On the contingent of youths arrested by Amotekun in Ondo

LAST week, tension reportedly gripped residents of Okitipupa in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State following the arrest of youths from the northern part of the country by men of the Ondo State command of the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun. The youths loaded in a truck were reportedly intercepted in front of the Okitipupa Army Barracks at about 10p.m. on Thursday last week and taken to Akure, the state capital. Residents of the town were said to have gathered at the scene, expressing apprehension that the youths were in the town to cause havoc. Accosted by the operatives, some of the youths reportedly jumped down from the vehicle and ran into the town, but about 45 of them were arrested. When interrogated, the youths said they were sent from the North to undergo military training in the barracks. Confirming the incident, the state Commander of the corps, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, said investigations had commenced into the incident.

Following the incident, a legal practitioner, Mr Wale Odusola, alleged in a Facebook post that about 3,000 Fulani men had taken shelter inside the Okitipupa barracks, and that the men picked up by Amotekun were part of the regular batches of civilians of Hausa/Fulani ethnicity being admitted into the barracks for unclear reasons. He therefore warned residents of the area to be watchful. But the Public Relations Officer of the 32 Artillery Brigade, Captain Ayorinde Omojokun, dismissed the allegation as fake news, and said that the Army would invite the lawyer to the barracks to disclose his source.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong in youths moving from one part of the country to the other. The law is settled that any Nigerian can live or do business in any part of the country. The law, however, is clear that the freedom of movement does not preclude interrogation, particularly in circumstances that arouse suspicion, and against the backdrop of the multi-faceted security challenges that the country faces on a daily basis. In the extant case, it is curious that youths from the northern part of the country were transported to Okitipupa for the purpose of military or security training without any formal means of identifying the security agency, public or private, that invited them for such training, and without any letters to indicate the purpose of the exercise. Pray, who are the organisers of the so-called training and why?

If, as another report suggested, the youths were to be deployed as security guards, then it would be necessary to know the private security firm involved in their recruitment. The formation of private security outfits is legal in the country, provided that such outfits have the imprimatur of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), which has supervisory and regulatory oversight over private security firms in the country. That being the case, there is a need for proper debriefing of the suspects in this case in order to get to the root of the matter. While there is a possibility that the youths were actually deployed to Ondo State to be used in unconstitutional operations by non-state actors acting in cahoots with legitimate organs of the state, it is also possible that those who recruited them for the journey and purported training exercise were actually trying to exploit them and use them for cheap labour.

To be sure, there is a need to unravel the facts of the case, including how the youths were assembled and for what mission. What was the training venue indicated by those who recruited them? Why were the youths not given letters if they were going to be trained by a recognised private security outfit? A look at the terrible and appalling security situation in the country would, no doubt, point to the increasing rise of non-state actors setting up parallel organs to actualise devious objectives. Time and again, we have pointed to the devastating impact of ungoverned spaces in the country. There is tension in the country and a thorough debriefing is needed in order to know the necessary steps to take regarding this incident.

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