Regional security outfits: Any hope at ending insecurity?

‘SUYI AYODELE examines the establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN, codenamed Operation Amotekun and the subsequent clamour for creation of other security outfits in other regions of the country in tackling the spate of crimes.

Since independence in 1960, there has been no time that Nigerians have had reasons to interrogate the corporate existence of the nation than now. From the North to the South, East to West, the agitation for a revisit of the federation and her components is gaining traction by the day. What began in 2000, when this present political dispensation was barely a year old, in the guise of resource control by the Niger Delta enclave, has assumed a life of its own.

With the different ethnic nationalities that make up the country beginning to see the lopsidedness of the structures, the quest for restructuring, decentralisation, regionalism and devolution of power, have become the singsong across the country, but more noticeable in the deep South and Middle Belt zones.

The proponents of regionalism, restructuring, devolution of power and or resource control feel that if Nigeria should go back to the pre 1966 era when each region was allowed to develop on its own, the federation would be better off than it is now.

Henry Idahagbon, former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Edo State, in a recent interview with the Nigerian Tribune, said at it stands today, Nigeria does not even practice federalism. According to him, “What we are practising in Nigeria today is a Federal Government on paper by virtue of the constitution, but in practice, it is a unitary government. All the powers are concentrated in the centre, where only very few powers are given to the states and the councils.”

Birth of regional security outfits

Of all the issues that have made the agitation for restructuring Nigeria more demanding is insecurity. In a paper titled: “Re-examining the legality of regional security outfits in Nigeria,” Professor Thadeeus Chukwuka Eze, head, Department of Criminology and Security Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsuka, noted that the rising cases of insecurity “has become a challenge to the government and people of Nigeria,” pointing out that “the magnitude of the problem had exceeded what the nation’s security apparatus could cope with.”

At the end of his thesis on the state of the nation’s security challenges, he submitted that “contrary to the widely held belief that policing and security is the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government, there are provisions within the Constitution and other laws that could enable regional security outfits to operate lawfully in Nigeria.”

The six states that constitute the South-West geopolitical zone have been in the eye of the storm in the last five years with the worsening state of insecurity. With the exception of Lagos which has so far been relatively free from the activities of herdsmen attacks and kidnapping, the remaining five states of Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti have been sadly affected.

With the conventional security apparatus obviously overwhelmed by unprecedented security challenges confronting the nation, especially the activities of the Boko Haram sect and banditry in the North, it became apparent by the day that the states in the South would have to take their destinies in their hands.

To this end, on January 9, the South-West region launched the Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN, codenamed Operation Amotekun. With the operational headquarters based in Oyo State, Amotekun is the first regional security outfit initiated by a geopolitical zone in Nigeria.

The decision to establish the outfit was taken by the six governors of the region at a security summit held in Ibadan in June 2019 based on the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria Commission (DAWN). At the summit, all the six governors agreed that each state would donate 20 vehicles each to the outfit, with Oyo State promising 33. In addition to the 133 vehicles procured as startup for the outfit, the governors also bought 100 motorcycles, each to make the outfit solid for takeoff.

Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, while speaking at the launch, described the security outfit as more or less a community police, which would complement the efforts of the mainstream security outfits, stressing that the South-West governors were not out to undermine the integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria but were providing the Yoruba people with a “confidence building strategy” to tackle crime and criminality in the region.

Justifying the outfit, Fayemi reiterated that the zone was “daily assaulted by the spate of kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery across the length and breadth of the South West. We obviously sought succour in all the right places and the mainstream security tried their best in arresting the security situation. It was in the context of this development that we lost the daughter of our leader in Afenifere, Pa Fasoranti. As elected leaders of our various states, our primary responsibility according to section (14)2 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, is the security and welfare of our citizens and that’s what informed the coming together of my colleagues and I to fashion a way that we can utilise to complement the work of our mainstream security agencies that are quite overstretched in their efforts to curb the menace that has afflicted not just our zone but the entire country at the time.”

His counterpart from Ondo State and Chairman of the Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, said the governors were united in their resolve to ensure peace and security in the region, assuring that the governors would not establish “an antagonistic structure whose template is against existing security apparatus.”

The reaction of the Federal Government to the establishment of the outfit was swift and expected. On 13 January, 2020, the Nigeria police warned that they would arrest any operative of the outfit that carried illegal arms.  A day after, the Federal Government, on January 14 declared Operation Amotekun as an illegal operation, stating that it was not backed by the Nigerian constitution. But the South-West governors refused to back down and announced that the initiative had come to stay.

The strong stance of the governors forced the Federal Government to have a rethink as the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, met with the six governors on January 23 and at the end of the meeting, an agreement was reached to work together towards the progress of Operation Amotekun.

With the successful launch of Amotekun, other regions saw the need to copy the security initiative in their domains. The first was the Middle Belt which has witnessed incredible security breaches occasioned by the perennial clashes between herdsmen and farmers, armed banditry, kidnapping and other security issues.

The South-South zone too also met and contemplated setting up a regional security outfit and to  revive the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Edo and Delta states’ commission, BRACED, which was initially set up to tackle developmental issues in the zone. The South-East’s immediate response was also to establish a regional security outfit in the area, tailored along the pattern of the Forest Guards outfit established by Enugu State. Though those ideas are yet to be, it is expected that they will materialise now that Amotekun is beginning to record successes in its operations across major parts of the South-West zone.

One of the states in the South-South zone that would not wait for the Amotekun equivalent in the region before it begins to tackle its peculiar security challenges is Cross River. Governor Ben Ayade of the state, worried by the increasing number of kidnapping in the state, launched a special security operation, tagged Operation Akpakwu, to combat the rising wave of kidnapping, robbery and other criminal activities.

Speaking at the launch, Ayade vowed to return the state to the paradise it once was, before the criminal elements swooped on the beautiful city. Positing that the state remained one of the safest in the country, the governor noted that the statistics notwithstanding, the recent incidents of criminality, especially kidnapping, in the state called for concern. He therefore, asked every criminal in the state to relocate immediately as the state would no longer be a haven for them in whatever guise.

Barely a week after it was inaugurated, Operation Akpakwu arrested a sizeable number of alleged kidnappers, including an alleged kingpin, Etim Etim Bassey and members of his gang.

With the threat of a clampdown on regional security outfit failing, the Federal Government initiated a community policing template whereby constables are trained and sent to assist the regular police units. But even before the scheme took off, the South East governors and other leaders recently in the zone opposed the implementation of the template of the Nigeria Police Force in the zone because, according to them, it was not in line with the agreement they had in January with the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu. The governors and other stakeholders in the zone therefore resolved to implement a community policing programme that should be locally driven. They have also mandated the state Houses of Assembly in the zone to commence the enactment of state security laws that would legalise the establishment of a regional security outfit in line with its joint security programme for the zone.

At the meeting, attended by the leadership of the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, traditional council in each of the five South East states and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the zone, the governors urged the IGP to revert to their initial agreement with him concerning community policing.

And recently, the Executive Director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), Oghenejabor Ikimi, advocated the decentralisation of the police force to enable each zone have its own Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The question now is: has regional security outfit come to stay? The answer to this poser was again supplied by Professor Thaddeus Chukwuka Eze, who posited that “The current fear and anxiety over regional security outfits in Nigeria has no bases either in the constitution or in the general law. The existence of such outfits is not only constitutional and lawful but justified in the light of rising insecurity in Nigeria. The Federal Government has a duty as the chief security infrastructure in Nigeria to coordinate the outfits by making laws that can manage and effectively control the use of fire arms by the security outfit.”

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