics and ideology, business and ambitions, law and logic – and even morality. They roll out the tanks, shell enemy positions and leave the living to bury the dead. The Amotekun ‘war’ has brought out that beast once again in them. The ones who are quiet and silent in the North are not against the North. Their silence is part of the strategy. That was why more than a few southerners- particularly the Yoruba – felt horrified that anyone among their leaders would tip-toe to the war front and then pledge allegiance to dubious neutrality.

In the politics of the Yoruba, there is no allowance for neutrality. During the western Nigeria crisis of 1964-65, anyone who announced that he belonged to no political party was branded a ‘Demo’ – the alias for traitor. A lame must be seen clearly crawling. You cannot claim to be lame and be seen limping. The blind must be completely blind – because the Yoruba would insist the one who is incompletely blind will eventually stoke a war and wreck the community with strifes. You are either a patriot fighting for your people or a traitor working for the enemy; there is no fence at the frontline for anyone to sit on. You can see that the Yoruba concept of colour recognizes only three: white, black and red. Others have no name. White is cool, good and pleasant; Black is dark and foreboding; the third option, Red, is what it universally is – it means danger, war and blood. When you combine all the colours, in dress and character, you have become that crossroads god to be worshipped with doubts and suspicion. There is a creature in the Yoruba animal farm which joins birds to fly at night and does also what rats do in daytime. It represents unclearness, double identity – and I wonder if that is why it is a bird of the night and a primary ingredient for malevolent sacrifices and other ritual acts.

Whoever does not gather with his people scatters. You cannot be a bystander in your own war. That is desertion, armed aloofness – or, let me call it submarine neutrality – which is a curse to any army. But for every curse from the deserter, there is always a counter-curse. That is why there is a long list of skulls in exhibition at the shrine of Yoruba politics of nationalism. Efunsetan Aniwura, most notable 19th century Iyalode Ibadan, lost her high office, her wealth and her everything because her Aare said she was arrogant and indifferent and absent when her people were fighting and dying in the Ado war of January 1874. The protracted June 12 crisis built careers, lives and fortunes. It also wrecked fortunes, lives, names and careers. Some people stood by June 12 till the end – they suffered but are still on their feet, even if limping, today. Some stood on June 12, either through blatant collusion with the enemy or through strategic, selfish, traitorous aloofness. The last category made money and gained positions but the unforgiving, unforgetting Yoruba killed their memories even while they still live(d).

But there is an opportunity for redemption, a chance for a journey to step back. Moshood Abiola started as friend and agent of the ‘enemy’, then Ayanmo took him to Damascus, met truth there, came back and ended up a celebrated hero – forever.

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