The leopard and the golden calf

According to my own calculations, the 6 core Yoruba States of Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Oyo have a total GDP of US$80 billion, which, out of a total national GDP of US$446 billion, constitutes about 20 percent of our national wealth. The bulk of VAT revenues come from those States and most are spent elsewhere. The menace of insecurity in that region is consequently a threat to our long-term economic future, if not nationhood.This is why I welcome the creation of Amotekun (meaning leopard) as a regional outfit to tackle the worsening crisis of insecurity in the Western region.

In 2015 elder statesmen Olu Falae was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen on his farm in Ilado, Akure, Ondo State. He was beaten and tortured while a hefty ransom had to be paid for his release. Previously they had razed down his palm oil plantation in a savage bonfire. The culprits were later apprehended, all of them Fulani herdsmen.In July 2019, Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere leader Reuben Fasoranti was killed in cold blood by shadowy “herdsmen”while travelling along the Ondo-Ore highway.

In November 2019, I was the Guest Speaker at the Convocation Lecture of the Samuel Adegboyega University in Ogwa, Edo State. I flew to Benin City while doing the rest of the journey by road. The driver took me through thick forests and meandering gullies. The road was treacherous. He told me in hushed tones that most of the villagers had become refugees, as herdsmen had taken over their homesteads. Just before Christmas, on that same road,gunmen killed a medical professor, Jerome Elusiyan, Chairman, Medical Advisory Council of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital. There are many more casualties that go unreported. A grim nightmare.

There have been reactions.The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, hasdeclared it to be “illegal”. Northern Elders have warned the West to choose between Amotekun and the presidency in 2023. Nobel laureate Wole, Soyinka, however, welcomed it as “New Year gift”.

Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State has defended Amotekun as a response to the growing crisis of insecurity in the region.  He says its mandate isinformation and intelligence gathering and that will not undermine the role of the police and other security agencies. He explained that, as Chief Security Officers for their respective states, they could not sit by and watch their communities imperilled by shadowy figures that have created a nightmare.He described Amotekun as an organisation based on popular demand, which they as elected trustees could not possibly ignore.

It is a refreshing development. Normally, the attitudes of Yoruba leaders in the APC coalition had been to keep quiet so as not to endanger their own prospects up the greasy pole of political power. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has never, to my knowledge, condemned all the killings going on the West, not to talk of the rest of the country. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo angered many people when he cautioned victim communities not defend themselves but, as “good Christians”,should pray for their tormentors. With exception ofCAN, Living Faith and the Catholic Bishops, church leaders have kept mute. A culture of silence has descended upon our benighted country.

It reminds me of the observation by the German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who noted that “not to speak in the face of evil is also to speak”.  I do not know what happens to people’s moral conscience when destiny places them in positions of power. All I know is that one day the Almighty will demand the blood of the saints from so many so-called “Men of God” who decide to look away when genocidal killings are taking place before their very eyes.

As is to be expected, Amotekun has gotten the lawyers agog. Senior advocate and activist Femi Falana has reminded Attorney-General Malami point-blank that it is not up to him to decide if an action is legal or illegal; himself not being a self-constituting court but merely a servant of the law and jurisconsult to the high magistracy of our great federal republic. He has advised Malami to go to court if he feels that aggrieved. Whilst acknowledging that the police are under the Exclusive List in our constitution, if anyone is guilty of violating our constitutional writ, it is the FGN. He points out to the arming of agencies such as Customs, Immigration, Prisons, Civil Defence and the Federal Road Safety Corps which, stricto sensu, amounts to a violation of the law.

Venerable senior lawyer Afe Babalola has pointed out that extant laws allow private citizens to make arrests where there is a real or likely prospect, of a disturbance to the public peace. If citizens can make arrests and private security outfits can exist, Amotekun, as far as he is concerned, is legal. Some have also pointed to the Hisbahgroups that have existed in the Northern States, with powers to arrest and to prosecute. We also have the so-called Civilian JTF in the North East that actually bear arms while fighting side-by-side with federal troops in the war-ravagedwilderness of Borno and Yobe.

At the political level, Amotekun evokes fear in some quarters because it not only legitimises the activities of organisations such as MASSOB and IPOB in the South East; if allowed to exist, it is likely to encourage similar groups to spring up in the Middle Belt and the rest of the country.

I am an admirer of Yoruba civilisationandculture — of a people that have been urbanised for the better part of a millennium. A welcoming and accommodating people. It is only in the Yoruba West and my own primeval savannah Middle Belt that no “settlers”are ever reminded of where they came from. The only recent exception is Plateau State, where the indigenes have endured all manner of violence and provocation in the past decade. The Berom, for example, have been among the most docile and accommodating of peoples, until recently when they had to fight to defend their ancestral homelands from being taken over by marauders coming from as far afield as Chad and Mali. The Yoruba are an urbane and civilised people. But only a fool mistakes their large-heartedness for stupidity. Once they realise that a stranger is really out to undermine their way of life or to dispossess their communities of their patrimony, they can become as ferociousanddeadly as leopards. This is what is playing out today.

The peoples of the West– indeed all Nigerians – reserve the right to defend themselves if government is unable and/or unwilling, to defend them. This right is enshrined in our laws. International law since the classical jurists from Bartalomé de las Casas, Francisco de Vitoria and Hugo Grotius to Alberico Gentili and Emerich de Vattel have taught that communities that face an existential threat to their very survival reserve a right and duty  to defend themselves.

The distinguished historian and Leader of the Yoruba, Professor Banji Akintoye, in a magisterial lecture marking 50 years since the ending of our civil war, has warned that what we face isthe grim prospect of another war. He alluded to the real and present danger posed by ISIS which has transmogrified into the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). They beheaded 11 Christians on Christmas Day last year. Rumours are rife that ISWAP are building a bridgehead into Nigeria from Mali.  The evil agenda that drives governance in Nigeria today prizes the cult of the Golden Calf over and above human life itself.In such circumstances, not to defend one’s community amounts to suicide. The leopard is the least we can unleash in face of bloodthirsty hounds that aim to destroy our country.

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